My Cleaning Lady Writes Me Letters

I will always be my mother's daughter. How do I know? My cleaning lady writes me letters.

My refrigerator door is filled with photos of my family, of which I have three: my mother’s family, my father’s family, and my step-father’s family. No matter how close I get to my other relatives, I will always be my mother’s daughter. How do I know? My cleaning lady writes me letters.

I remember when I lived at home right after college and worked as a magazine intern and freelance writer, and spent many hours working out of my parents’ house. Every other week, our cleaning lady, Vania, would come to the house and she and my mother would strike up a conversation like two old friends. Never mind that Vania was nearly 20 years my mother’s junior and had two babies— they acted like they were in a coffee klatch, not an employer/employee conversation. Their chatter would always come to an end with Vania saying to my mother (Claire), “Now Claire, we are in a fight. I don’t want to talk to you!”

On the other hand, I would get annoyed when Vania arrived because the whirring of the vacuum cleaner would throw off my concentration, and I always felt like I was in her way. How many times was I about to get something to eat in the kitchen, and she’d be on her hands and knees scrubbing the floor? Suddenly I’d lose my appetite in guilt-ridden shame watching someone only a few years older than I was performing manual labor at my feet. Meanwhile, my mother was buying Vania’s children Christmas presents, giving her any unused items from our house, and eventually sitting down and sipping tea with her. Where was my disconnect?

Years later, I now have my own cleaning lady, Shannie, and much like my mother and Vania, my conversations with Shannie are completely personal and extend far beyond any working relationship we might have maintained. Long gone are any moments where I felt like Shannie’s employer; she is like family now. When I sent her a sympathy card upon learning of her mother’s passing, I received a heartfelt thank you note on my refrigerator’s white board, which I can’t bring myself to erase. That simple note reminds me how, although I often don’t see it, I am turning into my mother. She genuinely cares for all the lives she comes across, and I couldn’t be more proud to try to follow her example.


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