When people grill me about what’s it’s really like being a stay-at-home Dad, a whole lot of them ask about my “household responsibilities”, and how I handle them. While I do get a lot of interest in my culinary skills, I’d say the most frequent queries pertain to my housekeeping expertise. It seems a lot of people (mostly women) really want to know: “Do I really do ALL of the cleaning?”
Well, yes and no.
YES, for the past thirteen and a half years I’ve been charged with the task of making sure our home looks semi-presentable to the outside world. But, NO, I don’t do it all by myself and I probably never will.
Now, before you jump to the conclusion that my hard-working, bacon-bringing, pantsuit-wearing wife is washing dishes and dusting furniture after a long week of financially providing for our family of four humans and two felines, you would be sadly mistaken. It’s not that she’s some lazy, good-for-nothing spouse who deliberately throws banana peels on the floor and waits for me to pick them up… no sir! That’s not it at all.
Rather, I’ve always asked her to let me handle the household stuff, and I often rebuke her for “trying to be a hero” when she tries to unpack the dishwasher. She works hard enough at the office, and I say she doesn’t have to work at home as well. The home front is my domain, for better or for worse, and if I can’t handle keeping this house “clean-ish”, cook (or re-heat) meals and complete laundry in a semi-timely fashion, then what the hell am I really good for?
That being said, I did just mention that I don’t do all of the cleaning, so that begs the question: “Just WHO the heck is helping me?” Is it my good-for-nothing teen/tween kid combo? No way, Jose! Abby and Daniel are certainly capable of minor household tasks, but are otherwise domestically useless. The real housekeeping superheroes in our home for the past thirteen-plus years have been the middle-aged husband and wife team of Henry and Linda, the cleaners we hired after I became a stay-at-home Dad way, Way, WAY back in 2004.
I’m not sure if Lianne felt really sorry for me when I first took the gig or felt I simply didn’t have what it takes to keep our home from being overrun with filth and grime. Either way, when she went back to work after six months of maternity leave, we immediately hired housecleaners. You see, before we had kids the unenviable task of cleaning toilets, washing floors and vacuuming carpets was something we equally shared and equally despised. We resented the hours of cleaning that ate away at our precious weekend free time, and vowed to someday hire housecleaners. With a new baby in the home, and yours truly now in charge of all household and domestic duties… it was a no-brainer. We needed help. Rather, I needed help.
For the first few months, we tried a couple of the big chain cleaning companies, but we weren’t very impressed with the service. Then, through some friends of ours, we heard of this Vietnamese husband and wife team who were looking for more clients, and we snapped them up to come by twice a month. They were infinitely better than anyone else we tried, and after all of these years, they are still with us.
In those first few crazy months of being home alone with baby Abby, having them come in a couple times a month to scrub down the house was a godsend for me. But, we quickly learned that it simply wasn’t enough, so we upped our Henry and Linda quotient to three times a month, and then ultimately… four. Funny story: when we asked them to start coming once a week, they initially told us they couldn’t do it, as their schedule was jam-packed. Then, all of a sudden they had an opening.
We were pretty, pretty pleased, but soon felt pretty, pretty guilty after hearing that the friends who recommended Henry and Linda to us were unceremoniously dumped as clients! When they told us: “Hey, did you know that Henry and Linda just fired us!”, Lianne and I both looked at the floor, shuffled our feet, nervously twiddled our thumbs and said: “Oh, really… wow, that’s just… wow.” I guess the story isn’t THAT funny for our friends, the friends who told us about their great housecleaners, the great housecleaners who we then stole from right under their noses. But I digress.
Over their many years of service, Henry and Linda have seen a lot of changes in our household and have witnessed our family grow from one baby to two. They’ve always shown a keen interest in both of our kids but they were especially over the moon when Daniel was born. They let us know more than once just how important it was to have a son! It’s not that they don’t like Abby. Far from it! But, I think they totally subscribe to the popular opinion found in many countries on the other side of the Pacific that birthing a SON is paramount. They honestly seemed a little perplexed when we told them that we would have been just as happy to have two girls.
Not only have they watched our kids get bigger and bigger, they have also seen our homes get bigger and bigger. They’ve been with us in all three… with each incarnation increasing in size and thus, becoming more time-consuming to clean! We went from 1600 square feet, to 1900, to our current 2600. I actually had to force them to take a raise when we moved into our newest home, as they offered to keep us at the same rate. That’s just the kind of people they are. Good people.
They were impressed and very interested when we travelled not once, but twice to Vietnam to visit my brother Mark and his family. While they were keen to hear all about our adventures in their former homeland, I got the sense they were a bit confused with some of the souvenirs we came home with. As you probably know, Vietnam is still a communist country (albeit one with a free-market economy.) Anyhooo, there are shops that specialize in selling “kitchy” Vietnam war-era propaganda memorabilia. We thought these old posters were super-cool and we brought a bunch of them home and had them framed up.
One day, Henry specifically asked me about the posters. I got the feeling that he thought it was profoundly odd we had pictures hanging in our bedroom that boldly proclaimed in Vietnamese: “VICTORY WILL DEFINITELY BE OURS! HEADING DOWN THE GLORIOUS COMMUNIST ROAD! and LONG LIVE THE VIETNAMESE LABOUR PARTY!”
I have no any idea why Henry and Linda left Vietnam, and I don’t have a clue if they supported or hated the ruling Vietnamese Labour Party. To this day, I’m not sure if he finds the posters offensive, or just plain weird. All I know is that I had a very hard time explaining to Henry what kitchy meant. The fact that English isn’t his first language made the exchange that much more complicated.
Despite any consternation they may or may not have over our decorating choices, we all think Henry and Linda are great, as they’ve definitely become a part of our extended family. I’m not sure how many more years they want to keep working, so I am already dreading the inevitable day when they retire from the cleaning biz. Over the past thirteen years, I have come to rely on them immensely. I know exactly what to expect from them and they know exactly what to expect from me. Every Thursday, in the morning hours before their 1:00 PM arrival, I do a thorough PRE-CLEAN of the entire house, and I know for a fact they appreciate it.
Some of you might be scratching your heads, asking what’s the point of hiring cleaners if you have to do a PRE-CLEAN? It’s simple, really. I don’t want them straightening couch pillows, books and magazines, picking up cat toys or laundry off the floor, making beds, packing a dishwasher or tidying up bathroom countertops. No, no, no… that’s the stuff I can do. That’s the stuff I don’t actually mind doing, It’s the DEEP CLEANING I want them to do! It’s the cleaning of toilet bowls and sinks, the washing of hardwood, the vacuuming of floors, the dusting of furniture, the cleaning of mirrors and stovetops. That’s the stuff that drove Lianne and I to tears back in the day.
In fact, if you were to walk into our home just minutes before Henry and Linda arrive, a casual observer might think the place had just been cleaned. Only on closer inspection would that same casual observer conclude the place was in desperate need of a clean… a deep clean!
Over the past decade, the pre-clean has become much less of a Herculean task. When the kids were small, they would leave behind a tornado swath of destruction in their wake. And, me being a bit of a lazy slob, I would leave their mess to stew… for a day, maybe two? Maybe more? And because the kids were small and incapable of doing much in the way of cleaning, sometimes getting the house in order before the arrival of Henry and Linda was a huge, annoying, soul-sucking task. These days, the kids are in charge of pre-cleaning their rooms and any mess they make in the basement. That leaves me to deal with primarily the main floor. I manage to keep it looking straightened up and relatively decent for a majority of the week, but minor messes sometimes require a judgment call.
For instance, if the kids drop copious amounts of toast crumbs under their chairs near the kitchen island at breakfast, do I sweep it up? Maybe. If it’s Tuesday or Wednesday, I say: “absolutely NOT!” If the clean team is one to two days away… (maybe even three), I say… just leave it. That’s why we have cleaners. If my pot on the stove sputters and spurts sauce on the stovetop, hardening instantly, and it’s only two days away from the clean team… just LEAVE it. Dammit, THAT’S why we have cleaners! If I drop a glass bowl and it shatters into a million pieces all over on the kitchen floor, and it’s still six days away from the clean team, I think about it for a second, and ultimately decide that requiring everyone to wear shoes in the house for almost a week may be too much to ask… so I DON’T leave it. I’ll reluctantly clean it up.
And let’s not forget that Henry and Linda sometimes go on vacation, and that means I get to handle the unenviable task of DEEP CLEANING the entire house. Oh, the humanity! After week one of their holidays, the house receives a pretty darned good clean. After week two, my effort level drops significantly. If they are still gone by week three, I am forced to prioritize. Do the kids really need a clean toilet? Nope, but I do. Am I going to scrub that bathtub ring of grime off the kids tub? Nope, but I’ll clean our master bedroom shower. Prioritizing can be surprisingly easy sometimes.
The only cleaning-related area that I feel could still use some real improvement is washing dishes. Every day the dishwasher is packed and unpacked, but the “old-style dishwasher”, a.k.a. yours truly, sometimes leaves the dirty dinner pots and pans in the sink… unwashed.
So, how do I justify my laziness? Let’s go back to that fictional casual observer we talked about earlier. When I actually get around to washing the dishes, I leave them to drip dry on the left hand side of the sink. If the dirty dishes are sitting in the left hand side of the sink and really don’t look that dirty, the casual observer may think they are clean and are simply drip-drying. So, why bother washing them this very instant? WHY? In the immortal words of the great Mahatma Gandhi: “Who cares? And another thing, SO WHAT!”
I admit it. Just like the great Mahatma Gandhi, I too sometimes leave dirty dishes in the sink. I can almost hear the gasps from all of the neat freaks out there and for that, I’m sorry. Like I said, I still need to work on my dishwashing skills.
So, there you have it folks. I have finally come clean about… cleaning. If you ever drop by for a visit, please swing by around Thursday at 3:00 PM. That’s when Henry and Linda have just left and our house looks it’s absolute best. And for god’s sake, never drop by on a Wednesday evening! That’s about twelve hours before I even think about starting my pre-clean and there’s a good chance you’ll be treated to a household even a casual observer would say is a complete and utter shambles.