I have a cleaning lady. None of my neighbours have cleaning ladies. It is not something you admit to in Vermont.
In my suburb women whip around the house cleaning the wash basins before they leave for work; they remember to get their meat out of the freezer every morning, and they mow their lawns on Saturdays while their husbands watch football. They are tough, tracksuit-wearing super-women who take on the world before I have even brewed my morning coffee.
When I had babies and stayed at home full-time (at the tender age of twenty), I tried so hard to be a super-woman. I had a cleaning day and an ironing day, a shopping day and numerous wash days. I scrubbed, waxed and polished laboriously. I even bought myself a tracksuit. But, no matter how hard I tried, whenever I looked at other women’s gleaming stove tops and their sparkling tiles, I knew mine were somehow lacking. I felt inadequate.
Then I went to live in Fiji.
In Fiji everyone had a cleaning lady (we called them House Girls). It was an economic necessity for many of the local women. I had the best House Girl in Suva. Her name was Naomi. I did not inherit her (as many ex-patriots did). I found her myself. I paid her well. She went on courses. She designed her own uniforms and established the first House Girls playgroup. I think she was happy. I know I was.
While living in Suva, I noticed something peculiar. Some women did not like having a House Girl. They were always complaining. Their house was not clean enough. They could never find necessary items in their cupboards. They missed doing the washing. Whereas I was confident, adaptable and coping.
Then we returned to Melbourne.
We arrived in the middle of winter. It was bleak. I had a white skivvy with a permanent stain on its rollover neck from my mascara tears. When we moved back into our house I said: ‘Enough! I am getting a job so I can employ a cleaning lady.’
I went back to University. I did my library training. I got my first job well before I finished my Graduate Diploma (a career founded on such noble principles was bound to flourish). As soon as my first pay hit the bank, I employed a cleaning lady.
She is wonderful! and I am her slave.
If my cleaning lady suggests a change of floor wash, I buy it. If she wants a new sponge, she gets it. Brushes, mops, vacuum cleaner attachments, whatever she wants, money is no object. I prize her above rubies. Every Wednesday, I prostrate myself at her feet crying:
‘Blessed are you among women and blessed is the work of your hands.’
It is as close as I get to goddess worship.
It is not for me to whip around the house cleaning basins. I do not iron or dust. I barely make the bed. My teenage kids do their own washing. We take turns with the cooking. don’t feel inadequate about this. I am in my forties; to hell with the super-woman complex.
I have been learning about the Heroine’s Journey at TAFE. In her excellent book, Story Structure Architect, Victoria Lynn Schmidt, calls this stage the Eye of the Storm. A time when a woman has come to terms with an ordeal and thinks her journey is over.
That was me — last week, I was light and happy and free. I thought I had found Nirvana. Now I realise it was only an Illusory Boon of Success. Yesterday, my cleaning lady told me she wanted to reduce her hours.
She may as well have shot me.
Last night, I pulled the old tracksuit out of the drawer. It still fits. Soon my scrubbing muscles will return. I am on the Road of Trials. I can feel my soul growing calloused. One by one my illusions being stripped away. I have begun my descent to the goddess.
This morning, I broke the news about the cleaning lady to the family. I told them it is all in Victoria Lynn Schmidt's book, and not to worry. That I am undergoing a symbolic death from with I will emerge strong and in control of my life. They did not panic. They did not weep or gnash their teeth. I was proud of them. Though it is the end of life as they know it.
Of course, I have not mentioned the roster word, yet. It is too soon. They are still in shock. But it will have to be faced ... eventually. Meanwhile we take things one day at a time. A mop here, a dust there, a spit and polish. Like a re-occuring nightmare it is all coming back to me.
I have commenced therapy.