18 June 2012, by Tan Yi Lin
We have a very amicable relationship with our family’s helper.
M has been with my family for, gee, I don’t know, ten years (or more?) and we all get along well. When Coco came along, it was mutual happiness on both sides. We were thankful to have experienced, trustworthy help on hand (she has SEVEN grown children and one granddaughter) and she was happy to take on a squirmy infant as part of her job (specifically, she exclaimed when told of my pregnancy, “Work is not so boring now!”)
She often regales me with tales of exciting or funny things that Coco does during the day while I am at work, like crawl for the first time or raise her arms and “dance” to music from the radio, or books that they read together. It makes me slightly envious that Coco has so much fun with Aunty M, but I’m glad that she’s in good hands. In any case, Coco still clamours for mummy the moment I step through the front door when I’m back from work. Hee!
M gets a day off every Sunday, typically from 8am to 8pm, which is an arrangement that works for everyone. We’re glad for her to go out, because we would feel pretty awful if we were all relaxing at home or making fun plans to go out for the weekend and she’s stuck at home doing chores. Plus, we don’t need to bring her out with us to help mind Coco because we enjoy looking after Coco ourselves, especially since we’re both away at work during the week.
However, we recently learnt that not needing a helper to be around every Sunday is a far cry from not having a helper at all.
M’s father passed away last week and even though she said she didn’t need to be back for the funeral (we suspect it’s to save on the airfare), my parents made her take a week off work to be home with her family. I gladly paid for a return flight on Philippine Airlines and we saw her off at Changi Airport last Wednesday evening.
Because the news of M’s father’s demise came rather suddenly, we, together with my parents, had to scramble and put together a childcare duty roster for the duration that she would be away. We hurriedly put in our respective leave applications to be at home to look after Coco in the morning until my aunt arrived for the afternoon shift.
It didn’t occur to me then that looking after the baby was only one aspect of M’s morning duties. Somebody had to wash the baby’s clothes, bibs, hankies and towels. Somebody had to change her sheets. Somebody had to clean the floor because the baby crawls all over it. Plus, there’s the rest of the house to be cleaned, toilets to be washed, clothes for seven adults to be laundered (and IRONED — possibly the most hateful chore on earth), dinner to be cooked, plates to be washed… ARRGGGHHH.
Also, the conveniences that we take for granted have suddenly become luxuries that we can ill afford. We can’t just phone home on a weekday evening and ask M to help spot the baby between the time that my aunt leaves and the time that we or my mum get home so that we could make a quick visit to VideoEzy, or to the supermarket, or even make impromptu dinner plans with friends. Because SHE ISN’T THERE and we need to rush home to relieve my aunt of baby duty, so that she can go home.
While this isn’t the first time that M has been on home leave and we have always managed the chores on our own (because the floor doesn’t have to be THAT clean for two weeks), having a baby in the mix throws up a lot more things to be done. I have newfound respect for working parents who don’t have hired help. While caregivers (e.g. in-laws, infant care, etc.) are on hand to help with childcare in the day, how do they find time on weekday evenings to feed, bathe, bond with and put the baby to bed; provide for dinner; do household chores AND catch up with each other during whatever is left of the day?
So far, my dad has taken it upon himself to stay home to clean the house and cook dinner, while my mum and I take turns to look after Coco. I wash Coco’s clothes, agonise over what a messy eater she is and make a mental note NOT to dress her in white clothes for meals (why are watermelon juice and chocolate stains SO hard to remove?!) Dan chips in by helping to sort the clean laundry and lending his muscles when my dad decided, on a spur of the moment while cleaning the house, to also rearrange all the furniture for a fresh look….
It’s been four days without M around the house. We have another four more days to go. While I’m glad that she’s home with her family during this period, I’m honestly looking forward to her return.
To all the helpers out there: You are amazing. Thank you for helping to make our lives easier. We can only hope that our contribution to your lives can live up to the contribution that you make to ours.