When I first got pregnant, everyone asked me “So who’s going to take care of your baby when she’s born?” I would shrug and smile to cover my uncertainty.
In the first place, the little one had not been planned for. In the second place, I knew there was no way I could simply wrap up everything I had been working on pre-pregnancy and call it a day.
There are no perfect solutions. Getting a maid was an option, but certainly not a satisfactory one. And I knew the horror stories. Stories of how a maid had poured acid down a child’s throat, another of how a maid would sneak off to her boyfriend, leaving the helpless infant alone at home.
At first, you were just help, to be kept under strict supervision. To help my aging parents out when they dropped in sporadically to look in on their grandchild.
I remember the first time you met her when she was just 1. You readily held your arms out to her, but she gave you the evil eye and you quickly backed off. That didn’t stop you from getting to know her better though – in your own loving, patient and clever little ways. There was bribery, there were the games, the gentle teasing and admonitions.
In time, I noticed your vacant stares get replaced by genuine smiles more often. I noticed how you would perform small tasks that I had not requested of you, but that you would do because you took pride in your job, and you wanted to make sure my daughter was well taken care of.
Soon, in your unobtrusive way, you became indispensible in my little household. Honestly, I never told you this, but you were a godsend.
When my brother’s wife gave birth to a boy a year later, and my parents got too busy to come by half as often as I would have liked them to, I knew I could count on you to be her main caretaker.
When she contracted a high fever, I knew I could count on you to take shifts with me to sponge her down through the night even though you must have been tired out by your chores during the day.
When I got home late from work, I knew I could count on seeing her snuggled by your side.
When she took her first step, and I missed it (sob) because I was working, I knew I could count on you to video it down and show it to me the moment I got home.
I am so grateful to you for going above and beyond the call of duty, for your multitudes of acts of love, for being sensitive in your care of her, for never attempting to replace me, but yet ensuring she is well taken care of – physically, mentally and emotionally.
As I got to know you, I was filled not only with gratitude but also with admiration.
I learnt that you had left a little girl behind, not much older than my own daughter. I learnt that you were not sure about your marraige to your husband but felt you had to come to Singapore to work to provide for her anyway. I learnt that you were eager to learn, not just about how to do your work like ironing or mopping, but also English and even computing.
I admire the strength in your decision to leave everything behind for the sake of your little girl’s future. If I were in your situation, I am not sure if I would have had the same strength as you.
I admire your patience as you deal with my daughter’s ocasional superior attitude towards you (little kids absorb the attitudes of the adults around them so quickly!)
You have been with us for 4 years now. These 4 years, my daughter and I have accomplished much in hitting our milestones, and a large part that we were able to do that is because of you. But sometimes, I wonder, do you have your own dreams and goals you would like to fulfill as well? Do you regret leaving your daughter behind, do you regret that she now calls your Big Sister and your Mum “Ibu” (Mother) instead of you? Do you regret that your husband and you are now separated and you are a single mother?
While I recognize that the security, the money I pay you monthly is precious from where you come from, I also recognize that the time you have given to my family, the relationships that could have been, also will never be measurable nor replaceable.
I hope that in time to come, you will be able to get whatever it is that you want from life. I hope that in time to come, your daughter will grow up to be a loving, well-read, considerate girl, like my daughter whom you have helped me raise.
You are domestic help, but you are also my friend. Let’s work towards making both our lives everything we want it to be, and more, shall we?