Sunday, August 22, 2010

teaching life lessons

Having a Filipino helper is like having a kindergartner in many ways. I never thought that hiring a live-in helper would require me to act not only as an employer but a teacher too. The well known "All I Ever Really Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten" by Robert Fulghum comes to mind in this kind of situation.

Cora has been working with our family for two years now. We are fair employers. She gets paid well, the weekends off (many Filipino families have help 24/7), paid holidays, overtime pay, paid sick leave, loans, basic food and toiletries provided, and tons of our hand-me-downs. We try to go above and beyond what is expected of us as her employers with bonuses and gifts. Beyond that she has become my friend and the girls' Yaya, someone they dearly love. Cora is a wonderful woman with a good heart and a survivors mentality. She's struggled to raise her three sons with little money or worldly possessions and she's always an exceptionally hard worker.

Because she's such a sweet, hardworking woman, I find it hard to believe that this person, who is 15 years my senior needs me to teach her anything. She's lived a much harder life than I will ever know and has seen and done things I will never (hopefully) have to do in my lifetime.

Having a maid is awesome. Having a maid is also not awesome. Like being woken on Saturday at 5AM by said maid as she vomits everywhere asking me if I have any stomach pain medication. The night before I've asked her to clean out the leftovers in the refrigerator, some of them having sat in there for a few weeks. I know for a fact she's eaten the leftovers and gotten herself a serious case of food poisoning. I know this because it's not the first time it's happened. (a tangential lesson I'd hope she'd learn here is to THROW AWAY old food not eat it-but sadly it's probably not the last time this will happen. She has yet to make the connection between stomach cramps and eating two week old leftover chicken.)

So I know she isn't feeling well this weekend. I am also expecting a text message letting me know how she is and if she will be at work on Monday morning. Too sensible on my part? Not at all. This is a very reasonable expectation.

Do I get a text message? Of course not. Do I have to text her Monday morning at 8:30AM, an hour and a half after she's expected at work, to ask her if she's coming in today? Of course I do.

I then have to give her a lesson on life via text message. One of the many life lessons I have had to teach this woman we have grown to care so very much about. The lesson is a little about professionalism and a little about trust and expectations. It's a little about "we've asked you to do this before" and "you need to let me know BEFORE you are expected at work". I even pull out the word disappointed because really at this point in her working career this woman should know this.

Sadly, she doesn't get the message. Instead she pleads me not to fire her. She's still sick and really needs the job. I have never once threatened to fire her for being sick. I have never threatened to fire this woman at all in the two years we've known her (does she really think I'm the firing type-even after living with me for two years?). It's amazing to me that this middle aged woman doesn't understand the common courtesy of informing your employer about absences from work and is more worried that I'm mad she's left me to do her job for the day. Of course she needs her job, she's living week to week on her paycheck. I get this and being sick is not the problem. Having never learned basic professionalism IS the problem. (and for the record I washed the heck out of the laundry and dishes this morning all on my own-thank you very much).

Then, I realize that it all makes sense, because Cora never attended kindergarten. Given that, I guess I don't mind teaching some life lessons. It's all about perspective right?


Sunny said...

Ugh! Come on get load and text. It never failed to amaze me how they just can't get this concept. And Cora, please stop eating rotten chicken, please.

Sara said...

Thank god for friends who get it

Christine said...

Hi - I found your blog while searching for info on Manila. We are moving there in October with our son who is 1 and our Westie. I think that I have all of the infant info covered by now but am stressing a bit about the dog.... Does your helper watch your dog when you are gone or do you take him/her somewhere? Could you recommend a vet in Makati? Any help would be greatly appreciated! My email address is
Best Regards-Christine

Sara said...

Sure, our helper walks our dog twice a day, we do when she isn't here. The Animal House is a chain vet place that is in Makati and all over Manila. We have found them to be really good and inexpensive for treatment and check-ups. We also get her groomed there. When we are away for the weekend or week we have our helper stay to watch our dog. We pay her anyway when we are gone. If it's the weekend when she wouldn't normally be here we pay her extra. I look forward to meeting you.
I know you said you have all the infant stuff covered but I would tell you to bring all the over the counter medicines that you use or would possibly use because it's good to have them just in case. Ship diapers too! the imported ones are so expensive here.

Christine said...

Thanks for the info! I am really nervous about how our furbaby will handle the trip. Hopefully it will go well. Does the helper also watch your dog when you go away for a long period of time?

We are currently living in Switzerland where everything is really, REALLY expensive. A packet of 48 pampers is almost 30 USD. It's ridiculous.
I have been stocking up on over the counter meds here for my little boy for a month now. It's easy to get the infant medicines here that are sold out in the States. We have a trip back to the States so that I can stock up on the meds (among other things) for my husband and me. We'll have to go to a few different places so that they don't suspect us of using the cold medicine for illegal purposes! ha! :)
If you can think of anything else that would be good for me to bring, please let me know. It's always good to get advice from people that are already there.
Thanks so much for your response!
Christine (email: