Between all of our hustling, El Yenta Man and I blessed to make a decent living at the moment.
We’re able to pay our bills, buy organic milk and have enough left over to take the family out for sushi once in a while. Thankfully, there are grandparents who provide extras like summer camp and piano lessons, so our kids can feel privileged while we remain solidly middle class.
Living within our means was a hard-learned lesson, and we maintain some thrifty habits to keep ourselves in the black: We have no credit card debt (made much easier by the fact that we don’t have any credit cards). We fix things ourselves. We reuse every plastic baggie until it shreds. Also, I am bargain-hunting, thrift-shopping, sale-sniffing queen (I know my bubbie would be proud!)
We don’t have a car payment because he drives his mom’s old Honda and I drive a 14-year old beige minivan bequeathed to me cheaply by my cousins who moved back to Jerusalem in 2005. (Here’s an in-depth description of The Absurdivan.)
It’s not just about the expense; it’s about the conscious consumption—as I get older, I just don’t want as much stuff, especially cheap crap made in overseas factories that exploit workers and flood the market with items no one needs. (Not that cheap disposable crap is avoidable; I just feel horribly guilty when I buy it.)
So the idea that I would have a cleaning lady seems ridiculous, right?
Most of the other Jewish mothers I know—including my own—don’t think a thing about hiring a woman—almost always of Hispanic descent—come dust their shelves and mop their floors once or twice a week.
But I have never been able to bear the following: 1.) admitting that I can’t keep my own house clean 2.) admitting I can’t pay someone ENOUGH to scrub the mold out of my shower.
I’ve never been comfortable hiring someone else to do my dirty work. When my first child was born, my mother wanted me to “hire some help.” A lovely woman named Bernadita came and cleaned our tiny apartment twice while I wrestled with the breast pump. When I found out she had a baby at home the same age as mine, I was overcome with shame and guilt. I found Bernadita another family to work for, and from then on, I handled the scrubbing myself in between freelance jobs.
Well, not myself. When I started working full-time, my husband and I split the cleaning down the middle: He did the hideous bathrooms, I did everything else, which was completely fair as far I was concerned. (Everyone has to fold and put away their own laundry.)
But in the last few years, EYM started his own business, and he’s gone a lot more. I work out of the house more than ever. The kids keep their rooms pretty tidy and can perform simple tasks like sweeping and vacuuming, but the wielding a toilet brush appears to be out of their skill set. Our bathrooms had come to resemble dripping mold caves that may or may not harbor chupacabra nests.
And the resentment grew faster than the mold: Neither EYM or I felt like it was our job to take care of it since we were both exhausted at the end of the day. We figured out that paying someone to do it for us every two weeks was the equivalent on one and half hours worth of work between us—Hello, SOLD.
But I still had a difficult time with the exploitative aspect of hiring someone who has her own family to take of and her own house to clean, complicated by the fact that she is living out a version of the American Dream that’s much different from my own.
After asking around for months, I’ve finally found Diana. She’s a single mom originally from Juarez, Mexico, and she’s very patient with me when I practice my Spanish.
She showed up the first day in a nice, newish minivan that was MUCH nicer than mine, wearing brand-name sneakers and a big smile. She’s built up her business to employ seven or eight women from Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico and is busy five days a week. I’ve not asked what she pays her mujeres—for all I know she’s
holding their birth certificates in some indentured servitude ring—but they always seem happy when they arrive every other Tuesday, whistling as they bring in their buckets and mops.
It’s still new, but so far I’m pretty happy with the situation. Rather than exploiting someone who can’t—because of her immigration status or lack of education—find different work, I feel like I’m supporting a woman in her business.
Plus, I can finally take a shower without wearing shoes.