One year ago today we fired B. Go here if you want all the gory details. The short version was that she stole money from my purse (600 SGD) and when the police arrived and told me go through her room (something I’d never done) we found far more troubling thefts. As we did not want to play jailer for 3 months-the time we were told the case would take to come to court during which we would be legally responsible for B-we canceled her work permit and put her on a one-way plane home.
One year ago today, I felt fragile and lost. I’d considered B a personal friend and had trusted her with my daughters-two of the people I care most about. How had I been so wrong? I’ve since written about where I went wrong (and where B did as well) here. There’s no need to rehash it again.
Instead, today I want to take a moment to reflect on the past year and how it has changed me.
Over the past year I’ve stumbled and fallen, but overall I would say that I’ve found what works for me…without a maid. (I’m not saying that having a maid is wrong, or that all maids are bad people, or that every family should fire their maid. Different families, different needs.)
What I will say is that for me, this past year has been a revelation.
I am a better mom without a helper
Without a helper, I am closer to my girls. If I’m on duty, I’m there for the good and the bad moments. But I know my girls (especially Elanor) more completely. I know the other parents. I know the teachers. I know her friends and classmates. I know the shopkeepers at most of the stores around GUG because I’m there five days a week. I know that Ellie cares a LOT about who was the classroom helper. We have lots of talks on the drives to and from school.
This is not to say I’m a great mom every moment of every day. Because I’m there all the time, I sometimes have days where I’m a bit checked out. Today I was feeling run down and I mostly vegged on the couch and let the tv run and the girls play without a ton of active parenting. I lose my patience with Ellie. I feel overwhelmed at times. I do not cherish every last second of my day with Ellie because she can be a pain in the ass (as all 4 year olds can be). I don’t cherish the diaper changes with Rhi where she squirms like a rabid badger. I don’t always love trying to keep track of both girls when they are going in opposite directions or trying to ensure everyone stays alive while I cook dinner or put away laundry or whatever chore.
I am more active in my life in Singapore
I will confess that I spent a lot of time online when we had a maid. If I was lonely, I’d just call/skype a friend in the US while she watched the girls. I was busy throwing up while pregnant so I skipped a lot of pick up and drop offs at school, which meant I didn’t develop friendships with teachers or other parents until this year. I went places-but mostly those easily accessed by MRT or bus. I had a rut of places I went and ate at.
Granted, some of the reasons that I was passive in 2011 are valid. I was in a wheelchair for 8 weeks following my broken ankle. I spent my pregnancy prone on my bathroom floor having just thrown up or waiting to puke again. 2011 was never going to be a great year with those two things running the show for the majority of the year, so 2012 would likely have been a better year regardless.
But without the crutch of a maid, it’s me who deals with every delivery, (almost) every grocery run, school and all that jazz. What that means is that I’m out in Singapore more. I’m interacting with people more, and that has created new friendships. Those friendships have brought me into a more present life in Singapore, and I find myself integrating better now than before. (I also grant that some of that is the product of having been here longer and likely also just part of the natural progression of things, but it does feel significant to me).
Do I miss having a maid?
At times, of course I do. My house was FAR cleaner when I had a maid. I didn’t deal with laundry for the most part. I could get a night off whenever I wanted. If I needed to sleep in, I did. If I was sick, I stayed in bed. But those are really shallow reasons to have a maid.
There are times when not having a maid has been a challenge. I had a bad case of flu earlier this year, and Ravi took the girls for a day, but I had to battle through the exhaustion on the others. I came down with an ear infection and had to wait for Ravi to get home from work to go to urgent care hours after I would have gone otherwise. When something is getting delivered or the aircon needs servicing and I have a limited of window in which it can happen for example. Ellie has been late to school because our aircon guys showed up late and weren’t done when it was time to go.
Biggest change in the last year
The biggest change in the last year is in me. I am more confident-as a mom, in running the house, and in navigating Singapore (both figuratively and literally). I am happier-I am great at managing a class of unruly 11 and 12 year olds, but I am not good at managing a helper and that caused a lot of doubt and stress. I feel lucky to have made the new friends and had the new experiences I’ve had in the last year.
Most telling, however, is that I’ve gone from having a mental “when we’ll go home (to the US, permanently)” clock counting down at the back of my mind to being open to whatever the future might hold for us. I’m thinking of things that are years from now, like the local Primary school for Ellie’s P1 year.
Life isn’t perfect, but it never is. But I’m happier today than I was a year ago.
People said that I couldn’t live in Singapore without a maid.
In 2011, they were right–my broken ankle/leg and my pregnancy were severe conditions that necessitated a wheelchair and bedrest respectively. I was sidelined and incapacitated by those conditions. Had we not had a helper, we would’ve had to hire one, or begged for family to come and stay with us, or E and I would have had to temporarily go back to the US. Yes, B turned out to be someone very different from who we thought she was, but without her 2011 would have been a far more difficult year.
2012, however, was the year I was able to take back my life. I am proud of where I am today, even if I would be ashamed to let you all see my dining table and the giant pile of junk sitting on it as I type this instead of cleaning it.