Coming Clean About Housekeeper Guilt
Thursday, September 13, 2007
Oh, God. Here she comes again. She’s mopping now.
The housekeeper’s here and - just as I was three Thursdays ago, and will be again three Thursdays from now - I’m utterly crippled with middle-class guilt.
I realize that ours is a consensual relationship: She agrees to scour my home and I agree to pay her good money so I don’t have to. In theory, it’s win-win. But there’s something about the sight of this good-natured woman slogging up my stairs with her cleanser-filled bucket that just feels wrong.
The sound of her rigorous scrubbing … the melancholy hum of her vacuum … the chemical lemon scent ever-attempting to mask the caustic smell of servitude … make it stop!
It’s hard to maintain a respectful employer-employee relationship with someone who confronts your toenail clippings and empty Tylenol PM bottles on a regular basis. It’s even more awkward because I work at home and have to lift my feet when she comes sweeping under my desk, clearing out dog hair, cookie crumbs and pen caps I didn’t even know were down there.
I always consider leaving the room when she does this, both to make her job easier and to avoid the thought bubble above her head that says, “She doesn’t look so busy. Why isn’t she sweeping her own floor?”
Instead I stay put, to prove the point that what I’m doing here at this computer while she swipes cobwebs from my chandelier and bends over to dust my baseboards (was that a grunt? did she just actually grunt?) is hugely important work. Super vital stuff. Crucial.
I let out exaggerated stress-sighs once in a while, so she knows that while my work is not exhausting, nor does it smell bad, nor does it leave my fingernails a shambles, it does require deep contemplation. And a thesaurus. Plus I type really fast when she’s in the room.
“Wow,” she’s probably thinking, “anyone who types that fast must be doing something very demanding, ponderous and of great import to society. I’m sure glad I don’t have to sit on my butt all day and string sentences together for a living. Me, I’d rather be chiseling the soap scum out of some stranger’s shower grout … ”
I should be flogged with a Swiffer, I really should.
It’s not that I’m above cleaning, or that I’m too smart, skilled or snobbish for the task. It’s that I suck at it. Truly. If a surface can’t be rendered spotless with a Lysol wipe, I’m genuinely flummoxed and inclined to let it be until the next remodel.
But what bothers me most about the housekeeper quagmire is I feel like I’m dissing the sisterhood - the one established back when humans lived tribally. Women kept house collectively, sharing in the jobs of floor-sweeping, pelt-mending and acorn-grinding. So why is there currently a woman alone in my bathtub, high on Ajax?
I deserve to be tied down and have 409 dripped onto my forehead until I slowly go mad.
I can’t help wonder: Is mine the filthiest house she encounters all month? Does she chide me to her friends and even her other clients? Do you think she calls me “Mrs. Dirty”?
The next time she stands beside my desk with her mop clicking, I want to face her and say, “We are not so unlike, you and me. We are both doing what we can to make a living. We both want respect for the things we’re good at. And we both deserve to do our jobs with dignity.”
I probably won’t, though. I’ll probably just lift my feet.
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