When the housemaid’s away

It was a day I wasn’t especially looking forward to: our live-in helper and nanny Catherine the Great was leaving on a well-deserved vacation.

Not for the first time – she returns to the Philippines for a month each year, but usually this is while we’re gone over the summer. This year, she’s going twice because there’s a special occasion at home she really wanted to attend in March.

In other words, it’s the only time in four years she’s left us [hangs her head in shame] to our own devices in Dubai, with one-and-a-half jobs and the children to juggle. [Gasps]

I could tell she was nervous. She had a long journey ahead to Manila, albeit in business class, and a 10-hour coach ride to her village.

pic1We talked about what to wear on the plane, to be wary of fellow, drunken passengers (my main advice was to travel semi-smart – no flip-flops, no shorts – and she took this to heart, looking glam as she left). We discussed how I could contact her. Then I realised what it was she was actually nervous about.

She looked at me sagely: “Will you be okay Madame? With the two boys? All by yourself.”

The worry in her eyes was undisguisable. OMG, I thought, she thinks I won’t cope. She’s sure the household will fall to rack and ruin with me in charge.

“Of course!” I replied, with a squeaky, too-high voice. “We’ll be absolutely fine. But you will come back, won’t you?” I asked with a nervous laugh.

She assured me she would (PHEW!) and I told her to go upstairs and help herself to as many of the baby toys in the cupboard as she could fit in her suitcase.

philippinesHer family lives on a rice farm in an impoverished part of the Philippines. They don’t enjoy all the trappings that we do in the West and anything we can send over really helps. There’s probably a whole island wearing my old clothes from Gap and Monsoon; and much of our baby stuff has already been shipped to her sister, who recently gave birth.

We hauled her suitcases – practically splitting at the seams – to the door and called a taxi. I’d bribed BB and LB with sweets to be extra-nice in the hope she might miss them (one was, the other wasn’t, the little minx) and then it was time: to let.go.

With a swish of her long, black glossy hair, and one last worried glance back, she was gone.

And suddenly I was staring down the barrel of no childcare and a job to hold down for the next couple of weeks. The silence of the abyss she left behind would have been deafening if it wasn’t for the fact I had to put a kicking-and-screaming BB in time-out for bidding Catherine goodbye while STILL on his DS machine – after which he RAN AWAY.

*Good* start.

pic2But, and I know you can’t wait to hear how it’s going, things have gotten a lot better. Day one, to my amazement, was remarkably smooth, even quite blissful. We reveled in the independence, loved having the house to ourselves. I moved things around in the kitchen; reinstated control and was practically doing pirouettes around the broom.

“Wow,” I thought. “This isn’t so bad.”

Fast-forward nearly a week, and the novelty has begun to pall, though to be honest – other than not finishing all my chores until 10pm – I think DH might have noticed her absence more than me. I’m finishing a work contract, so he had to take vacation (not sure he’d exactly call it that) and has been holding the fort at home; yesterday accumulating neighbourhood children as the day went on like a Pied Piper of Dubai.

Help with childcare and chores aside, I genuinely miss her – she’s a true gem, a gentle, kind and sweet-natured person and an adult companion in the house with oodles more patience than me.

I REALLY hope she comes back.

Now, where did she say the iron was kept?

8 thoughts on “When the housemaid’s away

  1. Brenda Oates says:

    I hope someone is watering the plants (and the frangipani tree) – maybe a job for BB and LB??

  2. Our housekeeper only comes once a week and we would be lost without her- no childcare, but she dotes on my boys (I think she was as happy as we were when#1 came home for Christmas) and is truly one of the sweetest people I’ve ever known. Hope the time flies for you- I’m sure it’s a little lonely with her gone!

  3. She sounds absolutely wonderful. So nice that you can help her out with the clothes and toys. We had a Filipina maid when I was little and they are always the loveliest, gentlest people. Good luck on your own!

    • She is wonderful…and there really is something about the Filipinos – exactly as you remember, they’re so sweet and gentle. I’m really happy because she came back! It must be so hard to live away from their families and work here (she has a daughter, age 11).. we try really hard to make her part of our family here. She’s an absolute gem.

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