Slave to the help

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 01 July, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 01 July, 2012, 12:00am


Since the birth of our third child a year ago, I have made it clear to my husband that we are never leaving Hong Kong. Not, that is, until our children are old enough to cook, clean and babysit themselves. There are several reasons for this.

My husband I and met and married here, our children were all born here, my family live here, our children go to great schools here, and there is potential here for both of our careers. But the main reason is that I cannot live without our helpers. There. I said it.

And yes, I know, I did say helpers - plural. Don't get me wrong, I could live without two helpers (please leave the bashing of the spoilt expatriate brat until the end) but survive without one? I don't think so.

I have three children, the eldest being just five years old. I work part time. My husband works crazy hours and sometimes weekends, and he also travels. Without a helper, when would I find the time to write? And it's writing that keeps me sane. That reminds me there is a life outside changing nappies, and three-year-olds scribbling on the wall, and five-year-olds not wanting to do their sight-word practice.

The childcare I can handle. The three together I can handle. I am their mother after all. Me and three at the swimming pool - super water fun for everyone.

I can take three to the goldfish market on a Saturday afternoon by public transport.

But all that is fun and possible precisely because I don't have to worry about who is going to clean and iron two different sets of school uniform for school the next day, or who is cooking the dinner.

The house is cleaned, the dogs, children and husband fed. I get to spend that time focusing on my children. All of them, all afternoon.

That being said, however, our relationship is not always perfect. And there are times when I both envy and resent my helper because she is the one who gets to take my youngest to playgroup, while I work.

My helper gets to take my eldest to school every morning, which for me is a treat. While it might seem insignificant compared to all the other things I get to do with my children, it still bothers me.

I am grateful for the fact that my helper loves my children and they love her. I understand that when my baby cries for his 'auntie' over me, he is not declaring that he loves her more than me.

He is simply calling out for someone he knows loves him and takes good care of him. My comfort is that the older my children get the more their loyalties to mummy seem to grow.

And there are times when my helper has more patience than I can ever hope to have. On the rare occasions I go out in the evening and my helper puts our baby to bed, I know she manages to get him to sleep with half the tears, half the time and with the aid of a lot less milk than me.

But when he wakes in the night only mummy can console him.

I think my husband and I treat our helpers pretty well. We trust them, which is why there are no hidden cameras lurking among the furniture, spying on them while we are at work.

We do not make them work until midnight, and then expect them to get up at 5am. Our helpers do not have a curfew dictating when they need to be home on a Sunday night. Our main helper is many years older than me. How could I dictate what time she comes home?

We trust and respect our helpers and expect our children to do the same. They are not allowed to order them about, and we try to get them to pick up after themselves.

I know that not all helpers are necessarily as hardworking and trustworthy as ours.

But relegating a whole race of people to the status of second class citizens simply because of their nationality and job does not sit well with me or my husband. Nor, I hope, will it with our children.

Rebecca Tomasis is a mother of three and was co-winner of the inaugural Proverse Prize for unpublished writers