Tag Archives: cleaning ladies

Inadequacy and the Cleaning Ladies


They’re back. I re-hired them after I let myself decide that it was ok to not give a damn about letting someone else clean my house. That if the funds are there, and the stars align,  I reasoned that I was keeping these women employed and I didn’t have to sweat my sons’ bathroom toilets and bed-making. They know my home, they know where stuff goes and in the future, I will likely employ them to help me purge.

So the funds are there, thanks yoga teaching, and the stars have aligned. The ladies have been back for months. What has returned with them, along with a lovely surprise I’ll get into shortly, is the sense of inadequacy and the reminder of my flagging mindfulness. At times, I’ve simply laid out the sheets on the beds to be changed. I’ve left my clean folded clothes in piles — it’s like I’m a transient in my own house: I don’t always put away my clothes. I live out of the familiar piles of cleaned shirts and undies and jeans and sock twins that are like small indicators of unfinished projects. They’re cotton archipelagos of inadequacy. What I need to do is vet out my t-shirts and gut about half of all my clothes. I have too many pairs of yoga pants.

“But there will be a funeral and I’ll need that dress.” “And that sweater to go over it.” “And those boots because I know we will go out to a bar again, one day, maybe after the funeral.” “There’s a wedding this fall…”

Lots of clothes I don’t wear anymore are tied in my former identity: corporate shill of corporate messaging. They were pricey then, nice wools, beautiful blends, “status” labels and now… I don’t wear them. I can still fit into all of it, but there’s this part of me which simply won’t move on. This part of me SO GETS MY MOTHER: that she would hang on to her gorgeous classic-hewn clothing because it never went out of style, and she was right.  Mom could rock a camel-toned cashmere sweater in May like NO ONE, other than Lauren Hutton.

I also know that clothes and books and things were important to my mother. I sense that after all her kids pushed off for lives of their own, and my father pressed on in his career, her drive to fill our rooms with things she’d never use, but things which sated her fears and sadnesses beat any fleeting sense of mindfulness or rational objective in acquiring such things. I’m sure it’s a combination of her numerous anxieties and predilections as well as a sincere interest in reading that book, or giving that gift, or using that purse, or wearing those boots that over time simply became too overwhelming to deal with. So instead of purging, she acquired more to quiet the noise. More things to hide the things she never used.

I can feel the sensations in my body: quickening pulse and a shallowness of breath when I look around my accumulation of unused or once-used items and shame myself internally for having them. I think of landfills and waste. “It’s a lot,” one of the cleaning ladies once said to me when I sighed at the house. And I think I’m relatively organized!

I don’t need 52 multicolored Sharpies, but there was a time when I did. The kids use them for school, still, but there’s this nagging sense of “USE THAT ALL THE TIME OR IT’S WASTE” mentality. I blame Costco. I’m mostly serious. You can’t buy three pairs of socks there, you have to buy six in a pack. You can’t buy 12 Sharpies, you have to get 52 — because if you buy 12 a la carte elsewhere, it’s almost as pricey as buying the bargain pack at Costco.

But the cleaning ladies come, and when they do, the house must be “in order” to a certain degree because they can’t access the table to clean and dust it if it’s covered in 52 Sharpies. I mean, they will put the Sharpies somewhere, but often their choice of placement is like a planter or a silverware drawer because they’re just here to get shit done and move on.

So here’s the surprise I’ve finally allowed myself to enjoy: when they come here, for at least the first afternoon, I will enjoy and revel in the quiet, the order, and the essence organization that reigns and it’s ok if I didn’t do much of it myself. I know I can; that’s not the point. It’s that I’ve allowed myself to let someone else do it and that I’m ok with it.

Even though I know and YOU know what’s really going on in that junk drawer, that for the moment, everything is chill and my home makes me look like I’ve got my act together. When they’re here, quietly tending to my home in a way that I certainly can, but I’ve basically abdicated, I do feel less alone. My heartbeat slows and my breath becomes mine again. It will get done. That’s the gift.

I read with great vigor A Manual for Cleaning Women by Lucia Berlin. It’s a collection of short stories. Many of them are memoir, some are written with disdain for the client / employer, and I shuddered a little upon reading Berlin’s observations about us, knowing when we’ve had our periods, or the last time we had sex, what we’re reading, what we’re still not reading, how we’re sleeping, or if our children eat in their beds, hoard candy in their rooms, and the secrets they have, but I get that. Other stories are deep, wandering tales about love, the oceans, sex with near strangers, and marriage. It’s a wonderful book as Berlin is masterful — both succinct and dreamy — and real. You can’t hide from her, she has found you.

I think often about these women who clean my home, Flora and Linda. They are sweet and obsequious. They banter in Spanish and usher tender giggles to each other upon encountering our dogs and marveling at how much my children have grown. I’ve worked with them for eight years. I wonder about their lives, about what keeps them up at night. Shortly after my mother died, they came to clean and I thought I was going to be OK. I hadn’t let the house get too bad between their visits. But Mom had died and I was a mess.

The moment they came in the door, my eyes welled up and Flora (the older of the two) saw my face. She knew something had gone horribly wrong between our last encounter. “My mother died last week…” and I wailed and bawled and cried heaving sobs into her neck as she held me and rocked me in her arms. She’s not that much older than I am, but I have an affection for these women that goes back to my childhood as I was basically raised by my cleaning lady, Betty Sortino.

Flora’s partner, Linda came in to help soothe me. And we stood there in my front hall for about a minute until I composed myself and told them what happened. Three weeks later, Linda’s husband also died. He fell off a scaffold at his worksite and died in the ambulance. He was 36. He and Linda have three children. She took a couple weeks off and then came back to work; she has no choice as she has to feed her children and her husband is dead. I wonder about her children. When I give away clothes, I give Linda and Flora first rights of refusal. Over the years, I’ve given them clothes, desks, dressers, books, and toys.

About a year ago I learned how much these women earned from my payment to their broker. $20 per house. I was paying many times that for the fee. If clients kept their appointments, they would clean up to four houses per day. They only got paid if they cleaned and I used to flake out on their employer all the time because I couldn’t get my house ready. Each house takes about 2 hours for them to tackle.

One day, I asked them if they worked on their own and that’s how we do it now. I’ve increased their rate and I believe that my paying them outright and directly rather than through the company whence we first found them does make a difference. When I pay them directly, I am less prone to cancel because I don’t have my act together because the house wasn’t tidied in time or appropriately. They don’t judge. They are eager for the work and I am eager for the respite from the visual chaos. It’s become more of a relationship which transcends the work and I trust them completely. I respect them and they get to keep the money I pay them instead of only take home a sixth of it when I paid them through their broker. I give them extra cash for Christmas.

Each time they are here, I promise to myself that I’m going to go through my things and really sort and donate. Lighten my load. I have a neighbor who’s moving this weekend. She’s more than a neighbor, she’s become like a cousin to me. She’s leaving for Florida and I honestly hope I go see her. When she put her house on the market, I helped her straighten up — I was literally a third pair of eyes added on to her own and her young friend who’s got a real knack for spatial placement of things.

She asked me to come view and give pointers. I admit I felt a little like a white-gloved Marine Corps officer running quarters inspection, but my advice, adjustments, and insight were helpful. I was impressed by how austere her home had become. It felt like a resort property. It felt like a rental on a beach and I envied that — the lack of shit crowding everything. Yet she felt it was too sterile, too antiseptic, no “life” or “personality” in her home anymore. She was right. The house had a “tone” now, not a feeling. We all agreed that the powder room needed to feel like a “spa” so I filled her glass vases that hung on the wall with neutral tone rocks, some branches from the wispy white pine tree in her backyard and clips off the rigid birch tree in my front yard and voila. Spa.

It sold in three days. For the asking price.

I will miss her a lot. More than I think either of us realize. She has quietly supported me — unconditionally — for our entire relationship. She has never passed judgment and has been a true cheerleader in everything I’ve ever ventured. It hurts that she’s leaving, but everything was in such utterly perfect cosmic alignment — like the kind of alignment you read about — that her staying here meant spiritual coma. You don’t get the kind of opportunities, conversations, situations and challenges thrown at you the way she has and keep things as they are.

She used my cleaning ladies before putting the house on the market. They provided her with the calm and ease they provide me every time they leave my home. It’s quiet. It’s clean. When they are here, I am forced to let them work, to stay out of their way. To leave with the dogs. When I come back, things are where they belong. Or at least they’re not in the way. The inadequacy ebbs and I don’t feel like such a failure. I know I perform a lot around here, it’s in the ways you can’t often see. At the very least, I have participated in readying the house for them.

In three hours my three boys will be home. I will be teaching little kids yoga, teaching them to learn how to calm themselves, center their minds, and know they are enough. I will not think about my friend moving to Florida and I will thank Linda and Flora.

Thank you.


It’s Not You, It’s Me.


We fired our cleaning ladies this morning. It’s a little heartbreaking because we’ve had them for years.

The urge to do it wasn’t an urge at all, but a slowly moving snowball rolling down a 30˚ slope toward my face. I am at the bottom of the hill, lying in a pile of my own havoc and the havoc foisted upon me by my three wonderful and active boys, two dogs, busier than bananas husband and newly busy self.

It’s probably The Worst Time of The Year for me to do this, to let them go. Halloween candy wrappers everywhere. Dog hair is at an all-time high although I’m not sure why because don’t golden retrievers keep their hair in the fall? Tree leaves and those little sharp-as-frack seed pods from the tulip poplars are all over my front walk-up, they look like confetti in my front hall, and in other places they have assembled in neat little piles beneath my dusty furniture. They’re insulated by the dog hair; perhaps they will all commingle and create a small yet dense forest beneath the bench near the umbrella stand crammed into a darkened corner.

I can feel it in my gut: letting the Cleaning Ladies Go is The Wrongest Idea Ever.

The thing is: it’s me. I can’t do it all. I turn into a VIPER FROM HELL the day before they cleaning ladies come. I’ve written about it and I’ve also suppressed the hell out of my emotions regarding this situation.

“Three boy,” one says in her broken English. She’s a lovely person. “That mean hard works for ju. Ees a lawt.” Part of me realizes this is an affirmation on their part that I NEED them. That I can’t exist without them.

I can exist without them. I just won’t clean my microwave without them. When I see them, I want to fold into their ample bosoms and heave and cry because it IS A LAWT. Driving to soccer five times weekly, music lessons twice, therapy once, teaching yoga four times a week, taking yoga just once, grocery shopping, cooking, walking dogs, laundry (just mine and the youngest’s), using the bathroom, and wiping down a freaking countertop … We don’t really over-schedule our kids, but I’m wiped out by Friday and that’s when they come. Fridays. And peeps, having them come the same week as my Lady Time, IS A RECIPE FOR DISASTER.

don't eff with me.

the cleaning ladies are coming and I’ve been bleeding and sleepless for four days? don’t eff with me.

Prepping for the cleaning ladies and then having my kids NOT HELP AT ALL hits a very exposed nerve.

It taps the utterly most raw and deepest part of me: feeling invisible and unheard. That I don’t matter. That I’m replaceable.

It’s not the cleaning ladies who do this; they are amazing. They get that shit done in two hours and the house is presentable. It’s my team. My family. I honestly fantasize about taking off to Newark and finding a five-star hotel and crashing there, using all my yoga teacher money to stay one hour there and then get back in the car and drive to Trenton where I can find a diner and order a grilled cheese on rye and a bowl of tomato soup and I’ll use the VISA rebate gift card I got when I switched contact lenses last month. Then I’ll buy gas with the rest of the balance and drive back home to children who when they see me after my long, unexpected and restful journey, will say,

“Where are my cleats?”

So it’s not you, dear cleaning ladies, it’s me. I can’t handle the stress of prepping for you the night before. My kids don’t give a damn and having you show up just to stack the piles of their collective crap, and the crap I’ve not put away in time and the crap my husband hasn’t put away in time… It’s not worth it. Not this time of year. Not when Thanksgiving is three weeks away and then freakin’ Christmas. (“Mom, can we get a PlayStation 4??? Everyone says our PS3 sucks…” <– that. I want to take a sledgehammer to the PS3 and ask them if it really sucks then.)

When I say to people, my public, these things… these sort of quasi-deep yet revelatory (if you get where I’m really coming from) confessions about the State of my State, it’s because I’m tired. I’m tired of being The Answerer here.

The other night, we grilled the most fabulous pork chops. They were on the grill for 20 minutes after marinating in brown sugar and mustard at room temperature for about four hours. My husband, whom I love, cut into the chop and asked me, “Is this done?” as he showed me the cut loin.

Internally I SCREAMED, “WHO THE FUCK AM I? A HUMAN GRILL THERMOMETER? DO I LOOK LIKE WOLFGANG FREAKING PUCK??” but externally I coolly said, “Sure.” And returned to sharpening my knives.

I am not Everyone’s Mommy here. I am a human being too.  Everyone knows that when I’m sharpening knives, I’m NOT to be disturbed. That’s why I walk around with the sharpening steel at all times now.

So this morning, I did what I could. When he was getting ready for his escape from the house work this morning, my husband sensed my disposition. It couldn’t have been the knife-sharpening again…

“Ev-everything ok, hon?”

“No. Yes. No. It’s all FUBAR,” I said. “I can’t do this alone. There’s a hammer in the dining room and I don’t know why; my pruning shears are in the bathroom — I DIDN’T DO IT… and shit everywhere. A firewood log in the playroom?? Cleats, shin guards, soccer balls, those effing black rubber flecks from turf fields… I want to stab a phone book except THOSE don’t exist anymore…”

“Let’s just cancel them.” He said.

IT WAS LIKE THE SUN SHONE IN MY HOUSE. The angels were singing.

So he left and I did what I could.

I prepped the front walk-up. I swept the leaves and seed pods out of the way. I got rid of catalogs (OY! WITH THE CATALOGS!). What I really need to do is go out with the girls in my life. But we’re all so busy. I think this is why people plan adventures to far-flung places (Hoboken) and get impossibly drunk because when you’re on a schedule like the ones we endure, there’s no time for R&R.

I know I sound ungrateful. I’m not. I’m blessed like no one’s business. Three healthy boys, a great marriage, the dogs, the yoga teaching and so much shit that I lose my mind every fortnight to get it the hell out of the way. I get it; it’s just … that I’D LIKE SOME HELP for THE HELP.

I know they’ll be back. I’m no fool. The cleaning ladies are my heroin(es).

They just got here. No joke. Gotta get back to making little piles…


Thank you.

You Have to Have Something for YourSelf


I had been in a state of ennui lately. Unhappy and feeling unfulfilled with myself.

There are some amongst us who love to be homemakers, and bake and sweep like Giselle in “Enchanted” or the eponymous Snow White.

I am not that person.

Phyllis Diller has a great quote: “Why bother cleaning the floor? You’re just gonna have to do it six months later anyway.” And that describes my interest (although not my involvement, I do do housework) in … well, the domestic arts. I write checks when other people paint their own walls. I garden, but that’s outside…

I do love to cook, this is true and I’m pretty good at it; it’s creative and I think that’s why I do it. But I hate planning the menus. So I set up my calendar on my computer with a menu that rotates every 29 days, yes, like a menstrual cycle (I’m coming out of my shell here, due to the post I wrote last week, and I’m not gonna talk like a sailor, but c’mon… loosen up). To counter the efficiency and forward thinking of that menu planner, I completely ignore it.

We have a vacuum somewhere. We have other things: chip clips, ziploc bags, a dustbuster somewhere. I have cleaning ladies every two weeks come to my home because I hate to clean the microwave and I hate to clean the bathrooms. (Click on that link if you want to laugh a lot.)

So it has been 13 years since I worked in an office. For a while after I left the office to stay home with Thing 1, I owned my own consulting business and wrote corporate and employee and strategic communications for several large, well-known multinational firms. Then I had another kid. Then another. That is awesome. I love my boys more than I ever dreamed I could possibly love anything. Their father is an amazing individual: patient, grounded, innovative, steady, calm and normal. In other words, he’s everything I’m not.  Well, I’m innovative too.

The thing is, I’ve been feeling lost. Purposeless and down about my situation of lacking a situation. I’ve thought openly and out loud: “This can’t be all there is… I’ve got a college degree, a proven career in communications but I have nothing but my yoga pants and some running gear and a bundt pan, no make that two bundt pans and that special brownie pan where all the brownies are corners or edges, to show for myself now.”

I’ve thought this so many times, it’s embarrassing. And I’ve overlooked the most important thing I have ever chosen to do with my life: be a mother. I didn’t place much value on my motherhood and mothering because I was so wrapped up in it for so long (I changed diapers every day for eight years) until I watched my 3-y.o. niece and her 9-month-old baby brother along with Things 1 and 3 for probably five hours last weekend. The loaners, they are the same age difference as my own first two kids and whooo-buuuoy, I totally appreciate now what I did then. I haven’t done any of those baby type things in six-and-half years. I caught myself chopping a cheese stick into pea-sized bites and making the same faces that the baby would to eat the yogurt and strained prunes I was feeding him. I cleaned his little chin with the spoon edge. I wiped him and his sister off with a warm paper towel — I haven’t had to do that in three days.

But the fact is that even with the sincerely awesome reminder of how valued we are to our children, the reality for me is that it’s damned hard,  unglamorous work. And now that my own children are in school seven hours a day and they don’t need me as much anymore, I have become, slowly without paying much attention to it, or maybe noticing but denying it (yeah, that’s more like it) a purposeless-feeling (not being, because I know I’m not purposeless) and sorta aimless woman.

Until last week. Until something cracked, like a beak pecking at a shell, I’ve come out and have discovered myself and in that discovery, I am allowing myself to Have Something For Myself: which is to really write; like tear-the-lid-off write, and to express and to be through that writing or probably more accurately: to allow that writing to BE through ME (yeah, that’s right). I’m just telling it like it is. It’s MY Something. I can volunteer for all the PTAs and bake sales and neighborhood activism I want. I can do that until I pass out, and these are important things to do, but they don’t light MY fire. And it doesn’t have to appeal to everyone, but what I’m doing appeals to me. On top of this realization is the most wonderful challenge my brain has faced in a long time: Camp NaNoWriMo which stands for “National Novel Writing Month.” The June session is underway as I type and they have another one in August. Camp NaNoWriMo makes me work my right side of my brain; the side that has been atrophying and gasping for life.

And it’s not lightly that I use that word, “woman.” I have seldom considered myself a “woman.” I considered myself a female person, I feel young and act young and do things that young people do, so when I hear sometimes in the news or read in an article that a “44-year-old Virginia woman recently . . . .” I absorb all the words, but I don’t consider myself within that reference. I usually think, “Forty-four, my God that’s OLD.”  Until recently, again.

Just a smidge of my bulletin board. I realize now that it says so much more about me than I realize. What does your bulletin board say about you? Is it a bulletin board about what you want to do or about what you need to do?

When I look back on that deep and heavy post, “real,” I wrote last week, I feel it’s appropriate to consider it as the shedding of my cocoon. I am starting to flap my wings. And it doesn’t bother me, that I’m not 26 anymore. Because I feel I have a purpose that does something other than giving to others; I have a purpose that gives to ME*. I have a purpose that feeds my soul, my intellect, my Self. I don’t care, really I don’t if the book I’m writing flops like a giant blueberry pancake. I am enjoying the process; and the process is part of the journey. And the journey is what matters.

It’s because of this purpose, this deadline at the end of the month, that I feel a part of something that is truly and uniquely and completely MINE. No one can write the words I do in the way I’m choosing to write them.

So I propose to you, my cherished reader (and I don’t do this a lot, probably because it was a symptom of my self-preservation and lack of pride that anyone would actually read what I write): if you have Something that you want to do, do it. Have Something For YourSelf. Tempus fugit. Go and Do It.

Oh, and if you’re doing it already: LUCKY YOU. Don’t stop. *Because when you give something to yourSelf, you automatically want to give to others. It’s just the way the universe works. We aren’t meant to be unhappy givers; we are meant to be happy givers who also feel free to be happy “have-rs.” When you have happily, you give happily.

Thank you.