José loves vacuum cleaners. Actually, he's obsessed with them. Fascination that borders on obsession is just a normal part of life for us. In the past it's been the movie Cars, strollers, fire trucks, school buses, the color brown. Now it's vacuum cleaners. Is this a bit strange? For a while I thought so, at least until I was pointed to this link (see #2), which helped me see it as a little less peculiar.

Here is what obsession looks like in our family. The word “vacuum” is said approximately five thousand and seventy-six times throughout the day. Our YouTube viewing history is almost exclusively vacuum cleaner demos. No more Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, Special Agent Oso, or Pocoyo. No, we are fanatical connoiseurs of Electrolux, Oreck, and Miele. (Pressure washers are also called “vacuums” so we are huge fans of Karcher, too.) When we venture outside of our neighborhood, outings more often than not include a visit to the vacuum section of the supermarket or department store. We actually go to the mall for the sole purpose of checking out the vacuum selection at Sears.

I sometimes get nervous when José's obsessions involve property that doesn't belong to us. I have to walk the fine line of respecting his need to learn about the world in ways that have meaning for him and teaching him to follow social norms. And because it feels a little wierd to explain to people everywhere we go about things like autistic tendencies and sensory regulation, I usually just allow some unusual behavior while monitoring the reactions of salespeople and avoiding uncomfortable confrontations the best I can. This is what I call The Vacuum Cleaner Games.

For a while Sears was our favorite destination for all things vacuums. The first couple visits were easy because José was mostly content to just look at all the merchandise and accepted the limits I set on touching because there was just so much to see. The vacuum section is nestled in the middle of refrigerators and washing machines and even sewing machines. So much electronic fabulousness all in one place!! José was just a bundle of happy madness those first couple times and I pretty much just followed him around as he took it all in. On subsequent visits, though, looking was not enough and he couldn't resist opening and closing the doors of every other washer and dryer. When this behavior started, my strategy was to pretend that I was actually studying the features of the different machines so I would look like a potential buyer. (“Oh, I really like the look of the computerized Whirlpool but maybe the simpler Easy would be less likely to break down and look, the Maytag has a really good deal going right now and oh, José, please be gentle while mommy looks and on second thought lets not touch because the salespeople are all grouped together right here . . .”) This strategy only works a couple times because eventually the salespeople start to recognize you and the distracted perusing mother charade isn't so believable any more. Then, at another visit, José started beelining for the vacuum section and I was running out of plausible scenarios. Thankfully, the last time we visited, a couple days ago, I thought of a genius explanation in the event that one was needed, which it was. When the inevitable happened and the saleswoman asked if there was anything she could help us with, I smoothly replied, “Well, my son has a disability and doesn't like toys. What he likes are vacuum cleaners and we're going to get one for him for Three Kings Day so he's actually trying to decide which one he likes best.” (smooth, right?) This seemed to satisfy her and she went back to her paperwork. For the first time, I actually felt comfortable letting José toy around with the darn machines, within reason, of course. (Yes, you can pull out the cord and push the button that makes it retract. No, you can't use the attachment that makes a horrible scraping noise on the floor.) After another 5 or 1000 minutes, though, (time seems to stand still when I hit that sweet spot of watching José enjoy himself and not worrying what people are thinking about his behaviors) she came back to say, “It looks like he really enjoys the red one.” “Yes, it does,” I agreed, and proceeded to look at the current financing options posted above the vacuum section. Rogelio came to the rescue at this point and started to talk to me about how easy it would be to choose a six month no interest plan, buying us a few more precious minutes before telling José it was time to go. Needless to say, I think we've used up all the good will and tolerance we're going to get at Sears and it's time to move on. Fortunately, we recently discovered an amazing vacuum section at Liverpool in the same mall. Not only is it amazing because of how accessible the machines are and that the selection is bigger and different than at Sears, but the different departments are more spaced out, the vacuum section is hidden behind the irons and washing machines, and there never seem to be any salespeople in the vacuum section there. Liverpool, watch out. You will soon get to to know my tazmanian-dirt-devil-vacuum-obsessed boy. And if you must know why I let him play with your display machines, I'll just say that his birthday is coming up and pray that the object of his obsession changes before we run out of stores.

Thank you, dear readers, for joining me here. Feel free to use the comments to share about your child's obsessions and how far you've been willing to go to indulge them. And if you need any recommendations about the best vacuum cleaner for your needs, well, I listen to vacuum demos all day long.