Some of my favorite childhood memories involve Windex. Before harsh cleaning chemicals became a national topic of conversation and concern, the pretty blue liquid practically lived atop my old kitchen cabinet. Each week, my stay-at-home mom would start cleaning our modest, two-level house at the crack of dawn, finishing up seconds before calling us all to the dinner table.
While she was ordinarily more protective than a mother lion, on cleaning day, I could have chopped my hair off with a butcher knife and she wouldn’t have noticed until after the ritualistic banging of the drapes was complete. All of my most mischievous acts — from stealing the good Milano cookies from the cupboard to swiping my mom’s Christian Dior aqua eye shadow and using it to color my walls (I had a vision) — were carried out on cleaning day.
Though I was having the time of my life, my mother spent the day racing up and down stairs, always looking like she was 30 seconds away from executing a murder. From afar, adulthood, and parenthood specifically, seemed like a marathon that took place in the deepest depths of hell, where mind-numbingly dull duties were a constant. The second you finished drying the last fork, three more bowls would pop up in the sink. Laundry till you’re blue in the face. And bottle after bottle of Windex, never enough Windex to attend to the needs of all of those windows.
As my peers and I grew older, got married and started having children, I’ve noticed many are planting themselves in one of two camps. There are women who are obsessed with sharing memes about how our kids won’t be young forever so we should leave those dust bunnies hopping under the furniture so we can play on the floor with them more often.
And then there are women like me who have decided: Cleaning preys on my soul. Women today have way too much to do and we’re already pulled in a million different directions. And so, I’m going to hire someone to clean for me — and while I’m at it, I’ll also pay people to do as much of the other tedious crap I can afford to let them do.
Shortly after moving to our new home in the suburbs I found a cleaning service that charges $110 to whip my modest two-level home into shape. That price includes windows, the fridge and oven, otherwise known as the troublesome triplets — something that I like to tell myself makes the price worth it because, in all honestly, the price will never stop seeming preposterous to me. A band of women, three to four, arrive at my door after being driven there by a man whom I assume is the head boss or manager of the business. We greet each other, but then they quickly scatter about my home as if they’ve already planned in advance who will take what room. The man and I are then left exchanging pleasantries in my front hallway and discussing my expectations for the day.
And that’s where I start to melt into a puddle of middle class goo. I don’t actually have expectations for them other than: Please clean what you can and please don’t do too much. In other words, it would be great if you could dust and vacuum, but replacing the sheets on our beds is a highly personal act that should only be performed by someone who loves those beds and the people who sleep in them. Please don’t empty the dishwasher because how could you possibly know that I separate my frying pans from my pots (it’s silly, I know). And, should you feel the impulse to touch laundry that has come into contact with bodily fluids, tomato sauce and soil, please leave it where you found it — it feels weird for someone to know that much about my family but not stay for lunch.
I’m that person who cleans before the cleaning crew gets there because I’m embarrassed by my mess. It’s one thing to ask a stranger to vacuum the playroom, another to expect them to fetch LEGO bricks from under a chair or patiently insert crayons back into their box. One morning, after asking my 4-year-old daughter to put away her Disney princesses, it dawned on her that these wonderful people were soon coming over to make our lives so much easier and that her mother was just being a jerk.
“Why can’t the cleaning people do this?” she asked.
I was appalled. I pictured her growing up and becoming a 21-year-old intern who expected to make $120,000 a year just for being her. “Don’t get used to cleaning people cleaning for you — that’s not their job!”
The final straw came one day when my cleaning guru sent one woman to my house to perform the tasks of four women. About three and a half hours later, I came out of a room to find her sitting on the hardwood floor in my hallway, waiting for her ride to arrive with her collection of cleaning supplies on her lap.
“Please, please sit on my couch.” To make sure I was breaking through the language barrier, I pointed furiously toward the living room. I then brought her water. Grapes. I asked if she was hungry and wanted a sandwich. I planned to use food and overcompensating with kindness in order to apologize for making her clean my house alone. I wished I could ask how much of the $110 she got to pocket and take home to her family. I started thinking of her boss as a nefarious pimp.
The whole scenario makes me wish I had the time management skills of my mom, who never complained about whipping up dinner in between her love affairs with Windex. For now, I’m in between deciding whether the best solution is to continue paying for the service while making it known that I do not condone any adult sitting on my floor and giving in to my middle class-ness, which would never allow a stranger to touch my dust bunnies.