The Domestic Question
[NL]—Back on December twenty-first, the day before Sunshine and I were set to come home for the holidays, we finally interviewed a maid. Not that “maid” is the word I think most people use for what we were hiring. In the expatriate community, people hired to come into a home to clean or cook tend to fall under the catchall label “domestic” as in “domestic help.” A gardener, for some reason, is still called a gardener, and a chauffer is called a driver, but a maid is called a “domestic.” I think it is a play on words, domestic also meaning “from around here;” most people avoid the bureaucratic hassle of importing their own household staff. At any rate, I don’t like any of these terms for the position. “Domestic” has, as illustrated above, a rather ugly-tasting afterthought; and, while there is nothing terribly wrong with the word “maid,” it evokes some sort of costumed flounce dusting about in my Hampstead summer place. To me, maids come with butlers and nannies, and live in a little room under the stairs so they can dart out and polish something when I ring a bell.
The thing of it is that I never really thought of myself as someone who should need to have a domestic help. It just seemed silly. I am home while Sunshine goes off to work, and it just felt like it should be my job to keep the house orderly and neat. I am rather orderly and neat anyway, and it did not fall outside of reason that I could keep a nice house while I was getting whatever it is that I do done on a day-to-day basis. Based on the prejudices admitted to above, in my mind maids were for rich people, and we are far from rich.
Apparently, this is the attitude of most newcomers to this domesticity abroad: no one thinks they are going to get a housecleaner, though supposedly everyone eventually does. The houses are just so large and ornamental the daily tasks tend to take up the days, and the larger, sporadic cleaning gets lost in the shuffle. Eventually, an epiphany sets in: we could be employing someone who needs a job in México, instead of selfishly DIY-ing our household needs. It did not take long for Sunshine and I to eventually and predictably cave in. We started looking in earnest for someone to come and clean the house one day a week. We tried to get the woman who had been employed by our friends Tony and Christene when they left for the US in November, but she was snagged by some other household. We talked with a number of people, failing a number of times to act quickly enough to secure an applicant. Finally, we heard about Rosy from no less than three other people who employ her, positive things, possibly the most positive being that it seemed like she still had a weekday free.
On the first day we met Rosy, we were packing to go off and celebrate Christmas. I was in the middle of my normal pre-vacation ritual: sweating and screaming curse words while I jogged around the house trying to clean it up before we left. Not only is it nice to come home to a clean house after traveling, but it is also nice to pick the place up a little for the Zix kids, Bonnie and Hannah, who come in every day to feed the cat and water the plants while we are gone. So, in the midst of locking all of the alcohol in the upstairs office and squeegee-ing soapy water off the stovetop, I needed to pause so I could tour a prospective maid around the house. It seemed a little ironic, at the time. Still, it set up a pattern, and I continue to feel like I have to clean the house up a little whenever the maid is supposed to show up. That day in December she toured around the house, and taken the job on the spot; possibly out of altruism. She even offered to help us pack.
We hired Rosy, who comes into the house on Wednesdays, to deep clean and do larger jobs than the day-to-day level stuff that I am able to keep up with. Take out the garbage, wash the dishes, water the plants and make the bed? I do that stuff every day (almost). Push all the furniture out of the way, and mop the marble floors with a vinegar solution? That’s Rosy stuff. Rosy also helps out with the laundry (by doing it all), vacuums, sprays the accumulated North Mexican dust off the patio and out of the car port, and stands on chairs to do the same for the floor-to-ceiling windows scattered here and there around the house. Rosy tends to arrive at the house sometime after Sunshine goes to work at seven thirty, and leave before Sunshine comes home between four thirty and seven. For the six weeks after she took us on I was in North Carolina and Rosy was coming and going without really being seen.
All that changed this week when I was finally home for my first ever maid. When I returned to Monterrey last weekend, I was surprised and pleased that the house was as nice, if not more nice, than it had been when I left it. Rosy and Sunshine and the Zix kids had done a good job with the place: the cat was fat, the plants bloomed, and the floors were shiny. A month and a half of other people deciding where things should go had taken its toll here and there—I spent the weekend identifying things that needed to be relocated for the sake of my obsessive compulsion—but the place was undeniably spotlessly clean. Even more clean that anyone expected, frankly: Sunshine has discovered that locking things away for us to do later doesn’t really work—Rosy will find the keys and fix it all while we are not looking. The only solution seems to be to leave the stuff we don’t want her messing with spotless before she arrives.
Finally, this Wednesday, man and maid came face to face for the first time on the wet expanse of my kitchen floor, me seeking some breakfast a little after noon, and she dust busting cat hair off the kitchen counters. We can’t talk to one another, Rosy and I, because we do not share a common language, so we just sort of half waved and got on with it.
Having this help is nice. I can never tell when the house is dirty anymore. As long as I keep up with the dishes and small things, the place always looks like we just moved in, and I like that. On Wednesdays I will, at least based on yesterday’s evidence, feel like I am in her way a little bit. I will wave and say good afternoon when I finally wake up and emerge from my locked bedroom. I will smile and nod when she tells me something about the room she has just worked on. Mostly, I will try to leave her alone and let her work. She writes notes to Sunshine about anything important; she tries to teach me the Spanish for “see you next week.” On Tuesday nights I will still feel like I need to pick the place up some because the maid is coming soon, and it turns out that this is less ridiculous as it sounds. I don’t want the woman to take on the little things that need to be done on the other six days of the week; these things I am willing to do. I want her to do the bigger things that I wont ever get around to. Dishes in the sink, clutter laying around; she would fix this stuff instead of doing something important, and she’d probably, based on the evidence, just put the stuff away in the wrong place, anyway. I don’t have the words to explain to her where things go, so I will be jogging around cleaning things up a little on Tuesdays. It makes sense.