Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Ode to my cleaning lady

Sewing Machine

This post is going to require certain, painful admissions. One is that I am spoiled enough to have someone else to do my cleaning. Another is that I am a slob. I also happen to be married to my opposite in the house cleaning department--a man who would give up sleep to do the dishes or clean his desk. Years ago, struggling with two careers and children, we realized that if we wanted to stay married we needed cleaning help. Otherwise there would have been serious bodily harm to one of us. There was a bit of guilt involved, feeling as if we were too high class to pick up after ourselves but we both work long hours (much more so for me when I was earlier in my career) and try to devote what time we have left over to being the best parents we know how to be. Vacuuming just didn't fit in.
So why am I writing about my cleaning lady? Well, it's a long story but here goes. We have always found our cleaning ladies through a service run by an Eastern European woman who seems to be the local madam of Polish cleaning ladies. Truly. I don't know how she does this but you call her up and she sends you someone. At your house will arrive a generally, middle aged woman who changes into a house coat and starts to clean. She will speak very little English and will refer to you as Missus. These women are incredibly trustworthy and reliable. They show up, work hard, need little supervision and so on. I am not referring to the women by name because it is not my right but I wish I could because it would make them seem more real and human.
The cleaning ladies don't always understand the American lifestyle. Hence, they do not wash my clothes--otherwise everything would go into hot water and a hot dryer and come out seven sizes too small. Wool, silk, a business suit or party dress--all in the same load as the dirty underwear. So we have to have a sense of humor when things don't work out.
We have had several women, each for a number of years and were always saddened to see them go. We would learn about their grandchildren still in Poland, that they rarely or never saw. They would ask about our kids and grow to know them. There never was enough common language for us to be friends but we liked each other.
A few months ago, the woman who had been with us for a number of years moved back to Poland. We were very happy for her as it seemed to be something she very much wanted. I hope she does well there. Her replacement arrived--a very young woman who came one day and didn't leave us feeling happy. She seemed in a hurry to finish up and left many things poorly done (this was a first for us). Clothes were put away wet and so were dishes. We had to track down what she had done and do it properly ourselves. We decided to give her one more chance and then say something to her boss. The next week she showed up with a broken arm and another woman with her. She told us she would be unable to work for some time and she was showing the other woman the ropes.
This new woman was somewhat older, I'll call her by her first initial G. She was tiny, less than 5 feet tall and looked somewhat frail. She reminded me somewhat of my great grandmothers who came from Eastern Europe (although one great grandmother was quite heavy) with her limited English and her old fashioned house coat. The first time she came by herself her enthusiasm exceeded her knowledge. I had to frantically intercede and pull a linen jacket out of the dryer. I lost a couple of old clothes items but no serious harm was done. I had to reorient her to the assumed rule which is that only clothes in a laundry basket get washed. This was required since (embarrassingly) my dry cleaning often winds up in a heap on my closet floor.
We decided that we were very happy with G. due to her incredibly hard work and good-spiritedness and asked to keep her on instead of the younger woman with the broken arm.
Anyway, we had another unspoken rule which is that our cleaning ladies did not need to clean the third floor of our house which is largely unused or overflow as well as having a guest room we rarely use. We figured they did not have the time as our house is large. There are three rooms upstairs and a bathroom. One is the guest room. One was intended for the kids to play in and later as a teen hang-out but the kids prefer to be on the main floors where they can be in contact with their parents meaning all their games are scattered across the house. Of course, I'm pleased they still like to have us around. There is a second room which has evolved into a room for my sewing machine and a "project room". And there is a guest room which remains neat.


Unfortunately, the "project room" being mine alone became a disaster area. Sewing supplies, yarn, paper, books and photos wound up strewn all over. I'm sure no one but me could possibly work in there. So today I nearly fell over when I went upstairs and happened to glance in the room. It had a floor! With a little carpet and a desk with a sewing machine on it. For a moment, I was literally confused, as if I had been teleported into the wrong house. I didn't recognize my own room.
I'm sure I will have trouble locating my things and I feel a little strange having my personal space invaded but I just need to suck it up. A miracle happened in the guise of a short dynamo of a Polish cleaning lady. She accomplished what I thought would require a minimum of a professional de-clutterer. It will take me a few days to adapt to the new world "order" or at least household order but who knows? Maybe someday I'll be one of those people who enjoys giving tours of her house. That would be different.
Thanks G!

1 comment:

Sue said...

Hi... I really know where you are coming from on this one! I'm also married to a neat person, and I'm quite a mess myself. People always assume it will be the wife that keeps order in the house, but in our house, it's the husband. We don't have a cleaning lady (although I would have one if I could!) But I've had my husband "organize me" on occasion, as a surprise, and it really freaks me out. I can't help it. I don't want someone to straighten up after me, but it's so nice when it happens!

My husband, by the way, is about 1/2 Polish -- and I believe he gets the cleaning gene from that side of his family.