Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Maid in Miami

"The hand who rock the cradle rules the world" Yet we never talk about the hand that cleans the toilet do we?  It may not rule the world, but it certainly has some influence.  I am talking about cleaning ladies and what impact do they have in our lives. The relationship between you and the person who washes your underwear. While employer-employee relations can be tense, imagine that your employee handles your unmentionables on a frequent basis and has free access to the liquor cabinet.
What surprises me is the intricate love/hate relationship we have with our cleaning ladies.  That delicate balance and fear that someone we trust to keep some semblance of order in our lives could walk out the door and we're left with dirt, spider webs and general disarray in is otherwise an orderly existence. The enormous trust we place in having a stranger go through our possessions clean them and hopefully put them back where we found them.  
My cleaning lady, Maria(not her real name) came to me over 25 years ago. She was the cleaning lady of my best friend and roomie. Carol, my room mate was severely housekeeping impaired.   Her solution was Maria, a person who had spun a severe case of  Obsessive Compulsive Disorder into a rather thriving business for the perennially disorganized like Carol.
I lived with Carol a few years, fell in love and moved out. I also forgot to mention to her that I also had hired Maria when I left. I neglected to mention this to my ex-roomie.  Well, it got out a few years later that I had "stole" Maria. Carol didn't speak to me for about 6 months. Carol insisted that I fire the housekeeper....but at that point my Husband and I were under the thrall of clean toilets and color sorted underwear. I realized a clean house was well worth the cost of a dear, dear friend.
Over the years I have referred our housekeeper to several friends. She has a waiting list. Through my housekeeper I have a the hookup to other cleaning ladies through a loose network comprised of relatives of my cleaning lady, her friends and people she had met on the bus. People seem to come to me if they need someone to clean.
My friends both fear, hate and love their cleaning ladies.  Their fear is that they will have to find another one.  One of my friends, Alex hates his cleaning lady.  "She doesn't clean!" "Her idea of cleanliness is shoving everything into drawers, regardless of whether they belong there on not."
"Why don't you fire her?" I ask.
"Well, I trust her not to steal and she's been with me a long time. I also don't want to tell her how to clean."
Another friend, Amy says about her housekeeper, Patti "All she wants to do is organize my closet, she's not a cleaning lady at heart." "I also think she's a frustrated decorator." Patti has worked for me when my housekeeper was on a month vacation. Patti works for several of my friends, she is also known as the Queen of Bleach.  Apparently bleaching every possible surface both cleans AND disinfects.  Amy tries to hide the bleach from her, but she always finds it.

My friend Evelyn fires cleaning ladies.....just the idea of another woman in her house drives her batty. Though she doesn't do a good job of housekeeping herself, she's an excellent critic. Kinda like a food critic, can't cook but knows what food should look and taste like.

For me it's trickier. Maria has been picking  up for me for 25 years. She has earned her place in my heart and I consider her family.  I know her so well, that if I annoy her she will walk out. I've seen her do it before. She will not tolerate disrespect of any kind. Plus she is totally OCD so things must have order and cleanliness.  Unlike Maria I am a frustrated decorator. I move things around, have lots of tchotchkes which I take out and put away.  You can imagine the torture it is for Maria.  Out of respect for her OCD I've given up on "grouping" things in a way I find aesthetically pleasing.  Each item must be placed on a shelf in an orderly way, about 10cm apart.  She also hates almost empty shampoo bottles....twice she's thrown away a weeks worth of Aveda shampoo.  Sometimes I seethe at how she's reorganized the towels, my gym bag( yes, I know it can smell) but I don't want it cleaned because she'll throw away all the shampoos I have in there.

In any case, for my friends and I, our domestic professionals bring sanity and order to our lives. I some cases they may be the person who cares for us when we're sick if we live alone. They insure our sanity by organizing disorderly closets, giving us a care-free Saturday where laundry is being done so we can go to the beach.  For me it's that touch of Mom that kept the house running seamlessly, not realizing how much work it really is to clean toilets when someone has bad aim like me.