Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Choices, choices...!

Have been searching long and far and wide for a person who would stay with Sonny boy while I brought in the jam. But for nearly a year, had not met with any success of the lasting kind.

My Mom while she is wayyyyy better than me at looking after Sonny boy can't stay for more than 2 months, before the heart begins to pine for the coconut trees, and the shouting-at-the-cat-who-comes-to-steal-the-fish, and the friendly neighbourhood gossip, so poor Sonny boy has to settle for second best!

We got someone from Kerala to stay with us for a short while. This was someone whose elder sister used to look after a friend's kids, and the elder sister was exemplary, but the younger one was far from it. While she was here, Sonny boy learnt to go pssst! pssst! at young gentlemen from the kitchen balcony and duck out of view! After one afternoon when I came home without prior notice to find the flat locked, and her near the Security Guards' cabin at a time when everybody was having their siesta (Sonny boy was to be fast asleep too, instead of which he was out in the burning sun), I put a stop to her caretaking before she brought a whole lot of unwanted cares to me.

Subsequently Sonny boy was put into the day care centre which functioned within our flat complex. And while this was ideal from the security and convenience for school-bus-drop point of view, the daycare ladies were firm in their stand that they would not stay beyond 6, max. 6.30. We managed for a couple of months, before they shifted the time to 5.30 , when there was that cold wave in Chennai and it started getting dark and gloomy by 4. Time to bid goodbye to the daycare too.

Then there was another girl whose parents told us to treat her like my daughter, and insisted that she kept house for them and looked after all the neighbouring kids too and was a total gem. She was a young girl (the parents assured us that she was 17)and Sonny boy took to her at once. The parents left, and the girl developed a fever the same evening. When the parents were informed, they told us to ignore it and that it would wear off in a couple of days. Turned out the poor girl was homesick. The fever got better, but the next day when she called home, her parents refused to take the call. She thought we were also ganging up against her and said she would go on her own to her house. The husband still has nightmares of her going off and later having the police come knocking..... To cut a long story short, we got a friend of the parents to escort her back safely. Phew!

I was at my wits' end as to what to do, when like manna from heaven descended Sonny boy's present care-mate. She was the cousin of one of the maids in the complex, and had been working in a garment factory before. So age no bar, definitely.
She was young, she was clean, she helped me in the kitchen, she did housework well too and she was cheerful. All well. I really like her, honestly. But.

Comes the fly. In the ointment.

She stays with us .
I HATE the idea of having someone underfoot ALL the time, in a flat. As of now, we can't afford to stay in a flat with a servant's room and all that. We have 3 bedrooms, out of which one has no wardrobe and so is a misc. room..
And our present house has been designed by a NITWIT who has not put a single lock on ANY of the wardrobes. So when we go off, I can either lock the bedrooms and leave her the use of just the kitchen and the guest/pooja/computer room. Which wouldn't leave any bed for Sonny boy to sleep in the afternoon, there being just a diwan in the guest room. Or I can leave the entire house and wardrobes open to her. Well, beggars can't be choosers, so that is what I do currently. So far she has not proved herself untrustworthy. Touchwood, touchforest!

But there are so many issues, all related to this staying-at-home bit. She has not been a housemaid before, neither have I had one before, With the result that a few all-important ground rules were left undeclared.

I gave her a toilet soap, washing soap and toothpaste for her use. I expected that she would have brought her toothbrush. Turns out that she hasn't and wants me to buy one for her. Ok, not a big issue at all. I also bought her a bottle of Parachute when buying the toothbrush.
Madam asked me if I should buy her shampoo also?! I told her that I had some spare bottles that she could use for the time being (hotel samples)and that she could buy one later. I do NOT think that I am supposed to buy shampoo for my maid, or am I, people? If she wants one, she can jolly well buy it from her salary.
Ditto for sanitary napkins. Madam can buy whatever brand she likes for herself. Not ask me for my stock!
The I find by chance that Madam has been happily using my comb. ewwwww! Now she is a pretty clean person and all that, but I barely put up with even my husband using MY comb. My comb is MINE. To be used only by ME. and hello, what happened to the comb she would hve been using before she came to work in my house? Didn't she think to pack that when packing her clothes, huh?

This is why I hate to have somebody staying full time. There are so many things where the line has to be drawn very intangibly. Like she can look after my son when I am not there, but when I AM there, I do NOT want her butting in or adding her two bits or scolding Sonny boy. I am also old fashioned in that I do NOT want her raising her voice when I am there, or hanging around in the living room/dining room. I do not expect her to be in the kitchen full time, but she does have a room of her own- said guest/pooja/computer room, she can go there and relax.

Coming to the computer room, we have a computer unit, that had a couple of shelves partly empty as I hadn't unpacked all of Sonny boy's toys/books which is what had been stored there. One day, when searching for something, I open the lower shelf, only to have a heap of clothes tumbling out. Madam was using it as her shelf!! I got damn pissed at this especially since she started using it without a by-your-leave from me. I however didn't want to create an issue, so I am letting that lie, till the day I springclean, and then her things can go wherever. What bugs me is that she didn't even ask me if she could.. Not that I would have allowed her if she'd asked me, but I would have gottne her an extra suitcase or something..

But the limit was when, one Sunday, we were supposed to go out for lunch, so I told her to get dressed by lunchtime as we had to go. I was preparing breakfast and she was cleaning the house, after cleaning she asked me if she could have her bath first. She had already cut me all the reqd veggies, so I said Yes, and then I got busy. I did not notice when she came out, but after some time the smell of agarbathy wafted thru the house... and there she was lighting the lamp! I the lady of the house was in the kitchen, and she the maid had had her bath and was lighting the lamp. Can you believe that??! I saw RED, but I kept my cool as I didn't want to shout at her while she was praying. I went and had my bath, and then I took all the pooja items to wash, in front of her. And I told her very politely, that she wasn't ever to light the lamp, even if I wasn't at home, or even on my off days. I told her that she was welcome to go and pray, I had no issues with her going and praying in front and all that, but that I didn't want her doing anything else. And then as usual, I went and lit the lamp.

And I wondered, what all was I supposed to lay out in black and white regarding what she was supposed to do and what not? What I wanted her help for and what I didn't? What she was supposed to provide for herself and what I would provide?

Once the irritations have started, they come in a stream. This post is to let off some steam, but at the same time to remember what really matters. That Sonny boy is looked after pretty well while we are at work. Maybe what was required is a Rule Book like we used to get at hostels. Dos and Don'ts. Sigh!
I hope she stays long enough despite our differences. Amen.


Marina D'Souza said...

Oh problems with stay-at-home maids are plenty. We had one, who was eighteen - who would powder her face and put lipstick on every time she had to go water the plants outside. Confused? Would it help to know that the outside comprised in its vicinity a cricket ground filled with lots of eager gaping lads playing ball ?


I'm sure your problems could be solved with a rule book - probably a hefty one with zillions of pages :P?

Suma said...

sigh...that must be soooo irritating...

but yes, you may need to sit down and tell her exactly what you like and you don't...so that she undersand your irritation when it happens....

all the best!

Artnavy said...

oh God!

anyway never too late to sit and discuss the list with her and be sure u pat her for the things she does well- u do not want to lose her either right?

Sumana said...

Ya we have one too JLT. I keep telling her atleast a few times in a day what she needs to do and what she does not need to bother. It gets too much at times, but will atleast stop some irritation. It will be ok in afew days.

Sue said...

Gah. I had similar problems with our ayah. She was good with the boy, but she was really underfoot.

I don't think it's a class thing so much as respect for other people's boundaries. I wouldn't light the lamp if I were your guest, would I? nor use your comb.

The thing is, once you complain/rebuke, it all sounds so petty and you can just hear her telling her mates, "Oh, she's so prissy, she threw a fit just because I started the puja. And she was so late herself!"

It's an impossible situation.

Sorry, I don't think I helped at all. :)

Just Like That said...

Marina: LOL at yours and Sigh at mine! Rule book yeah, but problem is - I don't know what I don't want till she does it and I realise then with crystal clarity that I don't want her doing it Confusing! :-)

Suma, Art: Problem is I really really can't do without her, so I'm scared to tick her off. Had she been a day-maid, would have done so. :-(
Also, she's not too bad in the things that MATTER, so I feel bad about scolding her, would rather someone else did it for me. but...

Sumana: I sure hope it gets better. Can't afford for it to get worse :-(

Sue: You helped by understanding it just PERfectly! Gah indeed! Hugs.

Vidooshak said...

My take on this is just to ignore and let be. As you said, the bottomline is Sonny boy is being WELL cared for, loved and taught good things (not psst psst). Nothing else matters! Just think of her as an annoying live-in aunt or mother-in-law that you simply cannot wish away. All her transgressions, while irritating, don't sound "damaging". Neither financially nor otherwise.

We don't have a live-in but we do have an annoying carer, who loves Cubby to death. So we re-wash all utensils before use, buy new cups every few weeks, but never ever point to the Pril-stains on the bowls!

So glad Sonny is getting some love. Now you go get some peace. Good luck!!

Vidooshak said...

I mean loved from "9 to 5" as well. Didn't mean to insinuate that that is ALL the love he is getting. hehehehehe

Mama - Mia said...

oh well! the man goes on and says everything i wanted to! :p

there ARE adjustments / compromises to be made once you decide you arent gonna be home the entire day!

i am at wits end about Cubby's potty training because even though i have tol amma often, i doubt she is taking it seriously enough! any ideas?

anyhoo! she is good where it matters! so let that be!

enjoy the fact that sonny boy is well taken care of! :)



Scattered Thoughts... said...

Sorry but I have kind of different opinion on all this, but not sure of that is correct or better keep it to myself..

WhatsInAName said...

Oh yes, having a maid at home is a pain and I can relate to that dear! I had a maid with me for 2 years when my daughter was 1 but then I also had my inlaws and so, atleast she was under supervision!

Like Vidooshak says, sometimes its better to ignore small things cos its the bigger things that matter. If she is good to Sonny and is trustworthy, what more can we ask for, right?

Just Like That said...

Vidooshak, Mama Mia: Oh, I don't mind Pril stains so much- you can easily wash them away. I honestly wouldn't mind if she were a little less than perfect in her housework, but what to do when your hairbands, your hairclips, your slippers, nailcutters(!).. etc etc are used, and you come to know only later? These are such personal items, and I only get to see/know once it is already ON her, and it irritates the hell out of me. Plus- if she feels so free to take all these without asking, all my wardrobes are open to her... Gah! I wish I'd found one that would go away after 7 :-(

Just Like That said...

WIAN: Trustworthy yes, but if she takes things of yours without asking, then..? Small things could be extended to big things, right?Thing is, I never dreamt these kind of issues would crop up! I mean, can u imagine me telling a prospective maid- Now look'ere, you're not supposed to take my rubberbands, my shampoo, my nailcutter, my comb.. isn't it taken for granted that she will come with HER things?

Scattered Thoughts: Maybe you could mail me with your opinions? Yes? :-)

Noodlehead said...

yikes! not a very happy situation but like the others have suggested, just sit her down and give her do's and don'ts. if that fails too then you'll just have to adjust maadi, i guess. nailcutter too, huh? ewwww. reminds me of when some our office housekeeping staff was using my backrest pillow (i had one in office when i was pregnant, the back gave me some grief). it was really, really gross!!! so i empathize, TOTALLY!

Rohini said...

Oh well, they are never perfect. Decide your non-negotiables and don't fuss about the rest. The important thing is that she vibes well with Sonny and takes good care of him.

Also, I know it's hard to live without a servant quarter but also remember that if she's living with you then your house is her home too. So give her some space (a shelf or a corner?) to keep her stuff, some TV time, and maybe give her some tasks (if not the lighting of the lamp) which will make her feel at home...

I have a young 19-year old at home and I try to think of her almost like a daughter (within limits) - so I do buy all her toiletries and the occasional treat like some mangoes (in season) or some chocolates when I return from one of my trips...

Vidooshak said...

Rohini, that was one of the best comments I have read to JLT's post. Agree completely!

Just Like That said...

Noodlehead: I too think that the problem was that both of us were new to the situation- neither of us knew where to set the boundaries.......

Ro: Thank you for that comment. Needed that from someone who has a live-in maid.

Toiletries- I HAD bought her what I thought were the essentials- toilet soap,washing powder/soap, hair oil etc, but shampoo, deo too, huh?? :-( ok, if you say so.

TV- she's free to watch tv of her choice till Sonny boy comes home/when he sleeps. I get her some kannada magazines too, so she doesn't get totally bored.

Whatever snacks we buy, she is given a share of, except the stuff we buy for Sonny boy's school snack and that is only because we don't want that to get over suddenly. I don't have a separate menu for her either. We all eat the same.
What you said about my home also being her home is something to mull over.... :-) thanks for the honest comment. I just got irritated that she goes ahead and takes what she pleases without asking my permission, however we've cleared the air on that, and things are much better now.

Viddoshak: :-)

dipali said...

I now have an eight a.m to 8p.m attendant for my father, and though she provides invaluable services it is also not easy having someone underfoot, as it were, for much of the day, and especially in the kitchen! Territorality rules!
But yes, since your home is now her home, you need to make clear what her privileges are and what is off-limits.
Methinks shampoo and talc need to be bought for her:(

Just Like That said...

Dipali: Tell me about it! Shampoo and talc- alrighty.

PVS said...

hi JLT, I am in Singapore and have been having a live in maid for the past 3 years. As Ro mentioned, you need to set the rules and at the same time give her some space.

We had a situation where my first maid was specific about the brands she wanted as toiletries, which was not acceptable by me. So we made a compromise and I gave her some amount extra to get those herself.

You need to believe them to some extent, but it would be a good idea to get a locksmith to fix your wardrobes immediately. You dont want to tempt them.