Summer for the Sensational Family means that I, “Mr. Sensational” Gino Vega, am home during the day with our two daughters–Miss Sensational One, 9 years old, and Miss Sensational Two, 5 years old–while my wife, Ms. Sensational, works outside the home. Eventually, as the summer moves on, different classes and activities will add structure to our days, but for now it’s just the two Misses and myself in a Monday through Friday, 7:30am-5:30pm free-for-all.
This year, as has happened the last few Mays, I spent the weeks leading up to Summer vacation cursing the children’s school schedule (mainly the fact that I have to wake up at 7am to get them to school) and cheering the upcoming end to a hard and fast morning alarm time. I also began harboring strange fantasies regarding all the household and creative projects I’d be able to tackle in light of a more relaxed weekday format.
Then–as has also happened the last few Mays–mere hours into Summer vacation, reality set in: Summer vacation is neither better nor easier than the school year, it’s just different, and ultimately there’s no such thing as respite from life with small children.
My original plan for the first week of Summer was to each day tackle a nagging household cleaning project and to work on the long neglected “Mr. Sensational” Gino Vega blog–this, of course, in between the regular maintenance and entertainment of the Miss Sensationals–but it’s this second part that’s key. For some ungodly reason I envisioned both girls playing piously side by side, basking in the the joys of sisterly love and singing exuberant yet restrained hymns to the greatness of Summer’s freedoms.
Instead, the Miss Sensationals’ default position these first two days of summer has been a perpetual Tom and Jerry-style cartoon brawl wherein two or more parties become a rolling cloud of dust from which participants are occasionally ejected before jumping back in, and anyone who attempts to separate the cloud is integrated as part of it. At any given moment it’s hard to figure out if this default position is the result of an actual fight, just the two of them playing together, or simply the outcome of their standing in close proximity to one another, but whatever the root cause is, it remains frenetic, shrill, and constant.
Further, this unending brawl has the side-effect of consistently spitting out debris as it rolls around the house. While I gave up hope of working on the MSGV blog after a few hours of chasing the dust cloud and being drawn into it myself, I convinced myself that if I ignored the cloud and left it to its own devices I could at least get some of those hateful household tasks knocked out of the way, and to a degree I was right: it’s easier to establish and maintain a rhythm of mindless chore-doing amidst piercing shrieks and piteous cries of boredom and hunger than it is to try and string a few thoughts together for the tens of ones who read this blog. However, even automatonic housework isn’t immune from the cruel whims of Summer.
Switching myself into barely-sentient-task-mode and going to town on the kitchen, the dust cloud bounds its way into the living room. Poking my head out at some point to confirm that the dust cloud is still alive, I see that the living room has now been torn to pieces. Lovecraftian structures comprised of new toys, old toys, art supplies, pieces of clothing, food waste, and straight up garbage have been erected along the entire width of the room and waist deep, defying the bounds of human comprehension.
And so I shoo the dust cloud away, abandon the kitchen, and begin the lonely task of snatching the living room’s sanity back from the mouth of madness. But then at some point I return to the kitchen, maybe to get a glass of water, and I see that the dust cloud has left an abomination of dishes, discarded food and food packaging, paper clippings from art projects, beads, and crayon nubs on all of the floors and counters while I was gone. And so I return to the kitchen, trying to regain lost ground, the cycle continuing until the day is over and I wonder what exactly happened to the last ten hours.
Today while doing this dance–only two days into what already feels like an eternity–I decided my grim, nagging task du jour would be to clean out our car. I have a higher threshold for disarray inside our car than I do inside the home, so car cleaning isn’t a task I do often, but there does come a point when the Paleolithic layers of orange peels, crushed juice boxes, pretzel crumbs, broken pencils, broken sunglasses, mismatched socks, and jackets need to be excavated for the good of Sensational-kind.
Facing such a point, I made my way out to the driveway, red, plastic Ace Hardware bucket of cleaning supplies in hand, the midday sun already beating down by the time I got started, and there I sat, drenched with sweat and “blasting” Motorhead through our Toyota Matrix’s tinny, factory standard speakers, wiping away grime with one hand while bagging up months worth of wretched debris with the other. This phase of cleaning passed quickly enough and without incident, our well-worn vehicle even looking a little better in light of my efforts, but then came the next phase: vacuuming the layers and layers of crap clinging to the car’s floor and seats.
It’s this vacuuming phase that makes cleaning the car something I find both fascinating and frustrating. For whatever reason I’m drawn to procedures that–after a grotesque and painful cleansing process–arrive at a tranquil place of renewal. Like getting a dental cleaning: there’s all this painful scraping, and poking, and prodding, and you can see your own blood flecked on the latex gloves of the hygienist, but it’s pain and blood that, when washed away, results in smooth, clean, shininess…at least for a couple of days.
Vacuuming our car is in the same vein for me, though the pain is more psychological than physical. It’s an irritating series of events: lugging our home vacuum cleaner into the garage, plugging it into an extension cord, maneuvering it into the driveway, wrestling with the cord, and trying to employ its flimsy extensions to do a job more suited to an industrial shop vac.
In the end though, most of the time, the car looks considerably more kipple-free than when I started, and so the annoying process is worth it. In fact, like the pain of a dental cleaning, the irritation during the process becomes almost pleasurable in light of the outcome.
Today was an instance however where the annoyance led to nothing more than more annoyance, making all of the annoyance involved seem even more annoying than any of it would have on its own. My vacuuming of the front seat area went slowly but relatively productively: even under the best of circumstances, our vacuum cleaner can’t work miracles on the catastrophe that is our car interior, it can only make it look less catastrophic, but when I got to the back seat, things went totally off the rails.
Heaving the vacuum cleaner over to the back end of the car and untangling the cord from one of the front wheel-wells, I started sucking away at the homogenized legion of detritus in the back seat. And then the vacuum cleaner shut itself off. Sweat trickled into my eyes and made it hard to see as I reached down to hit the reset switch, my irritation reaching chest-pain levels.
The switch worked and I returned to vacuuming, until seconds later the unit shut off again. Furious with my much-touted-but-essentially-worthless American-made Riccar vacuum cleaner (and mentally pining after one of those slick Euro looking Dysons that are advertised on TV…more on this in a future post) I brought the vacuum cleaner inside to try and figure out what the problem was.
I dragged the cursed thing into our hallway, opened the front panel, and sure enough the bag had come loose, spilling the contents of our car all over the vacuum’s insides. I could hear a thin and prim British voice droning on the benefits of bagless vacuums as I dumped a huge pile of previously vacuumed dirt onto the hall floor, threw the old bag into our kitchen garbage, and went searching for a new bag.
But then something happened. The aforementioned dust cloud perpetually rolling through our house came to a halt in front of me, and out of the dust two large-eyed little girls emerged, one a bit taller than the other. The shorter one clutched a brand new Riccar vacuum bag in her hand and held it out to me, while the taller one gave me a hug. And suddenly my perception of our house changed.
What had been a crumpled up piece of paper I’d seen lying in the hall just moments before now bore shimmering script scrawled across its lines, and I realized it was a page of a hard-thought-out writing project [see fig. A below]. Paint then emerged on another scrap littering the floor and I saw that the scrap instead was a canvas depicting a representation of the Sensational family in fruit form [see fig. B below].
And so I remembered, as I’ve known before, will forget again, and will then eventually remember, that there’s more to the dust cloud than screaming and wailing and bickering and fighting. There’s unadulterated, exuberant life going on in there, and while that rawness can be messy and overwhelming, it’s ultimately something I can learn from and center myself in relation to at the end of the day.
Further, it occurred to me as it’s occurred before and will occur again that no matter how much I gnash my teeth or rent my hair I simply can’t control the chaos that is Summer vacation. I can temper it a bit here and there, but if I give myself over completely to annoyance and irritation, then it’s a chaos that leads straight to an abyss, a dental cleaning where the gums are still gushing blood and the teeth are still barnacled with plague even after the fact, and that’s no good.
Better, I think (though I often have a hard time enacting this), is to let the chaos take me for a ride, nudging it in directions I want it to go in order to avoid a complete descent into madness, but avoiding attempts at steering it outright, which only ensures that descent.
This conclusion isn’t meant to be a pollyanna statement on how in the end it’s a joy to care for small children or that one should just take life easy and let one’s dwelling turn into a festering dump. Small children can, in all honesty, be annoying as fuck, and living in squalor is ultimately distracting and depressing.
However, when approached from the right frame of mind, the annoyance associated with small children is a painful, dental cleaning-esque means to a higher, transformative end. In other words, the person that I am in relation to my children–and this includes all the irritation, aggravation, and annoyance that our relationship yields–is a far fuller person that I would be without them. If I could choose between my self of 10 years ago who existed for nothing other than his own entertainment and self-interest or the much more addled person of today whose existence is consistently challenged and forced to look at itself in new and different ways by a raging, loving, ever-messily creative cyclone of dust, I’ll pick the latter every time.
Which finds the three of us now kicking it in the Sensational Living Room at the end of the second day of Summer vacation. Our house has hit that fine line between orderly-enough-to-not-be-soul-crushing and messy-enough-to-evince-that-I’m-not-spending-my-entire-life-picking-up-after-others. Our car is kind of clean. The vacuum cleaner has a new bag installed. Miss Sensational One is writing, Miss Sensational Two is playing a computer game, and I’m finishing this article for the “Mr. Sensational” Gino Vega blog. Two days in, and we’ve somehow managed to find a ragged harmony. And we don’t have to wake up at 7am tomorrow! Summer can indeed be cruel, but it can also be wondrous.