Hello, Good-bye… the highs & lows of domestic help

Last night, we sent Sol, our maid of over 2 years, to the airport. I couldn’t help feeling sad, for here is another relationship forged and now sundered. We all stayed strong and gave Sol words of encouragement and reassurance as she was already having a hard time holding it all together. Zibin pointed out quietly to me as we watched her break down in my mother’s arms, such good-bye’s are all the harder because we probably would never meet again.

I believe that John and my mother would miss her more. After all, they have lived with Sol everyday for the past 2 years, and have had a certainly turbulent relationship. Though our family started having domestic help (and my grandmother’s insistence) when I was 2 years old, Sol was our first maid from the Philippines. It took us quite a while to get used to her. She was strong-headed, stubborn, opinionated, insensitive to social decorum and very emotionally high-maintenance. Seriously. She would interrupt us when we were talking, insist on my mom helping her with baking whenever she felt like it, and sulk and whine when she did not get the attention she wanted. There was a time when she drove all of us up the wall and we were very keen to send her back.

But my mother kept her on because, in her words, she felt that God had a reason for sending Sol into our family. And whenever we complained to her about Sol, my mom would tell us that when she (i.e. my mother) got hopping mad at Sol and felt like firing her, she would pause and wonder if God was trying to show her something about herself. Her conviction that God’s purpose had not yet been fulfilled in this matter kept her going, trying again and again to teach Sol as she would her own child (for Sol was very spoiled by her own family).

Finally, in August, my mother told Sol that maybe it was best to send her back to the Philippines because nobody was happy, and it seemed like there was nothing more anybody could do. Sol agreed and was actually quite receptive about leaving. Ironically, that was the turning point. Perhaps because it is human to take things for granted until you know you’re about to lose it, but suddenly Sol completely turned around. She became quite the model maid, and in the last 3 plus months, accomplished more than she had in the last year! She made it her own goal to help my mom clean the house in every corner and to help clear out years of junk, and I think they succeeded in that goal. In the end, as part of her reward, she was able to ship off boxes of our used clothes and other knick-knacks for her family and to sell for capital in her future business venture.

As the past few months went by, Sol became happier and happier with her work even though she’s never worked as hard before. We got happier with her too, and I think both parties started to think that perhaps we could change our mind and have her stay on longer. Just at this point, Sol’s elderly father had an accident and became paralyzed, and she had to leave to tend to her father. It was quite heart-rending to see her the last month or so as whenever she thought about having to leave, she would cry. Her dilemma was that she knew she had to return to help her siblings take care of her father, but she really wished to stay on and help take care of my mother too. Even with the tension and quarrels in our home, she had come to see us as her family, and my mother as her mother.

Yet, we knew this farewell had to happen. For me, seeing the positive change in her and how wonderfully she was doing her work and taking care of my mom just made me all the more certain that it was time for her to leave. For isn’t this often how life works? While we’re still struggling to learn a lesson, we are made to stay no matter how uncomfortable we are. Even if we choose to run away, we’d be unhappy. But when a lesson is finally learned and things become smooth-sailing, it is often a sign that it is time to move on to newer lessons.

At Sol’s departure I think my mother’s loss is the greatest, for she’s not only lost a maid, but a companion and a student as well. It happens every time. Maids usually arrive in our home with precious little skill (most don’t know how to cook at all, and have little idea how to be as organized and efficient as my mom likes) but leave us armed with a whole arsenal. My mom always makes it a point to teach them not just skills, but financial planning. Previous maids had returned to their hometowns and become landowners and started businesses. Sol, with her newly discovered passion in baking, has a dream to set up her own bakery or café one day.

The entire process of training a maid is long and arduous. My mother’s amazing patience and pedagogical skills were really stretched with Sol (Sol is the first maid I have ever heard my mom scold in a raised voice). I know my mom isn’t exactly looking forward to having to train a new maid from scratch again, but she has accepted it, just as she had accepted that it was time for Sol to leave. In my mom’s heart, everything moves by God’s timing, and if God thinks it’s time to put a new maid in her life, then it’s for the best.

When I was little, I never fully understood just how much effort my mother puts into teaching our maids. In our home, our maids aren’t just trained to be better maids, but to be better persons. With Sol, who was Catholic, my mom also became her spiritual mentor and guide, just as she was mine when I was growing up. I am old enough now to appreciate just how much love and patience my mom puts into teaching our maids, and how she saw each of them as a child of God for whom she, as employer, was responsible.

A new maid is supposed to arrive today at my mom’s place. Another cycle will begin. What will this maid be like? What joys or tribulations with she bring? I believe my mom is meeting it all with faith and hope, and, even before meeting her, love.

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