Does the help help

I couldn’t help it. Rockstar gave up the police car he was driving because an older little boy marched up to him and demanded he get out. When he settled into the red taxi car the same little boy then got out of the police car he had taken from Rockstar and shooed Rockstar out of the taxi. All around, there are about a half dozen other plastic cars, largely unoccupied.

“This is the SECOND car this boy has taken from my son. WHERE is his helper?” I snap at the gaggle of Phillippino helpers who are gathered about 5 feet away busily discussing their day’s events. It’s reflex – the words are out of my mouth before I even realize I have spoken.

Rockstar finds a 3rd car and pedals off while the bully’s helper rushes over from a different group of chattering helpers I hadn’t even noticed much further away and hauls the bully off the toy taxi without a word of explanation to him as to why he is now being dragged away. Not the result I was particularly looking for but the way the entire helper population is now looking at me in silence I decide not to push it.

On a happier day in the same playground – they’re watching expectantly for me to change the traffic lights so they can drive off.

Rockstar dragging my bag around like a dead animal while waiting for me to bring him to the playground.

We’re on our 3rd helper in 26months. Olla is mostly well-meaning, but the day I discovered she was cooking nothing from the book of carefully written instructions for Rockstar’s meals “he not eat so no cook, Ma’am,” I decided she would only care for Rockstar under very close supervision.

At least now I no longer leave for work each morning wracked with guilt.

At least now I know why the dog was getting fat.

Less of a mystery was Rockstar's spoken English. We requested our helper speak to him in their native tongue, usually Bahasa Indonesia, for a practical reason - their Bahasa is perfect. And being Malaysian, we speak Bahasa Malaysia. Inexplicably however, some insisted on speaking well, less-than-perfect English to him. Not even finding perfect English and Putonghua speakers on adpost Hong Kong to spend several hours playing with Rockstar most days kept him from opening his mouth one day and sounding like our helper (although I did manage to correct this a few weeks after quitting my job.)

I write the rest at risk of readers judging us for being so gullible– but I hope others will learn from our mistakes. Coming in from Singapore, we were unprepared for the helper situation in Hong Kong.

Leny lasted a grand total of 2 weeks. When any time of day was “bedtime,” her excuse for taking the baby away from us, I called her on it. “I miss my sons. I miss my other boy,” (the little boy she cared for before her previous employers decided not to renew her contract) with tears in her eyes. “The other ma’am, she so jealous. So jealous her little boy love me.”

Erm, right. No more taking the baby away from anyone in the family. So instead she followed whoever was carrying the baby around, often standing just 2 feet away, a forlorn look on her face as she stared longingly at Rockstar. She did little other housework.

The day we dismissed her (yes, for taking the baby away – she simply couldn’t help herself), she huffed back and forth tearily returning all the little gifts-t-shirts, a key ring etc that we’d given her. Go ahead. Search my bags, do it now!

Mistake #1: I balked – we were firing her. Did we have to make it any more unpleasant?

Kings didn’t buy it. Rummaging thru every square inch of her bags, he found she had packed our bunch of house keys and apartment security pass.

Wiwik came highly recommended from our church abused maid shelter. Which is probably why we took 11 months to fire her. She was pending somecivil case about a previous employer not paying her final salary. This was the second employer who had reneged on her final salary payment – we hoped to serve God by paying the twice-as-high agent processing fee because of her bad record, and finally giving her stable employment. Also, we were getting desperate – it’s hard to hire a good helper when you have a large dog and a young baby.

Mistake #2: We never asked to hear the employer’s side of the story. If there is one way we did serve God in this experience, it was to alert our church volunteers to also be less gullible – they were extremely sorry and probably will never recommend another helper.

Mistake #3: We didn’t check with the church shelter when she took repeated time offs to do “church work.” Shecontinuouslytold me the volunteer who had gotten us in touch with her was gravely ill in hospital. (We found out much later the volunteer had undergone surgerybut had recovered.)

Mistake #4: We still didn’t fire her after she was detained by the police in a Causeway Bay police station while“grocery shopping” oneSaturday morning. The police wanted to know if I owned a gold ring with a large South Sea Pearl on it. During a routine police check of a pawn shop, Wiwik had seen the police and tried to run. Which was when they apprehended and searchedher. I have no idea whose ring that was up til today. Maybe, like she said, it was hers. Apparently, Brutus is a very honorable man.

Mistake #5: In 11 months, we bought her 3 air tickets home (including the one we are required by Hong Kong law to buy her when we fire her.) If I recall correctly Hong Kong law doesn’t require you give your helper a ticket home until her second year of service (unless you fire her) but I bought her “You are a parent, you should understand what it’s like to miss your child.”

OK, I don't actually regret this one. My attitude is, we are far more blessed to be the ones who can afford to give our helpers tickets, than if we were the ones who were trying to wrangle the free ticket from our employers so I fall for this one willingly. And I do believe she at least wasn’t lying about having children.

One Sunday, Wiwik didn’t come home. And her cell was switched off. We almost called the police but decided to wait til morning. We couldn’t go to work that Monday morning – there was no one to mind the baby.

She showed up at 8am, dripping with gold earrings, bracelets etc, face freshly made up, dressed to the nines. Standing in our doorway, she raised a warning finger.

“Before you say anything, remember it is my right to stay out all night. And remember I took my last two employers to court and won.”

Almost-Mistake #6: Kings nearly belted out every expletive he could think of. Instead, I knocked on our neighbor’s door. In her bathrobe, bless her, Julia shuffled into our apartment as a witness while we fired Wiwik by the book.

Then I wrote a long, careful email to my church maid shelter. Now I understood why her previous employers had tried to renege on paying her. (We didn't - what was the point?)

Helpers seem like such an ingrained part of living in Hong Kong – almost every family we know has them, regardless of whether both parents work.

But you can’t win. For them, it’s just a job. So they get fired. They go home to their families. For you, you’re entrusting your child, your life, your home to a stranger.

Why do we still do it?

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About Aileen

I blog about living and raising my son in Hong Kong - where toddlers have entrance interviews, parents keep test score spreadsheets, private school debentures can trade for more than half a million USD. Raising Rockstar's the most important thing I'll ever do. We show our true colors by the choices we make in bringing up our children. My blog is a message to my toddler son, about what the world and his parents are like today - for when he becomes a teenager and knows everything.
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