I have always hated housework. I often joke (though it’s not really a joke) that I became a doctor in order to have a good excuse not to do it.
I’m extremely lucky that, among his many virtues, my husband loves to do housework. His idea of a really good day is to be puttering around the house, creating order and cleanliness.
Up until recently we have always had a cleaner, someone to come once a week or so to do the heavy work and the laundry. I followed the advice my mother gave me when I first got married. “Perle,” she said. “Marriage is hard enough, get a cleaning lady!” Although David, my husband, often insisted that he was perfectly capable of keeping the house, I did not want to risk the marital strife that is so common in households where people hold different standards of cleanliness and neatness.
In the past few months, however, our usual cleaning person has started to become increasingly successful as a dancer. Since she’s making more money that way and the demands on her time have increased, she passed our cleaning gig on to the partner of one of her colleagues.
A few years ago, I began to find it hard to drive at night. There were halos around the street lamps and I was experiencing more and more eye-strain. I went to see my ophthalmologist and unsurprisingly I had cataracts. Then the pandemic happened. Finally, this May, I had my cataracts removed by my sweet young ophthalmologist. At his suggestion, I opted for the cool designer lenses which corrected my vision and my astigmatism. So for the first time since the age of eight I can now walk around without glasses. It was life-changing! I do however continue to need reading glasses, which reversed my life-long habit of reading in bed without glasses and plonking glasses on my nose the moment I got up.
In my mother’s family there is a phenomenon that we call the “Rifflex,” Rif being my grandmother’s maiden name. All of the women in my extended family have a tendency to notice and comment on any imperfection. We are an opinionated bunch. I have struggled against the “Rifflex” my whole life. I make it a point to notice and comment on things that are beautiful, kind and well done. However sometimes it escapes.
Our new cleaner was not working out. Very pleasant and well meaning, he seemed to have only a glancing acquaintance with the housekeeping arts. He had not figured out how to work the washing machine properly. He seemed to have selective blindness to the black marks that form around door handles, dust in the corners, and toilet bowl rings. Worst of all, he persisted, despite being told not to, in using “all-purpose cleaner” on my mid-century modern wood furniture. There came a point when all I could see was dirt, dust and fingerprints. My Rifflex was in full flow.
I avoided talking to our cleaner because I was afraid that I would tear a strip off him, but poor Dave was not exempt. I whined, I complained, I displayed the worst features of my personality. We were snapping at each other in a way that I don’t like but recognize. Ultimately we decided that in order to save our marriage we had to fire the cleaner. We let him go with a month’s pay and what I thought was a white lie. We said Dave was going to do the cleaning, and this is now the plan. Despite my mother’s sage advice, I have decided that marriage is hard enough, I will do without a cleaning lady! For the next week we dealt with the worst of the shmutz. Last night we were snuggling in bed, laughing together in harmonious union. My eyes were suddenly drawn to a floating cobweb and what looked like a spider egg sac. “Don’t be upset but look at that stuff up on the ceiling. Why did I never notice those before?”
“Because, Perle,” he said, “you could never see the ceiling before.” We laughed.