Non-essential functions have ceased . . . confidence is rapidly eroding . . .  the house is in turmoil . . .

Forget the government, after 20 years of dutiful service our housekeeper, Maria, has left us.

And unfortunately, I don’t do housekeeping well.  Or at all, for that matter.  In fact, everything I know about cleaning I learned living in a college dorm.

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To me, dust bunnies and ants are acceptable house pets.  The only cleaning products I am familiar with are sandpaper and elbow grease.  And the only way I know to make a room appear neat and tidy is to shut the door.

My wife knows how to clean, but with her busy work schedule she is justifiably adamant that this is now a skillset I need to master.  I am adamant that this is a skill that the kids should learn.  The kids are adamant that I am out of touch with reality. 

But then they say that about everything I suggest for them.

But the immanent demise of orderliness is not the real reason it feels as though our house is shutting down.  The real reason is that we have just lost a member of the family.

We knew it would happen one day, and now it is upon us.  

In the early years Maria was not only our housekeeper, she was our nanny, our parenting mentor, our emergency contact, our bus driver, our governess, our personal assistant, our lifesaver.  At a time when my wife and I could not physically juggle our demanding work schedules with home and family, she was the skilled, reliable glue that held us all together. 

She shaped and molded our family in subtle ways.  To our kids her presence was loving, energetic, and joyful.  To my wife and I, as working parents, her trustworthy presence was calm and reassuring during a period in our lives when we had no choice but to relinquish care of the household to someone else during the day.

As our family situation changed and I became less and less tied to an office, our dependence on Maria’s assistance naturally declined.  But our emotional bonds did not.  Even after obtaining other employment, Maria returned to our home once a week to help us straighten up, just because she wanted to remain involved with our family life and we with hers.

Every week for years she would spit polish our house spring time fresh with all the gleam and shine of a white-tiled TV advertisement.  Every week we enjoyed the comfort of a clean and orderly living environment before we methodically trashed it again through the daily process of living.   And every week we embraced her rejuvenating presence in our household because she belonged with us.

And for years, under Maria’s prideful eye, I maintained my ignorance of the fine art of house cleaning.

Then, just last week, Maria announced tearfully that she could no longer come to our home on a regular basis.  As we knew would one day happen, her current employment was just too demanding for her to reliably continue housework for us.   And we deserved to have someone reliable, she told us.

The kids grew silent when they heard, like they had somehow lost their childhood.   Like the future was now more fragile than it once was.  Like there was no going back, even though they knew she would still come around to visit.

I grew silent too.  It was the end of an era.  And there would never be the same kind of order in our house again. 

Or sparkle.

Or shine.

Even if the house ever became clean again.

“What are you doing, Dad?” my daughter yells over the noise.

“Dusting!” I yell back.

“With a leaf blower?”  she asks, picking up the knick-knacks that are now scattered broken across the hardwood floor.

“Dad, have you seen my gym shoe?”  It’s her brother.

“I put it in the junk drawer,” I tell him. 

“What is that smell?” my older son wants to know poking his head into the dining room where I am gently polishing the wood table with furniture oil like Maria used to do.  Each swipe of my dingy rag leaves a frustrating streak. 

I pick up the bottle of oil I grabbed from a kitchen cabinet and read the label.

“Hmmmm.  I guess it must be olives.”  I tell him. 

In the other room the TV news is on.  Congress is a mess and the government is still not functioning.

Later, kneeling in front of the toilet with some steel wool and a can of Easy-Off, it occurs to me that what this country really needs is a good housekeeper.   

I should know.

I wonder if Maria would be interested in consulting?