Care and Feeding

Dust Buddies

Carvell Wallace gives his takes on two previous Care and Feeding letters on vacuuming and sleeping with the lights on.

Photo illustration of a child playing with a vacuum.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Natalie Matthews-Ramo.

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[Read Nicole Cliffe’s answers to these letters from earlier this week.]

Dear Care and Feeding,

My 18-month-old son has developed a deep, deep love of the vacuum cleaner. He loves to watch Daddy vacuum. He loves to watch Mommy vacuum. He loves to push buttons on the unplugged vacuum and push the unplugged vacuum across the floor. He does not accept toy vacuums or DustBusters. Those are inferior products and he is no fool. He has recently broken out in extreme hives, and his doctor suspects the vacuum to be the culprit. The vacuum is banished to the garage, but he is now constantly banging on the garage door, pitching full-on screaming tantrums that can be heard from outside the house. The nanny texts me about it all the time, but I tell her we do not negotiate with terrorists. He accepts no comfort or redirection. His hives are gone. What to do?

—This Sucks

Dear TS,

Oh my God, this is adorable. Also, it is terrible and I send my condolences. It sounds like you had no problem with the kid’s attachment to the vacuum cleaner and were more than happy to oblige until the hives broke out, so it’s really the hives you primarily have to address. I say this knowing that in all likelihood, this is a temporary problem. I don’t imagine your 12-year-old still banging on the garage door hoping to bond with the vacuum cleaner, though I could be wrong.

Do you have an older vacuum? One without a HEPA filter? If so, there’s your problem. According to WebMD, a lot of older vacuums do as good a job of throwing dust around the room and activating dust allergies as they do with cleaning up said dust, so maybe it’s time for an upgrade.

Allergists also recommend not vacuuming when kids are around because they are closer to the ground and thereby the dust, so that leads me to wonder how long you can pull off a total grift—you know, pretend the vacuum went off to vacuum heaven, hide it somewhere in the back of a closet, and only vacuum when he’s sleeping. This will make the hives die down without turning your home into a dustbin. There are also little solutions like electromagnetic cloths and, of course, good old-fashioned sweeping (which, given his apparent allergy to dust, should also not happen when he is awake.)

But to me this looks like one of those situations where you just may have to use the oldest of parenting strategies: waiting it out. Ultimately, he will get over it as we all do. It just will be painful until he does.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My daughter recently turned 5. She has always been a good sleeper and still is. However, in the past month or so she has insisted on sleeping with the lights on. It doesn’t seem as if she has a fear of the dark or monsters in her room or anything like that; she literally just decided that she prefers to sleep with the lights on. The first few nights, we would wait an hour or so until we were sure she was sound asleep, and just go in and turn the lights off. However, now if we do that, somehow it seems to instantly wake her up and she turns them back on. Is this even a problem?

—Lights Out

Dear LO,

You will face so many real parenting problems (maybe you already have) that I give you complete and total permission to not make this another one. I’m assuming you’ve tried night lights and found them wanting. So here you are. Let me assure you that overall this is fine. Your electric bill suffers a bit, but I hope you are using energy-saving bulbs. Re-visit the issue periodically in the coming year to see if she’s made progress but other than that, do not give this a second thought. If your child is sleeping happily, count it a blessing and move on with your life.