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No More Maid

June 25, 2009 | by Emuna Braverman

I scandalized my children and let go of the housekeeper. It wasn't easy.

"My maid's name is Rosa." "Mine is Esperanza." "Ours is Maria."

I listen to the kids in carpool rattling off the names of their household help and comparing their various attributes. "Do you know who our maid is?" I want to ask (but I keep my mouth shut since every word I speak is an embarrassment to my children). "It's me."

I can imagine the shocked silence that would follow. A house without a maid? Even adults pause mid-conversation. Here in the land of illegal immigration?

Yes, it's true.

We do our own dishes, make our own beds, wash our own laundry and mop our own floors. (I don't want to discuss the bathrooms). And we are very alone in this experience.

True confessions. It wasn't always so. From the birth of my eighth child until eight months ago, I had regular help. I didn't even think I was spoiled; I categorized it as a need, not a luxury. And so did my children who I would have been busy screaming at to pick up their stuff...

And it was actually traumatic to let go. But I knew the time had come. Although I was growing resentful of her cavalier attitude and tasks left undone, mostly I wanted my house back. I needed some space, some privacy (and the extra money).

So I scandalized my children and all their friends (if they can even talk about it in public) by letting go of the housekeeper. It wasn't easy. And we all work a lot harder now. In fact, there is literally never a moment's rest because there is always something to be done and no one to leave it for. I'm tired (I know I'm getting no sympathy from those of you who have always had to do it all yourselves!).

I know it sounds spoiled to even talk about it. Household help is a luxury that I was privileged to enjoy for many years. But in Southern California, it is a relatively cheap one.

Despite the grumbling, everyone has a sense of ownership, not entitlement.

Yet we have all grown from the experience of having to do it on our own. Not because it takes great brain power or imagination (as they say "It's not rocket science"), not because I believe you need to train children in household chores (they can figure it out pretty easily once they're on their own), but because, despite the grumbling, everyone is working together. Everyone has a sense of ownership, not entitlement.

Last week I overheard one of my daughters mention how glad she was that she got out early on Friday so she would have more time to clean the house before Shabbos! (If I mentioned her name, she would never speak to me again.)

I'm actually proud of the way everyone has stepped up to the task; I have my own little cadre of (well-treated) Cinderellas. And everyone takes pleasure in the fruits of our efforts. The clean house for Shabbos means more to us.

Some days (okay, frequently), I miss the help -- especially when peeling all the potatoes for the latkes (each girl had to do ten), polishing the silver (assigned to the guys) and all that Pesach cleaning -- but most of the time I am appreciative of the privacy, and grateful that I have the energy to do it myself. And even more appreciative of the support and help from my kids.

I am out of step with my society -- but not for the first time. Although I've lived in this house for 19 years, I am only now starting to feel like it is truly mine (except for the part that belongs to the bank!). I am only beginning to taste real ownership. As are my kids. And amidst my bleary-eyed exhaustion, I like it.

Which reminds me -- the dryer is full and there's laundry to fold. And all my little helpers are at school...

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