Someone’s gotta do it.

I do not love cleaning. I do not even like cleaning, really. I quite like the results of cleaning, but if I’m honest, I shirk as much cleaning as I can, and I don’t think about it any more than I have to.

Well, it turns out that as a campground manager, I have to think about cleaning rather a lot. I have to roster daily cleaning staff, make sure all cleaning staff have what they need, set up for cleaning, wash laundry, schedule long term cleaning tasks, hire new cleaning staff, pay cleaning staff, order cleaning products, monitor the condition of rooms, and more.

Some days, I even have to do the cleaning, and let me tell you – it’s hard work!  Yesterday, I cleaned for an hour, and by the end of it I was glowing a sweaty mess. Cleaning as work is, in my opinion, much harder than cleaning at home. On the surface, you’re doing the same tasks. But cleaning as work is different. It’s time limited, physically difficult, and requires nit-picking and attention to detail. That hair on the sheet that you can ignore or don’t even see when you make your own bed? That’s a complaint at an accommodation business. Those streaks left after wiping your kitchen bench? Nope, not good enough when it’s your job. Plus, it’s repetitive, usually poorly paid, and often only offers inconsistent and/or short hours. To be honest, it’s not much of a proposition. But, even if it’s not much of a proposition:

Someone’s gotta do it.

Stock photo cleaner has had enough of your shit.

Cleaning’s one of those jobs that’s often invisible. Unless it’s done poorly, many people don’t think about it at all. But today I want to encourage you to think about it.

Ignoring all the cleaning work in the world is a pretty privileged position, so let’s take a look at a pretty privileged example – a family holiday – and consider just how many cleaners are involved to make it run smoothly (or… well… cleanly):

  • Maybe we start our holiday by taking a bus or a train to the airport (well, we would if we didn’t live in New Zealand). That bus or train has to be cleaned regularly.
  • We get to the airport (cleaned by a team of cleaners) and check in.
  • After a short wait, we head to the plane (which has just been cleaned) and take our seats.
  • We eat food from factories and kitchens that have to be cleaned, and read books printed in factories that hire cleaners (who am I kidding, we’re parents, we don’t get to read books…)/distract our kid with toys made in factories (which also need cleaning).
  • The plane lands, and we head through another cleaned airport, to another cleaned mode of transportation, which takes us to our accommodation.
  • We arrive early, but we’re lucky enough that our room has been cleaned already, and we can check in. As we walk to our room, we pass cleaning trolleys in the hallway, but don’t see any cleaners – they’re hard at work. When we get to our room, we don’t really notice how clean the room is – but we’d certainly notice if it wasn’t.
  • Oops, we realise we forgot something, and we pop to the mall to grab a replacement. We leave just as the mall closes and see the cleaning teams ready to start work.
  • We go to a restaurant for dinner. The restaurant may not hire specific cleaning staff, but a huge part of the work there is keeping everything clean.
  • After dinner, we have a swim at the hotel pool, which is cleaned every day.
  • The next day, we are checking out, but first we have breakfast at the hotel. We are glad that the milk in our coffee comes from a factory with very high cleanliness standards. To achieve this, they have specialised cleaners as well as general factory staff who clean as part of their work. The farm where our eggs come from also needs regular cleaning. Depending on the scale, they may not have specialist cleaners, but…

Someone’s gotta do it. 

That’s less than a day out in the world, and already our little hypothetical family has used the services of at LEAST 13 different cleaners. Even if we stay home, pretty much all of our food and almost everything we use can only get to us with the help of cleaners. We don’t specifically hire a cleaner (I kinda wish we did), but we definitely get the benefit of their work.

In short, we need cleaners! But they’re not the only ones out there doing important and invisible work. There are also refuse collectors, gardeners, janitors, groundskeepers, drivers… Not to mention the HUGE amount of care work that is required to allow people to work outside the home; childcare, elderly care, disability care… This is all the work that many people only notice when it’s not done or not done well.This is the invisible and underappreciated work that makes society function.

Sort it out yourself, or appreciate those who do!

Being invisible doesn’t mean it’s less important, quite the opposite.  These invisible jobs are like medications: they’re a lifesaver for some of us, many of us don’t think about them much, some people actively look down on them, but without them our society would be way less healthy.

And yet, the hard working people in these roles face unfair stereotypes and huge amounts of judgement. They are told they should be ashamed of their work. They are told that they should “better themselves”. When they need government support because their employers don’t pay them a living wage, they’re told they are a drain on society. When they complain about their dismal pay, they are told that it’s their choice to be there and they can find something else if they don’t like it. When they draw attention to poor working conditions, they are ignored and told “what do you expect if you’re just a [cleaner]?”

And all these (rude and privileged) positions against cleaners (etc.) effectively ignore an important point: someone’s gotta do it. 

So, my challenge to you today is to notice the cleaners. Make eye contact. Thank them for their hard work. If you don’t see any cleaners, appreciate the unseen cleaners who allowed you to live your life and do your job. Or thank a childcare worker or a gardener or a security guard. If you are a cleaner, thank yourself, and be proud of what you do.

Maybe you already do those things? That’s great! But I think you could do more (I certainly could). There are a lot of rude comments and unfair stereotypes. We have to be twice as nice and appreciative to cancel them out.

Someone’s gotta do it. Lots of us don’t want to do it. So we’ve gotta appreciate those who do!

 

Seasons (revisited)

A week ago, it was the shortest day of the year. We have had frosts almost every morning this week. The other morning I forgot to set the heat pump timer, and The Campground Kid and I had to snuggle under a blanket for the first half hour we were up because it was so blimmin’ cold. It is most definitely winter. Our first winter since 2012.

And I love it.

I don’t love trying to convince The Campground Kid to wear enough layers to stay not-freezing. I don’t love it being dark at 5:30pm and at 6:30am.  I probably don’t get outside enough some days. But I love it.

View of snowy mountains from an amazing chilly bush walk.

I love the crisp mornings and the sunny cool afternoons. I love cuddling up in the warm with the rain outside. I love soup and hot drinks and roasting everything. I love scarves and boots and woolly jumpers. I love walking through the cool bush and seeing my breath against the cold air.

I have missed winter.

Nearly three years ago, I wrote about Brunei’s seasons (or lack thereof.)  And I thought that once I was actually confronted with another winter, I would change my tune.  But NOPE. Even here in winter, I love seasons.

Living on a tropical island is so often touted as paradise. But it definitely wasn’t my paradise. My paradise has variety. It has changes that mark the passing of time. It has the cold that helps us to appreciate the warm.  It has a warm hot-tub against a freezing night and a dark sky full of stars. It has cold noses and woolly hats on frosty mornings, followed by a hot cup of coffee and woolly slippers.

(It also has good insulation and a heat pump. The winters of my student-flatting days? I definitely don’t miss those!)

Frosty mornings.

Uniform

The weather is quickly turning cold here. We had two frosts last week, and certainly made it into the negatives, temperature-wise. (And yes, I know that in a global scale of winter, this is not a big deal, but for two parents who haven’t had a winter since 2012, and one kid who hasn’t had a winter EVER, this is coooold.)

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Frosty family

This means it’s time to get our winter uniforms at work. I haven’t actually seen them yet, and although I’m more than ready for something a bit warmer, I somehow doubt they’re going to be as popular with our guests as the summer ones.

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Me and The Campground Kid in our summer uniforms

Seriously, you would not believe how often we get compliments on these shirts. Or maybe you would, I don’t know, but it has surprised me. I would say that on most days there is at least one person who comments, and 99% of the comments are positive.

But the reason I’m writing today is not about the specific uniforms, or about their relative popularity with our guests. It’s more just about the concept of wearing a uniform.

This job is the first time in over ten years that I’ve worn a uniform. If you’d asked me a few years back what I thought about wearing a uniform, it would have been a great big NOPE. I loved having a large wardrobe and creating fun outfits. I wouldn’t wear an outfit again if I’d worn it in the last few weeks. I had a serious amount of clothes, and I had fun with them.

But now that we’re here… I kinda love it.

I think there are a few things that have changed to change my mind on a uniform. 1) I became a mum. I have another person to dress in the morning. I have less mental energy, and I don’t really want to spend the energy I do have on choosing clothes. 2) I’m on my feet a lot. It’s way more important to me that my clothes, and particularly my shoes, are comfortable, so it’s just easier to have one casual outfit every day. And 3) I got fat. It’s not as easy to buy fun clothes, especially not cheaply. Clothes are less comfortable, and finding something that fits and looks good is just hard (I could say more, but availability of larger sizes and clothes made to fit fat bodies is a whole other post!)

Over summer, I even took to having a casual “uniform” that I wore most days: jogger pants (which I also wore to work), a comfortable t-shirt, and jandals or Birkenstocks. It was pretty much the same as what I wore to work, but with more jandals (flip flops) and less tie dye. It was easy, comfortable, and looked good enough.

But for winter, It’s proving more difficult. I don’t have good layering clothes. I don’t have any pants that go with tighter tops. I don’t have the right shoes/boots. I don’t have enough woolly socks. I don’t have the right jacket. Winter clothes are more expensive, and there aren’t any shops nearby. And don’t even get me started on what I can wear if I actually want to exercise! The whole thing is just annoying me.

So, I’ll be really glad to have that work uniform soon. Provided it works with skinny jeans and sneakers, I’ll be pretty much sorted for five days a week. And maybe the other two days, I’ll just hibernate and live in pyjamas. That’s what I did yesterday, and it was pretty great. Totally solid plan… right?

 

The grey-middle

I am both an At Home Parent and a Working Parent. This sounds impossible, right? And if our tendency towards black and white labelling of people and situations was to be trusted, it would be. But from my vantage point in the grey-middle, it’s easy to see that things are not nearly as simple as we’d like to believe.

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I work 50+ hours a week, as does Campground Papa. The Campground Kid is awake for maybe 85 hours a week, and she is at daycare for about 21 of those hours. She comes to work with us for about 25 hours a week (our work is at our house, so the line is a bit fuzzy on this one. Our work also has a playground, so it’s not as boring for her as it first sounds).  We are all at home and off work for 2 days a week, and Campground Papa and I have about 2 hours to ourselves between finishing work for the week and picking her up from daycare.

Within each day, we flex around. We alternate pick ups and drop offs at daycare; we swap around bedtimes and sleep-ins; we take turns cooking. The Campground Kid “helps” Campground Papa on his work tasks; I take her for walks; we both take breaks to play tea-set or marble-run; I watch Dinosaur Train with her; Campground Papa sets her up with magnatiles and then does chores; we both try to keep her entertained in the office and laundry; we both frequently fail. When it’s quiet at work, the juggle is relatively easy; when work is busy, it’s not easy at all; when The Campground Kid is out of sorts or overtired, it sometimes feels impossible. But we muddle through it together.

I don’t entirely know what the point of posting this is, but I do know that when I was an At Home Parent, I used to think the life of a Working Parent was hugely different to my own. I didn’t necessarily see it as harder, or as less hard, but I did think it was an almost fundamentally different experience.

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Now, I don’t see it that way. I see a lot of different experiences. I see different levels of juggling and different levels of time away from kids. I see different levels of monotony and different levels of satisfaction. I see different levels of calm and different levels of stress. But none of these levels correspond neatly to “At Home Parents” or “Working Parents”; they vary with hundreds of individual circumstances and personalities and experiences. I see those black and white extremes blurring into the grey-middle, and I think that grey-middle contains most of the interesting stuff.

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And I think this is true of many other labels that we place on parents too. Sure, some people exclusively breastfeed or exclusively formula feed. But many (most?) people do a bit of both, and I think how much they do of each is never the most important thing about their relationship with their baby. Some people sleep train and some people co-sleep, but some people do both (that would be us!) or neither or just whatever works in the moment to get everyone some sleep. Some people are natural birth advocates and had c-sections; some people want all the drugs and arrive at the hospital too late for any pain-medication at all. I am infertile AND a mother. (etc. etc.)

It’s not that I think the black and white labels are useless. They have their place. It’s just that I think the individual stories in the grey-middle are a whole lot more interesting, if we take the time to listen and share.

 

Expectations

“I’m just really disappointed that no one did anything about the noise next door to us last night. We have a young family, and this was not what we expected.” said the tired, annoyed guest.

“I get it. We have a young family too. But we just didn’t hear it here, so we didn’t know. I’m really sorry.”

It was one of my first real customer complaints, and it was from Fred*. Fred who used to be my manager when I was just starting out in the world of Human Resources. Fred who thought quite highly of me  but nowhere near as highly as he thought of himself and had expectations for me. Fred who was my manager before I changed jobs, studied for a new profession, changed jobs again, moved to Brunei, became a parent, moved back to New Zealand and changed jobs again. Basically, he was my manager a whole lifetime ago.

If he recognised me, he didn’t say anything (I guess a different hairstyle and 20+ kg will do that). But I recognised him. And seeing him reminded me of all that career history and just how much has changed. I don’t just look different, I AM different, in so very many ways. The last six years have been great and hard and eventful and transformative.  When I worked with Fred, and when I saw him last, I was young and up and coming and had my life ahead of me. I was destined for big things. A family and a flexible job and managing a team are not small things, but they’re definitely not the things I imagined as a 26 year old starting a new career.

As much as I am happy with the choices I’ve made, and happy with where we’ve ended up, being reminded of the change was a very vulnerable feeling. And being reminded of the change while simultaneously being told I wasn’t doing my job very well was a very very vulnerable feeling.

I think I managed to hide my embarrassment and get on with helping other guests. But by afternoon, it was still nagging away in the back of my mind. Complaints always bother me, and it bothered me more that it was from someone I know (or knew). Then I remembered a situation where Fred had made some rather large mistakes.  It wasn’t necessarily relevant to this situation, but it made me feel a little better.

And THEN I spotted a line on our park information sheet: “If you have a problem with noise, tell the management immediately. Tomorrow is too late.”

YEP. Tomorrow IS too late.

And this made me realise that this whole thing was about expectations, realistic and otherwise. It wasn’t reasonable for him to be angry at me for not solving a problem I wasn’t aware of. But it was definitely reasonable for him to be annoyed.  It wasn’t reasonable of me to expect myself to get it all right every day and get no complaints, especially not seven weeks into an entirely new job and an entirely new life.  It definitely isn’t reasonable to expect all expectations (mine and others’) to be reasonable.

But most of all I realised how almost every time I fall into shame, it’s rooted in expectations; either my expectations or the expectations of others (or at least what I THINK they are). As soon as I start comparing reality to expectations (reasonable or unreasonable, real or imagined) my mind starts to spiral.

I am really happy to be here, to be doing this. It’s still early days, but it feels like a good fit for me and for us. But even though it’s a good fit at 31, it’s a far cry from the expectations anyone had for me at 18, at 21, at 26. Heck, it doesn’t really meet the expectations anyone had for me at 29 or 30.

Going against expectations isn’t a bad thing. In fact, I am mostly inclined to think it’s mostly a great thing. For others. But for ME, my mind usually translates it into a bad thing. After all, I’m a “good girl”. I meet expectations. If I’m not meeting expectations, there must be something “wrong”.  If my kid isn’t meeting expectations, I must be doing something “wrong”. If my life isn’t meeting expectations, I must be doing something “wrong”. (and so on and so forth)

Do you know who is really really good at ignoring expectations? Toddlers. I could learn a lot from her.

Do you know who is really really good at ignoring expectations? Toddlers. I could learn a lot from her.

I KNOW this is a load of tosh. I KNOW it’s just a bit of crazy-making perfectionism rearing its ugly head. But KNOWing doesn’t always make it easier. So with all of that in mind, I have a resolution for this new stage of life:

Cut the comparing and throw those expectations out the window.

I’m going to have to start with baby steps. My first inch forward is writing about it, both here and in my long-abandoned journal.

But most importantly, I’m going to start now. Today. After all, tomorrow is too late.

 

* Name changed to protect him or me, or maybe both.