Cleaning For The Cleaning Lady

bucket-and-spongeLast night, I engaged in my bi-weekly ritual of motoring through the house and announcing in a purposeful voice, “Carmen’s coming tomorrow.” Everyone in the household understands that this is their cue to clean their rooms before they go to bed (i.e., remove all items from the floor, shove into any available closet or drawer space, and close the door/drawer tight.)

After 20 years of having a cleaning lady, I have made peace with the paradoxical yet timeless tradition of “cleaning for the cleaning lady;” my family members, not so much. Although, to their credit, while they may still grumble, they no longer require my nagging to cooperate, nor do they continue to demand an explanation of why exactly they must do the job that the cleaning lady is hired to do the very next day.

I am absolutely clear that our family has an unequivocal NEED to employ outside assistance to keep the house clean. During budget belt-tightening times, this expense has been and will be among the last to go. I learned that it’s a lot cheaper to pay a house cleaner a couple hundred bucks each month than to write weekly checks to a marriage (or family) therapist. Plus, not only is there family peace, I get the pleasure of walking into a completely clean house (it even smells clean!) on a somewhat regular basis – it never fails to thrill me.

For the last four years, 65-year old Carmen has been our cleaning lady. When she arrives every other Tuesday morning, we catch up on each other’s lives during 15-minute chats. I hear about her son’s adopting a child … her enthusiastic attendance at her grand kids’ soccer games … her menu for Christmas dinner. She gives me advice on allowing teen-aged children freedom (but not too much) and asks about the health of various family members.

My only complaint about this arrangement – which isn’t even fair – is that I feel guilty when I have to dash out the door before Carmen arrives. It feels rude to forgo my chat with this woman who clearly enjoys the limited social contact she gets at her job. It seems wrong to not indulge in chit-chat with the woman whom I’m expecting to clean the scum out of the sink and notice the cobwebs around my lights.

Anyone else feel occasionally trapped by a chatty housekeeper? Other stories (good or bad) about those women and men who help keep us Wise Women sane and our houses clean?

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Katherine Whitehorn

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