I’ve struggled for a long time to even begin this post, because it’s so emotionally loaded for me. We have hired a housekeeper. And it was the best damn idea we ever had.
In a time of worldwide economic hardship, we are fortunate. We live in a city where our mortgage payment is obscenely low for a house that’s safe, warm, well-insulated, and structurally sound (if not as lovely as some of the houses near it). We have outstanding health insurance that affords us world-class care for very little co-pay. I try not to let myself forget to be thankful for these things, because the combination of low mortgage and negligible health bills allows us to live comfortably from one non-profit accounting salary and one part-time instructor/writer salary.
Can we vacation on the Riviera each summer? Can we join a fancy gym and get bi-weekly professional massages? No. But, we decided, we sure can afford $100 per month for about 6 hours of housekeeping.
When I was in the midst of my first trimester exhaustion and pounded with work, cleaning my bathtub seemed as impossible as flight. Forget about the toilet or floors. I had a talk with Corey–I was not going to get MORE energy as the pregnancy continued (and, by God! my writing work keeps coming in!).
Corey never felt like the issue should be an issue; it seemed an obvious solution to him. For me, this outsourcing was more complicated. I come from Central Pennsylvania German Protestant people. I come from a stubborn place, where people regale relatives who “never complained a day in her life” and my father tells stories of working summers as a roofer since he was 12 years old (usually, these stories were meant to spur us into action washing dishes or something). I come from people who work and cook dinner and clean their houses.
Or do I? If I still lived near my family, I’d have unlimited free childcare and, perhaps, the energy to then clean my own house. Or maybe I’d have grandmothers who “drop by” every week on the same day to do my laundry and “tidy up” around the house–I realized recently that many people from home outsource some household help in the form of financially-uncompensated love from relatives.
The idea of hiring a housekeeper seemed somehow too fancy for me at the same time as it seemed an amazing time-is-money-too solution. It helped me to read a discussion on Rookie Moms, which led to a discussion on The Happiest Mom. Until very recently, Meagan Francis reminds us, hiring household help was the norm even for people who struggled financially.
Francis talks about the plot of Little Women, reminding us that the March family would rather not give any gifts at Christmas time than have to release their full-time housekeeper. Household help was seen as such a necessity that it trumped Christmas gifts. Now, women instead feel pressure to simultaneously maintain spotless households/lawns, work for $$, and spend as much time as possible with their young children. And most of us live far away from our extended families.
I say women feel this pressure because I also can’t help but feel this housekeeper is MY expense, which is total bullshit. I’m not even the dirty member of this family! I throw my underwear in the hamper, for instance, and I chew my food and swallow it rather than hide it under the furniture. Why have I been allowing myself to feel guilt over out-sourcing some of our household tasks?
The first day I came home from work after Jackie had been here, I sat on the floor inside the doorway and wept for joy. Granted, I was pregnant and I weep during Christmas carols, but our house smelled of Dr. Bronner’s, the hardwood floors gleamed, and my baseboards had been dusted. My baseboards! Who remembers even owning baseboards when it’s time to dust?
I had about 6 minutes to enjoy it before I picked Miles up and he acted like a 2-year-old, but I also had the satisfaction of knowing only clutter plagued my house. Clutter versus Duplo-block-sized dust clumps.
It didn’t take me long to feel comfortable having a housekeeper. I no longer think about cleaning apart from daily maintenance stuff, and I use that space in my brain to dwell on my family or my work or my long-lost “pre-baby” friends. I feel happy to provide some income for another family during a tough economic time and I couldn’t feel more joy during those two 6-minute periods each month where everything in my house is arranged just the way I’d like it to be, and I didn’t have to put it there.