Help! I Need Somebody

Posted on January 12, 2011

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In Singapore, many families — local and expat — have a helper. In Vietnam, families have maids, known as người giúp or “help person”. In Western countries, parents can get some respite from parenting in the form of babysitters, family members, friends and day care facilities.

For the last six months we’ve had no help — no family or friends who could look after Miss M, even for a few hours. The only time we hired a babysitter, she told us the baby screamed for hours while we were out. We weren’t keen to use that one again, especially after she charged us way above what she’d quoted.

The relentlessness has taken its toll, on me at least. For the last few months I’ve felt like I was wading deeper and deeper into a swamp of not-coping-ness. So much for an exciting new life in a new country where we don’t know anyone.

My job is not so difficult but spending 11 hours out of the house, then coming home to a toddler who wants attention is exhausting. I can’t relax until Miss M goes to sleep and sometimes that doesn’t happen til 11pm. On Friday night it was12.15am.

The prospect of hiring a helper has just caused me even more stress. A helper would have to live in the tiny storage cupboard-type room at the back of the kitchen. From my early research, it seems like we’d pay the helper about $250 a month and the government a “maid levy” of another $265  a month. The employer of the maid also has to pay for medical insurance and an annual air ticket so the helper can return home to visit her family. I’ve been told it all shakes down to about $750-$900/month.  I just couldn’t justify the strain on our finances — it would completely wipe out our travel budget — and I don’t feel comfortable with the thought of the government making a killing while the  hardworking Filipina or Indonesian woman doing the work receives a pittance. If the entire amount went to the helper, the decision to get one would be much easier.

And how do we justify a full-time helper when Darling Man stays home to look at the baby? It seems like a huge imposition on our privacy and a major expense, just so I can get a bit of down time. It’s obviously too over-the-top. He might even have to find a job to pay for the help. Crazy.

I’d been lying awake at nights wondering how to get a break. I even considered asking my Dad to come and stay with us for a while. But Mum’s not well, so I couldn’t even ask. I thought about asking a colleague if I could spend the night at her place, just so I could go to bed early and catch up on some sleep. If I go to bed early at home Miss M pounds on the bedroom door, wailing, and I wake up tired from the guilty dreams she inspires.

Last weekend, after a hellish day of running after the baby, picking up toys, folding clothes, scrubbing the bathroom and trying to nap for a few minutes at a time, I finally got the call I had been hoping to get ever since we moved to Singapore — help was at hand. Ms S from down the road was home, her part-time helper was in, time to go meet my potential saviour.

Ms S’s son is a few months younger than my baby, just learning to walk. Their house has an enormous bug-eyed boxer dog, several fish tanks and all kinds of toddler toys. I could take my eyes off Miss M for a few moments. What bliss! The helper seemed nice enough. At this point, anyone not wielding an axe or a bottle of booze would have suited me to a T.

We discussed terms. The lovely helper said she could take on another client. She is going to come to our house every second Wednesday night so Darling Man and I can go out without Ms M. Our part-time helper starts tonight!

And suddenly, all the awkward and frustrating sticky-out corners in my life seemed to magically glide and click into place. We chatted to S, the conversation circled around and suddenly S was talking about hiring Darling Man part-time to do some marketing work for her amazing aromatherapy product business. It circled some more, landing on the topic of importing baby clothes from Vietnam. Another business deal developed.

By the end of the weekend even more work offers were on the table. I splurged on some new shelves for the kitchen and bathroom — high ones to keep stuff out of reach of the baby’s ever-questing fingers. The house looks less like a bomb-site.

For the first time in a long time, I started the week feeling full of enthusiasm and energy.  And it also dawned on me that if our long-term travel income needs to be $3,000 a month (a semi-arbitrary figure pulled out of the air with only passing research), I’d just locked in one-third of that by agreeing to help out another bloke in our street (aware that taking on extra work when I don’t seem to have enough time doesn’t seem sensible). What a week it’s been. And I haven’t even had my Wednesday night hot date yet!

Everyone needs some help now and then. Just the thought of getting some help seems to have changed my perspective. It’s onward and upward from here, I’m sure.

EDIT: After publishing this post I realised that it didn’t really have a point, unless the point is I’d like a bit of sympathy.

The point I was trying to make when I started writing is that everyone needs help and the choices we made left us very isolated at a time in our lives when we needed some support. I don’t regret moving to Singapore for a minute. I do regret not befriending the lovely Ms S down the road a bit sooner.

I feel incredibly lucky to be experiencing the expat life. And I think I’m even more privileged because I’ve realised this life is not sustainable (in terms of staying sane)  and I’ve got the experience and skills to leave full-time work again.

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Posted in: Baby, Work