I don’t know who’s responsible, but our home is full of landmines. The cat pads through the living room. A small, but still deafening, concussion. Boom. Cat intestines on the TV, cat brains on the couch. We’ve considered getting a new sofa cover anyway.
Here we go.
We’ve just entered the house after going out for donuts on a Saturday morning. When the cat goes up, my four children and I are still in the kitchen, distributed on either side of the island. My wife is at a craft bazaar. Our plan was to start our Saturday cleaning as soon as we got in the door. So much for that.
“Freeze,” I say. “Tim,” I shout to my oldest, “get the metal detectors.” They’re in the garage.
“Don’t go through the house,” I say, because I know that this kind of obvious instruction is necessary.
He’s standing right next to the front door. He opens it, steps gingerly outside. The rest of us, myself and the four younger children, stand stock still. “It’s going to be okay,” I tell everyone. I smile, but I can feel how thin the smile must appear.
We wait for a long time. That’s okay. It’s important to remain calm. We wait for longer. “Tim!” I yell. After a pause the door in the living room, the one that communicates directly to the garage, pops open. Tim stands there. “What was I supposed to do?” he says.
I breathe deeply. “Get the metal detectors,” I say.
“Right!” Tim says, widening his eyes to emphasize that he knows that he should have known this. He disappears back into the garage and then pops back through the door with three metal detectors.
“Got em,” he says.
“We need all five,” I say.
“Ugh,” says Meg, my second oldest.
“I’m tired,” says Paul, the youngest, the toddler.
“Shut up!” Tim says to Meg. “Sorry!” The sorry has an exasperated spin on it that completely annihilates the apology.
“Don’t say ‘sorry’ unless you’re sorry,” says Violet, the third oldest. She looks at me and smiles after she says this, because it’s something I say and she wants me to know that she’s been listening.
“Throw those three to us and then go get the other two,” I say.
“Okay,” Tim says.
I should predict what Tim does next, avoiding it with a more specific command. He attempts to throw all three metal detectors across the room in a single heave. The knot of metal detectors makes contact with the floor. Boom.
Incredibly, the forward inertia of the detectors, undergirded by the blast, throws them towards us. I catch two. Meg catches the other. Meg glares at Tim. He turns abruptly and goes back into the garage.
One of detectors is damaged beyond repair. I lay it gently down on the ground. Meg and I start up the others. Both appear to be working.
“Get Mom’s to replace the damaged one,” I yell to Tim out in the garage. I hear an exasperated groan from the garage.
I turn to Violet who’s right next to the sink, and the cupboard underneath the sink.
“Very carefully, open the cupboard and get the flags out.”
We have little mine flags, with one weighted end so we can mark the mines. Violet retrieves the flags. I divvy them up between the children. I scan the area with the detector, shuffle over to Paul and lift him onto the island.
“You get to stay up here,” I say.
Tim appears back in the doorway with the other two detectors.
“Got em,” he says.
Before I can warn him, direct him back out the front of the garage and in through the kitchen door, he steps into the house. Boom.
There goes the firstborn. You have to tell them absolutely everything.
The three detectors lie on the floor.
“Everyone stay still,” I say to the remaining children. My detector hums and beeps as I pick my way over to the fallen machines. I pick two of them them up, turn them on one at a time. They work. I pick my way back to the other children. Paul is defacing the island with a marker. Fine. I take him down and equip him with a detector.
“We’re going to work through each room,” I say. “Meg, you go back to your room. Clear it and mark anything you find.”
“I didn’t put any mines down,” she says.
“Neither did I,” I say. “But we’re all going to help detect and mark the mines together. Because that’s what we do.”
Meg grumbles as she carefully sweeps the hallway. I turn towards Violet.
“Bathrooms?” she says, showing me that she’s anticipated the order, making sure I notice.
“Bathrooms,” I say. I give her a smile. I try not to reward brown-nosing, but I prefer it to complaining.
From her bedroom Meg shouts, “Does Paul have to do anything?”
“Paul is three,” I shout back. “He can help me. We need this house cleared, all mines swept, before your mother gets home.”
Paul and I work carefully through the living room. We work through the kitchen. Everything is going well. We’ve identified ten possible mines. No concussive explosions elsewhere in the house.
“Bathrooms are done!” Violet shouts.
I scan my way over to check. I wave the detector over the flawless floor in the corners of the first bathroom. The machine screes its warning in two of the corners. I put flags down.
“Sorry!” Violet says. She scrunches up her face in a way that I can tell she thinks is cute. I roll my eyes.
“Go help your sister in your room,” I say. She sweeps her way to the room.
I sweep my office, finding three more mines there.
I go to check the girls in their room. No flags down. They’re both sitting on the bed looking at books when I enter the room. They adhere to the opposite logic of Toy Story when they’re clearing a room—meaning that if I’m not watching them, they’re lifeless. As soon as I catch sight of them, they’re active again.
Violet, eager to not be caught goofing off, stands up too fast and loses her balance, puts a foot down in terra incognita. Boom.
I turn to Meg.
“What have you been doing in here?” I say.
“Clearing!” she says.
“So you’re saying that if I step here . . .” I make a motion to put a foot down.
“No no no,” she says. I stop.
“I’m setting a timer,” I say. “I want this room cleared in ten minutes.”
Paul and I do another sweep, double-checking everything. Paul looks like he’s getting tired. The timer goes off. I go back to Meg’s room. She appears to have been working diligently. She’s placed seven flags. I feel relieved.
“This looks good,” I say. “See, if you stay focused, it’s not so bad. You and Paul can watch something.”
She sweeps them out to the couch, they turn on the TV. I’m exhausted. I go back to my room to lie down. The hallways are cleared and marked. We have the rest of Saturday.
As I open the door to my room, I put a foot down without thinking, without sweeping.