No one but me thought it was a good idea to hire a live-in maid and nanny. My mother reminded me that she had raised three kids and worked full time, and still managed to keep a cleaner house than mine, all on her own. My mother-in-law pointed out that neither of my sisters-in-law had maids, and they could actually afford them. She’s been running an unofficial competition between the three of us for “cleanest house award” since the moment we were carried across our respective thresholds.
I dropped out of the contest two years ago, when I saw Brenda up on a ladder dusting a light bulb. I realized then I had no chance, and left the field to Brenda and Sue, dusting and disinfecting their way into her heart. I was just in time to avoid the crossfire from the spray bottles.
Once I abandoned all hope of winning respect for my shining floors and gleaming furniture, I was free to let mold grow in the refrigerator and turn my attention to what I really wanted to do anyway: homeschool our four children and write my novel.
It wasn’t easy on Dennis. It was asking a lot for a man whose mother had majored in Home Ec (no one still does that, do they?) to resign himself to shirts always a day behind when they were needed, mysterious streaks on the walls, and meals on paper plates. The day my novel finally sold, I felt vindicated. But even I had had enough of pretending that I let the dirt accumulate solely to strengthen my children’s immune systems. “You’ll all thank me one day,” I explained.
My friend Nancy came over just as I was about to call the first agency. She was horrified when I explained my mission for the morning.
“You don’t want a live-in maid or nanny!” she said.
“Why in the world not?”
“Think about it,” she said, as the kids milled about the kitchen, making their own lunches, as they’d learned to do in the interest of survival. “She’ll have nothing to do but dedicate herself to every need and desire Dennis and the children have, as they undoubtedly still feel in their hearts you should do. She’ll bake fresh bread, make meals from scratch, and win your children’s hearts away with chocolate chip cookies, warm from the oven.”
Just then Junie knocked a huge jar of applesauce off the counter. It broke and golden glob oozed out onto the floor. “Broken glass alert!” I yelled. “Everybody out!”
The kids scattered temporarily to the living room while Nancy and I cleaned up the glass and slop with paper towels. Crouched near the floor, Nancy lowered her voice and said, “And you know what happens in the movies. Nannies always try to seduce the husband.”
I thought about this new category of objections as I straightened up. A stream of vivid pictures raced through my mind.
I could see my children, sitting at the kitchen table, eating fresh baked bread and warm chocolate chip cookies. I could see them staring at their new nanny with adoring eyes and whispering to each other, “Remember the cookies Mommy made? They were always burnt.”
I envisioned Dennis, lying in our bed, a beautiful young nanny naked astride him, her long blonde hair curling around her full breasts, my husband’s eyes closed in rapture as she moved vigorously above him.
It did give me a moment of serious pause.
Then I pictured her getting up from the bed. Changing the sheets. Putting his dirty underwear in the hamper. Picking up his sweaty shirt from the floor—maybe even ironing it. Putting it neatly on a hanger. Wiping the chocolate from my children’s faces, sweeping the crumbs off the floor. Having dinner ready when I emerged from my study. Washing all the dishes.
“Life is a series of trade-offs,” I reminded Nancy, and I picked up the phone.
KAREN FALLEN-RHODES is a mental health therapist who believes that much of mental illness is, at its core, simply loneliness. Hence her ardent belief in community, which she backs up with her lifestyle sharing a crumbling mansion with ten other people in “intentional community.” A former newspaper reporter, she is happy to still be writing in what is fast becoming a “post newspaper” age.
This is Karen’s fourth contribution to Kindred and is part of the beginning of a novel Karen is working on. If she’d had a maid and nanny, it might have been done by now.