Archive for January 11, 2021

On our relationship with our Roomba (or the search for a thrill)

I won’t get into the nonsense of letting this blog lie dormant for all these years. Instead, I’ll just dive right into our life today, in all its messy foreignness, the way a Roomba dives under the dining table. Never sure what it will suck up next. Always going at it with total eagerness. Sometimes getting stuck or tangled up and letting out a lonely cry before sitting quietly, waiting for its rescuer.

(I didn’t realize how much like a Roomba I am these days, exactly one year into our expat adventure in Switzerland.)

What I really wanted to write about when I sat down is my son’s evolving relationship with the robot vacuum. The pandemic baby, who was 3 months old and unaware when the world became a different place. Who doesn’t really play with other kids, except his 9- and 11-year-old siblings. Who was fascinated but also completely overwhelmed this past Christmas when he shared a house with his three Danish cousins, his aunt and uncles, his grandparents.

When he could point, he started pointing to the Roomba. When he could crawl, he crawled after it, and probably learned the backwards crawl trying to escape it. Now he’s walking, learning to pivot fast enough as it approaches. He panics as it nears his toes, and yet can’t keep himself from following it around the house, part thrill, part fear.

How strange we humans are. Accepting the fear and unpredictability (that random algorithm!) for the thrill of discovering something new. I watched him engage in the emotional tug-of-war with the machine as it picked up pine needles this morning. Perhaps I’ve been cooped up too long, or am gazing into my navel for lack of other things to gaze into, but I thought about the choices we’ve made. We could have stayed in the comfort of our Boston life, but we chose to move to Basel with three kids, one of them a newborn. To throw our kids, who’ve only really known one home, into a new city, new school (and then another), new home. And then the world threw in the new “new” we all know all too well.

Yet here we still are. We could stay home for the holidays, but we drive for 13 hours to get to Denmark to see my husband’s family. We quarantine. We welcome the swab up the nose, its 10 twists. We celebrate. We drive 13 hours back. The baby cries, I cry, there’s no place to stop to use the bathroom, it’s freezing, we eat KFC (it’s awful). We settle in back home in Basel. And days later, we’re at it again, driving up a mountain to see snow, not sure our car will make it, the baby crying again, the older kids sick of each other, of us.

But there, at the top, we witness the most extraordinary views. We’re above Lucerne, above the clouds. Mount Pilatus appears, disappears, reappears from the living room window. We learn to heat a house with a wood-burning stove. The kids try cross-country skiing, discover they’re great at it. Meanwhile, I sit in the car with the baby for two hours until I can’t feel my toes, the discomfort bone-deep.

The willingness to feel fear, sadness, isolation, pain, frustration – the whole lot, all for that sudden, unpromised thrill. The most fleeting of moments, and yet the most memorable. The discovery that overwhelms everything else along the way.

January 11, 2021 at 11:08 am Leave a comment


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