Having an Ayi – What’s WRONG with Me?!

I do not know what my problem is. I hate having an ayi. I do like coming home on a day I happen to be out all morning and haven’t seen her at all, and I come home and my house is clean. Like magic. And I should be clear that my ayi is a wonderful person. She’s probably as good as it gets. She works hard and fast (the first ayi complained that 4 hours wasn’t enough time to clean the house, and this ayi is done in two and looking for other things to do), and she is kind and doesn’t talk too much. But I still don’t like it. I don’t like that I can do a better job—even though if I took the time to walk her through everything I could eventually get her to do everything how I like it done—and I don’t like feeling so out of touch with my home. I really get satisfaction out of cleaning my house, even though I don’t have a lot of time for it, and I often feel too tired at the end of the night to get it done. When someone else does it, I feel so discombobulated and disconnected from what is going on in my home, and I feel like that affects other areas of my life; of course, having a house that is a disaster even more negatively affects my mood–I should think about that more often.

I think the biggest reason I don’t like having an ayi is just that it feels weird and wrong for me to pay a Chinese person to clean my house, especially a woman who could be my mother. It feels weird, like I’m subjugating her instead of treating her like an equal. But almost as strong as that reason is the fact that I just hate having Chinese people in my house all the time. I have not found a lot of friends here that I would want over all the time. We lucked out with our neighbor because she’s one of the only people who treats us completely normally. I feel bad for feeling this way, because I know not only is it culturally normal for Chinese people to watch us like a zoo exhibit and ask probing questions and tell us when we’re doing things wrong, but of course they’re curious about us, because we’re so different. But I get so much of that outside my house, that I want my home to be a sanctuary from all of that. And the ayi, as sweet as she is, and actually WONDERFUL about not asking questions or giving advice (I need to remind myself of that on a daily basis), just chuckles all the time about all the things the kids do. It’s a real peeve of mine, even with my best Chinese friend, people laughing at things the kids do that just aren’t funny. I feel like it skews the kids’ idea of what is cute and adorable and just encourages annoying behaviors. I want them to have an accurate sense of what is interesting and funny, but it’s kind of hard to figure that out when everyone laughs at everything you do. (Teddy was outside the other day, and he came to sit by me and said, “I want those people to stop laughing at me. It’s not funny. I want to go back to America.” They really rarely express that desire, and I don’t think they really know what that means, except that it’s a different place, and people are more like them. But I think they’ve almost completely forgotten now.)

The other issue is that, of course, she’s not me, and she doesn’t do what I want her to do, and the thought of trying to explain it all to her feels on the one hand, a little degrading for her, and on the other, a big pain in the butt for me with my limited Chinese. If there are any pieces of clothing or linen on the floor, it gets scooped up and washed, every single day. She can’t differentiate between the kids’ favorite blankets and their play costumes, and their actual clothes (add to this the fact that the boys like to throw all their clothes on the floor while searching for something to wear in the mornings, and I can’t always catch it if we rush out the door and she arrives at the same time—we’re working on this habit with the boys). And I can’t figure out what system of logic she is using to figure out where clothing goes. Based on what happens right now, I feel like I’d have to show her each piece of clothing we own and tell her who it belongs to, because she wouldn’t be able to figure out what is classified as boy or girl, man or woman. Yesterday, I found, to my surprise, most of Brian’s underwear in, of all places, his underwear drawer! And I thought, Wow, she figured it out. And then I opened my drawer and found some more of Brian’s underwear. Why would clothes that are exactly the same go in two separate places? (I did ask her not to do the laundry, or, more specifically, I told her not to worry about it, I’d do it, but she’s so fast and efficient and wants to help me out, so she does it herself.) I frequently find his polo shirts folding in the bottom of my closet, though other shirts just like them are hanging in his closet where she can see them, and Piper’s dresses in the boys room, and her (what I think are obviously) girly socks and underwear in their underwear and sock bins, though I’m open to looking at this as a possible culture difference.

Some of the inability to categorize things must just arise from the fact that, as Westerners, we have a lot more crap than Chinese people do. They don’t need compartments for forks, knives and spoons, just a cup to hold some sticks in the kitchen, so of course she’d just toss all the silverware into the drawer. And when she washes the dishes, she just stacks all the cups and bowls and spoons inside each other, and the next day, if I haven’t separated them to dry and put them away myself, she just takes the stacked wet cups from the drying rack and puts them in the cupboard. Because Chinese people just don’t have that many dishes and use them so frequently that there’d be no issue with anything nasty growing inside two cups nested together while wet. This is something I feel hesitant to bring up, though I think after National Holiday I will try, because I’m just tired of going to get a bowl and having water splash out onto my clothes. She also stacks all papers and workbooks on the book shelf with the children’s books, because obviously it’s all in English and she wouldn’t know the difference between a book you read and a book you use for school. I still have to find my favorite navy blue capris that have somehow disappeared, along with both of Teddy’s favorite blankets. At this point it’s been so long it would be pointless to ask her where she thinks they might be.

Seriously, I think I must be one of the most ungrateful, difficult to please people that I just cannot have an ayi and like it. When she’s here, I don’t feel like life can go on naturally, I feel like it’s on hold until she leaves, and it’s not her fault. And she’s been so wonderful and worked so hard and been so flexible in regards to all the animals in the house that I would feel terrible if she didn’t work for us anymore. I just need to figure out how to get used to it. I know I need to do my part, explaining to her the things that drive me crazy, and making a simple plan for the laundry like, if the laundry is in the laundry room, wash it, if it’s not, let me sort through and put what’s dirty in the laundry room and put the rest away (which will hopefully save the boys’ pirate costumes from their daily washing—I’m not sure they can hold on much longer). We’ll probably get used to each other. How many of my friends back home wouldn’t kill to pay someone $250 a month to come to their house every day to clean?


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