Brooms have become tools of great importance in our lives. I remember having dinner with some friends from India last year, and they were describing the differences they noticed between daily life in India and that in the United States. One thing they said really surprised me. “There’s so much more house work, because of the dust. You leave something out, you come back, it’s full of dust.” I thought that was descriptive hyperbole. I realize now it wasn’t.
With windows that are never shut in a house floored with white tile, we have to sweep everything out every day. Just so you know, that’s a royal “we”. It’s the kind of “we” that really means “the house helper does it”. Also the children, who have become obsessed with brooms. Even Wally, who is always staggering around the kitchen under the weight of a broom twice as tall as he is. Indonesian brooms are really cool. They are usually bundles of stiff straws bound with a cord, often with a stick of bamboo in the center as a broom stick. Of course, there are more modern plastic brooms here, but these don’t tend to last in our family. Probably because they are frequently called into service as cockroach-smashers. (I’m serious, we’ve destroyed three plastic brooms in this way to date and there was no end to the madness in sight until Alex’s mother came to visit and gifted Alex with a heavy wooden meat-mallet, now designated for this purpose. We’re notching the handle for every kill.)
Even with a helper, I find plenty of cause for sweeping around here. I like sweeping. It’s such a classic, universal activity. Like all cleaning, I’m always struck by the redemptive metaphor.
And I love it when the children learn things by watching the people around us. Yesterday I found Harriet in the courtyard making a broom. She had gathered a pile of straws and bound them to a stick, and she was busily engaged in trimming the ends.
“Mom, I’m making a broom. Can I paint the handle when I’m done?” Norah was so interested in the process that she immediately enrolled in broom-making class, as offered by Harriet, a veteran with one broom successfully made.
“Hey, Mom. Take a picture of me, like, teaching Norah, okay?” She’s the younger sister, she needed to capture this rare moment.
I love the innate ingenuity of childhood. It’s really fascinating, the way they are so curious and absorb the world around them and put their own creative twist on it. Though to be honest, I was less keen on the innate ingenuity of childhood when Walter sweetly stuck a stick in my eye yesterday, also when Hugh found the bucket of white powdery ashes from the grill and made it “snow” thickly over everything in the courtyard, including his own hair. I should have been more understanding–he was just providing me with another opportunity to indulge in the universal redemptive metaphor of sweeping.
Harriet’s broom turned out excellent. She painted the handle bright blue and red and embellished the handle with a ball of pink fluff (that was her creative twist). She announced that she was going to gift the broom to her new kindergarten teacher, along with her reversible picture of a tree and a volcano. (One way it’s a tree, turn it upside-down, it’s a volcano.)
I can only say I hope the teacher understands the magnitude of this gift, as the broom is, at the moment, her most treasured possession. She was riding it through the house all morning, the foreboding of this slightly witch-like activity alleviated by the fact that she was singing the words to Psalm 121 at the top of her lungs.