Brownout, blackout, burnout. (Part 1)

brown·out (brounout): n. A reduction or cutback in electric power, especially as a result of a shortage, a mechanical failure, or overuse by consumers.

For several days now, we’ve been getting brown-outs. They start before noon, and end before 1 p.m. The longest we’ve gone without electricity in the last week and a half is three hours, which isn’t exactly a life-or-death portion of our day, but it’s inconvenient and annoying enough to throw off the rest of my schedule.

I’ve become a creature of habit. I wake up at 4 a.m., do sit-ups and stretches, then play and read with Riley before handing him off to his nanny. By the time I see him again, I’ve written at least 10 pages, job-hunted, showered, and drank my coffee; he’s gone out for his morning stroll, had some breakfast, and screamed at the TV. Then it’s Riley’s bath time, then he gets his first bottle, and it’s his nap time. And even though I’d like to say that I’m still 100% hands-on and that I do these things by myself, really, Riley’s nanny handles those parts of his/our day. I get to talk to him and laugh with him and splash around, and she does the legwork of scrubbing and wiping and rinsing.

It took a long time for me to get used to this arrangement, and admittedly, I still have days when I doubt my title as mommy because so many of my responsibilities are handled by someone else. It’s hard, seeing Riley and knowing that most of his day was spent with someone else – especially when I’m at home. But then I think about the evolution of this arrangement and the fact that the portions of the day that are handled only by Cecil are when Riley’s asleep, and I’m forced to pause and give myself due props.

When Riley was born, I was your run-of-the-mill neurotic and extremely particular first-time mom. I was completely hands-on, and the only other person I felt comfortable taking care of him was Rob (and sometimes, not even him). Then Riley and I moved overseas, and I continued my role as primary caregiver as I simultaneously found a way to keep my identity intact while experiencing enormous life changes. In truth, as much as people pleaded with me to loosen up and let others help me out with my maternal duties, I just couldn’t do it. Like so many other new moms, I felt the urge to prove to myself and to others that I was worthy and capable of my new role.

But then I became a full-time student, and we hired Cecil to be Riley’s nanny, and I found myself slowly learning to give up my daily routine and my role as Riley’s only caregiver. Adjusting to the demands of school and a new culture drained me, and there were many days when I was certain I’d keel over the moment I walked in the front door. And while I was – and still am! – very thankful for Cecil’s help, the implications and overt nuances of having live-in help are not lost on me.

Cecil is in her mid 40s and has 5 kids of her own. She comes to the table with valuable experience and expertise, and although I am quick to hear her advice, I am also not necessarily apt to use it. She doesn’t seem too pleased with this, but does her best to conceal this fact. At times, though, I catch a glimpse of the parts of her personality that she’s trying to hide: the rebellious, wise-cracking, hustling side of her (which, honestly, I don’t mind too much because I know how to deal with it).

There’s also the issue of Filipino gossip circles: they are everywhere, and your business spreads like seeds on the breeze, planting themselves wherever they land, taking root, and germinating into God-only-knows-what. Just by living here and leaving the house, Cecil is necessarily a part of these gossip circles, and while I’m not ashamed of much, the Filipino politics behind information and its distribution is a huge power play. The more people know, the more inclined they are to look down on you, thus diminishing your standing. (But then, I’m American, and therefore automatically granted high social status.)

And lastly, there’s the language barrier. Cecil is from another region of the Philippines, and occassionally speaks her own dialect. The difference between her native dialect and the one that I speak is like the difference between Portuguese and Spanish: if you know one, you’re most likely able to figure out the other, but there are some changes in accent and word use that make this a little difficult for me. (In fairness, I only ever hear her speaking Waray (sp?) when she’s on a personal call, and I wonder if I’m making a mountain out of a molehill.)

My way of doing things is most certainly not the way my parents would like me doing things, and it’s definitely not the way Cecil’s used to doing things. And even though I know I wouldn’t be able to devote so much time to my dream of authorship if it wasn’t for Cecil, I sometimes wonder if it’s worth it. If she wasn’t around, I wouldn’t have to worry about the possibility of attitude or rebellion; or gossip; or language differences. I would know for certain that Riley’s being taken care of the way I’d like him to be taken care of, and that no corners are being cut. And we could save a few bucks from our budget.

But then I wonder if these feelings are just my way of attempting to exert control over the unpredictability of life.

In my attempts to “figure it all out”, I’ve only come up with one certainty, and that’s that I probably don’t know a damn thing. And that’s okay. Sometimes, I just have to write my wrongs to realize they weren’t mistakes at all, but symptoms of living.

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