Saturday, September 02, 2006
How good Good Service is.
Shirley Booth as the smart-talking housekeeper in Hazel, the early-60's sitcom.
Maid in Heaven
Imagine the Baxters without the wisecracking hazel in the early '60's sitcom of that name. Or the Brady bunch without the wacky Alice. And where would Sex and the City's Miranda Hobbs be without the meddling magda, who by the end of the series had morphed from domestic dictator to domestic godsend.
That's precisely what super-cleaners are: domestic godsends who buff our tubs, plump our cushions and, if we're lucky, keep our lives in check as well, always at the ready for advice and emotional backup. After all, who knows you more intimatly than the person who retrieves your undies from under the bed, scours your loo and even knows where you stash your vibrator - as Jennifer Aniston did in the recent Friends With Money (Though asdmittedly she isn't exactly what we mean by supercleaner.)
"All the things in the house that you don't want people to see, they see," says Christine Glendinning, a freelance communications consultant who lives in Vancouver with her husband. "I'll always do a quick once-over before the cleaning lady comes in, but still, they do see you at your very worst points.
"Glendinning, who's expecting the couple's first child and is often at home when Ludmilla comes in to work her mop-magic, says that beyond scrubbing her tub and mopping her floors (the two chores she most hates doing herself) lies a real friendship.
"We talk about everything, and she's always giving me local Ukrainian advice, like telling me to put a mustard-and-cabbage compress on my chest when I have a cold. It's the trust and comfort that I value.
"Ludmilla, who is in her mid 50s, visits the Glendinning household on tuesday every two weeks. Her coveted Friday spot belongs to Glendinning's mother, Linda, who's been employing Ludmilla since she emigrated here from Ukraine seven years ago.
I've always done my own housework, so having her these past seven years is like heaven,"says Linda, a retired nurse."friday is my favorite day of the week."
"And the reason why the relationship works is because, like all relationships that work, it is built on mutual respect."Ludmilla comes to me home because i don't make her feel bad about being here, and she doesn't make me feel bad for having her. I pat her an honest wage[$20 an hour] and she does an honest job," Linda says. "It's a really special relationship when someone sees you getting out of bed, knows what you eat for breakfast , sees your bills lying atound and yet never mentions any of it."
And seven years is a long time, certainly long enough to gel like an integral part of the household, as is the case with Viera Kobacova, domestic godsend to Toronto's Maze family. "I make their beds and shine their faucets," says Viers, who admits bo being a bit of a clean freak, "but I don't feel like a maid. I'm more a friend to them, part of the family. And without meaning to brag, I think they'd be lost without me."
Viera, a 36-year old Slovakian immigrant, has cleaned homes since she moved here 14 years ago. A few years ago she took a job as a receptionist at Toranto's Four Seasons hotel, and she has just cut back to just three families. She visits the Mazes once a fortnight, on her day off from the hotel, for a four-and-a-half-hour cleaning spree."
I don't like to think of her as my cleaning lady," says Elaine Maze, an artist, housewife and mother of three. "We all know her as Viera. Even Bailey, our Burnese mountain dog, will practically break the door down to get to her."
And before Viera slips on her marigolds, her yellow cleaning gloves, the two ladies will always make time for a natter. "We'll shoot the breeze about what's going on in our lives, where we're going, what the kids are doing. We've had a long, wonderful relationship, Viera and I.
"And of course, once you find a Viera, you don't want to lose her. "She has mentioned leaving once or twice, but I don't like to think about that," Maze says.
At just under $20 an hour, the Maze family would agree that the meticulous Viera is worth every penny.
And they're certainly not alone. "The percentage of people hirring cleaning ladies is increasing in leaps and bounds, " says Patrick Irwin, president of Ottawa's Windsor Home Cleaning service, because "90% of people just don't like cleaning." In the past five years, Windsor has doubled its volume, Irwin says. Demand is so high the service has waiting lists during busy periods.
In what is estimated to be a $2.5-billion industry, the price of good help can range from $15 to $17 an hour for an independent like Viera to upwards of $40 an hour for the security and anonymity of a large company.
Windsor charges $38 per hour for a minimum of three hours of work, while Molly Maid president Kevin Hipkins says his company charges $85 for just under two hours of clenaing, of which the cleaner is paid $10 to $16 depending on her level of expertise.And while business is booming for what Hipkins calls an "arm's length transaction," many house-holds are looking for a cleaning lady who, like Viera or Ludmilla, will become part of the family.
In Janis King's case, leaving Calgary also meant leaving Nilda, by far the best cleaning lady she's ever employed. "It was like she knew what I wanted before I did it," says King, a 62-year-old retired paralegal who now runs a small bed and breakfast in downtown Ottawa. "She was totally there for me, seven days a week. I would have trusted her with my jewels-if I had any!
"But the truth is supercleaners are hard to come by, which is why some women keep theirs a closely guarded secret. "There's no way I'd boast about my cleaning lady," says a Toronto woman who owns a chic furniture store in Rosedale. "I've made that mistake before and she got so popular she raised her rate and halved her hours."
Some cleaning ladies are so in demand that they interview prospective clients.
"I was so surprised when I heard that, " says 29-year-old Carole Piovesan, who works in Foreign Affairs as the senior policy advisor on Israel. "I definitely cleaned the house before they came!"
"They" are Piovesan's supercleaning couple, Matt and Karen, a husband-and-wife team who, for a flat rate fof $69, do double duty on her one bedroom apartment every month. They even bring their own supplies.
"The first thing I do when I come home is look around, and not because I'm trying to find somehting wrong, but more because I'm so astounded," Piovesan says. "They might come for 15 minutes, I have no idea, but they leave the place spotless, and that's all I care about.
"And there's definitely something to be said for the old adage a clean home means a clean mind.
"I'm a real advocate of that," says Chatelaine's new editor, Sara Angel. With a 21-month-old son and another on the way, she says she feels the need for cleanliness now more than ever. It would be easy for things to get completely out of control.
Sarah Bancroft, Fashion magazine's Western editor, couldn't agree more. "I have had mine for five years and she is the one thing that I insist on even if we are on an austerity budget. I'd sooner pack my lunch every day than give her up.
"We may have seen the rise of the domestic goddess, but not all of us are destined to manoeuvre a mop with the sass and speed of uber-cleaners like Hazel Burke.
The key, Angel says, is to delegate.
"I'm not a good cleaner so I'd rather devote my time to the things I do well, like cook and garden," she says. "Sure, it's a luxury, I won't say it's not, but it certainly frees up lots of time and makes life much easier and more pleasurable.
No longer a discretional luxury, cleaning ladies are fast becoming an essential. As Irwin says, "We've had customers calling us because it's been so long since they used their vacuum, they've forgotten how it works."
-found in The National Post, (Canada) Saturday July 29, 2006