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Faith in Vermont: Floored by Vacuuming

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Posted on June 6, 2017 | Blog Category:
By Faith Gong



When I was growing up in Northern Virginia, I had a number of friends whose families were of Asian origin. Whenever I visited these friends at home, the rule was to remove one’s shoes immediately after walking in the door, leaving them in the front hallway, vestibule, foyer, or whatever the entryway.  Back then, this seemed like an exotic practice, one that I associated with bamboo floor mats, Hello Kitty!, and rice served in delicate blue-and-white porcelain. In my own house, we wore our shoes all the time.

Just typing that last sentence fills me with horror: We wore our shoes all the time. Now, I can’t imagine ever wanting to wear shoes inside the house. Now, it goes without saying, the rule in my own home is to remove our shoes immediately after walking in the door and leave them in the mudroom. This has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that I’m married to a man whose family is of Chinese origin; it has everything to do with the fact that I know where our shoes have been.

Our shoes have been in the streets, sidewalks, stores, and schools of town. But the real horrors lie much closer to home:

Our shoes have been in our gravel driveway, which covers them with a fine white dust on dry days, and a sticky white sludge on wet ones.

Our shoes have been in our yard, which is filled with a heavy clay soil that causes water to pool in the smallest depression and weighs down our soles with mud.

Our shoes have been in the poultry yard, where we have coops for our chickens and ducks. From these, we track in an unbelievable amount of the pine shavings that we use for bedding, along with other unmentionable icky-ness.

All of these things end up on the bottoms of our shoes, and are then deposited in our mudroom. It’s a nice, large mudroom. It contains more than enough shoe storage for a family of six (plus assorted friends): three boot trays, four cubby-sized shoe bins for our daughters, and closet shelves for off-season shoes. This means, of course, that most shoes are simply kicked off and left lying in the middle of the floor, directly in the path of traffic.

Just before Thanksgiving, when it became clear that winter precipitation would be another thing entering the house on our shoes, we invested in a 12’x3’ WaterHog floor mat for the mudroom. This did a wonderful job of saving our floor from puddles of melted snow -- provided that our children remembered to remove their boots on the mat (which didn’t happen as often as one might expect with 36 square feet of available mat space!) Because this mat is textured, it also does a wonderful job of collecting bits of mud, sand, pine shavings, pebbles, and anything else we track in. Whenever I vacuum it, I can hear the vacuum cleaner groaning in protest. One of these days, I may just give up and plant groundcover directly into the mat.

I am always surprised when I open the broom closet to find the vacuum cleaner still there, in its usual spot. I wouldn’t be shocked if, some day, it’s gone, leaving only a note in its place: Sorry, I quit. You’re just asking too much.

You see, despite the large mudroom with the bins and boot trays and WaterHog, despite no-shoes-in-the-house, the floors inside the house are still a mess. There is dust, dirt, hair and – from what I hear – little bits of our very own skin that are flaking off us constantly. There are Cheerios everywhere because, for some reason, even my oldest children seem unable to put one Cheerio into their mouths without dropping two. There is the detritus of craft projects: bits of feathers, glitter, tape, sticker backs, rubber bands, and paint smudges. And there are those darned pine shavings from the poultry coops that somehow persist in the journey across the yard, through the mudroom, and into the very house itself.

I try to vacuum every week. Then I stand back and admire the spotless wooden and carpeted surfaces that are the fruits of my labor. Everything feels right again. I can breathe easier, knowing that I won’t look down upon balls of dust, hair, and Cheerios that trigger the guilty voice in my head to start whispering: “You really should vacuum.”

This feeling of order and well-being lasts approximately three minutes. Then my family enters, bearing pine shavings.

The inevitable result of this is that I’m becoming an increasingly skilled vacuuming procrastinator. We’re having friends over this afternoon; there’s no point vacuuming until after they’ve messed things up more. Or: It’s going to be a nice weekend, and the girls’ll be outdoors for sure. No sense vacuuming until the weather turns bad.

Then I look around at my dirty floors and remind myself of a story.

The details are hazy, but a friend once told me about a woman whose own children had long since left home. One day, a child visited her – the child of a friend, or a grandchild, I can’t recall which. This child pressed his hands onto the glass of the front door, leaving smudged handprints all over it.

And that woman? She loved seeing those handprints so much that she wouldn’t clean the glass. For far longer than was reasonable – months, maybe even years – she refused to wipe those little handprints from her front door.

I think about this story, and remind myself that one day I will likely have clean floors. And when I do, I may wish otherwise.

 

Faith Gong has worked as an elementary school teacher, a freelance photographer, and a nonprofit manager. She lives in Middlebury with her husband, four daughters, and one anxiety-prone labradoodle. In her "free time," she writes for her blog, The Pickle Patch.

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