One night during supper I tell the family I’d arranged for a housekeeper to clean our house once a week. “She starts tomorrow,” I announce. Stan looks surprised. Susanna claps her hands and says she can’t wait to tell all her friends. Belén asks me her name; I demur.
The next day after school they bound up the front steps, open the door, and survey the clean floors, vacuumed furniture, and empty counter tops with open mouths. “See what happens when you all tidy your stuff the night before she comes?” I comment. “She can get a lot done!”
The next week we do it all over again, hauling toys, books, papers, and clothes out of the way for the cleaner. Everyone is motivated to take care of their junk and my plan is working like I imagined it would. Except for one thing; I can’t do it anymore. I cannot lead a double life. It isn’t all the questions they ask me: Who is the cleaner? Can we meet her someday? How much do you pay her? or even the fact I’m tricking them. (I never actually lie, I just choose my answers carefully.) The problem is the cleaning.
There are two specific challenges I hadn’t fully considered before I started. The first is following through. In order to keep the scheme going I actually have to have my entire house sparkling by 3:30. With my one-year-old in tow. In case you’ve forgotten what one-year-olds are like and your kids are 40, or say even 4, try picturing a deranged monkey who needs therapy. When she isn’t stalling my agenda, Vivian actively works against it. And there’s nothing pell-mell about it. Oh no. She carefully re-traces her destructive routes with a compulsive fervor. Starting at the kitchen drawers she bends low and hucks towels, zip-locks, and tupperware behind her as fast as she can. From there she moves to the book shelf where she does the same thing. Then, if she’s lucky, she’ll find the yellow doll; the one with the stuffing coming out that I haven’t patched up yet. With the precision of a surgeon (who also happens to be a crazy monkey) she pinches her little fingers into the gaping seam and pulls out bits of white fluff. Her favourite place to disembowel the doll is at the top of the stairs where she can watch it all flutter to the ground like snowflakes. This, just after I’ve vacuumed of course.
If my daughter were my only obstacle with the housekeeper shtick I might be able to keep it up. But the second, more demoralizing issue, is the anonymity; rushing around all day doing work I won’t get acknowledged for. I try picturing myself as the monk who scrubs floors with a toothbrush while cultivating inner joy, and listening to Elizabeth Gilbert’s podcasts on creativity while cleaning, but instead of feeling spiritual or inspired, I’m angry. Does my family know how persistent these hard-water stains are? How many hairs they shed all over these floors? How grueling it is to get it all done? And what do they think? That a magical house-cleaner can work miracles? Then I realize my mistake, the fatal error for the faux housekeeper: tricking them into thinking it’s not me also means they don’t thank me. And it turns out I like being appreciated even more than I care about having a perfect home for ten minutes every Thursday afternoon.
Stan comes home that evening and finds me reading a book to Vivi. I look up from the pages and his response is almost involuntary.
“Whoa. Had a rough day, did you?”
I hate this comment; it sounds like I look haggard and worn out. The fact I actually look haggard and worn out is irrelevant at this point. What I want to hear is something about how relaxed and bright I am, or how he can’t believe I can look so good after such a long day.
“Why?” I demand. “I had a great day, can’t you tell?”
This is when Stan realizes he’s walking on thin ice, so thin he should probably get down on his belly and slither to safety. Which is what he does but I’m not quite ready for his retreat. I want to spew out the details of my day, of how ridiculous it is to pretend I can clean my home in one fell swoop. But my older daughters are listening and I’m not going to quit my gig just yet. I’m biding my time until next Wednesday night, after everyone is finished scurrying around for the housekeeper. When the floors are cleared, the couches bare, and the table cleaned I plan to come out of the closet. Until then, you’ll have to keep my secret for me.