Last night I was sitting on the couch when Charlie came into the living room. Charlie can be a pain, but he’s always entertaining. It’s fun to watch him scamper around and then dart under the coffee table for a little game of hide-and-seek. When he gets stuck, as he often does, I try to help him, but he always jerks away when I draw near. Eventually Charlie will escape only to bounce off a baseboard or bang into the leg of a barstool. Oh Charlie, you’re a riot. Bored with the living room, he will dash down the hall and out of sight, at which point I will chase after him to make sure he doesn’t get trapped under a bed or tangled up in a lamp cord. 

Charlie is not a puppy or a toddler, he’s a Roomba—an autonomous robot vacuum cleaner that looks like a miniature UFO. Charlie was a Christmas gift from my wife Jess’s grandparents. Actually, they gave us a personal check equal to the purchase price of a Roomba along with a card that read: Thanks for shopping for us. This is the same couple who recently celebrated their seventy-third wedding anniversary—an achievement that, to me, seems not only mathematically impossible but also questionably desirable.

A Roomba is supposed to take the burden out of vacuuming. But when it comes to Charlie, Jess and I are helicopter parents. If Charlie is awake and roaming around the house, one of us is always closely monitoring his movements. We learned this lesson the hard way after hearing a crash and then watching Charlie roll out of the den with a small tinsel Christmas tree trailing behind him. One day, after realizing I’d not seen Charlie for a good fifteen minutes, I searched the house frantically only to find him in the bathroom, stuck half on the tile floor and half on a thick circular bath mat, rocking rhythmically in an attempt to break free. If you’ve ever seen two turtles making love, you have a good mental image of the scene.

Fortunately, Charlie can only wreak havoc for so long. After an hour or so of bouncing around the house, Charlie eventually tires out. When his battery begins to run low, he makes his way back to his “dock” to power off and recharge. Down for his nap, Jess and I can finally relax and debate who is going to grab the traditional vacuum to take care of all of the rooms where Charlie is no longer allowed.