The closest thing we had to a maid or a cook when I was growing up was my paternal grandmother, who now lives around the block from us. Nana (that’s what Riley calls her) was always cooking exceptional meals and doing laundry. She worked as a babysitter, so our house was always filled with babies, toddlers, and young school children. She was domestic, all right – right down to the apron and gardening. But make no mistake: my grandma was no wilting flower. One of my fondest memories is of her chasing a teenage neighbor around the block with a meat cleaver; his basketball had bounced into her flowers and she wasn’t about to let that go unpunished.
I remember playing by myself a lot as a child. My bedroom looked like a Toys R Us had blown up in it, and toys and dolls were pretty much everywhere. It wasn’t difficult to lose myself for hours at a time as I invented adventures and acted them out. I had no problem keeping myself entertained, and when I really think about it, I have to give my parents a lot of credit for raising me that way. I mean, it’s not like they were doing it consciously or anything (they had to go to work, and when they got home, there was inevitably some household chore to take care of), but their way of rearing an independent and imaginative child worked.
I worry about my own parenting style and its effects on Riley. More specifically, I worry about having a maid, the messages having a maid might send to Riley, and the ways I’ve had to adjust my personal style because we have a maid. To be frank, I’ve never been a domestic diva – not until I moved here and got a maid, that is. All of a sudden, with someone else doing laundry and taking care of chores, I was free to learn to cook three balanced kick-ass meals a day, and garden organic fruits and veggies, and all the other domestic goddess-type stuff that I do. Ironic, how someone had to take those chores off my hands in order for me to be able to master all the stereotypically hyper-feminine tasks of holding down a home.
Anyway, another thing having a maid has allowed me to do is spend more time with my family. Now, don’t get me wrong, that’s a blessing in its own right and I realize that, but Riley’s damn near a year and a half, and he’s gotten a little spoiled with constant acknowledgment and attention. It’s only become noticeable lately, as he’s begun throwing tantrums at home and head-butting us when we’re busy doing something else. I’ve been told by my parents that it’s simply a stage of toddler development, and as I remember my brother going through a similar stage as a toddler, they’re probably right. Still. It bothers me. A lot. My kid’s acting out, and that’s because I’ve done something wrong.
A part of me feels like it would’ve been easier to not have a maid, because then I wouldn’t have needed to adjust to having one in the first place. Riley would have to learn to be more self-sufficient and to keep himself occupied. I wouldn’t feel the need to overextend myself because I’d already have a lot on my plate with regular chores. My life here in the Philippines would more resemble the life I would have led had we stayed in New York.
And maybe that’s the point, really. Maybe that’s why I’ve slowly stopped asking Joy to sweep and scrub the floors, and instead have taken on those daily tasks for myself. Maybe that’s why I insist on cooking all the meals and washing the dishes and sorting laundry. Maybe that’s why all Joy ever does anymore is clean up after my brother’s dogs and wash a few loads of laundry here and there. Maybe that’s why she asked me in a small voice this morning, “Are you going to fire me? Have I done something wrong?”
I find myself in a strange place. On the one hand, I would rather take on all domestic responsibilities; doing so would align my reality with my vision of how things should be. On the other hand, Joy has become a part of the family; Riley sees her as an older cousin-type person, and I’m aware that her family depends on this job to make end’s meet. I’m caught in the middle of this conundrum, trying to find things for Joy to do to justify keeping her around as I figure out the best thing to do.