After living in our two-bedroom Brooklyn apartment for almost eight months, my husband and I finally decided to hire a cleaning lady. I love to clean and have been efficiently up-keeping our pad, but with our usually vibrant trio ravaged by a cold virus and the baby starting to move all over the hardwood, we decided it was high time to do some floor-to-ceiling scrubbing. You know, the kind of cleaning that I just refuse to do. My prince-of-a-husband made the suggestion and I tried to convince him our apartment was fine. But when he mentioned a few hard-hit areas of our home, I knew I had to succumb. We made the call. The cleaning lady would come tomorrow. I got excited.
But that night, I tossed and turned. My nerves were pulsating like the night before a math exam. It hadn’t occurred to me that my house was completely unprepared for someone to tackle its mess. If Clara was going to come work her magic on my house, I had to be ready! If my apartment wasn’t anywhere near clean – how could I hire a cleaning lady?
You see, this is the cleaning lady conundrum. You have to clean your own home before you invite someone in to clean it for you. Suddenly, it made sense to me why, growing up, my mother would tell us kids, “Make sure you clean your room! The maid is coming!” I used to think my mother didn’t understand what acleaning lady was. And suffice to say, having to make my bed and clear my room in anticipation of Rosario’s visit really took the thrill out of the whole thing.
So here I was, the night before my cleaning appointment, considering canceling Clara the cleaning lady because my crib wasn’t clean for her to come clean it (read that three times, it’s absurd!). Only after making a mental list of chores to do before her arrival did I sleep soundly.
I woke up pumped to get the house ready and sparkling for Clara’s grand entrance. I didn’t want Clara to spend time on dishes, and they were completely cluttering the kitchen. So I washed dishes. I couldn’t imagine her picking up our dirty tissues. So I swept. I needed to make room for her to dust. So I cleared countertops. The obvious irrationality was masked by my discomfort in making a stranger clean up for me and a dose of embarrassment at how tragically messy my house had become.
If someone would have peeked through my window and watched me flying around the house anxiously cleaning and organizing, they would have thought I was expecting the Queen of England. But when Clara arrived, it was anything but English. I felt a pain in my heart, a deep regret for slacking off in Spanish 101. I tried to apologize that my house wasn’t ready. For emphasis, let me say that in another way: I said sorry to a cleaning lady that my house wasn’t clean! She didn’t understand; perhaps because I was being preposterous, but probably because the language barrier. But as it turns out, our method of communication was far deeper. Together - yes together - we entered a trance-like cleaning collaboration. She went straight to work with a broom and rag in my room while I danced around her clearing that which I considered out of her jurisdiction. With her expertise - and my mental insanity - the house was spotless in three hours.
In the end, I realize I paid a maid to get me to clean. With Clara’s silent (aka, non-English speaking) companionship, I raced, sweated, danced, whistled and organized my way into a fresh, sparkling apartment. When I offered Clara a glass of water, I nearly gulped it down myself. Yes, she did clean. But I did way too much for having hired her. And it’s my issue.
I wonder if other women just entering a relationship with their own Rosario, Clara or Maria have the same oxymoronic (and mostly moronic) need to clean in anticipation of their hired help. Is it my guilt at not wanting to get down and dirty to scrub? Or is it my empathy for a woman that cleans for a living? As women, are we all entitled to a cleaning lady? If yes, what is her role, what is ours?
All I know is there was something deeply uncomfortable about hiring Clara. But while “Mimi the Maid” does have a ring to it, I can never again be my home's sole cleaner and Clara will be coming again this week. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go get ready.