How Can I Miss You If You Won’t Go Away?

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I’ll start by admitting that I have a cleaning lady, as well as most of the personality traits that go along with it: I’m lazy, messy, and have an inflated sense of self-worth.

So imagine my frustration when I came home from work the other day to my very own kitchen oozing with chocolate and a garage crooning with Spanglish, laundry untouched.

And when I asked Irena how long her “break” was going to be, she just ignored me.

This is not the first occasion my cleaning lady has undermined her job description, mind you, nor will it be her last.

I learned this the very first day she came to work for us, when I took our dog for a walk, fell, and sprained my ankle. Hobbling back, Irena met me in the driveway, sat me down and started chanting some vaguely Latin haiku while caressing my swelling, black-and-blue foot with parsley from her pocket that she kept calling sage.

Uncomfortable with this intimacy with someone I had just met, as well as by the PAIN, I thanked her politely and wriggled toward the house for some ice like a normal person.

But Irena wouldn’t let me go. Her eyes met mine with such intensity and I froze.

“I take care of you now, Mama,” she whispered. “This why God put me here today.”

My husband eventually came out with his dead grandfather’s crutches and helped me up. “I’ll clean the toilets,” I lied in his ear. “Just get rid of this crazy by the end of the day.”

In all fairness to him, he tried.

“She started crying and said you felt like a sister,” he explained. “I couldn’t do it.”

So the following Saturday, after she waltzed past me to change my radio station, I handed her $100, told her she didn’t need to work for me today  – or ever – and politely asked for my key back.

“No, Mama,” she answered. “We family now.”

“Irena, you are not my family,” I told her. “And I’d like you to leave.”

She went to the fridge and poured herself a glass of milk.

That was two years ago.

Today, friends come over and find her endearing. I’ve even caught one of them agreeing with Irena when she told her, “Mama no-good wife. Wears sweat pants and no cook. She needs me to help marriage.”

“Mama’s marriage is fine, ladies.” I seethed. “She just has no time to cook or shop because of ALL THIS LAUNDRY.”

But all of it just falls on deaf ears …

“I’ll get rid of her,” my mother promised when she was visiting last. “She simply needs a new family to adopt.”

My mother is a woman who can change a toilet, fly an airplane and dine with the president all in the same day. She’s like Angelina Jolie without the husband-stealing part. So how did Irena hold up under my mom’s intervention?

Irena got a raise!

“She has no family,” my mom said to me. “Let’s all just give her a break.”

So how DO you solve a problem like Irena?

Do I hit her with a shovel and push her out the window like Rebecca De Mornay did in the “Hand That Rocks the Cradle”?

Do I make my kids put “Caution! Inflammable!” tape up every Saturday morning to block the driveway?

Do I plant one of my dog’s ticks in her hair?

Been there, done that. She’s still here.

Nope, family is family I’ve learned, and just like that passed-out uncle you plop in the corner with a lampshade over his head in hopes that no one will notice, Irena is indeed my sister.

The only one I’ve never had.



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