I am taking a break from blogging and work.
Or at least taking it at my own pace and not to worry about deadlines and going for meetings once I clear all my existing work. It kind of sucks because this Monkey Year is supposed to be the most prosperous for my career hahahha but I guess it will prevail in some other way that I never forsee?
But it was a conscious decision to make. I am going to deliver a new baby in May and things will have to slow down a little for me, with a 2-year-old and new born. So I think it is time I be a little more realistic.
The bigger reason for this decision is that, two weeks ago, our helper has run away and I won’t be getting any help at least for the time being.
She returned to Philippines to see her family when we were away to Japan, and texted me that she has decided not to return to work for us anymore before her contract ends. Although she didn’t technically “run away”, but it was treated as a runaway case and I had to make the police report and pay a hefty compound.
She could not have inconvenienced our family at a worse time, honestly. She was aware that I am now 8 months pregnant, and by the time we returned from Japan, the danna would immediately have to leave for work in Singapore, and I would have a lot of work to catch up with. She knew these, yet she chose to dump her work responsibilities and put us in a difficult situation. Now that she is gone, I am left alone with Junya with no help. And I have work.
She chose to break the news to me the very night before we fly back to KL. She texted me on LINE and told me that she will stay in her country and not come back anymore, because she needed to take care of her son (she is a single mother with a 4-year-old).
Suddenly, there were so many mixed emotions all at once. I felt angry, shocked, betrayed, relieved, empathetic, all at the same time.
“Don’t panic, don’t panic. We will sort this out“. I told myself. Junya was sleeping, and I was packing for the flight in a few hours time.
I did not beg her to come back nor throw vulgarities at her because I knew it would be pointless. At least she had the decency to inform me about it instead of giving me a big surprise when we return home. That much I appreciate. Besides, I have lost trust for her and even if she returns I wouldn’t take her back, for someone who could be so irresponsible for her job.
I sat down and think for a while. I made long distant calls from Japan late at night to cancel some of my immediate events and meetings, so at least I don’t have to deal with work for now. One thing at a time.
Initially I felt a little bad. I mean, she must have missed her family very much. She texted, “I need to take care of my son, he is so thin now. I hope you understand“.
I do, actually. I have a son too. Just a short while ago I just blogged about how messed up this world is, that helpers have to leave their children for yearssss to work for a better future and their employers, too, have to leave their children to other caretakers to work for a better future. How we wish we all can just spend ALLLL the time with our children without having to worry about a better future. If I were in her shoes, maybe I would have betrayed someone just to be with my son again, too.
But later I found out from one of her helper friends that the reason she chose not to return was because of boyfriend trouble. She was supposed to get married to a nice man when she finishes her contract (and I knew about it and agreed to let her go back if she wishes to), but she met another guy recently (!?! when?!) and now is in a love triangle drama.
That was when I lost it. She knew that using her son as an excuse would get me, because I could and always sympathize. And that was when I thought, to hell with helpers. I can do it myself.
And honestly? A helper was one of the worst things we have ever brought into our family.
Of course, I was being really emotional. First of all I really could not believe someone could do such a thing to us. I mean it happens to many people and I hear about it all the time, but perhaps they met really horrible employers. Everyone who knows her knows that our family did not ill-treat her.
She was allowed a smart-phone from the beginning, had access to our internet 24 hours, and when she finishes her work, which is typically around 8pm, she can go back to her room and talk to her family and friends, and Skype with her son however much she likes. Everyday. We just thought that it is quite inhumane to limit a normal person’s contact with their family members. There was no reason to. We never invaded her privacy of stepping into her room. Occasionally she was also allowed to meet her sister and friends for lunches and go for her agency’s maid gatherings. She went back to Philippines four times to see her family while working with us in a short year, once when her grandfather passed away, and three times when we had to go back to Japan for a few weeks.
All things considered, I really think we were not being unreasonable as far as being an employer is concerned. Some friends were shocked at how much freedom we gave her, and warned that we would surely regret it because they will just take advantage of your kindness and ask for more instead of appreciating it and giving the same back to you.
For the first three times she went back to Phillipines, I withheld one month of her salary, but this time around I trusted her and let her withdraw all her money since she said her son needed it, and that’s when she was gone.
Friends gave us the “I told you so, dumbass” sympathy. That we were simply screwed over for being too nice (and dumb).
But back to the very beginning.
The danna and I thought long and hard before we decided to hire a helper for our family after Junya was born. I was doing okay on my own, but it would be nice if I had extra help. We decided we would try to have one since both of us would continue to be working. But we had no idea how this whole thing works. It was our first time.
We sought advices from many friends who have helpers in their family. Some of the most common advices we got were:
“Golden rule: Don’t treat them too bad, don’t treat them too nice, and you’ll be fine.”
“Never ever allow handphones. Don’t let them mix with other helpers.”
“Don’t expect too much. You just have to close one eye for all the things she does.”
“Never trust them too much. They got many funny funny pattern you can never expect.”
The danna politely thanked them, and rejected all these advices secretly.
I mean, none of the advices given were along the lines of
“Just be sincere and kind.”
“Give all your love and you will receive the same back”
You know, like how people give advices when it comes to a new relationship or a new pet you bring home. It’s quite sad, don’t you think? To already harbour all these hostile and on-guard vibes before you even welcome someone back to your house.
Honestly? We had lots of fights over this whole helper thing. The thing is, there’s no such thing as a live-in maid in Japan, and no regular Japanese kids grow up with foreign maids in Japan. So the advices were deemed unthinkable to the danna.
How can we treat someone in our family less than how we treat ourselves? They are not any less a human. How can a person not be allowed the freedom to communicate daily with her family? This is not prison. How can a helper eat a separate set of food and not on the same table with the rest of the family?
The danna was not having it. The “treating a maid like a maid” culture just did not make sense to him. I tried to explain to him that in Malaysia, things may work a little differently, and then I proceeded to tell him all the horror maid stories I have heard through friends, be it made-up by someone or happened for real.
The biggest disagreement we had was regarding installing a CCTV. He said there’s no way we will have cameras in our house. I explained that it is a norm for all families who have helpers. And then he asked me, “for what? for checking and monitoring what she does every day?” and I said yes. And he said, “How do you even explain to Junya in the future that we needed a CCTV in our house? Is that what you want to teach Junya? To constantly be wary and suspicious of someone who stays together in our house? And what are you gonna do? Be paranoid and check every single hour?”
I was speechless. He had a point.
I started to wonder how screwed up this whole maid concept is. He was right. How can you consciously choose to treat someone less than best? On the other hand, if you hire any employee, how can you not expect their best work and why must you have to “close one eye” just in fear that they will do something bad to your family?
How can you live with someone you have to be suspicious of all the time, in the same house? If you don’t, then what is the point of a CCTV? I mean, just think about how messed up that sounds.
So what if there is a CCTV. or CCTVs. Tak kan you install one at every corner. For sure you are not gonna have one in your bedroom (do you??????). If they still wanna do something sneaky, they will, regardless of having CCTV or not.
In the end, the danna, being overly trusting as usual, said that we would give our best to our helper from the very beginning, and treat her as a real family member. Just like how you would to any employee. Give your trust first, if you want trust from someone. That was the rule for our family. I liked how it sounded, so I happily and optimistically agreed, and we hired our helper.
To be fair, I think our helper was pretty good with regular house chores, and she was good with Junya. I slowly let my guard down and decided to take a leap of faith and give her more and more trust (but never 100%) as she eased into our family. And there was no major incident that happened, luckily, but over time I did find out some of the little things that really annoyed me.
For example this:
One day I was going through Junya’s milk bottle and I was horrified. Only weeks of negligence can cause this. Or was it laziness? Would she be so careless if it was her own child?
Mothers whose helpers are washing the dishes, please go and check your baby’s milk bottle. Like right now. How long have you not looked at it? I hope that yours is not like this. Because IMAGINE ALL THE BACTERIA YOUR BABY HAS BEEN INGESTING???
I only had myself to blame. It was my own fault because I have not washed Junya’s bottle in a long time. But if I had to do every little house chore myself, then what’s the point of a helper? If I have to check every single thing she does, I may as well do it all myself?
Another issue was food wastage. She had free access to our entire kitchen, and sometimes things like this happened:
These were what I found in the garbage bin. Apparently that was how she cut cherries for Junya’s snacks. Just slice off 2 or 3 cuttable sides, and throw away the whole thing.
(?!?!? Even a noob knows that you cut it around the core, peel off the seed so you can EAT THE ENTIRE CHERRY?!?)
I was so shocked because imagine the 99% of other times that I did not look at the garbage bin, what could have she thrown away? And food wastage is a big, big BIG sin in Japanese families.
As they always say, when it comes to helpers, they “可以偷工减料就尽量减”。And that they “是永远不会跟你省钱的”. I shuddered just thinking about other things that I didn’t manage to find out.
These were just some of the many many other minor incidents, sometimes I politely showed her to do something the way I wished, sometimes I just 忍痛 and just kept quiet, and tried to do as many things myself as I can. Because I can’t be scrutinizing every single thing she does. If I do it will just make things very awkward because she will feel that I do not trust her enough. Sometimes I had to pretend that I didn’t care.
I made sure I cook 100% of Junya’s food, so that none of the工 can 减料. I checked Junya’s stuff periodically to make sure everything was hygenic. Some of the less than perfect house work I could ignore, but when it comes to my own child’s wellbeing nothing can be compromised.
One day I accidentally found out that she has been buying her own groceries without my knowledge. Sometimes I sent her out to buy groceries, and it must have been going on for a while. She would buy the family things, and then a separate grocery for herself and hid it in her room thinking that I wouldn’t notice. (I did because it was so strange that she always rushed back to her room first whenever she came back from the market.) The thing is, she did not hold any cash. We banked in all her salary every month, so where did she get the money from??!
I told the danna about it, and as his usual annoyingly overtrusting self, he gave her 500000% benefit of doubt (maybe her sister gave her cash when they met up? Maybe she brought back from the Philippines?). We did not question her about it, and I just tried to be extra careful with my wallet and cash. If none of our cash went missing, then it must be her own money. And basically if any money was missing, it was my own fault for being careless. A few times I did have cash missing, but the danna was like “are you 100% sure you didn’t miscalculate?” And yes it was indeed possible, being the super careless person like I always am.
And then I had to find out, accidentally again and again, many little things that really made me want to trust her less and less. Once when she went back to Philippines, I checked her room to make sure she didn’t take everything and still had the intention to come back. I was shocked to find my clothes, my make up, some household stuff she took the liberty of taking for her own use (I really hate to use the word “steal” for someone who lives in our house). And by the way, it was disgusting how filthy her room was, for someone who does housework for a living. I guess it’s the same thing as how chefs usually hate cooking at home.
Fine, some of the cosmetics or outfits were things that I didn’t use anymore or probably don’t even remember having, and she must have thought that I get so much sponsored stuff all the time so it’s pretty much free stuff anyway, therefore it’s nothing wrong that she could take for her own use… I guess? But still, not having the courtesy to ask for permission was really disrespectful.
(By the way regarding this issue the danna was like “I guess she really really wanted them? Why don’t you just give her more stuff? Then she won’t take anymore.” Awesome logic.)
But these are just really petty things. I supposed this is what our friends meant by “closing one eye”. I can forget about all these trivial incidents. But the trust and respect that I have built towards her was also slowly crumbling.
It caused so much tension in the family. I began to become more wary of things. Since there was no CCTV, I could only assume that she was doing everything I wish she did.
My imagination started to run wild. I started thinking of all the other possible secretive things she could have done, or other negligence she could have made.
When I had to go out for work and left Junya with her, it was torturous. Every single second I wanted to go home ASAP. I mean, for someone who can do small little sneaky things behind my back, who knows if she really did feed Junya all the food that I cooked? (Or feed half way and just throw away?) Did Junya really finish his lunch as she cheerily told me so, or was it just so it’s easier for everyone or just to 打发 me? Did she really watch him the whole time instead of chatting with other people or playing games on her phone when I was out?
I would never know.
Whenever I asked her, I just had to take her words for it. There was no way I would ever find out. And sadly, I only took half her words for it most of the time. If she really had given her 100% best yet did not gain my trust back, she must have felt really sad too. Anyway she must also have felt that I have become less trusting, because I started taking charge of more things myself, and started to let her be with Junya alone less and less. Our relationship was becoming a little strained.
And I fought with the danna SO. MANY. TIMES. Because of all these issues. More and more small incidents happened, and the danna said it was partly because of my attitude towards her changed and she must have sensed it. And I was like, how could I ever give even more trust to someone who does so many sneaky things?!
For one I am really REALLY bad at confrontations. I never questioned her about all these things because what’s the use? It will cause so much awkwardness and it could even lead to everybody’s ultimate nightmare – that they feel upset with your words and take it out on your kids as a revenge.
The emotional stress became unbearable. I was so tired to constantly be on watchful mode. A few times I cried to my close friends and told them I was feeling so so so so messed up inside. One moment I wished she was gone, but then the next moment I looked at the clean house and fresh laundry, and I suddenly felt very thankful for her. What would I do without her? She was just doing her job! And I started to feel guilty for my own pettiness. I mean, she was considered a really good helper compared to many other scary stories I have heard.
And then the very next moment I was feeling real shit because I knew I couldn’t do without a helper at home and I couldn’t imagine a life without one. I mean, honestly?? I have not swept the floor for one year.
So my emotions rotated between angry – thankful – guilty – shitty – worry , and repeated over and over again THE WHOLE DAY. Every day. I felt like I have gone mental.
I told my friends I did not know which one is more stressful: to not have a helper and deal with the physical stress, or to have one and face the emotional stress. They were like are you serious, of course having to deal with all the housework is much shittier. And why are you even stressing over a maid?!
I don’t know about other families, because most of them seem to do so well with one or even more helpers at home. But not ours.
In our dominantly Japanese-cultured family, it simply did not work. I have talked to a few of my other Japanese friends who stayed in KL and SG, and none of them said they could accept the concept of a helper at home. They were envious that we (mothers with helpers) do not have to do any of the mundane house chores, but if given a choice, they still won’t be hiring one.
To be honest, I even feel a little ashamed that I have one. It made me feel less of a mother. Did I really need one? Am I less capable of other mothers who did it all by themselves? Am I just plain lazy????
Having a helper made my life easier, but not better.
In fact, I think I haven’t been feeling truly happy since she arrived in our house. Now I know why I felt extra liberated and blissful whenever we are back to Japan.
Because we are family again. Just me, the danna, and Junya. The three of us.
And then I realized I have not really treated her as part of our family as I promised myself to. I tried real hard, trust me, I did. But I could not. She was completely an outsider in our house. One who could not fit into our family culture. A family member does not do sneaky things behind your back betting on luck that you will never find out. And on the other hand you don’t always be wary or distrustful towards a family member.
Which was the complete opposite of what we thought life with a helper would be. Then I started wondering what was the point of having one. If I am so unhappy with one, I may as well not have one?
And why can’t we just have robot helpers to do stuff for us??! I mean SERIOUSLY, WHEN IS SOMEONE INVENTING THIS ROBOT HELPER?!?
For the amount we pay to hire a helper, may as well buy a robot who can do most of the jobs, right? I’d gladly pay RM40,000 for this robot, like RIGHT NOW (in instalments). I mean, that’s what you roughly pay for a helper for a contract of two years anyway, plus the ridiculous agent fee.
Besides!!! Robot Helper is probably just a one time fee, which lasts a lifetime, with occasional maintenance? TOTALLY WORTH IT.
Plus, think of the differences between a human helper and a Robot Helper:
- A Robot Helper will never wear your clothes without permission.
- A Robot Helper will never peel half the prawns and secretly throw half away just because prawn peeling gets too troublesome.
- A Robot Helper doesn’t put on full make up and take selfies in the toilet.
- A Robot Helper will never compare with other Robot Helpers about their salary. BECAUSE THEY DON’T GET ANY.
- Which means, you don’t have to pay your Robot Helper salaries.
- A Robot Helper will never request for things, and if it really does, you can always say no without worrying that you will hurt its feelings.
- A Robot Helper doesn’t have relatives who die one after another so they can go back to their country to see them. Seriously, 真的有这么多亲戚给你死咩.
- A Robot Helper doesn’t get PMS so YOU DON’T HAVE TO DEAL WITH YOUR ROBOT HELPER’S EMOTIONAL SHIT.
Human Helper: 0
Robot Helper: 99999999999999
When can I buy one?
Anyway, rant over.
Maybe I am a wizard because the universe gave me exactly what I asked for. Which is maid problems begone. And true enough, she was gone, forever. Which explained why I actually felt a little relieved amidst all the anger when she told me that she was not coming back anymore.
The lesson I learnt in this incident, was not about trust or faith or luck and all those moral bullshit. It was how much I didn’t want a helper in our house subconsciously. I just didn’t believe I could do without one, and I let people talked me into believing that I couldn’t do without one. And I hated myself so much for it.
I don’t think I will get a helper again after this experience. At least for now.
My friends all think that I have gone insane because… Let’s face it. I am just about to have a second baby and I decided to take it to war all by myself lol.
But I really, really, really don’t want to live like that all over again anymore.
I could not believe I allowed myself to sink so deep into emotional distress over a helper.
Of course, people can give us all sort of other advices.
“Getting a good helper is pure luck. Pray for better luck next time!”
“Next time choose an older one who preferably have many kids so they will have to depend on your family for salary and won’t run away.”
“Told you. NEVER treat them too nice.”
“Set your boundaries for the next one. Never bring her out. AND NO PHONE.”
But that wasn’t what our family wanted. That’s not how we wanted to treat someone.
I refuse to subject myself to all these emotional stress that comes together with hiring a helper anymore. There was no way you could not give any trust to them, and there’s no way you can trust them 100%. And it’s just wrong to trust someone half-heartedly. It is a lose lose situation from all aspects.
I know a lot of friends who told me that their helpers are like family, and they trust them with all their hearts, and their kids cry and miss so much when the helper decided to return to their country, etc. But to me maybe they are just fortunate enough not to find out some of the most shocking and gross things they did not know. Maybe these are also the people who are fortunate enough to be able to not care about finding out. (Ignorance is bliss.) Or maybe they are truly fortunate to get really god-like helpers.
I don’t want to bet on my luck for a good helper. We have tried our best and our best was not enough. And her best was not enough for us too. There was simply too big a culture gap.
Of course some families prosper and live a very good life with the help of helpers. Maybe given time I would even try again. But for now I have decided that the helper culture just does not fit our family. Dear Helper, it’s not you. It’s me.
I want to be fully responsible for every single action I do regarding my children. And if anything goes wrong, it is all my fault and I don’t have to blame someone else for it. If I make a mistake, I will just blame myself and learn to forgive. But if someone else did, then I had two people to blame – the person and myself. And it’s probably harder to forgive, too.
The families in Japan never have any helpers. They have Roombas and kick-ass washing machines and awesome kitchen knives. Some Japanese mothers have two, three, four kids, and all of them do without helpers. It is the norm. And they cook gourmet meals 3 times a day plus bentos. With or without cute characters. And some have work at the same time.
Heck, my grandmother had 11 children and she probably didn’t even have a rice cooker.
And I am a mother just like every other mother in this world. There’s nothing I can’t do out of love for our children.