The newest member of our family, our iRobot Roomba, arrived as my designated gift on Valentine's Day. I went out to walk the dogs early that morning, and when I returned, my iRobot was vacuuming the kitchen. To his credit, my husband did glue big red hearts all over its pristine white carapace.
"What the heck is that?" I asked, noting poor McDuff, our elderly Cairn terrier, quivering in his dog bed.
"It's the iRobot 530 Roomba," Dan announced. "I got it on sale," he added. "You know how you always say you don't have time to clean. Well, this can help you!"
"Um. Thanks, honey," I said, watching the iRobot zoom down the hall. "Nothing says 'I love you' like a new vacuum cleaner."
"This will give you more time to write!" By now, my husband was looking slightly desperate around the eyes. "It cleans while you sit at your desk and create!"
Okay, I had to admit that the idea behind the gift was good. It's true that I'm always complaining about housework. I work out of a home office, so I literally put my hands up like blinders when I walk to the kitchen for a cup of tea. Otherwise, I'm tempted to pick something up or wipe a surface. Then it's like that children's book, "If You Give a Mouse a Cookie" -- one damn thing leads to another.
I watched as the Roomba returned from the hallway, apparently satisfied with its job there. It was pretty cool, I had to admit. But was a useful gift the same thing as a romantic one?
In the living room, the poor little robot ended up eating a Nintendo cord and nearly choking to death. I freed it and set it gently back down by my son's desk, where it started overdosing on spilled cereal and stopped.
"It's full," Dan said. "I need to show you how to empty its tray."
I tried not to glare as he demonstrated the little drawer, pulling it out and dumping the contents into the trash. This was too reminiscent of another gift that Dan surprised me with recently: a giant litter box for our cats that also has a drawer, and a roof, too. You tip the cat box on its side and -- stop me if you've heard this before -- you pull out the drawer and empty it into the trash. If only those iRobot people would make a Catboxa, I'd be all set.
Since Valentine's Day, I've been thinking more about marriage and romance. Is a cleaning robot the height of romance after 15 years of marriage?
The Roomba is certainly cuter than the tooth flossing tool Dan gave me one Christmas. And it's nowhere near as pitiful as the gift my friend Francine's husband presented her with this Valentine's Day: a new iron.
"He said it's so it won't take me as long to iron shirts," she said. "Now I have something to clonk him over the head with."
It took me a while, but I gradually embraced my Roomba. I've started thinking about it as another pet, albeit one that cleans up after us instead of the other way around. I suppose that's because it sleeps at its iRobot docking station under a side table, right next to McDuff's dog bed.
I've decided that my Roomba is romance at its best. Dan has given me plenty of jewelry and chocolate through the years. I have no doubt that there is more to come (especially after my tepid initial reaction to the Roomba). In giving me an iRobot, Dan was truly thinking of what I need to write more. And what could be more romantic than a husband who believes that his wife deserves more time to create?