Kim and Patty were just here. Who are Kim and Patty, you ask? They are angels. With scrub buckets, bottles of Lysol and firm opinions about Murphy's Oil Soap, not to mention the Steelers and men in general. I could not write books without them. Each time Kim and Patty leave, I am overcome with a joyous sense that all's right with the world. And then I can work.
Yes, Kim and Patty clean my house. Every two weeks, they turn up and cheerfully whisk through all the rooms to make them smell nice and look tidy. They even fold the end of the toilet paper into a neat triangle. While I check my morning e-mail, they carry on a running conversation between floors, shouting and laughing and pretty much entertaining me for the---are you ready for this?--mere one and a half hours it takes them to clean our humble abode. They're like those Disney fairies that flutter around waving their magic wands and singing, except Kim has a smoker's voice and Patty is usually laughing too hard to even whistle while she works.
If forced to take care of the house myself, I would do it pretty much constantly because I like a cobweb/dog hair/clutter-free space. My desk is a masterpiece of Creative Chaos, but the rest of the house must be just shy of immaculate or I can't think straight. Cleaning all the time, however, means I get very little writing done. Ergo: Having housekeepers makes it possible for me to work because they eliminate a major procrastination technique. In fact, I believe I am at least three times more productive than I was in the days when I ran the Dyson around the clock to keep the Dalmatian detritus at bay. I think I could argue that the money I pay Kim and Patty should, in fact, be tax deductible because they make my working environment productive. But since they prefer to fly under the IRS radar---and believe me, I am not going to jeopardize their freedom/availability to work for me--I don't claim the deduction.
If there's a downside to having housekeepers, it's this:
My daughters grew up thinking everyone has a Kim or Patty who disinfects the kitchen counter before bacteria can get a real foothold.
Mind you, I am from the generation in which even the youngest children helped Mom clean. Monday was laundry day. (Oh, the ironing! My mother even ironed sheets.) Tuesday mornings we dusted, swept and did windows. Wednesday mornings we scrubbed floors. Thursday mornings we polished bathrooms. Fridays were for errands while the cleaning lady did the whole house all over again. Okay, so my mother was--and still is--a clean fanatic. I am a piker compared to her. When she comes to visit, she'll sometimes suggest an afternoon of polishing my silver in the same tone of voice other people might suggest a fun-filled trip to an amusement park.
But my children grew up in a household where Mummy barricaded her office door and hung rude signs on the knob to warn wayward tots from knocking unless the firemen had already been telephoned. They came of age thinking nobody scrubbed their own toilets--least of all the lady of the house who spent her time cursing a computer monitor.
Am I a bad mother for allowing my daughters to grow up not knowing that clambering on your hands and knees with an Amway brush and a gallon of Mr. Clean is still the only way to get a floor to shine? After all, cleanliness is a virtue. And self-discipline is a cornerstone of personal growth and happiness. I think I've failed them.
But, wait! Perhaps my girls have learned more from this life experience than I first thought.
Last weekend, my husband and daughters and I flew to California for a wedding. (Miracle: We're still speaking despite spending at least 15 hours together in a rented Ford Taurus.) While we traveled, they occasionally telephoned to check in with their significant others. One afternoon, Cassie caught her husband while he was actually making guacamole for himself. He watches Bobby Flay and Mario Batali--and then cooks the recipes in his own kitchen! Grilling, smoking, whipping up his own marinades--no problem. He thinks it's fun! It's astonishing. (My husband has trouble locating the phone number of the pizza delivery guy, so let's not bother discussing his nonexistent food preparation skills. And when my mother returned from three days of treatment for Female Trouble in the hospital, my father had neatly deposited three half empty cups of instant coffee in the sink for her to wash. He ate all of his meals at a restaurant or with neighbors. Needless to say, he had not made the bed either.) So Cassie's husband is something of a phenom.
But Sarah's boyfriend--grab your smelling salts, ladies--when she called him he was actually cleaning her apartment for her. Even the refrigerator.
What's with the new generation? What happened when I wasn't looking? Suddenly my children are interested in organic food (this after 18 years of cajoling them to eat green vegetables only if they were soaked in Velveeta cheese sauce) which they combine in intricate recipes while I'm still using a jar of Ragu at least once a week. Cassie belongs to an organic farm co-op that delivers a box of fresh, assorted veggies every Wednesday--and she can do amazing things with even the most exotic! Good lord, they even organized a wine-tasting club!
Maybe I'm not such a bad mother after all. Maybe my generation is a throwback to the "toss that kid into the lake, and he'll learn to swim fast enough, gawddammit!" school of thought. And who could have guessed it actually worked? Benign neglect, it seems, is a viable parental strategy. Benjamin Spock was wrong. Leave your kids alone, and they will probably figure a way to out-smart their parents.
Uh, wait a minute . . .