Three Cheers for Helpers

It faintly floats across my awareness like a lost siren in the distance. Somewhere in the depths of me I know I should pay attention, but can’t bring myself to care. Then, all at once, my dream world explodes and I’m awake. Reality slaps me in the face like an overwhelming wave crashing on the rocks. I long for low tide when the water will recede and let me catch my breath.

Mom, bless her sweet soul, is on a plane somewhere over the Pacific headed back to her normal life and leaving me to rediscover my normal. For the past month she’s been beside me, first helping with the big boys and spending the last two weeks helping me care for a new baby. I feel her absence as I think of the day ahead. There are two big kids (big, but not big enough) to wake and feed and dress and referee and groom and bundle and swoosh out the door, laundry piling up, meals to plan and prepare, sleeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep…

I snap back awake and there’s no more time for the snooze button. As I rush around shoving snacks into backpacks and trying to locate the missing mitten, Ayi (our house helper) arrives a few minutes before we head out into the sub-zero freezing cold of Northeastern China to catch the school bus.

I miss my mom terribly already, but having Ayi here makes me feel like I just might be able to pull this third kid thing off. Without her, I’d live in constant anxiety that unwashed dishes would spring to life during the deep, dark midnight hour and dance with gremlins who would creep out of our un-scrubbed toilets.

As I wave goodbye to my boys who are now on the school bus, I rush back home hoping to catch a quick nap before the baby wakes up. Sure enough, the very second I jump back in bed, my cell phone begins to ring in my coat pocket at the front door. My amazing mama bear ears really can hear that. I shove my pillow over my head, praying Ayi will ignore it as well. We haven’t spoken yet this morning, but I’m sure she can tell I’ve already had all I can take today. Then–Quiet! The phone stops ringing! My ears feast on the snack of a moment’s peace. But then it starts again, and I ignore it. Once the house phone joins the chorus, I take the final hint and drag myself out of bed, overcome with jealousy of hibernating animals.

It’s the school nurse calling to inform me that my middle child promptly lost his breakfast as soon as he stepped off the bus and needs to be picked up. My mind goes into overdrive and I commence running around the apartment grabbing my scarf, coat, mittens, cash, keys, and phone. I’m about to dash out the door when I realize I need to take the baby. She’s only 2.5 weeks old and she’ll be wailing in hunger any minute now. Ayi is standing at the kitchen sink bewildered by my sudden surge of craziness. I haven’t stopped to explain any of it to her. As the words fly out of my mouth in Chinese, filling her in, my brain shouts in English “Send Ayi!”

Of course! I can send Ayi! I don’t have to haul my post-partum, exhausted shadow of a self and my hungry baby out into the icy abyss to hail a dirty cab and bump down a half-paved road to get to the outskirts of the city to retrieve my sick child. I’ll send Ayi!

She’s more than willing to go. She dearly misses my middle child as she spent all of last year caring for him while I went to language school. Since he’s been going to preschool this year, they haven’t had much quality time together. I shove cash and the address card in her hand as she heads out into the cold and I dive back into bed. Before my head hits the pillow, I hear the baby begin to whimper. Perfect timing.

By the time I finish nursing, burping and diapering the baby, Ayi and my son are home. He looks awful. The dear woman had to carry him on her back up five flights of stairs after he threw up twice on the way home. Thankfully she loves my kid like her own or she’d probably quit after this.

I lay the swaddled baby in the bassinet and help Ayi strip soiled layers off of my little guy. She gets them washing right away as I sit on the floor with him in his room. Before I know it, it’s time to nurse the baby again, then there’s another round with the barf bucket and another change of clothes.

The day continues like this until 2 pm when everything settles. The baby and big kid are both asleep. Ayi goes home (reluctantly, but I assure her that I can handle this mess a few more hours until my husband gets home). Miraculously, I take a little nap and dream of the beach.

—————————————

In the absence of help from family, the kid-hauling, weather-shielding capability of a mini-van, the laundry conquering powers of a clothes dryer, the time-saving amazement of a dishwasher, the convenience of well-stocked super mart and the practicality of life in my own country and culture, I am so thankful to have the help of an Ayi. This woman who does an untranslatable job, daily serving my family as we live and serve here in China is worth her weight in gold. I share this story in her honor.

I sometimes keep these stories to myself (there are so many of them involving heroine Ayis saving the day by grocery shopping, meal cooking, laundry hanging, veggie chopping, train ticket buying, taxi arranging, babysitting, kid entertaining and just plain being there) as they have the potential to put us up against critics who balk at the idea of having house help.

Today, I want to invite you to share those stories you’ve tucked away, fearful they’ll expose your desperate need for help in the foreign place where you live. Let’s give three cheers for the helpers (whether it’s a paid house helper, an unpaid in-law, a helpful neighbor, a teacher’s aide, a secretary, a devoted spouse, etc.) God has so generously placed in our lives.

Photo Credit: Parker Knight via Compfight cc

27 Comments

  1. Elizabeth January 25, 2015

    Yes! My house helper allows me to actually get the home school work done! I couldn’t do it without her. Either I’d be doing housework all day, or the house would be filthy . . .neither of which is a great solution.

    1. M'Lynn January 27, 2015

      You raise a good point, Elizabeth. “I couldn’t do it without her.” I hear ya! I could, perhaps. But, I don’t want to! haha. For me, being able to have help at home is definitely one of the perks of living here.

  2. Kim January 26, 2015

    This post brought back memories of our year in Africa. Another positive of having house help: it was Mama Daisy who taught me proper Ugandan etiquette or I’d have made even more blunders than I did (which was plenty). It felt awkward to have house help (and yard help) but in that culture, if you did not, everyone assumed you thought you were too good to hire the locals. Plus it would have been impossible for me to do everything by myself. Not just difficult, but impossible. We were a bit unusual in that our helpers only came weekday mornings, but that was enough for us. Mama Daisy dusted and mopped (we lived in the bush, no screens and windows wide open all day), and prepared our lunch (usually our main meal of the day). Christopher scythed the large lawn, and by the time he’d worked his way through the whole yard, it was time to start over again. ha! We also had Cici, who came each weekday morning to do laundry. Without electricity, clothes had to be washed by hand. Because of mango flies, everything (even underclothes) had to be ironed — which involved started a small coal fire to keep the heavy coal iron hot. I was thankful for such great helpers who also became friends. And the source of many stories and wonderful memories. One time Christopher misunderstood my husband and sprayed the corn in our garden with flea medicine for dogs. Mama Daisy taught our daughter how to make pie crust and peanut chicken. I could go on and on… Without their help I would not have had time to homeschool our daughter, or anything else for that matter. Now we live in a small city in Argentina, where only the well-to-do have house help. But here I don’t need it. We live in a tiny 395 square foot, two-room house and have screens on the windows, running water and a washing machine. I do stay busy every morning with housework and laundry, but it’s not overwhelming like it would have been in Uganda, had I tried to do it myself.

    1. M'Lynn January 26, 2015

      Kim,

      This is a neat look into the nitty gritty of everyday life in Uganda. Thanks for pointing out that if you had tried to do it all on your own it would’ve been impossible. I also like your point that your willingness to work with locals in your own home said a lot about your family to your surrounding community. Now, I’m giving three cheers to you for doing the housework on your own in Argentina! ūüôā

  3. Marilyn January 26, 2015

    I love this post. I delivered 5 babies on three continents. In Pakistan I had Rehmet and in Egypt I had Faiza and Busina at different times. They became my best friends, my tea drinking partners, my go-tos. To this day I feel teary thinking about them. They gave to our flawed, sometimes arrogant family, and accepted us with such grace. I learned about their families, their communities, their lives, their struggles. And they saw mine in living color – actually virtual reality. I am so grateful for these women and long for the day I can sit down again with them. Thank you for sharing this part of living overseas.

    1. M'Lynn January 27, 2015

      Marilyn, Having a local in my home everyday and conversing with her in the local language really has given me an insight into the culture and the city that I couldn’t have gotten anywhere else. That is a huge blessing! Thanks for that reminder. And, yes. You said it! She does get to see us live our lives up close and personal. Yikes. I’m thankful we can both give each other grace on our “off” days!

  4. Melanie Ewert January 26, 2015

    My Ayi’s name is Kamela. ¬†She speaks about 10 English words. ¬†I speak 10 Nepali. ¬†But her love for my baby girl transcends language and culture. God uses her to¬†enable us to love Nepal. ¬†Three cheers to Kamela Didi … who hand washes our laundry, mops our filthy floors, and plays with my sweet girl!!

    1. M'Lynn January 27, 2015

      “God uses her to enable us to love Nepal.” I love this, Melanie!¬†It’s like she has given a face to the people there. A real life, a real person right in front of you to love and live life with.

  5. Jennifer January 26, 2015

    Thank you for a great post! It is not easy for any of us to say “I need help” or even to accept help freely offered to us. I am slowly learning the longer I live here in China though that often it is when we stop trying to be strong enough to do it alone or even are simply prepared to accept the help and support offered to us that we actually really begin to build real relationships and break down the barriers we all to often have in place even without really realizing it or being conscious of it.

    1. M'Lynn January 27, 2015

      Jennifer, that’s so true! I’ve found time and time again that asking for help is a way to deepen relationships. I’m glad you got to meet Ayi in person!

      1. Jennifer January 27, 2015

        I too am very happy I got to meet her in person. She is every bit as you describe and more. As I see it, it also frees you to focus on the things which are most important, while at the same time giving her the opportunities to use the gifts which she has. It is very much a win-win for both of you. The same idea is clear in the stories many others have shared. I think we all need to both be more open to accepting help from others, in whatever form that is, and to sharing the things which help us, our stories.

  6. Melissa Toews January 26, 2015

    I love this post. We’re on furlough in the States from West Africa and I’m missing my housekeeper terribly! Even with all the conveniences here, with two very busy little boys I could use the extra pair of hands! I miss the daily companionship as well. Three cheers for our Madame Salome!

    1. M'Lynn January 27, 2015

      Melissa, I’ve had a season with two very busy little boys! What fun…and what a mess! Now I’ve got a very busy little girl on my hands. It amazes me how fast a toddler can tear the house apart. I hope you have a great furlough and find yourself ready to go again when the time comes. Every summer while we’re visiting the good ‘ole USA I bask in the convenience of doing the entire family’s laundry in just a couple of hours…start to finish! I find myself actually enjoying folding warm clothes right out of the dryer, and marveling at the way some of them have found their true form again, relieved from the crazy stretching and pulling of my washer here. Soak it up!

  7. Monica January 26, 2015

    I read this: ¬†“This woman who does an untranslatable job, daily serving my family as we live and serve here in China is worth her weight in gold. I share this story in her honor.”

    And then I cried. ¬†I miss our Ayi so much. ¬†When we moved to a village area in China, we prayed for the perfect ‘helper’ in our home. ¬†It took three years to find a ‘gem’ and we have been so blessed by her. ¬†When we left China last summer for our Sabbatical year- we were all a mess crying (how was I going to do life without her?). ¬†She was always there for us- sick kids, last minute work schedule changes, and all of the unexpectedness that comes with life. ¬†About 3 weeks after my kids started school this Fall (their first time going to school in the States), my son said, “Mom, I really miss Ayi walking me to school everyday.” ¬†Thankfully he was able to share that with her over Skype a few days later when we skyped in with our team mates, and our Ayi was at their apartment. ¬†My sweet 11 year old who has attended local Chinese school since he was four, had a mini-breakdown as he told her, in tears, how much he missed her and wished she could take him to school. ¬†I’m so thankful for our dear friend, our Ayi, who has made our lives overseas so much richer and easier. ¬†I absolutely love today’s Post! ¬†Thank you!

    1. M'Lynn January 27, 2015

      Monica, this is so sweet. Thanks for sharing! I, too have been so blessed by Ayi as an answer to prayer when moving to a new place. I love sharing that when people ask how in the world I found such a great woman to help us here. Your comment also reminded not to take my little walks to the school bus with my boys for granted. I’m touched that your son missed that little part of his day with Ayi!

  8. T January 26, 2015

    I have a househelper that I love, as well.¬† But, reading the prompt led me to remember years ago when a local friend helped me in a crisis time.¬† She wasn’t a believer at that time, but she loved me and my son.¬† We returned from a summer in the USA to find our apartment had been robbed by druggies.¬† My friend took my son out in the stroller for a walk (and doubtless to buy him candy!) and I was able to sweep the floor and mourn that our house had been invaded.¬† That is the picture in my head, me sweeping and getting a moment to myself (I think I was pregnant then, too, oh! and my husband had sprained his ankle and gotten a hematoma–was that all really happening then?!?!!!).¬† That 35 minutes was such a huge blessing to me!

    1. M'Lynn January 27, 2015

      I’m blessed to hear how HE provided exactly what you needed exactly when you needed it in the form of a friend willing and able to help! When I think of all the things that could happen, I’m reminded that God is always ready with angels on hand…and help can come from of the most surprising people and places.

  9. Ashley Felder January 26, 2015

    Yes! I, too, am shy to share about our helpers. You described why we¬†need them perfectly! The 2 we’ve had in the past are gems, and even better, both Sisters. I usually have mine watch the kiddos as I go grocery shopping (weekly) kid-free! I often pick up an ice cream cone from McD’s (no matter the season) as a treat that I don’t have to share. Sadly, our next city doesn’t have a network of ayis set up. I haven’t actually let my mind go there yet…no help?! I just might crumble. Here’s to finding one and training her!

    1. M'Lynn January 27, 2015

      Ashley, Our helper we have here now is not an Ayi by trade. She’s a Sister and heard of a family moving in (us) who needed someone to help at home and she needed work. We’d been praying to find the right person for months. God worked it out perfectly, and two and a half years later she’s still with us! Hope to hear a similar story from you soon ūüôā

  10. Paula January 26, 2015

    You said this so well. ¬†I rarely talk about our helpers here to those back home, but they are such a huge part of our life. ¬†Our ayah is a Sister too, and besides her help, I really appreciate having her companionship each day. ¬†She has accepted, served, and loved us so well, and as we prepare to move back to the U.S. within a few months, I am dreading leaving her. ¬†Yes, I will miss the help, but I told my husband I am also going to be much lonelier during the day! ¬†I don’t even want to think about how much my daughter will miss her.

    1. M'Lynn January 27, 2015

      Paula,¬†I was just talking to a friend about the fact we keep our Ayi stories tucked away when in America, mostly because there’s just nothing quite like it in our culture that people can really understand without experiencing it here. I love that my parents and my in-laws have both visited and seen our helper situation first hand. They, too became friends with our helper and often ask how she’s doing.

      The companionship aspect has been brought up a lot in these comments. I totally agree. Having a helper is great language practice, too!

  11. M'Lynn January 26, 2015

    I just want to say to each of you who commented: thank you for throwing open a window to your life and letting us peek in. I’ve been so blessed by your stories and cheers for your helpers! I’ve been excited to share this glimpse of my life, but I had no idea you would join in so eagerly.

  12. Lydia January 27, 2015

    I am thankful for my husband, who is willing to help me with any of the housework we have to do. We live in a culture where that isn’t normal and where the women keep their homes spotless. My first year here, which has also been my first year of marriage, is almost done and it’s been a struggle to keep everything going – so much that I’ve sometimes wished to have children right away so that it would be culturally “ok” for me to hire some help for the house. I imagine the mamas out there are laughing right now. Don’t worry, I know that really wouldn’t end up any easier! It is not expensive here to hire someone to help and in the culture cleaning houses is a respectable job for a woman, but on the flipside it’s also the responsibility of the new bride to take care of the house. Hiring someone would look extravagant… so I will keep on helping my husband in ministry; teaching English; learning the language here; trying to stay spiritually and mentally healthy; doing most of the shopping, cooking, and cleaning; and being thankful for my husband who will come to my rescue when I’m panicking because the house is a mess and we’re expecting visitors.

    1. M'Lynn January 27, 2015

      Lydia, This brings me back to my first year in China. My husband and I were in our second year of marriage. I didn’t know the first thing about cooking from scratch, and my other cooking specialties were burnt garlic toast, spaghetti and pancakes!¬†Our schedule was packed with classes and team events and language study. We didn’t have the energy to figure out cooking or really care what the apartment looked like on a daily basis! We’d run around like crazy gathering dust bunnies right before students were due to visit. Thankfully, there was no cultural expectation placed on me to be the super housewife and make everything sparkle. I don’t think I would hold up well under that kind of pressure!!! I remember my husband and I often said “we need a house mom!!!” and we didn’t have kids. We needed someone to help take care of us! All this to say, I hope you can continue to endure the cultural expectations of “new wife” there. I hear ya when you say you’re looking forward to having help! (can you sneak someone in the back door when the other housewives aren’t looking???) haha. Hooray for your helpful and understanding husband!

  13. Stephanie January 27, 2015

    Six years in China and I loved my ayi so much!

    As a single woman, my experience a bit different.¬† We didn’t see each other very often.¬† She came for two half days each week, but of course, I was teaching at school during those times.¬† She would cook, clean, do my laundry.¬† In my first year, it was so helpful as I was adjusting to life on my own and in China.¬† As the years went along, it was still great because it allowed me to spend my time doing things other than dusting my apartment!¬† And she was amazing when I moved apartments!¬† She has a daughter just a few months older than me and I think we both connected to that mother/daughter aspect.

    When I had a day off or got home early, we would chat about life.  I would practice my Chinese, showing her pictures of my nephew, then my nieces after they were born.  We giggled about first haircuts and universal baby milestones.

    Between year one and two, my parents and two of my siblings came to visit.  She made jiaozi (dumplings) with us.  It was fun to sit around the dining room table together.  I think she wrapped as many jiaozi as the five of us combined, and once they were cooked, we all searched for hers!

    This is another one of my favorite ayi stories, also from that first summer in China and copied from an old blog…

    I had heard that many of the ayis knew how to make tortillas. Unfortunately, I didn’t know the word for tortilla in Chinese. To this day, I still don’t. What can a girl do but attempt to describe it with her limited Chinese and gestures.

    “Make bread?”
    Gesture like a circle.

    “No, no, not that.”
    Gesture like it’s flat.

    “Not pizza. Umm…”
    Add some more gestures.

    “You put meat in it.”
    Gesture like folding something and then eating it.

    And then my ayi replied “Taco?”

    Yes, not only did my helper know how to make tortillas, she knew the word “taco.”

  14. Brittany January 27, 2015

    All you ladies are making me slightly jealous of the fact that people don’t have house helpers here! ¬†It’s not culturally acceptable. ¬†Families are very tight knit here and even the church doesn’t help when a need arises. ¬†It’s the family’s responsibility. ¬†(How sad, right?!) ¬†We live in a city where there’s not much of a sense of community, though I do have a few friends I’ve been able to turn to for help (like when my car got towed or when I needed to take my visiting mother to the ER). ¬†But not for the daily dumb stuff. ¬†We are hoping to move to a rural village within the next year where we already have built a bit of a community (but they are over an hour from where we live right now, so not available for practical help). ¬†I’m hoping that once we live in the community, we’ll have the “help” that we need with our kids, gardening, and other way-of-life kind of things here. ¬†ūüôā

    However, I must say, though we don’t get any kind of house help from locals, my husband has been a ROCK STAR. ¬†This has truly been a team effort. ¬†We both go to language school at the same time and then we work together to keep the home functioning and our kiddos cared for. ¬†If he was already in full-time ministry and I was home alone all day with the kids, I think we would have already been on a plane back to the U.S.!

  15. Jamie June 4, 2021

    We have been so grateful for the help we have had in the different countries and cities we have lived. They have become like family and my kids missed our first helper so much once we moved to a new country. It has also been a blessing to minister to someone who is not a believer and we got to talk about so many topics while life alongside one another. Having help in our home has allowed me to get the rest I need and not have to stay up late after the kids are in bed to wash dishes and mop floors, allowing e to be more mentally and emotionally stable the next day as we live out life in a different culture. Having a wonderful, trustworthy helper also allows me to be more present with my kids and support my husband and not stress (as much) about a never ending to do list. Our helpers have been a companion, life-saver, friend, and taught us many things about the culture and language in our host country!

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