It’s nine p.m. and the telephone rings. “Sophia? It’s Liza, I’m really sick. I can’t come tomorrow. I know you were really counting on me, but I’ve been in bed for three days.” “Ok, thanks for calling. If you wake up in the morning and you feel better, please, please come! Otherwise, get your rest, get healthy, and we’ll see you next week.” “Sophia, I’m really really sorry.” “Don’t worry Liza, these things happen.” Liza is my housekeeper. She comes once a week and cleans, straightens and organizes my small house for four hours. On this occasion, she was scheduled to come the day before we were having a big party, the biggest we have ever had. I had come to rely on her, and I had become super lazy over the three years we have had help with the housekeeping. As I hung up the telephone, panic set in — I would have to clean my own house! I was in shock, denial even. “Maybe she will feel better in the morning, ” I said to Gadget Man optimistically. “Don’t worry, I’ll get the kids out of your hair tomorrow,” he offered. “Excuse me? Aren’t you going to help me clean the house?” I exclaimed. “Oh, sure,” he stammered, “I just thought it would be easier for you if we weren’t around.” What a doll.
I left the house before 8 a.m. the next morning. I had a ton of grocery shopping to do and I needed to get that done and all the other things I was planning to do while Liza cleaned my house. Cell phone in hand, I telephoned my husband at 8:15, hoping Liza showed up. “She’s not coming Sophia,” said Gadget Man apologetically. I had an idea, I hung up the telephone and dialed my best friend. “What’s Esther doing today?” I inquired of her housekeeper/nanny. “She’s home preparing for a big party she has every year. She’s not even helping me today,” she explained. She sympathized with my plight. “I’m going to make some calls,” she promised, “I know a few people, don’t worry.” Then I telephoned another girlfriend. This friend had once told me that her mom admonished her to never, never go without a cleaning lady, even if she was forced to live on beans and generic toilet paper. “Oh, I feel just terrible for you! This is just awful, the worst!” She asserted. Although she really meant it, I started to feel really stupid.
What a princess I had become! I was embarrassed and disappointed in myself. Growing up, we were one of the few households in Northbrook without a housekeeper. My mother didn’t keep the cleanest house, but she did it all herself. The idea of a stranger doing that work for her was totally foreign. Gadget Man, on the other hand, was raised by his live-in nanny. Regardless, he and I used to clean the house ourselves until I was put on bed rest with Charlie (yes, he really helped). We had to get a cleaning service to help out weekly because I wasn’t allowed to do it myself. When Charlie was born, there was no going back. I liked it way too much and we had already figured the cost into our budget.
Of course, I’m not alone. In 1996, about 9.4 million American households had paid cleaning help (this was about nine percent of households.) With the exception of a couple of households, everyone I know has a housekeeper. So much for living in “middle class” Skokie. The thing is, having a housekeeper makes our house “happy.” Apparently, it is really good for our marriage too. Some experts blame divorce rate spikes on housekeeping pressures.
I calmed down a bit and realized that this was really not a big deal. After all, we had our health, right? I could clean the house and get everything else done for the party. It would just mean that I would be up much later and be tired for the party . In between grocery store stops (no, I can’t do all my shopping at just one store anymore) I telephoned Gadget Man one more time. “Please take out the yellow pages and telephone a few maid services. Let’s just give this one last shot.” A half hour later the cell phone rang, it was Gadget Man with good news, “Skokie Maids is sending a couple of people over around 11 a.m., will that be ok?” I was saved! My handsome prince saved his desperate spoiled princess. What a relief! Tragedy averted.