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.