My mother and grandmother are on their way to visit. My house is not ready and neither am I. After moving into a “new” ninety-year-old, 3200 square foot, brick house six months ago we still have things in boxes and bags, and this fixer upper is still slowly being fixed up.
How I ever expected to be a prolific artist, mother to four and wife to a fine artist is a puzzle I’ve been piecing together for 17½ years. I imagined years ago after peeing on the plastic stick and watching it turn pink that our kids would fall into place because I would will them to. I have since found a child’s will is more powerful than mine.
My mother and grandmother were both single mothers and both of them have cleaned someone else’s home for a living. My mother’s house-cleaning lady career ended after she got a state job in a hospital laundry cleaning folks’ linens and uniforms in the early ‘70’s; Grandma kept cleaning homes till well into the 21st Century. They taught me how to clean and they hoped and believed that I wouldn’t be cleaning for money.
I don’t remember my grandmother or mother ever bragging about their cleaning skills or bringing attention to their work except to remind us not to muddy up the clean floors, or tell me “how to do it” but they did take pride in the completion of a job well done, a spotlessly clean house. My mother would often inquire whether or not a visit to a friend’s house revealed their mothers as capable house-cleaners or not. This stuck in my mind, the fact that women were being judged by other women on their domestic skills or the lack of these skills; I remember grandma quizzing me on mom’s housecleaning skills, and if I helped. Before we went away with Grandma for summer vacation, my mother would remind me to help Grandma with any cleaning she had but when I asked, whether she was at some else’s house or her own, Grandma wanted us to stay out of her way so she could “do her job”.
I think that being a cleaning woman gave my grandmother the humility necessary to be a woman of God, not to mention that it was the way out of the South’s Jim Crow sharecropping system for countless disenfranchised African American women. My grandmother’s seven sisters and many of her sister-in-law’s, at some point made their living cleaning homes in New York City, Connecticut and Westchester.
As I began to outgrow childhood I realized my grandmother’s career was not a cleaning woman but a Christian Evangelist. She like many of her siblings had a Master’s Degree in Soul-Saving; cleaning lady was how she paid the world’s bills, visiting churches, preaching and giving testimony for God was how she survived the world’s slings and arrows. All that singing and praying while she scrubbed and cleaned were her meditations guiding her through the muck as she uncovered an object’s beauty.
Mom and Grandma taught me how to clean while teaching me about God, culture, family and humility. Not that I always appreciated their methods but we live and learn, right? In the meantime my house is still not clean the right way, it is messy, dusty and disorganized and I am sitting here trying to finish writing this piece before everyone wakes up and starts needing things.
I’m afraid I don’t want to be judged by the best cleaning women I know. Especially since I usually work at home, so why haven’t I been able to keep my house orderly and neat? I don’t know, maybe I have too much time on my hands and too many children coming home making a mess. Or maybe it just wasn’t the biggest priority in my life and it still isn’t. I imagine I would like to be remembered for something other than whether my floors were clean enough to eat off of.
My grandmother touched and inspired more people with her preaching and testimony than with her cleaning and I believe that my children have become more inspired by art and how it’s created than how clean our house is. But that could just be me copping out, because the truth is I like a clean house as much as the next mom and I will be up tonight and for the next seven days and nights trying to make this house spotless and presentable.
If your home is neat and clean with children and no cleaning woman, I commend and applaud you but if you are one of the many artist moms like me struggling to keep the syrup and jelly off the table and the cereal off the floor while completing the next literary/theatre project, pray for me. The clock is ticking and the laundry is in two mountainous piles, a clean one in the family room and a dirty one in the basement because if you’re reading this they’re already here.
Annette Daniels Taylor received the 2009 Emmanuel Fried Award for Outstanding New Play for “A Little Bit of Paradise”, and the Mamapalooza 2009 Mom’s that Rock Award! A native New Yorker born and raised in the forgotten borough of Staten Island, Annette has been living in Buffalo, N.Y. for the past ten years. In between shoveling snow, sorting laundry, replenishing toilet paper and hiding lettuce in sandwiches, she writes, performs and complains about cleaning and cooking. Her biggest challenge and most rewarding assignment thus far has been of mother to her four incredible children who are surviving her domestic procrastination along with her loving Fine Artist husband. This summer Annette will be riding her bike to rehearsals for Buffalo’s Shakespeare in Delaware Park in the all female Macbeth as General Siward.