My mom was a very kind person. She cared about everyone, and she cared for everyone. Although she didn’t work outside the home in a paying job, she worked! She was social director for the church, she brought up kids and cared for us, she and my dad entertained a lot at the house, and she looked after her sister, who had a developmental disability and lived near us at a really neat group facility. I learned from her to value a sense of home and the work of caregiving.
As a child, I volunteered for the church. We cleaned the homes of elderly churchgoers. Many were war veterans and people who had gone through the Great Depression. It was quite an experience. Some of them were hoarders and needed a lot of help. I loved the sense of sharing and learning, but I also remember appreciating going home to a really clean home.
I’m white, and we lived in a wealthy community in Illinois. An African-American woman whose name was Remilia worked for my family from the time I was small until I graduated. I would follow her around and talk with her all the time when I was small. She taught me how to make great Southern food like fried chicken and fried okra and other dishes she grew up eating. We went through many milestones together, and I visited her often by train after she retired. I have reflected often on that relationship both as a cherished one in my life and as one that is steeped in a history of inequity for black domestic workers.
This reflection informs my advocacy work. I have worked to advance pay equity, and I believe strongly in training women to negotiate effectively, as well as creating laws that reduce inequality.
I have always chosen to clean my own house. I respect the work of cleaning and caregiving that I learned from watching both of these strong women as I grew up, and I never wanted to give that responsibility to someone else. Sometimes I find housework to be rejuvenating. There's something about seeing something dirty or disorganized, and then getting it sparkling clean, shiny, and put in the right place that feels good to me. I just wish it could be done more quickly or stay clean and organized longer.