Ordinarily, I have a houeskeeper. I have had a cleaning service since I was in graduate school, even though we were poor(ish) and couldn’t afford it. It was a priority among luxuries for me, because I like a clean home and I hate to clean. Not just hate it, but am bad at it. Even when I was young, fit, and energetic, my attempts to scrub a bathtub were pathetic. And this was at a time when I was lifting weights three times a week.
For the past few years, we have had a wonderful housekeeper who has taken over our lives–she cleans, does laundry, puts things away wherever she damned well pleases, sometimes brings her husband to change lightbulbs and do other “guy stuff” around our house. She is so deeply integrated into our lives that it is hard to live without her. We called her once in the middle of the night because the dog vomited in the bed and we couldn’t find clean sheets.
Living without her is exactly what we have been attempting to do for the past 7 or 8 weeks, with the quarantine. Let me tell you, I hate cleaning as much as I ever have. And worse, I am now not fit enough to manage it even if I can get up the will to try. This 43-year-old superfat body just doesn’t buy the idea that kneeling on a tile floor and leaning into a tub is viable. She barely wants to stand and push around a vacuum and she certainly doesn’t want to dust blinds.
Trying to clean makes me feel disabled in a way that very little else does. I have limited physical function and fitness, can’t walk very far without a break, can’t run or jump, and have trouble getting to and from the floor, but I don’t usually feel disabled, just limited. To me, disabled has always had a strong implication of unable, not less able.* And I rarely feel unable. But when I try to clean, I feel unable. I actually can’t clean a house, or even a room, in one go.
My husband has been expressing frustration with me for not participating fully in his attempts to keep the house in order without professional help. It’s clear that he thinks that I am shirking, or lazy. I am shirking. And I am unable to do more. I might be able to do a bit, and probably would, if I wasn’t under his watchful, judgmental eye as I tried to lift and pull and push and all. It’s an observer effect–with no one watching, I can try and have a 5% success be a success, but with him watching somehow it is definitely a 95% failure.
What I’ve learned over the past two months is I really, really need help with my house. This is a place of privilege, and I know it. I oscillate between guilt, shame, and resolution. I mean, should I really get to have this gorgeous old micro-mansion (it’s just a good size house, but it looks like a mansion on a small scale) if I can’t take care of it? On the other hand, if I can afford it, use the money to support people who need jobs, and use my time to do other useful things, is it really so bad? I wish I knew.
*I have begun to read a tiny bit about disability studies and I realize this is an ignorant, useless definition of disability but it’s what is in my head at this moment.