***If you are here because of the TWC 2 post, please go here for my rebuttal to what is an inaccurate portrayal of myself and my attitudes towards FDW’s****
We had to fire B yesterday for theft of money and personal items.
The B I had known and considered a member of my family was a woman just several years younger than I. She was one of my first friends in Singapore, and the woman without whom my home would have fallen apart last year between my eight week stint in a wheelchair and a horribly ill pregnancy. She was a single mom, who adored Elanor. When Ravi and I started seriously discussing pregnancy, she was so excited to have a new baby in the house. We shared a love of Glee and People magazine (which I buy weekly, and would then pass onto her after reading it). She was nervous around heights and the subway, and medical issues (such as Rhiannon’s hospitalization for RSV several weeks ago) terrified her. I felt safe entrusting my home and my daughters to her.
I now know that inappropriate things have been going on from the start. But anyone who knows Ravi and I knows that we are not the most organized individuals. So when a few things went missing, we looked for them and eventually just chalked it up to carelessness on our part. Singapore is a cash economy on a scale that neither of us are used to. So when it felt like we were going through money quickly, we were frustrated, not suspicious; WE must have forgotten three or four cash transactions in the last week to have so little money.
But before a single incident, I NEVER questioned B’s character.
I didn’t write about it here because I didn’t know how. But about 4-5 months ago, Elanor conversationally said to me “Yaya slapped me across the face.” Yaya is tagalog for “auntie,” and what she called B. Ravi and I investigated the matter as thoroughly as we could with a not-quite-three-year old. When I asked B directly, she looked poleaxed and said no, bursting into tears at the idea that Elanor would say such a thing. I had doubts as to the veracity of E’s claim, because in my experience B had struggled with giving Elanor time outs, and never raised her voice. Ravi asked Ellie to slap him the way Yaya had slapped her, and she had no idea. We couldn’t figure out where Elanor had come up with this, but we just couldn’t prove anything and we just couldn’t believe B capable of such a thing.
After that incident, though, my faith and trust in B were shaken, even though we had concluded her innocent. I have to assume that on some level I began keeping closer tabs on things, or as much as I could given my advanced pregnancy, illness, eventual hospitalization, and then the haze of new motherhood. For the first time, I found myself asking Ravi “Hey, did you take some cash out of my wallet, because I should have more here than I do.” When he’d say no, I’d chalk it up to Singapore’s heavy cash economy (taxis, minimum amounts before you can use a credit card, stores that don’t take credit, etc) and feel frustrated with myself for obviously spending money I couldn’t remember spending. Once or twice the thought of “could B have taken it?” crossed my mind, and I immediately chastised myself for even thinking such a thing. The amount of time between my last cash withdrawal and when I felt like I didn’t have the right amount of money was always just enough that I had doubts about how much I must have spent.
The events of the last 72 hours left no doubts.
At 7pm on Christmas Eve, I took a substantial amount of money out of the ATM to cover B’s Christmas bonus, my spending money for the last week we’d be home before the trip, replenishing our “petty cash” that B used to deal with household expenses (leaving receipts for me to then total), and an extra year-end bonus for B that we’d decided to give her to thank her for going above and beyond during 2011, which had been such a stressful and difficult year for me health-wise.
We went to a movie and I paid cash for the soda and popcorn. Ravi bought the tickets. I’m not sure who paid for the cab ride home, but regardless, it wasn’t much.
We paid B a Christmas bonus and her weekly grocery allowance.
On Christmas, we only left the house to run to the local mall, Great World City. B was off and out with her friends.
We picked up Ravi’s prescriptions as a credit card transaction. We went to Starbucks, which Ravi paid for. After he bought his coffee and my hot chocolate I decided to buy a gift or two there. We’re not sure if he paid or I did, but we know how much the items total. We then went to McDonalds for fries at Ellie’s request, which Ravi purchased. Then we went home.
Public holiday. Ravi was home, B had the day off and was out with friends.
We walked from our home to Orchard Road to view the Menorah. We took a cab from Orchard road to Millenia Walk mall to eat dinner out. I paid for the cab. We paid for dinner with credit. We took a cab home, which I also paid for.
At 11pm I sent B a text letting her know the game plan for Tuesday–Ellie’s gymnastics camp, could she do a grocery store run, etc. Remembering that petty cash needed money, I texted her that I would put X dollars on the table for petty cash. I opened my wallet, expecting to find X+more than enough for our personal spending, and a surprise year end bonus for B. There was barely X in my wallet. That was weird. I texted her that it would be less money on the table, and put the remainder back into my wallet.
Confused, I went in to ask Ravi if he’d taken some cash to cover his cabs for the week or anything. He had not.
I walked myself through the last few days, wondering if I’d already given her the X for petty cash. That would explain things, but I very clearly had not as I hadn’t seen her more than in passing, and I wouldn’t have put money on the table knowing she was off the next day(s).
Ravi suggested I ask her if I already had given her the petty cash, and the answer would be very telling, as we remembered those four or five recent occasions when money seemed to have disappeared or that we just couldn’t account for from primarily my wallet, but at least on one occasion, his.
I asked B to come to my bedroom where E was hanging out watching her iPod, and I was breastfeeding Rhi. Playing it off as “forgetful mommy” I said that when I’d gone to put out the petty cash, I seemed to be missing about X SGD. Had I already given it to her and just forgotten?
With a straight, smiling face, she said no, that I must have misplaced it. The thing is, normally I would have been running around enough that I would have mostly agreed, or felt less comfortable in saying that money had been stolen. I got a sick feeling in my stomach.
I sent her and Ellie to gymnastics camp. I get Rhi and I ready to go to her dr’s appointment. I go through the diaper bag to make sure I had my wallet, and when it fell open, I was greeted with less than what I KNEW was in it as of the previous night. I had thought about taking my wallet into the bedroom the night before, but it had seemed liked (a) paranoia at the time and (b) a valid test because I KNEW how much was in there.
We agreed that at this point, the trust had been broken, and that we should fire her. We kept trying to justify it, or trying to come up with anything she could say that would explain it and make it okay for her to stay. It just didn’t make sense. At the end of the appointment, Ravi and I made the decision to fire her, and I broke down crying.
3pm (ish)–He goes to meet B and Ellie at Marina Square to escort them home, as we no longer are comfortable with the fact that B is alone with Ellie. I call her and tell her that he’d gotten off early unexpectedly and wanted to surprise Elanor. I take Rhiannon and go home. I talk to an agency about the firing/repatriation process. I go to our room to get her paperwork and passport. I can’t find her passport, so I decide to go into her room to just see if it’s in her bedside table as I’m unsure if I need the number to book it.
I have never stepped foot into her bedroom. I had only knocked at her door, looking at the room as her apartment, and treating it with the same respect I would treat anyone’s apartment. I’m huge on privacy and I wanted to respect hers.
I felt so terrible, violating her privacy to look for the passport as I went into the bedroom.
I glanced around and was confused. Things I had thrown out were in her room. To be clear, I would have given them to her in a second, had she asked. After all, I was throwing them out. But she hadn’t asked for them. She’d just taken them out of the trash and put them in her room. That bothered me.
Then I looked down at the bed and saw a wallet open…with one of my credit cards in it.
I immediately booked the ticket, and I called the police, as the Ministry of Manpower website suggested I file a report with them in this instance, allowing us to have her blacklisted from employment again in Singapore.
B, Ellie and Ravi arrive home. We put Ellie in front of tv, and sit B down. We confront her, and ask her point blank, if she had stolen over X SGD from my wallet. She looks us straight in the face and says no. I tell her she’s being terminated and going home that night. Before I’d found the credit card, I would have just let her pack her bag and taken her to the airport without going through her things, because as the theme of this whole post repeatedly points out, I am trusting and borderline stupid when it came to my level of trust in the B I thought I knew.
The police arrive. They take her in another room, with one officer taking my statement and the other taking hers. The wallet that had contained my credit card (thankfully an expired one) had also contained a brand new, valid, corporate Amex made out to a stranger. We also found plenty of personal cards of mine, including a gift card to JP Licks I’d been so sad to have thought I’d lost on the last trip home (it’s a local ice cream chain in Boston), a discount card to a teacher store (Lakeshore Learning), the IKEA friends card I’d replaced while standing right in front of her confused as to where it could have gone, and others.
The police officer tells me I need to go through her room.
The stolen money was almost understandable. Ravi and I had been trusting, careless and put temptation in front of her. Our income disparities were a chasm. She had a daughter to support. None of it makes the theft okay, but we could almost understand how that happened.
Then shit got weird and upsetting. As I was going through her items, I found (among other things)
- A cash gift a relative had given us at Ellie’s birth, that we’d been saving to let Ellie pick out something or to put in her college fund, in the original distinctive envelope. I had recently found this as I’d been going through some stuff in the office, and had placed it on the desk there to take home and finally just put in a bank account. It was wrapped inside one of her shirts
- Two of my nursing bras
- A burnt silk shawl I’d bought in college when it was something like 1/2 my take-home pay for a week. In college and after for a few years, I’d hung it on the wall as art. In Singapore, I’d had it folded on a shelf with other scarves and decorative wraps, as it only really went with one fancy dress, but as I almost never sport a shawl, I hadn’t looked at that shelf in ages.
- One of Elanor’s bibs.
- A box of Elanor’s Carnation Instant Breakfast. The same Instant Breakfast we had run out of two days ago and suggested we buy earlier that day (which hadn’t made sense to me as I thought I had calculated such that we’d have enough to get through leaving for the US and for the first few days back at the very least).
- Birthday cards to Ravi and I from my parents that we’d (sorry, Mom) discarded in the trash
- Notebooks of mine
- Passport photos of Ravi and I that we’d discarded
- Some thigh high stockings I’d bought at Fredericks of Hollywood
- The deck of playing cards we’d gotten at the hotel we’d stayed at the night we got married in Boston
- one of my kitchen knives, blade under the bookcase, handle sticking out (I actually almost missed this, it was so well hidden).
I also found plenty of things that pointed to a complete disconnect between the B I thought I knew and the B that apparently existed.
- The B I’d known had said she had a boyfriend back home, and didn’t date or want anything to do with men here. She’d come crying to me not six months previous saying he’d cheated on her and asked if she could change her number because he was harassing her. I had been happy for her when she told me that she’d just started dating a new guy one month ago (around when Rhi was born). I gave her the safe sex talk and she professed embarrassment about condoms, and didn’t want to buy them or use them because using them meant you were “dirty,” something she’d said before when we’d discussed sex (I’m a sex educator…I talk about sex).
- The B I discovered in her bedroom had tons of condoms, lube, and a collection of hotel keys from around Singapore. Which is not to slut shame her. I don’t care if she visited every hotel in Singapore with a different guy on her own time, if that made her happy as long as she kept it separate from our home and our family. It’s that she made a HUGE effort to present a specific image that did not fit with these items.
- The B I’d known said she’d never tried alcohol in her life when I was once joking that we should do a shot of vodka after a very trying day with Ellie.
- The B in her room had a liter bottle of Guinness, half drunk
- The B I’d known said she wasn’t interested in owning a computer or anything like that when we offered to get her one last year for Xmas so she could skype her family from home without having to go to an internet cafe (which is where, according to her, she spent 3-5 hours every Sunday).
- The B in her room had an empty Toshiba laptop box. A brand-new in packaging DVD drive. Sealed DVDS (and several of mine that she’d appropriated). The stolen iPod (the iPod we’d considered giving her but hadn’t, instead choosing to give her a CD player and burning her CDs from my iTunes collection because she didn’t have a laptop).
- When we’d first hired her, B had said she had almost no clothes, so I’d bought her work appropriate shorts and t-shirts, because her previous employer had paid her so little and she’d sent the money home.
- The B in her room had so many clothes that she had to leave plenty behind. The majority of which, though, were what I would term club wear. Miniskirts, crotch level shorts, revealing shirts. None of which I care that she owned, but again…huge disconnect.
- B had said she was so upset when her wallet was stolen in part because she didn’t have another.
- I found over 10 wallets and more than 5 purses in her bedroom
There’s more but you get the point.
The police sit me down and give me my options.
Option #1–I can press charges. They will take her into custody for 48 hours. After that, she will be released into Singapore and we will be responsible for her until her court date, which would likely be months away.
Option #2–I can choose not to press charges, and they will write the police report to look like they were called for missing money that couldn’t be found and that I decided she didn’t steal it but was firing her anyway. None of the other stolen items that were found in their view would be mentioned. But this was the only way we would be allowed to put her on a plane tonight and be rid of her.
We went with option 2, even though it left a terrible taste in our mouths when I signed the report and Ravi made them put in a line that he disagreed with my assessment of the situation.
With an hour before we were going to call a cab and have one of us escort her to the airport, we decided to give her a suitcase. She had a small carry on, and she was allowed 20kg of checked luggage and a hand bag of 7kg luggage. She only had a small carry on and there was a mountain of possessions. Ravi suggested that we show more respect for her things than she’d shown for ours…to be the adults…and give her a larger bag.
We watched her pack.
At this point, I asked Ravi to go through her phone and delete any pictures of Elanor (of which I knew she had plenty). Scrolling through and deleting, Ravi found photos of a man in a bikini brief/speedo and nothing else, dancing around our living room.
I was enraged and confronted her, asking if my child or children had been home when they were taken.
She said they’d been taken in November of 2010. That was the visit home when after we returned, the security guard had warned me she’d had friends over. I’d asked her, and she’d spun me a story of a friend from church coming over and watching movies with her. When I had yelled at the security guard for treating her as less than human and that she had every right to have a friend over. What a fucking idiot I am.
8:45pm (ish)-9:30pm (ish)
Ravi escorts her to the airport. He watches her check in and takes her to immigration. Once she’s through immigration, her only option is to get on a plane…to leave the airport, she has to clear immigration again, and she no longer has anything that lets her do that.
Just before immigration, she begs him for a large amount of money.
She seemed to not realize he was the nice person. So she begs to call me.
I tell her that Ravi will give her 50 SGD for a cab home from the airport. She calls and texts me repeatedly until I call her back.
“Take the 50 SGD and don’t contact me again, or Ravi takes you over the police and we go ahead and file charges.” I told her.
She takes the 50 SGD and clears immigration.
Ravi came home and we talked.
We both feel so raw, so used, so confused. We can’t make sense of it, and we want it to make sense.
We’re hiring a pet sitter for while we’re away and to keep an eye on things.
When we get back, I’ll try to figure out if I can manage without a live in helper, but I expect that we will need to hire another helper at some point…and Ravi and I are both nervous.
I refuse to be one of those women who lets one bad experience sour her on helpers overall or to start painting all helpers with the brush of a bad apple. But right now, I just don’t want a stranger in my home.
Especially when I was so wrong about B.
***I edited this entry a day later to delete some details that Ravi was uncomfortable with making public.
***If you are here because of the TWC 2 post, please go here for my rebuttal to what is an inaccurate portrayal of myself and my attitudes towards FDW’s****
Filed under: Helpers, Singapore | 56 Comments »