Cover image for Maid : hard work, low pay, and a mother's will to survive
Title:
Maid : hard work, low pay, and a mother's will to survive
ISBN:
9780316505116
Edition:
1st ed.
Physical Description:
xiv, 270 pages ; 24 cm.
Contents:
The cabin -- The camper -- Transitional housing -- The Fairgrounds apartment -- Seven different kinds of government assistance -- The farm -- The last job on earth -- The porn house -- The move-out clean -- Henry's house -- The studio -- Minimalist -- Wendy's house -- The plant house -- The chef's house -- Donna's house -- In three years -- The sad house -- Lori's house -- "I don't know how you do it" -- The clown house -- Still life with Mia -- Do better -- The bay house -- The hardest worker -- The hoarder house -- We're home.
Personal Subject:
Added Author:
Summary:
At 28, Stephanie Land's plans of breaking free from the roots of her hometown in the Pacific Northwest to chase her dreams of attending a university and becoming a writer, were cut short when a summer fling turned into an unplanned pregnancy. She turned to housekeeping to make ends meet, and, with a tenacious grip on her dream to provide her daughter the very best life possible, Stephanie worked days and took classes online to earn a college degree, and began to write relentlessly. She wrote the true stories that weren't being told: the stories of overworked and underpaid Americans. Of living on food stamps and WIC (Women, Infants, and Children) coupons to eat. Of the government programs that provided her housing, but that doubled as halfway houses. The aloof government employees who called her lucky for receiving assistance while she didn't feel lucky at all. She wrote to remember the fight, to eventually cut through the deep-rooted stigmas of the working poor. [This book] explores the secret underbelly of upper middle class Americans and the reality of what it's like to be in service to them. 'I'd become a nameless ghost,' Stephanie writes about her relationship with her clients, many of whom do not know her from any other cleaner, but who she learns plenty about. As she begins to discover more about her clients' lives--their sadness and love, too--she begins to find hope in her own path. Her compassionate, unflinching writing as a journalist gives voice to the 'servant' worker, and those pursuing the American Dream from below the poverty line. Maid is Stephanie's story, but it's not hers alone. It is an inspiring testament to the strength, determination, and ultimate triumph of the human spirit. --
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Summary

Summary

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER

Evicted meets Nickel and Dimed in Stephanie Land's memoir about working as a maid, a beautiful and gritty exploration of poverty in America. Includes a foreword by Barbara Ehrenreich.

At 28, Stephanie Land's plans of breaking free from the roots of her hometown in the Pacific Northwest to chase her dreams of attending a university and becoming a writer, were cut short when a summer fling turned into an unexpected pregnancy. She turned to housekeeping to make ends meet, and with a tenacious grip on her dream to provide her daughter the very best life possible, Stephanie worked days and took classes online to earn a college degree, and began to write relentlessly.

She wrote the true stories that weren't being told: the stories of overworked and underpaid Americans. Of living on food stamps and WIC (Women, Infants, and Children) coupons to eat. Of the government programs that provided her housing, but that doubled as halfway houses. The aloof government employees who called her lucky for receiving assistance while she didn't feel lucky at all. She wrote to remember the fight, to eventually cut through the deep-rooted stigmas of the working poor.

Maid explores the underbelly of upper-middle class America and the reality of what it's like to be in service to them. "I'd become a nameless ghost," Stephanie writes about her relationship with her clients, many of whom do not know her from any other cleaner, but who she learns plenty about. As she begins to discover more about her clients' lives-their sadness and love, too-she begins to find hope in her own path.

Her compassionate, unflinching writing as a journalist gives voice to the "servant" worker, and those pursuing the American Dream from below the poverty line. Maid is Stephanie's story, but it's not her alone. It is an inspiring testament to the strength, determination, and ultimate triumph of the human spirit.


Author Notes

Journalist Stephanie Land's work has been featured in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Guardian, Vox, Salon, and many other outlets. She focuses on social and economic justice as a writing fellow through both the Center for Community Change and the Economic Hardship Reporting Project. Her title's include Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother's Will to Survive and A Confident Parent: A Pediatrician's Guide to Caring for Your Little One --Without Losing Your Joy, Your Mind, or Yourself.

(Bowker Author Biography)


Reviews 6

Publisher's Weekly Review

In her heartfelt and powerful debut memoir, Land describes the struggles she faced as a young single mother living in poverty. "My daughter learned to walk in a homeless shelter," she writes, before chronicling her difficult circumstances. Land got pregnant at 28, then left an abusive relationship and went on to raise her daughter, Mia, while working as a part-time house cleaner in Skagit Valley, Wash. Later, using public assistance, Land moved to a moldy studio apartment and got her daughter into daycare. While housecleaning, Land imagines the lives of the clients, whom she knows intimately through their habits and possessions (their apparent unhappiness despite financial comfort fosters compassion as well as gratitude for her own modest space), and experiences the humiliating stigma of being poor in America ("You're welcome!" a stranger snarls at the checkout as she pays with food stamps). Even while working, Land continued to follow her dream of becoming a writer. She began a journal and took online classes, and eventually attended the University of Montana in Missoula. Land's love for her daughter ("We were each other's moon and sun") shines brightly through the pages of this beautiful, uplifting story of resilience and survival. Agent: Jeff Kleinman, Folio Literary. (Jan.) c Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.


Booklist Review

Land's memoir of single motherhood and poverty gives a personal account of the factors influencing those issues. An unplanned pregnancy ends Land's dream of attending college in Missoula, Montana. An abusive boyfriend (soon to be ex-boyfriend), parents that aren't financially or emotionally able to be supportive, and a lack of a social network further conspire against her until she and her young daughter find themselves living in a homeless shelter. What follows is a series of woefully low-paying, back-breaking jobs; attempts to navigate complicated and inadequate government assistance; and scenes of public shaming for handouts." Land's honest writing, especially about her feelings of inadequacy, and her insights into the people whose homes she cleans are beyond engaging. Readers will understand working hard while simultaneously fearing that if one thing goes wrong, if one unplanned expense rears its ugly head, if one benefit doesn't come through, a delicate balance could be completely upended. For readers of Barbara Ehrenreich's Nickel and Dimed (2001), Matthew Desmond's Evicted (2016), and Sarah Smarsh's Heartland (2018).--Kathy Sexton Copyright 2018 Booklist


New York Review of Books Review

"I'm not your maid," goes the outraged refrain of the mother; "I'm not your mother," the outraged refrain of the girlfriend or wife. The declarations are pleas for respect, consideration; they invoke roles in which women can't necessarily expect either. What indignities are you subject to when you are both mother and maid? When Stephanie Land was 28, she accidentally got pregnant with a man she'd been dating for four months, a cook in Port Townsend, Wash. This man yelled at her regularly, but she stayed with him until he punched a hole in the door during a fight. Her daughter was 7 months old. Land moved in with her father, but he got violent too, and she left for a homeless shelter. From there, she secured federally subsidized Section 8 housing. Eventually, she began dating someone who had a farm, moved in with him, and started cleaning houses for $9 an hour, a job that offered "no sick pay, no vacation days, no foreseeable increase in wage." At least one of these $9 hours went to making gas money for the commute. When the farmer broke up with her, she collected money for a deposit on an apartment of her own by appealing to her connections on Facebook. On moving into a studio, she learned it was infected by black mold. Cleaning, which soon became the main source of Land's income (she also did yardwork), proved grueling and tedious labor. To every house, she lugged "two spray bottles, one container of powdered Comet, two sponges, one pair of yellow gloves, 50 white rags, two dusters, one Oreck vacuum, two mop handles." As a rule, she started in the upper left corner of the building or room and worked her way across and down until she was done - not unlike a reader. Her boss referred to her as the business's best cleaner. Clients who had found fault with other employees did not complain about her. Meanwhile, the mold in her apartment made her and her daughter sick, and the cleaning made her body hurt: a "constant burn," "shooting pain," "tingling sensations" down her limbs. Nerve damage prevented her from gripping with her dominant right hand, so she was forced to use her left. She got in a car accident and lost her car. She had no time to cultivate new friends, and those she already had weren't always kind about her plight. She was ashamed to be on public assistance. With nobody around to give her the comfort or reassurance she needed, she tried giving it to herself. "I love you," she whispered piteously when she was overcome with pain or panic. "I'm here for you." She fantasized about moving to Missoula, Mont., for college; about owning a house like the ones she cleaned; about finding a lasting partner. All her hopes seemed implausible. If she were ever in a position to hire a cleaner herself, she vowed, she'd tip them, offer them food, leave them small gifts. She'd treat them "like a guest, not a ghost." Sometimes, she cried while she cleaned. The strain of caring for a child in insecure circumstances shadowed the pleasures of motherhood. Land followed a strict bedtime routine with her daughter, hoping that rigid structures would increase the girl's sense of stability, knowing any foundation was being eroded by her shared custody agreement and frequent changes to their living arrangements. After her relationship with the farmer ended, Land regretted the loss on her daughter's behalf more than her own. She encountered no personal obstacle that wasn't magnified in some way by being a single parent, no problem of parenthood that wasn't intensified by her financial predicament. For a while, as Land recounts in "Maid," her memoir of her time as a cleaner, she was on seven kinds of government assistance, and still hardly surviving. The paperwork she was forced to complete in order to qualify for help was interminable: applications with questions about her plans for the years to come, detailed proof of income that included documentation of her schedule and letters from clients verifying that she did indeed work for them, and continual updates to account for any change in status. When, at one point, she submitted a handwritten pay stub, an official from the Department of Health and Human Services threatened to rescind her child care grant. To be eligible for a program that subsidized her rent, Land was required to attend a class about how to approach landlords, because they tend to resist renting to those on public assistance. Rent plus groceries plus utilities plus laundry plus insurance plus gas plus clothing minus an hourly paycheck of barely more than minimum wage and the scant assistance parceled out by the government with spectacular reluctance - the brute poetry of home economics recurs throughout Land's book. When Land is faced with any kind of irregular expense, she must check the budget pinned to her wall, next to her notes about when each bill will be withdrawn and for how much. Math like this isn't complicated, it's merely endless. Calculated and recalculated as if the sums will improve with repetition, the figures overwhelm the mind. As Lizzie Feidelson wrote in a 2016 essay for n+1 about her work as a housecleaner, an ambivalent pleasure of the job is that it gives you singularly novelistic insight into the people who dirty the spaces you clean. Details emerge "unbidden, without warning, like smells." Documents spread on a table, receipts pinned to the fridge, a sound clip emanating from a laptop - the plot points of her clients' lives, Feidelson observes, "connected in an instant." Land finds the intimate knowledge she acquires of her mostly absent clients to be similarly evocative. She names the houses she cleans according to whichever possession or habit of the occupants is most conspicuous to her: The Plant House, crowded with large pots on wheeled stands; The Porn House, where a stack of romance novels sits next to a twin bed and a stack of Hustlers near an armchair; The Sad House, whose walls are lined with pictures of the owner's dead wife and son. She glimpses receipts for rugs that cost as much as her car, a dry-cleaning bill so large she could replace half her wardrobe with the same amount of money. One woman fills her freezer with cartons of cigarettes and her bathroom with jars of anti-wrinkle cream. How well the underclass are forced to know their overseers. This state of affairs is so ordinary, so unremarkable, people hardly mention it. That the poor must grow adept in the customs and quirks of the rich, must attune themselves to their desires and peeves, that this attention is forever and fatally one-sided, is understood merely as the basis for good customer service. Land's memoir is not particularly artful. The narration advances with some circularity; the language is often stale. But her book has the needed quality of reversing the direction of the gaze. Some people who employ domestic labor will read her account. Will they see themselves in her descriptions of her clients? Will they offer their employees the meager respect Land fantasizes about? Land survived the hardship of her years as a maid, her body exhausted and her brain filled with bleak arithmetic, to offer her testimony. It's worth listening to. Land was on seven kinds of government assistance and still hardly surviving. EMILY cooke is the editorial director of The New Republic.


Guardian Review

As a single parent caught in the welfare trap, Stephanie Land got the only job she could, tidying homes for the comfortably well-off. Now she has turned her experiences into an acclaimed new book At first glance, it's not immediately obvious that the toddler in the video I am watching is taking her first wobbly steps in a homeless shelter. Watching the tiny girl babble to her mother behind the camera, I am distracted by how spotless the floor looks. Yet in the eyes of Stephanie Land, the person who cleaned it, it was appalling: "Years of dirt were etched into the floor. No matter how hard I scrubbed, I could never get it clean." People such as Land are perhaps the biggest threat to the myth of the American Dream: someone who worked hard, yet found her very country pitted against her success. Her new book, Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother's Will to Survive, is both a memoir of her time working as a cleaner in middle-class households, and a dismantling of the lies the US tells itself about the poor: namely, that they don't work. As Land puts it, she was "overwhelmed by how much work it took to prove I was poor". "The country lives by the myth that if you work hard enough, you'll make it," she says. "For me, I felt like if I wasn't making it, I wasn't working hard enough." Frighteningly, before she arrived at that homeless shelter, Land's life was unremarkable. In her 20s, she wandered from low-paid to low-paid job: barista, dog daycare, stalls at farmers' markets. She had none of the usual factors society would pick out to explain her poverty: no alcohol problems, no history of drug use, a regular, if fractured, family life. At 28, she became pregnant. But the father, she writes, flew into rages, threatened and insulted her. With no family to rely on, Land entered the welfare system, moving to the shelter - where her daughter took her first steps - to transitional housing, to a trailer parked in a driveway, always desperately clinging to stability. Subsidising her meagre income with welfare meant submitting her life to relentless scrutiny: curfews and urine tests at the shelter; welfare officers wanting proof that her car wasn't too nice; supermarket cashiers silently judging her groceries when she used food stamps. She endured each indignity to look after her daughter, Mia. Searching for work in an economy that was still raw from the global financial crisis, Land began working as a cleaner for a private firm; $6 (£4.65) an hour for tidying up houses she could only dream of affording. If you are willing to get on your knees to scrub a toilet, you will find work. No one is as desperate as a single parent Strikingly, all her fellow cleaners were women and a huge proportion were single mums. Now 39, Land's explanation for this is simple: "It is flexible, most of the cleaning happens during school hours, you can bring your kid, and it is a job no one wants to do. As long as you are willing to get on your knees to scrub a toilet, you will always be able to find work. And no one is as desperate as a single parent." Eighty percent of the US's 12m single-parent households are headed by mothers - and 40% live below the poverty line. On such low income, money became a relentless weight: every car journey had to be weighed up against the cost of petrol. Providing food for Mia often meant going without herself, bolstering her stomach with instant coffee and, on the good days, a peanut butter sandwich. She would shop for groceries at night, to avoid the gaze of fellow shoppers; one man, after seeing the food stamps in her hand, shouted: "You're welcome," as if he was personally paying for her to eat. In one of their homes, a tiny humid studio in Skagit valley, Washington, a relentless black mould continually resurfaced, making Mia constantly ill; kind hospital nurses tending to Mia gave her a dehumidifier. It is remarkable what a cleaner can learn about your life from the receipts on your fridge, the number of family photos on your walls, the papers on your desk. Going through middle America's dirty laundry gave Land the time and the perspective to mull over the myth that work always means success. She scrubbed vomit, mould and blood from the homes of people who, despite their 2.5 bathrooms and nice cars, seemed just as unhappy as her. In one house she dubbed the Porn House, she tries to figure out the lives of its owners: the husband with his Hustler magazines and lube always out on display in his bedroom, the wife's extensive collection of romance novels in hers. Popping ibuprofen to cope with the constant strain that cleaning took on her body, Land gazed longingly at the large opioid stash in the Chef's House. Wiping down the already spotless surfaces of the Cigarette Lady's House, she finds connection with the mysterious owner by discovering her secret: a freezer packed with Virginia Slims. After Donald Trump's election victory in 2016, much was made of the power of the disgruntled working poor. Yet Land encountered the most aggression from those on the other side of the "welfare cliff": those not quite poor enough to receive benefits. She straddled the line a few times: a few dollars more a month meant she could suddenly lose hundreds in benefits: "I was penalised for working more, for working harder. Why, as an example, do some states require you to have less than $1,000 [£775] in savings? They are actively discouraging people from saving. Some people work really hard and still have no food in the fridge, while the wealthy are just getting wealthier while promoting this rhetoric that poor people are the ones taking all the money. And we still think they're the ones making the best decisions. Hell, I thought that when I went into their houses." Later on, when Land "came out" as poor, some of her own friends told her that they were on food stamps or using Medicaid. "I had no idea how many friends were struggling. We need to have an honest conversation about the face of welfare. I think that poor people are scary for a lot of people, because they represent what could happen to them." I was called a cockroach, vermin ... People didn't like knowing that their cleaners had opinions about them In her journalism - spoiler: Maid does have a somewhat happy ending - this anxiety is best reflected in sanctimonious comments left by readers. Strangers demand to know why she has tattoos, a smartphone, why she didn't get an abortion. "I think they're trying to reassure themselves that it couldn't happen to them, that this was all the result of my bad decisions." Her first paid piece of writing, an essay for Vox about her time working as a cleaner, went viral in the worst way. "My sleepy little website, that usually was only seen by my mum, was getting 5,000 hits an hour. People were calling me a cockroach, vermin, telling me I should be in jail. People with cleaners didn't like knowing that their cleaners had opinions about them. It was hard for me to even go outside for a couple of weeks." While Land's book is set during Barack Obama's presidency, she is watching Trump's welfare and tax policies with trepidation. "They are making it harder to be on welfare - raising the age to qualify or allowing states to require more paperwork. They are clinging to this idea that poor people don't work." She cried when Trump was elected: "It felt scary. Suddenly, everyone felt emboldened to do whatever they wanted. Trump's election gave trolls a platform to treat people horribly. That is a scary feeling for a mum of two daughters." The book ends on a high: with Land moving to Missoula, Montana, a place she had always dreamed of living. She enrolled in university, then navigated support programmes for underprivileged writers, which helped place her pieces in papers such as the Washington Post and the New York Times, as well as providing a stipend. Off paper, however, things didn't get easier. A month after graduating, she gave birth to a second daughter, Coraline, named after one of Neil Gaiman's heroines. (Gaiman has been a surprise source of support: "I once sent him a photo of Coraline and we've sort of become friends. Every time I get something published, he tweets something like, 'I am really proud of her', which is nice.") She found a new balance with Jamie, Mia's father, but then married a man who later physically abused her. While Land is no longer on welfare (although she still lives in low-income housing), money has not healed all wounds. The price of poverty - exhaustively self-evaluating herself, in welfare meetings, in supermarket queues, in the aftermath of unexpected costs - was panic attacks, a distrust of happiness and signs of post-traumatic stress disorder. "Right now, my anxiety levels are really high because things are going really well and I am just waiting for the catch." She looks startled when I ask if she would ever take a holiday. "A vacation is airfares, hotel, food, childcare. Is it really worth it to be on a beach for a week? Exercise, hiking, showers - I don't have time for that! I have piles of laundry, I have to pick up the kids, I have an overwhelming amount of work to do." After seeing inside the homes of the better off, Land does not want to be rich. "I'd like to not be in debt, I'd like to own my home, but I still imagine myself living a very simple life. It would be nice to have enough money to put my kids through college, to not worry about money. But that's about it." She has considered one indulgence: a cleaner. "It's been so busy, I've been thinking it would be nice for a couple of months. But I could never bring myself to do it. There is no way I could afford it, because I would just want to throw money at them - I'd leave $20 bills in every room." She laughs, but it is sad. She found it such a demeaning and demoralising job, she says, quietly. "I couldn't do it to someone else."


Kirkus Review

First-time author Land chronicles her years among the working poor as a single mother with only a high school diploma trying to earn a living as a minimum-wage housecleaner.The author did not grow up in poverty, but her struggles slowly evolved after her parents divorced, remarried, and essentially abandoned her; after she gave birth to a daughter fathered by a man who never stopped being abusive; and after her employment prospects narrowed to dirty jobs with absurdly low hourly pay. The relentlessly depressing, quotidian narrative maintains its power due to Land's insights into working as an invisible maid inside wealthy homes; her self-awareness as a loving but inadequate mother to her infant; and her struggles to survive domestic violence. For readers who believe individuals living below the poverty line are lazy and/or intellectually challenged, this memoir is a stark, necessary corrective. Purposefully or otherwise, the narrative also offers a powerful argument for increasing government benefits for the working poor during an era when most benefits are being slashed. Though the benefits received by Land and her daughter after mountains of paperwork never led to financial stability, they did ameliorate near starvation. The author is especially detailed and insightful on the matter of government-issued food stamps. Some of the most memorable scenes recount the shaming Land received when using the food stamps to purchase groceries. Throughout, Land has been sustained by her fierce love for her daughter and her dreams of becoming a professional writer and escaping northwest Washington state by settling in the seemingly desirable city of Missoula, Montana. She had never visited Missoula, but she imagined it as paradise. Near the end of the book, Land finally has enough money and time to visit Missoula, and soon after the visit, the depression lifts.An important memoir that should be required reading for anyone who has never struggled with poverty. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.


Library Journal Review

Land's memoir describes the disappointment and hard luck of a single mother with a young daughter. Without a supportive family, Land took care of herself and her daughter by working as a housekeeper and occasional landscaper. She supplemented her earnings with government programs such as housing assistance, food stamps, WIC (Women, Infants and Children), and Medicaid for her child. She dreamed of earning a college degree from the University of Montana and becoming a writer, and though she took online courses in her limited free time, Land was discouraged by how long it would take to achieve her goal. After encouragement from an associate and a housekeeping client, Land finally moved toward a better future in Missoula. The author narrates her own story flawlessly. Verdict Recommended to listeners with an interest in contemporary working conditions and those who enjoyed Barbara Ehrenreich's Nickel and Dimed. ["An illuminating read that should inspire outrage, hope, and change": LJ 12/18 review of the Hachette hc.]-Ann Weber, Los Gatos, CA © Copyright 2019. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.