Two days ago, my ayi came to clean my house, as she does twice a week. She’s fairly new with us – our old ayi was hired on for more hours with another job and couldn’t take us anymore. But I’ve been happy with our new ayi so far. She’s kind, efficient, and intuitive about what needs to be done.
Typically, she comes right in the middle of Sander’s morning nap. Being the conscientious woman she is, she saves the louder jobs – dishes and vacuuming – for once Sander’s awake. She’ll usually start with the laundry and making the bed. Most of the time by then, Sander’s up. I nurse him while she does the dishes, then I take him upstairs to eat some real food while she moves on to vacuuming, and cleaning the bathrooms. She doesn’t speak any English and I still really don’t speak any Mandarin. We get by with pointing and my tiny bit of Mandarin (although sometimes that just confuses things. I tried once to tell her that any dish towels I put on top of the washer are dirty and I’d like them thrown in with the next wash. She must have misunderstood, but I have no idea what she thinks I said. I just know I find totally wet hand towels sitting-folded– on top of the washer. Are these towels clean? Are they dirty? I have absolutely no idea. Normally this is a strong contender for the week’s Awkward Award as I stand in front of my washer and try to figure out what to with them, but this week it was trumped by what happened next…).
This last time she came, Sander wasn’t super thrilled about his morning nap (I, on the other hand, am always thrilled about his morning nap). He’d only slept about half of what he usually does. I don’t have a hard and fast rule on what I do when he wakes up early from a nap. I like to kind of just assess the situation and make an educated decision (which is code for “I have no idea what the heck I’m doing”). Sometimes I let him cry for a bit, sometimes I’m excited to see him or have an errand I want to run and I’ll let him get up early, sometimes I go in there a few times and try to comfort him and see if I can get him back to sleep. Lately, I’ve been letting him get up from his nap and having him play for anywhere from ten to twenty minutes before putting him back down for another nap. A little nap intermission, if you will. It helps him calm down and since he’s still tired he’s usually happy to go back down.
That’s what I’d decided to do when the ayi showed up. Obviously, having someone show up to clean your house and interrupt your nap plans is far from the end of the world. I just wasn’t sure how I wanted to handle it. But when Ayi saw that Sander was up, she jumped right into doing the dishes because she knows I eventually end up putting him down for another nap while she’s there and that this was a good window. So here we have me laying the groundwork for the awkwardness. Do I tell her to just start with the laundry again so I can try to put Sander down for a bit? That would require me to speak Chinese and, being the coward that I am, I decide, eh – nah. She can just do whatever she wants and I’ll work around her. (So smooth, right?)
Sander’s happy to still be up, but he’s a bit cranky and requires a bit more attention than normal. No biggie. She finishes the dishes and I figure I’ll go put Sander down. But I notice she’s got Sander’s clean laundry on the bed in his room. Now, I can still put him down, and she’d hold off on vacuuming until he’s good and asleep, but then he’d likely sleep most of the rest of the time she was there, which would mean I would have to fold Sander’s clothes and put them away. Not the worst job in the world, but since I’m paying her to do it, I’d rather I didn’t have to. Again, I could have asked her to do the folding next so I could put him down but . . . I’m still a coward. So I do nothing. I figure she’ll get to it pretty quickly and I can put Sander down soon.
In the meantime, I figure I may as well feed him lunch. When we hired her, I didn’t specify any time she needed to come, but lunchtime worked best for her, and I’ve come to really like that. It means she does all the dishes from the previous few days (I play an eternal game of strategically using my dishes so I don’t have to wash any before she comes again (you think you’re jealous, but trust me, I’d be just as happy with a dishwashing machine and a clothes dryer)), allowing me to have a clean kitchen to make lunch in; and then after lunch, she’ll clean up the few dishes I’ve made, along with whatever Sander’s spilled on the floor (I’ve tried doing my own dishes after lunch, but she kind of scolds me and shoos me away so . . . I’ll let her ?).
Lunch goes fine but by this time I can tell Sander’s really in need of a nap. Really by this point, he’s just had an extra short morning nap and could really use an early afternoon nap. So I finish feeding him and put him down. Typically he goes down pretty easily. I zip him into his little wearable blanket, give him a kiss and a binky, and he’s good to go. Sometimes he’ll fuss for a few minutes and then go down. Other times, the fussing isn’t really letting up so I go in once to pat his head and give him the binky he’s thrown from his crib. Then as I lay him back down, he realizes I’m not taking him out of his room and he does this thing where his face screws up and he inhales to prepare for a loud screaming cry, which inevitably comes as I lay him back down and exit his room. (I always imagine him screaming “betrayal!” at this point. I have no idea why that makes it into something slightly funny, but it does, and I can leave his room without being kind of angry at the crying (I have a pretty low crying tolerance before I feel grumpy)). Usually though, after that, he’ll scream for about five minutes and then be knocked out cold for a couple hours.
That’s what I was going for this time. I put him down, he was cool for a few minutes, then he started to fuss. I gave him a few minutes, then went in to comfort him for a minute. I left to his screech of “betrayal!” and shut the door behind me and went downstairs to work on my computer.
You gotta understand, I really don’t like listening to him cry (I mean, does any parent?). Half the time it makes me really sad and half the time it just kind of ticks me off. I can handle so much of it in a day and then I’m just kind of done. When that happens, I barricade myself in my room and turn on the air filter to muffle the screams. We weren’t quite to that point yet, but it always kind of sets me on edge to hear him crying for more than a few minutes. I mean, our apartment’s pretty little, he’s essentially just on the other side of the wall behind my couch, so it’s not like it’s pleasant to sit there and ignore him. In addition to that, I still feel a little uncomfortable having someone clean my house. It’s way better with a baby around, or if Terry’s home for a few hours, but when I’m just on my computer and she’s cleaning I feel kind of awkward. And to top that off, she’s obviously hearing Sander scream too and that makes me feel like she’s probably judging me as a parent.
Turns out she totally was.
Now, some ayis are hired just to clean, some to watch the kids, some to do the grocery shopping or cooking, or some to do a bit of all of that. I’ve really just had our ayis clean, and every once in a while I’ve left while the baby’s sleeping to run a quick errand while the ayi is there. But for the most part, I do the baby, she does the cleaning. She kept cleaning while Sander was crying, but made a few comments I didn’t really understand, but I caught the words “baby” and “crying”. Yeah. I know he’s crying. I’m right here.
Sadly, Sander missing half his morning nap means that he’s a little sleep-deprived and therefore unable to sleep well for his next nap. This is cruel parenting math, where 2 hours of napping minus one hour of napping should equal an extra hour on the next nap, but somehow equals another hour of a nap subtracted from the second nap. Don’t ask me to explain how that happens, I’ve never been very good at math, and parenting math is particularly tricky, due to its constantly changing rules and the amount of variables it deals with. Basically, Sander was crying for much longer than he usually does when he’s going down for a nap. But I know him well enough to know that by this point 1) he needs sleep and 2) nothing I can do for him will help him get there at this point. So I resign myself to letting him cry it out (cringe) while the ayi is there (double cringe).
She had other plans though. After a few minutes, she went into Sander’s room.
Let me just repeat that here. She went into Sander’s room. Without my permission or behest.
I was . . . confused? Embarrassed? Angry? Relieved? A little bit of all of these things, really. She got Sander to stop crying at least, but she did that by – wait for it – bringing him to the play place outside his room and letting him play.
I’m just not sure what I should have done in this situation. If she spoke English, or if I spoke Chinese, or if we could even communicate in French, I think I probably would have jumped up as soon as she’d gone in there and told her I knew Sander was crying, but that he needed to sleep, and that it was alright with me that he was crying. Or I might have just started off saying that I’m the parent and get to decide what goes on with my child.
But without us being able to communicate clearly, it would have amounted to me just snatching my child back from her, placing him back in his crib while still screaming, shooing her out the door and fleeing back to my computer while she babbled at me in Chinese about what I should be doing.
It just . . . didn’t strike me as a great course of action. I don’t know everything about how the Chinese parent their children, but I can tell you, those kids hardly ever touch the ground. There’s always someone there to hold him, always someone whose entire attention is on the child, always someone ready to keep the kid from falling. I see them holding their sleeping babies in their arms more than I see them putting their kids in strollers. People only get one kid here, remember (except TWO now! yay!), so every child is an only child, and every parent is putting their entire family future on the shoulders of this one baby. None of this is inherently good or bad. It just depends on what things you value in life that you wanna instill in your kid. Americans tend to be pretty heavy on independence and freedom, and true to how I’ve grown up, I’m okay letting Sander play on his own for a good portion of the day, and I’m (sort of) okay with letting him fall so he can learn to get back up again.
All that is a long way of saying, I figured that letting a baby cry it out really went against the grain of what she feels about parenting. Several of my foreign friends have had this same problem where their ayi wasn’t comfortable letting the child cry at all, and the parent was fine with it. She babbled at Sander in Mandarin and I caught the word “mama” this time. No idea what she was telling him about me, but I could probably hazard a guess. In her defense, I’m sure she thought she was helping me. But she wasn’t.
So, like the brave and in-control parent that I am, I did nothing. ? I continued to work on my computer downstairs, while Sander played happily upstairs, and the ayi did her thing cleaning (after playing with Sander for about fifteen minutes). Some of me was kind of bemused (ha, this would never happen in America), and some of me was a little indignant (who does she think she is?!), and some of me angry (now he’s missing even MORE sleep!), and some of me embarrassed (awesome – I’m clearly on top of this mothering thing). Mostly that all just combined to feel really super awkward.
That’s where the story ends. There’s no un-awkward ending, I just basked in the awkwardness of it all and let it consume me until I could vomit it out onto this blogpost. Terry arrived home a few minutes later, I grabbed Sander and handed him to Terry, and Terry put the baby to bed (he went down without a peep that time, little stinker).
Seriously though, what would you have done in this situation? I’m genuinely curious. Obviously there are always going to be some differences of opinions when there’s more than one caretaker, but combine that with not being able to communicate with each other about something as complex as parenting strategies and what’s valuable to your culture, and . . . you get some good awkwardness. Or maybe it’s only awkward cuz I let it be awkward and let it all slide. Should I have just ignored her feelings in the matter and put my kid to bed and let him scream? Should I have grabbed the baby and made a run for the mall, where I didn’t have to face any of this?! I just don’t know!!