Wednesday, July 20, 2005

There's Something About Mary

During marriage counseling while still engaged, I felt it necessary to inform my future husband that the likelihood of me ever ironing any articles of his clothing was somewhere between not going to happen and no way ever was it going to happen. And thus it has been.

Other "not likelys" were: cleaning up after him, being his personal key locator, or making him dinner after we both had a long day of work.

What was my problem? Was I just a bible-thumping Christian Feminist? Well, that could be part of it.

But the real truth is that keeping up with my own cleaning, tidying, locating and arranging was a full-time job. My mom called me a slob. That is not exactly correct. The label "slob" implies that you're okay with the mess. Pigs are slobs. They live in a mess and enjoy it too. I do not like messes. I hate them, in fact.

Then, perhaps I'm just "lazy". This, too, is not exactly correct. True, I have a long "relaxation" streak, but I do work hard. In fact, when the cleaning bug bites me, I can be downright industrious. The only problem is that three hours of hard work for me looks like 15 minutes of my mom in action. Even when I clean, it still looks "undone". This is depressing and a huge dig-incentive to do any domestic work.

And my husband is worse. Between the two of us, we can wreak more havoc than a Category 4 hurricane in less time and more efficiently.

I used to feel ashamed of this. (Interestingly, my husband feels no shame. Must be the Y chromosome or the very low expectation bar of "boys will be boys" acculturation.) With a mother who cooks like Emiril, cleans like Molly the Maid and loves domestication like Martha, my sense of inadequacy knew no bounds.

I wondered why I didn't get a 10th of my mom's energy, verve and meaning out of the work. Her approach to dishes was zen-like. "I clean the dishes that my children will be nourished from--ommmmmmmmmm." One look at dishes, again, for the millionth time, makes me want to hook my children up to I.V.'s, and while were at it catheters too--potty training is a pain in my ass. (Hey, I didn't say I was winning any mothering awards here.)

And then, along came Mary.

I had resisted hiring someone to clean my house. It would be a confirmation of my shortcomings. It would be an announcement of my weakness. My husband would throw a fit about the money and my lackluster homemaking.

In the face of all this pressure that took ten years of marriage and chaos to overcome, I hired Mary. There's something about her...well, that's magical.

Mary manages to clean my house, help with my kids and generally support me without me feeling like a recipient of condescending charity. She knows her way around a kitchen, makes playing Chutes and Ladders with two young kids seem like the best way to spend an afternoon and rocks the baby to sleep like a human version of the Horse Whisperer.

Not only does she perform her job with joy and excellence she has turned into a true friend of mine. I know, I know, I've read you're not to mix friendship with the help, but I just don't buy it. Our best employees have turned out to be some of our best friends.

Mary's spirit lifts my own. With the kids, it can seem that all I do is laundry, feed, clean up, change a diaper, feed, laundry, etc. While Mary is here for just a few hours, I look forward to her coming and try my best to keep things the way she cleans them, so she doesn't have to work too hard. When the house begins to fall down around me, I know it won't be too long before I have her help.

Without family around to take the kids to a movie or go to dinner, Mary has been a gift from God. Even with her own household's troubles (we exchange our woes), when I get down she says, "I know. I know." And she does.

Why did I wait so long to hire someone? Why did I care about some relative's pursed lips and eye rolling (you know the sort: Hey, I gutted it up for years and hated it, why can't you?). Worse, why did I judge myself so harshly when it has always been clear that my talents lie elsewhere?

Well, having made a commitment to be a high achiever and never admit defeat, recognizing that I was a "C" housekeeping student was humbling. Snide comments and thinly veiled contempt for my shortcomings didn't help either. The irony is that when I finally let go and let Mary, I slowly but surely got on top of things better. I can go about a month in the house on my own before all heck breaks loose. Hey, it's an improvement.

I have a friend who keeps a huge garden, cans more food than Campbells Soup, ferries her kids around with the grace and speed of a stock car racer and has trouble keeping her house up. Hire help, I urge. I have another single parent friend who rarely sees his kid with work and other commitments and then spends his time shopping and cleaning. Hire Help! Ignore the internal judge. Just do it!

There is something about Mary. I believe she is an angel in human form. Link
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