I’m A Housecleaner Who Is Going Back To Work — And It's Overwhelming
I piece together an income through many jobs as a self-employed individual. I am a freelancer, LGBTQIA+ educator, and a housecleaner. When the pandemic forced us to cancel and change all of our plans, I was able to still do some of my work from home, but public speaking and housecleaning were not on the list. All of my speaking and teaching engagements have been canceled indefinitely; however, after several weeks of checking in with cleaning clients, I am going back to work as a housecleaner.
I have watched the results of the slow reopening of my state of Vermont and the governor announced that in-home services can resume. This is a financial necessity, but as much as I want and need to resume pieces of my previous work life, I am overwhelmed by all of the moving parts.
I work with wonderful families and everyone is in complete agreement that safety and health are the first priorities. Not one of my clients questioned my need to cancel services when I did so in March, and none of them demanded a restart date. When I reached out to them a few weeks ago to see if they were still interested in my services, I stated my guidelines for feeling safe while in their homes and asked what they needed from me.
Safety also includes financial security. If my clients can’t afford to pay me, I need to find other ways to recoup that money. For the folks who have cut their expenses, I didn’t make any promises that I would be available at a later date. There has to be mutual understanding and expectations on both ends.
Child care is part of those expectations too. It has taken me several weeks and multiple failed attempts to get affordable and trustworthy care for my kids. We are all very excited to have a college student and one of their former camp counselors coming into our home each day. But some of the families I clean for won’t have care, or will have kids in camps or day cares. When I go into someone’s home, I am working around people, and within the social distancing bubbles of isolation that now hold more people than before. I am adding an extra layer of precaution by only going into one home a day. In the past I would piggy back two or three houses a day for efficiency’s sake, but now I will only go from my house to a client and home again in order to eliminate cross-contamination. It’s not ideal, but none of this is.
Everyone I work with is taking a calculated risk to resume pre-pandemic services and routines; the rewards are a clean and less stressful environment for my clients and an income for me. But I am risking my health and the health of those I come in contact with. I am placing a lot of trust in my clients’ decisions that are meant to keep them well, and they are doing the same with me. I am thankful for the privilege my clients have to pay for my services, but struggle with the risk vs. rewards of my work in the middle of a pandemic.
This balance is exhausting. The logistics of leaving the house, interacting with clients, and wearing a mask while I work takes thoughtful planning and execution. As much as I crave space from my kids on most days, I am struggling to leave them. We have been together every day, all day for the last three months. I have snuck off to work in my room for a few hours at a time, but I have always been around, and their voices have been the soundtrack of my attempts at working from home.
Yesterday I officially went back to cleaning houses. It was an empty rental that needed to be cleaned between tenants, and the six hours that I was gone was the longest I have been away from my kids in months. I only interacted with the owner for a few minutes and then was alone while I worked; it took my body some time to get used to old movements I used to be so familiar with, but the biggest hurdle to jump over was the guilt I was feeling for being away from home. I will be able to adjust to the physicality of my job quicker than the readjusting to a work-life balance even though I know my kids are fine.
They are more than fine, and I know I am not alone. On my way home, I passed the preschool and then the parks and recreation building my kids have attended for school and camps. June 1st was the day that these places were open again for working parents to leave their kids while many of us re-enter the workforce. As I drove by I spotted familiar faces—bodies actually, because of the masks—welcoming kids back to familiar spaces. Parents were staggered outside while they dropped their kids off at the door. I could feel the tear of separation and questions of doubt. But I also saw resiliency and willingness to make tough decisions when they feel impossible.
This new normal comes with a lot of questions and many of us are faced with exposing ourselves to the dangers of the what-ifs of COVID-19 because we need to work out of the house. Is a clean house essential right now? No. Is my need to make a living essential? Yes. So I am going back to work. I am also living in a constant state of vulnerability as I rely on others to keep my family physically well and financially stable. In the middle of a global pandemic, my feelings are messy at best.
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