Demands of Domesticity

(Internet photo)

I know it does sound spoiled to admit to feeling helpless without a maid, and from someone who, for most of her life before marriage at least, had not had any memory of a house help, is closer to self-indulgent, but there it is.


Growing up in the “halcyon days” of Martial law, with both parents working outside the house, we six children at a very young age had learned to look after one another in their absence, with my eldest sister doing much of sibling-watching. I remember washing dishes when I was 4 or 5 years old, reaching the sink by standing on a chair. When we were bigger, at maybe 10, we learned to wash and iron our own clothes. I don’t think we did a swell job because a flat-iron mark singed on a school uniform routinely becomes object of mean conversations in the school yard, but that, early on we had learned the value of independence and of hard work first hand.


To this day, it never fails to amaze me how my mom could have kept a job in Ugong, Pasig, and come home to find her children all of a piece every single night. It probably helped that we had lived in a compound where relatives were just a holler away. But there were brushes with disaster, of course. When our cousin’s house caught fire which spread to our house, and the youngest brother at the time, no more than 6 months old, was trapped inside his duyan, it took my eldest sister Babylyn, precocious at 5 years old, to implore a slightly drunk man to get the baby out. Whereupon the kind drunk doused himself with water and entered the burning house to scoop my brother up. (Hurrah for drunken, kind men! 😉 )We must have been a comical sight, three poor little girls huddled in teary terror! But we survived that, and countless other domestic disasters.


And so when I started having children of my own, I didn’t think it was difficult holding a job down and attending to the needs of my own family. After all, mama, who was not aware there is such a thing as feminism, had done it. That was until non-renewals of my appointments started to bother. I had to see what I was not doing right. Apparently, a school-to-home, home-to-school schedule was not going to cut it with my superiors, who saw my seeming lack of involvement a serious issue. But if you needed to be hands on with a new baby, my argument went, you had better be home. (Probably there were other issues, and the nature of temporary contracts being what it was, and my inability to do anything else but conduct a house-arrest for myself were not exactly conducive for getting on in the academic world.)


Thus began a long relationship with maids, yayas, “katabang”, house helps–exalted and varied names for the unsung “sidekick” of the woman of the house.


Except for a forgettable few, I was pretty lucky to have had two entirely trustworthy maids who stuck with me for all of ten years or so. No big dramas of losing money, jewelry, or children to sneaky yayas, and I thank my lucky stars for them. But because they were entirely dependable human beings, they provided me with a lame excuse for relinquishing my responsibilities towards my family, foolishly leveraging on my career for feeling fulfilled.


Then, one day, it happened: I found myself without a maid. That was the stuff of drama: I looked about me and wailed that my house wasn’t fit for human habitation. No stranger to hard work, I eventually realized, in some perverse part of me, that I had actually welcomed the change—a chance to do stuff again for the boys in my life that I, if I was going to be true to myself, had momentarily abandoned.


I will dispense with some grand remarks about how, if not for maids, heaven bless them, we career girls would not be able to make it, whatever the “it” refers to. Because it is true, even without my saying it. Women in the grand scheme of things look to other women for keeping the home front sane. We look to other women for help in heading off disasters, domestic or otherwise. Despite inroads made by women on all previously masculine occupations, someone still has to do the washing, cooking, and babysitting so that some of us can wax romantic or poetic inside the classroom, or hobnob with the Big Boys in offices with glass ceilings. And these women who take up the slack for the career ones and who help delude us into thinking we need not do what it was they were paid to do, only mask this truth for a moment. We eventually return to the repetitive and onerous house work that seems to be women’s lot in life. If you’re sensing desperation here, it’s not imagined; I still get that, sometimes.

Having said that, no career woman should feel guilty if it is she who brings home the bacon, instead of the one to “cook” it!. An interesting article by Laura Vanderkam, “More Kids Won’t Kill Your Career…Unless You Want Them To” is a morale-booster: yes, women have kept jobs and house together, with time to spare for a foot spa! But ironically, this tendency for women to try to do everything for the family, as I would like to think is my mindset, is one that can set us up for lots of disappointments down the road. In an article penned by Rick Newman, “Women Can’t Have it All because Nobody Can Have it All” is a sobering truth, as well as paradoxically liberating!   

I’m very lucky to find my boys adapting remarkably well to our changed circumstance, thanks in part to the husband who himself grew up in a household where maids were a luxury. Uncomplainingly, the boys take turns washing dishes, before they continue annihilating Diablo and his ilk. While they have not exactly been washing their own clothes, their attempts to clean their own rooms, mop its floor, change the bedding, (before they are teased that a pigsty and their room have something in common), clean their closets, help put groceries away, take the trash out, etc. are heart-warming for kids who are used to having maids around. I would like to think I’m doing my sons’ future wives a favor: here is a species of men on whom no woman need ever wait hand and foot.

Now, if only I could get JC to darn his socks!


5 thoughts on “Demands of Domesticity

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