Living in a clean and orderly environment is generally touted as a good thing. (And in the weeks before Pesach, it equates to the highest levels of tzidkus, literally.) That is why mothers from time immemorial have made futile attempts at achieving this goal. Many of us do not shoulder the entire burden alone. Credit must be given where credit is due: to our husbands, who often take on a fair share of the responsibilities, and to our children, who also help out a lot. However, no matter how much man, woman, or child power we dedicate to keeping our homes clean, the mess and clutter always seem to accumulate faster than our little brooms can sweep – hence, the brilliant idea of “the cleaning lady.”
Now, although I didn’t invent the idea of hiring cleaning help, I certainly didn’t realize how hard it would be. I figured it goes like this: You call a few friends, get a few numbers, and someone shows up at your house ready to clean. Boy was I wrong. First of all, people have a proprietary attitude towards their cleaning ladies. It’s not always easy to convince someone that you’re not trying to “steal” her dedicated cleaning lady. This is the farthest thing from your mind. You’re just trying to avoid breaking your ankle when you wade through the toys in your living room.
Once you’ve finally wrangled the number from your so-called friend, the rest should go smoothly. Should is the operative word. On that fateful day, when the cleaning lady finally arrives, she spends hours organizing, wiping, scrubbing, and vacuuming, and when she leaves, you bask in an aura of calm that you haven’t experienced in years. Unfortunately, it’s only after she’s gone that you also realize that she really just created a massive game of hide-and-seek. The problem, simply put, is that no one knows where anything is.
This brings us to pre-cleaning. Here’s how it works: At about 8:00 the night before, you and your children race around the house picking up and putting away items you would like to be able to locate the next day. Your husband, most likely, sits back in his chair with an amused look and says, “Explain to me again why you’re cleaning for the cleaning lady?” A simple rolling of your eyes seems to be an acceptable response to this clearly rhetorical question. (Of course, the next time it happens, he need only roll his eyes, omitting the query, to which you roll your eyes in answer. After all, no words need be exchanged between those who know each other so well.)
Now that you’re pre-cleaning, buying whatever cleaning supplies your cleaning lady prefers and making her feel at home, you’re sure you can breathe a sigh of relief. What you don’t realize is that in addition to investing money and energy into supposedly making your life easier, you’ve also made yourself emotionally vulnerable. Many an unsuspecting mother has been naïve enough to assume that having toys strewn all over the house is a valid reason for hiring help. The fallacy in this thought process comes to your attention one fateful day, when your cleaning lady informs you that your house is too messy for her to clean.
Even if this possibly made sense in any language, you most likely don’t have a common language in which to discuss it. Practically speaking, there is only one reasonable response to this. You beg. Fortunately, this is a universal form of communication. Unfortunately, it rarely works. Now, I had actually heard of this happening to one of my friends, so I should have been prepared. Quite honestly, though, I had arrogantly filed the idea in the “spam” folder in my mind, since I was convinced that this ultimate form of cleaning service rejection would never happen to me. Boy, was I wrong.
At this stage, you really have to come to terms with what could be perceived as “failure to thrive,” at least in the cleaning sense. Failing at both the “family cleaning” model and the “cleaning lady” model could put you over the edge, forcing you to throw in your sponge in dismay. On the other hand, you could take the high-road and “reframe.” This is a psychological term for putting a positive spin on an otherwise depressing situation. Believe it or not, drawing upon the teachings of Albert Einstein can help you in this. When criticized about the chaotic state of clutter on his desk, Einstein responded, “If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?” Simply substituting the word “house” for the word “desk” can immediately elevate your ego – and mess – to a relatively higher state of well-being.
Although it might help your bruised ego to heal, however, your ankle might take a little longer. I know mine did.