Home Alone

I used to live in New York city. I lived there for 10 years and had two of my children there. It was in New York I had some of my first adult experiences in my life. I don’t mean adult in the “nudge, nudge, wink, wink” way but in the “let’s make sure we have enough money left over at the end of the month to pay for heat” way.

A part of all that adulting I was doing was home ownership. And along with home ownership came dealing with people coming to our apartment to fix things, break things, sell me things, etc. And during that time a new fear crept into the lives of the SAHMs in my community. It had a name that it went by: Adrienne Shelly.

If we expressed to our friends that the guys working on the apartment upstairs were playing their music too loud someone would say, “Remember Adrienne Shelly.” If the guy installing your cable was being too noisy and you were worried about him waking your sleeping infant the voice in your head said, “be nice to him. Remember Adrienne Shelly.”

Adrienne Shelly was an actress, filmmaker, writer. She was also a new mother. She was home in her apartment and was murdered by a workman working in the building. The initial rumours swirling around New York at the time had Shelly accuse the workman of being too noisy while her infant was sleeping and he killed in her in a rage and staged her body in the bathroom hanging from the shower rod to make it look like suicide.

It was decided in court that the man who murdered her had been caught by Shelly trying to steal money out of her wallet and had decided to kill her rather than risk being deported. The exact reason she was murdered didn’t matter to us SAHMs at the time. The seed was set. We were suddenly afraid in our own homes at a time when we felt we should be the most protective.

People talk about the mama bear instinct. We’ve all felt it. And when we are in our own safe spaces we feel an agency that helps lift up that mama bear instinct. This is our turf. We are in charge. But that can change when you have a workman enter the space.

A recent post on Facebook in a baby group I am a part of brought the Adrienne Shelly boogeyman back into my mind. In her words (used with her permission):

“He and his partner had come early for the job. I had agreed with his boss that they wouldn’t start the noisy job until after my kid’s nap time because, well, sleep has been a nightmare and I’m not gonna mess with it. He was angry that I wouldn’t let them start early. After much bullying, I succumbed and suggested a start time 30 minutes earlier than originally agreed upon. But that wasn’t good enough for him. He continued to use intimidation, condescension and veiled insults to try to get his way. At one point he suggested ‘why don’t you just go take your kid for a drive in the car.’ And ‘we were told you would be more flexible than this.’ This went on for about 10 minutes, all the while my kids were alone in the house.”

This is unacceptable. Making a woman and a mother feel unsafe for her and her children in her own home is unacceptable. But this is the reality we live in.

Often times the men who come into our homes don’t have to even be threatening. Last summer while I was home alone most days with my newest baby I had an entire army of workmen coming and going out of my home as we undertook some renovations.

There was one day over the course of the renovations that I had to basically fire one of the workman. I went to inspect his work and say hello. When I saw the work he was doing I pointed out a mistake. Then a saw another, and another. When I had pointed it out he had sighed and looked very annoyed. It was hot out and it was August. He just wanted to get his work done. I understood. But I wanted the work to be done correctly. I was ready to be an adult, to say to him, “No. That is not good enough. Start again.”

And then I froze. I remembered Adrienne Shelly.

I made some blithe remark and left the room, baby on my hip, my cheeks burning. I went downstairs to our basement suite and phoned my husband and said that I wanted the man out of the house. It was not that he had threatened me in any way. But I was afraid to confront him about his shoddy work. I was afraid of what his anger might look like. He did not make me feel unsafe. My fear of his reaction made me feel unsafe.

So where does the blame lie here? With the workman? With me? With my gender? As women we are taught to navigate our world in a way that keeps us safe. This is our reality. It is the same rules that say “don’t drink too much” “don’t walk down that dark alley alone” “don’t get separated from your friends”.

We learn to never feel totally unsafe because we learn to maneuver in a way that keeps us safe, even though at times it just doesn’t seem fair that we have to do it that way. But our homes should not be required to have the same safety checks applied to it as if going to a rave on a beach in Thailand. So what is the solution?

I always appreciate a direct recommendation from my mom friends. If you do business with someone who is great and treats you as a SAHM with respect and values your time and helps make you feel safe, share their names.

Other tips I have to help us keep safe as SAHMs:

  1. Do your homework. Only hire from companies you have done your research on. This should include more than just price. If possible meet with the potential workmen before the job is to begin.
  2. Hire companies that already do business in your neighbourhood.
  3. Lock your doors while workmen are working outside.
  4. Finally, get to know your neighbours. In particular those that may have someone at home the same time you are going to have someone working on your property. If you feel unsafe instead of confronting the worker go the neighbour and call help from there.

It is sad to have to plan for feeling unsafe. But until the day comes where every worker coming to our house treats us respectfully, sadly, we have to just continue to be smart and safe.