This post originally appeared on DC Metro Moms on November 13, 2008
People who live in houses with smudged glass doors should do some cleaning
When I brought out a spray bottle of Parsley Plus to wipe off our patio table during playgroup, my son nearly outed me as having a housecleaner. “That’s for Selma,” he told my friend, who nodded a standard motherly ‘mm-hmm.’ On one hand, my proud side wanted to translate his two-year-old brilliance for her by explaining that Selma came over to clean our house every Wednesday (and always to dote on him). But another part of me was embarrassed that he associated housework only with someone other than his parents, especially since this friend wasn’t very complimentary of overprivileged mothers who threw money to other people to take care of things like cleaning – and like their children.
But there was a health factor for me on both hiring childcare and cleaning help. A few months after my son was born, I knew I needed to create some time to attend to doctor’s appointments and the other stuff that had helped me get healthy and pregnant in the first place, including acupuncture. As a baby, my son wouldn’t sleep or spend any quality time happily away from a human body, so it wasn’t as though he’d have happily watched me get stuck with needles from the safety of his SnugRide.
One experience scrubbing the toilet with my infant son dangling from the Hotslings pouch was enough for me.
And even if it weren’t, I’d started to develop postpartum eczema on my elbows and knees that eventually got so bad I would end up scratching my knees until they bled if I spent more than 30 seconds kneeling. Mama needed some support.
So I looked for some. After many false starts, we found a sitter we loved, and that time helped me get my groove back. It wasn’t any simpler to find a happy housekeeping arrangement. Toward the end of my pregnancy, I’d hired a local woman who ran an environmentally-friendly cleaning service. I left the house all ready for her and was dismayed when I returned and nothing had changed. It turned out she’d written down the wrong address and just left when there was no key under the mat. I gave her a second chance. The house sure smelled sweet and natural, but it just didn’t seem that clean. If even I notice something that’s been missed, it’s not a great job. Her rate didn’t seem like a bargain, either, and the last straw was that she put into the recycling bin an obviously vintage beer bottle that had sentimental significance for my husband. It had been sitting on our bedroom dresser, not strewn among a house full of empties.
So I didn’t want to call her again. Instead I tried bigger company with an eco-friendly name. They came about three hours late – around 4:00 p.m. – and spent the bulk of the time upstairs in our bedrooms while I kept my infant son away from the noise in the basement.
Then a friend told me about her housecleaner; she would charge a much lower price than the bigger companies and would use whatever non-toxic products I would leave for her. Count me in! Soon after, we met “Selma,” and she gave us a biweekly slot on her Wednesday afternoon schedule.
At first, it was bliss. I felt so calm after Selma had been here. The place had never looked better. And she always fawned over my son as we headed out the door, pushing all the right motherlove buttons for me.
But then things got busier. For us and for her. My son got more active and messy around the house and more demanding with clearer nap needs. It took longer to prep the house for Selma to come; if she had to deal with all our toys and paper clutter, she ended up staying long after we needed to start our dinner and bedtime routine. And if I wanted to see the day’s newspaper again or find other papers, I needed to stuff them away before she got here. But then I was just creating unwieldy piles of stuff in the storage cube where bills and magazines went to die. Not helpful.
It got to be that I stressed out over giving over my house almost as much as I delighted in having it clean once Selma left. What accentuated the negative was the fact that Selma was getting less and less predictable. Sometimes she’d arrive at 4:00, sometimes at 1:00. For a mom with a baby who slept 1:00-4:00, that’s a big difference. I requested a switch to the mornings, and that worked for a while. We’d be leaving for a class just as she arrived; we’d stay out until she was done. But then the 9:00 a.m. arrival became noon some weeks, so she was just getting started when we got home and were ready for a quiet house.
And then there was quality. When Selma’s helpers came instead of her, it suffered. And they used a million paper towels. The house wasn’t very clean. My checkbook register was getting thin while my garbage can was puffed full with paper. And my schedule was all thrown off every two weeks.
Then my son closed the deal when his comment to my friend showed me what he’d learned about domestic work: that we pay someone else to do it. A recent Washington Post article “The ABCs of C-H-O-R-E-S: How to Get Kids to Help Around the House” quoted a full-time-working-outside-the-home mom who chose not to hire a housekeeper for this same modeling concern.
When my son made the revealing comment, he was certainly old enough to start pitching in (or even well beyond ready, according to the article’s age-categorized “To-Do List for Parents “ which was adapted from information by Zero to Three). As for me, my health had improved such that there was no reason I couldn’t do the cleaning myself. I posted around on some mom email lists for advice on “firing” a housekeeper and settled on simply telling her when she arrived that this would be our last week, and could she please leave the key on the kitchen table on her way out?
In Waldorf education, there is a great emphasis on ritual and also on intentionally doing the work of living. When I began our parent-child Waldorf class this fall, I came to like the idea of establishing some kind of a routine at home: “If it’s Monday, it must be time to vacuum. If it’s Tuesday, we clean the kitchen.” If the crafty mom at Momformation‘s Week of Wonders can ensure that every Tuesday has a “yummy in my tummy” cooking project, can’t I clean my bathroom once a week?
It may not come as a surprise that my inspirational cleaning schedule has not (yet) come to pass. But I have made a conscious attempt to make most of my efforts happen when my son is around, even if he gets underfoot and creates as much of a mess as I’m trying to remove. If I do the real work of making a home – cooking, cleaning, laundry, yardwork and repairs – when he’s not here to see it, how is he going to develop his own motivation to take care of his things?
We’re still working on the rhythm piece of our lives, and I can tell that, after several months of only haphazard efforts to make Toddler Central shine like the Chrysler Building, it would make sense to get help with a deeper cleaning a few times a year, if I can find someone I like to do it.