Cleaning For the Kennedys

I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned this but I used to clean houses for a living. It was one of the many ways I made money in college besides bartending and waitressing. And I had interesting experiences and some lovely couples I had the pleasure of cleaning for.

While I was doing an internship at a local TV station (television and film major), I met a nice Producer named Peter. He was the one who told me the money to be made in the TV industry is in front of the camera. Right. And that, yes, they did need a cleaning person and luck had it, they lived directly up the street from my Mom’s house where I grew up.

In my Mom’s neighborhood, there are nearly 100-year-old town-home/row houses.  And then there are larger older homes with lush plantings in varying bedroom numbers, all beautiful and a little pricey right to the North. Peter and his wife had a modest one of these. And when I entered the house for the walk through to set up expectations and price, it became immediately clear to me that she was American royalty.

Everywhere you looked, there were silver frames with Kennedy family pictures in them. Here she was with her grandmother Rose Kennedy and here, with all her cousins and her uncle President John F. Kennedy. It was kind of shocking in a way. And slightly so would be the way that “the help’ is treated when you have been raised with privilege.

I was the gal who cleaned your house every other Thursday. I brought my vacuum, I cleaned your toilet, and maybe changed your sheets if you asked. I had keys and would let myself in and tidied and took care of you. Money was left on the kitchen counter. And I was always treated generously at the Holidays.

At this house, I was asked to mop the wooden floors because the baby was crawling. She called him her little monster. That was not part of the price I quoted. And I wasn’t to make it too damp as it would ruin the floors. Ok. But in the kitchen, it was clear that one of my other expected duties was to hand wash the dishes. Including the assortment of baby feeding apparatus. Maybe it was never stated but I was never was expected to do the dishes anywhere mostly ever.

There was a definite line between us. An Us and Them thing going on. I had attended an expensive private school. My Dad still made pretty great money but here, I was the Help. And there are class distinctions as well as gender expectations too. I was extremely disappointed when they had a cocktail party, there was no way I was even considered for the bartender position. That was a gentleman’s job.

Because of my housecleaning experiences, I could relate to the movie The Help. Or relate as much as a white girl of a moment’s privilege can. It’s not what’s said, but how I got let go. One women knew for certain that I was supposed to move the furniture and clean it. Another old lady wanted the shelves cleaned with ivory soap flakes. Soapy. I got called back for unhappy customers and that is necessary customer relations. You are on your way out at that point. Because you just proved why this was an unaffordable luxury.

I never made enough money for what I did. But it was a job I could work into my class schedule. I learned a lot about responsibility and owning your oopsies. And I ended up being a more fastidious person in my life. But I’ll never forget that feeling like I was always going to disappoint for the things I wasn’t told to do. And that very specific feeling cleaning for the Kennedys in that house when I wasn’t part of the upper class. There is a distinction, you just may not ever have an opportunity to feel it.


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The School Cafeteria

(A treat for you from two years ago. A piece I’d hoped to have published and never got around to submitting so here it is for your reading pleasure instead.)

Twice this year, I have taken the “opportunity” to have lunch with my kid. I twitch at this memory and the thought of  the incredible quantities of food that are being tossed into the trashcans. I experienced an overwhelming sense of loss. Needless to say, my visit was both a jarring and eye opening experience both times.

Last year, my son was in the first grade and lunched with the fifth graders. So when the megaphone got pulled out, I figured it was the older kids that were to blame. Near enough to middle school, I knew there was trouble a-brewing with this demographic.

But this year, the attempt to quell the “chaos” with a prison-like loudspeaker system commanding quiet from a room half-full of seven year-olds was employed multiple times in the limited lunch time period.  My husband and I recalled that our grade school lunchroom was just as loud. But as long as food wasn’t flying and children weren’t running, that’s a school lunchroom’s MO.

As for the food, thanks to people I actually know, there has been a true effort to make the cafeteria offerings a little more nutritious. They admit they can’t go all Jamie Oliver’s Food Nation on the system but I did see hummus on the menu. And if the children are hungry, they will eat the food that is in front of them. But on the occasion I was visiting the school last, it was holiday time. Despite the teachers attempt to not spoil their lunch, the kids hunger was quelled prior to lunch by those class parties.

Now sitting in the school cafeteria, I looked at the kid across from me and queried him on his indifference to his food. He said, even though he wasn’t hungry, if he was in the daily bought lunch program, the lunch women were required to put the complete lunch on his tray.  So a main, a snack side, a fruit or veg, and a drink would all be piled onto his plate. Even if he was just going to stare at it. In Union terms, an opportunity to eat was being provided.

As I watched all these loud children ignoring the majority of the food in front of them, I asked one of the lunchroom patrollers/teachers about the state of waste that I saw occurring. He said that they’d at least instituted a policy were pre-wrapped food could be brought up and trades could be made. The kid next to me took advantage of this and had at least two portions of pineapple. But I watched tray after tray of packaged and uneaten food go into the trash.

I then commented to the janitor at the amazing amount of wasted food I now saw actually physically being dumped into the trash cans. And this was only the second grade. There were many more lunchtimes yet to happen. Daily. Statewide. I then asked if he had any idea whether people were dumpster diving behind the school. He probably thought it an odd question but  I assume they are. He said surely the trash services picked them up quickly enough. Were the bins locked?

When I had asked the grocery store produce guy this question as he filled a huge trash can full of wilty vegetables, he said that he knew people not only dumpster dove for the produce, but sold it as well. Just because you can’t see it, hunger is still everywhere. And he added, they used to give the damaged pet food bags to the pet charities until they found out that people were purposefully sabotaging the food bags. And that was the end of that. Idiots.

The system is more than flawed. Mandatory feeding rules and regulations dictate what big brother thinks our children need in their bellies while feeding them within the scant hurried half hour of lunch when they’re not hungry, denies real bodily desires and needs to be met. And the waste factor is really disturbing and health regulations shut any other possibilities down.

I nod and smile when my kid asked me if I’ll come back to school again. I didn’t even mention the part where he completely ignored me during his lunch to show off to his buddies. I ended up making small talk with the kids around me. They are entertaining but I think I’ll skip the lunch visit and enjoy the academic classes before or afterwards instead. Or make my husband visit instead.


Quite honestly, there was never a time when I wasn’t anxious. I have always been anxious. The baby was three weeks old and boy was I anxious. I’ve always felt anxious and therefore I was. Got it honestly from my family.

I was so used to being this way that, in college, my growing stomach pains were just something I tried to ignore. Until one day I was told I had gastritis and soon to have an ulcer. I tried to mend my anxious ways. The pain would come and go but it wasn’t really until a year ago that I actually got rid of them without the aid of medication. Which, by the way, I’d have had no problem taking. I believe in better living through over-the-counter pharmaceuticals.

I still have phantom anxiety pains. Moments where I recognize that in the past I would have worried about this or that, but the worry is just not there anymore. Like a missing limb, the anxiety no longer exists but I still remember its use. This week I had an overall sense of disease however. And I wouldn’t call it anxiety but I certainly wouldn’t have said no to some Wellbutrin just to tweak my brain a little until I got over myself. I am moving through the spell thanks to hard work, meditation, list therapy, and prioritizing my doing.

anxiety from

My theory has always been that the majority of the US population suffers from anxiety problems and symptoms. And that it is so accepted as a human behavior that we call that normal. And then I took a look at the statistics and verified my hunch. From the Anxiety Disorders association of America, statistics on anxiety:

  • Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older (18% of U.S. population).
  • Anxiety disorders are highly treatable, yet only about one-third of those suffering receive treatment.
  • GAD affects 6.8 million adults, or 3.1% of the U.S. population.
    Women are twice as likely to be affected as men

I can say that lessening the worry about things I can’t control has definitely changed the quality of my life. I am also deeply respectful of the reasons people have earned their worried ways. We are never told it’s OK to be not OK 100% of the time. Somehow America’s promotion of the Perfecty Perfect Easy Existence has us constantly falling below our lives’ high expectations. Go figure. Imaginary Joneses to keep up with are everywhere. And really nowhere.

from anxious on

The change in my life is due to increasing my self-esteem and self-efficacy. To realize I’m always capable and I have my back.  I’ve built on this concept in layers and waves. And when I take a look back to my old journals and see what I wrote, I really know how far I’ve come. And knowing that you can change your outlook if you work and learn and listen and read and write makes me feel better everyday. Anxiety should be revered and held to the light. Because it isn’t a nice way to exist. You need help to even help yourself out of that hole. And there’s plenty of help out there for the person who asks. The asking is better than the suffering.

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