The Calm Before the Perfect Storm?

>> Monday, March 1, 2010

Once upon a time, before I was a blogger, and before I was a mother, I was a lawyer. (Okay, I technically still am one, but that's hard to write poetically.) In general, I had more money than I had time. Now that I'm not practicing, I still often don't have time, and now I don't have any money, either. But I digress. Back in those days, Entropy was pretty much winning the war hands down. Basically, it wasn't even a fight. We were lucky to escape each day with our lives, and each weekend was a fight to get the basics done, like laundry and just enough cleaning that we didn't drown in our own stuff. I needed help.

So, one day I hired this sweet woman to help me. She would come by two times a month, clean the whole house so we wouldn't die of the plague, I'd keep doing the laundry, and she was a bargain to boot. This was a match made in heaven because, as you know, you can't have a cleaning lady come into a house that looks like it needs a cleaning lady. (Erma Bombeck said that. She was right.) She was the impetus to help us keep fighting the forces of Entropy and Chaos. If we didn't work at least once every other week to clean everything up before she arrived, she wouldn't be able to find the floor with the vacuum cleaner.

Even better, we had wonderful communication. She spoke only Spanish, and I spoke no Spanish whatsoever. Well, that isn't exactly true. Thanks to 7 years of studying Spanish from Junior High through College (and later, the Handy Manny years), I learned how to say such useful phrases as: "Hello, how are you. My name is Flicker," "I am American," "Where is the metro?" "I would like a cup of coffee, please," "Where is the bathroom?" "How much does it cost?" "No cheese, please," and "I don't like vegetables." For the most part, none of these phrases were at all useful in day to day conversation with a cleaning lady.

Despite these challenges, we got along famously. She even vacuumed my fireplace, and when she didn't like my vacuum cleaner, she brought her own. From time to time, she failed to dust all of the cobwebs, but this was largely because she was very short, and sometimes she forgot to look up high enough. Still ... she was tremendous. From her I learned to say, "You have a lot of cat hair in your house," in Spanish.

Then, along came Toddler. The cleaning lady told me a very long story about her child who was born with breathing difficulties. It was a lovely dialogue. At least, I think that is what she was trying to tell me. I understood the words, "baby" and "hospital" and she pantomimed something that looked a lot like breathing stuff to me, and the story ended with, "Everything is just fine." My part of the story was to nod and smile and repeat back the words I understood. Eh, maybe she was talking about a friend, or a traffic accident she saw at the market last week ... but I'm pretty sure she was talking about a baby in the hospital who couldn't breathe. Either way, she adopted us on an emotional level. When Toddler came home, she walked in one day, took the laundry out of my hands, and simply added it to her list of things to do.

Then, I left my job, and I had to tell her we couldn't pay her. I asked if she could come once a month instead. You'll think I'm kidding when I say she refused to be laid off, even part time. She insisted on coming twice a month for half the pay. I was so confused by this conversation that she went to get an interpreter. Her reason was simple. "Hay mucho pelo de gato y necesita mucho ayuda para el bambino." (You have a lot of cat hair and you need a lot of help for the baby.) Well! How embarrasing! I didn't think the cat hair was that bad ... at least not since we got the vacuum cleaner working. Maybe she was afraid of what might happen if she left. Maybe she just wanted to help. Either way, I was unable to lay her off. She simply refused and kept coming to work.

Not too long ago, she started having problems making it on any given day. As it turns out, she was having some problems with a sick relative, and she was trying to be all things to all people. Eventually, just last week, she sent her interpreter to tell me that she couldn't work anymore. On the one hand, I was relieved because not knowing when or where she might come by made things like going to the bathroom with a Toddler a bit nerve wracking. What if he opened the door on me just as she was about to walk in the house? Plus, in the past many weeks, Toddler spent most of her cleaning days walking around following her, getting in her way, and trying to "sweep" just like her.

On the other hand she had been missing for about 6 weeks, during which I kept up with everything in anticipation of the idea that she might walk in any day, and I didn't want her to see a disaster. So, yes, I did it. I managed without her ... mostly. I did let 2 of the 3 bathrooms go more than she would have approved, but I got most of the rest of the stuff.

Now, I feel like Entropy is gearing up for a major assault. My backup is gone. I used to know that if I fell down on the job, eventually she would be there to dig us out and give us a nice good dose of sanitation. Will I keep up knowing that I don't have to look like I don't need her? It's kind of like doing Weight Watchers by yourself. If there is no giant scale with a success story holding a clip board taking your numbers every week, will you really be faithful to the plan?

Even worse, my Mother called with some advice that made me think she might be working for Entropy. Then again, she might be working for my sanity. Sometimes I have a hard time telling the difference. She called to tell me that because she is the cause of my old-fashioned floor cleaning obsession, she was going to help me find my way back out. At that moment Toddler threw food at me, which landed on the floor. As I bent to pick it up, I saw a whole pile of dirt and sighed that I was obviously going to have to wipe the floor today. Here is what she said. "The key to survival is to bend over, and pick up the thrown food with your eyes closed. That way you never see any of the other pieces, and you won't have to scrub your floor between scheduled cleanings."

This speech does not sound like the same woman who used to clean tar marks from the linoleum by scraping them with her fingernails daily.

I'm deeply concerned. Was this really my mother, trying to help me find a way to keep going without my backstop? Or was this really Entropy in disguise, trying to take over my house within the next few weeks?

Even worse, we were presented with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to purchase bedroom furniture for Toddler's new room. It will arrive in 8 weeks, ready to be assembled and installed. Once assembled, it likely will never move again, which means we have exactly 8 weeks to strip the room, repaint it, remount the light switches, and replace the overhead lamp. In the meantime, we have also arranged for one of the two of us to be out of town 4 of these 8 Saturdays.

In the meantime, we are still waiting to be able to deal with some of the aftermath of Blizzard 2009 and Blizzard 2010, and the windstorm in between. The storms took out a good 1/3 of our roof gutters, and they are dangling attractively in front of the windows at the rear of the house, waiting for us to repair them ... when the ground and roof dries out and it is safe to do so. Of course, I hear there is more snow on the way and the melting runoff is fast wearing away at the soil in our yard. Plus, at least one of our evergreens will probably not survive the literal weight of the storm, and I'm not so sure about the rest, which means much sawing and chopping of trees in the near future.

All of these things together make me think that Entropy absolutely has to be involved. Now that I have laid it all out, I am in great fear that we are being set up for the perfect storm of Entropy and Chaos.

Brace yourselves.


Janis March 2, 2010 at 12:56 AM  

Wow, I wish my cleaning lady had refused to be laid off! I did have a hairy dog...but no baby so maybe that was the clincher!

Karin Kysilka March 28, 2010 at 5:58 PM  

There are pros and cons to this. Of course, once she began working from the graciousness of her heart, I felt like I couldn't complain if ... say ... she dumped the wet clothes on the wood furniture or forgot to look up when she dusted, or didn't come on the same day I expected her. Aw, what can I say, she is a sweet, sweet woman.

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