They’ll Always Need People Like Us

I was initially so resistant to the idea. I knew people did it all the time, but it wasn’t something that I ever grew up seeing or experiencing in my own immigrant family. Lack of personal experience wasn’t the only deterrent, though. I personally just felt really uncomfortable with it. I remember hearing a quote years ago, “I would rather live a life that is closer to the oppressed than to the oppressor.” To give into this felt to me that I was siding more closely with the oppressor, the advantaged, the “haves” rather than the “have nots.” Plus, the overachiever in me felt somewhat ashamed at the thought of it, like it implied I was simply failing to do my own proper duties at home.

The husband had suggested hiring a cleaning lady for one or two days to do an extremely thorough cleaning of our home before the baby came. I knew there were certain things that we honestly never touched, ever since we moved in 1.5 years ago. We never dusted the blinds, never truly scrubbed the shower or the kitchen floor tiles. We did superficial cleanings at best but life always felt hectic and other tasks always took precedence. It just never mattered enough to me to tackle these nitty-gritty, time-consuming chores. It was the nesting-driven need for a clean home, and my current physical limitations despite having all this free time on maternity leave, that finally prompted me to give in.

Friends recommended her, so we had her over to first take a look at our home. She was polite, somewhat shy initially but very personable. Her English was limited but I spoke her native language, which helped put her… well, both of us, a bit more at ease. She complimented our home, and then my husband asked me to ask her about the price. She shrugged somewhat awkwardly and I couldn’t read how she wanted me to proceed. We asked how much our friends paid her, and while I felt they paid her well, I wanted to be extra generous. It is back-breaking work, typically for very little money. I calculated a price per hour that was a few dollars more per hour than what our friends were paying her. I told her a lump sum for two days’ worth, and again, her reaction was hard to read. Was she displeased? Was she trying not to be overly enthusiastic? Did she simply not understand if it was a good price or not? I tried to be confident and relaxed about our offer, but inwardly it was terribly awkward. I felt that the more obvious my discomfort, the more I would actually accentuate the socioeconomic differences, and the more I would insult her as a result.

She came to work on the first day, after taking the bus for 1.5 hours to reach our home. She amazed me with her speed, her diligence, and her level of detail. She came here years ago to give her children in her home country a better life, after their father left her for another woman. She asked for cash, not a check. I did not ask why.

I struggled to sit still in the living room as she cleaned. I felt guilty, even though it was obvious at almost 9 months pregnant that I was simply unable to do much beyond light housework. I was compulsive about trying to find ways to make myself busy. I think I might have insulted her when I tried to start vacuuming a corner that I had not asked her to clean.

It was both a rather complicated and a very simple experience.

It was complicated. There were political, social, economic, cultural, and racial issues that shaped her life, that brought her to our home for this one day. She was my employee for the day and I did not feel comfortable in my position, because she was also my hero, and she was a tremendous blessing.

It was simple. She not only did what she needed to do for herself and her family to survive, but she took pride in her work. When my husband emerged from his office in the late afternoon, she asked, “How do you like my work? I tried to do as much as I could while I was here.” It was simple. She came to do her job, to do it well, and we simply needed to pay her well, treat her respectfully, and say thank-you.

But no. It just wasn’t that simple. I keep thinking of what another immigrant friend said to me when we worked together years ago conducting research in nursing homes. He had been a Certified Nursing Assistant in long-term care facilities for many years, and he worked magic through his compassion and strength with the frail elderly. He took excellent care of them – toileting them, changing them, feeding them, helping them exercise. He commented to me once, “This society, they’ll always need people like us. People who are willing to do the dirty work for cheap. It’s ok. I know that’s just how it is.”

I feel humbled, I feel guilty, I feel both thankful and ashamed to be on the privileged side. It’s as simple as just needing and appreciating help at nine months pregnant. And it’s just not that simple at all.

My Anticipated Undoing

As expected, the main question I get these days in one form or another is, “How are you feeling?” It’s always a hard question to answer because it’s huge, and I’m not completely sure what the person is actually asking. How do I feel, physically, at almost-36-weeks of pregnancy? How do I feel about what’s up ahead, and do you mean labor, parenthood, both or neither? The easy answers can include one or more of the following short responses: I feel big, tired, excited, grateful, uncomfortable but still functional, nervous, surreal, or the best all-encompassing answer, “I’m doing ok”.

I suppose a lot of the answers are generic and obvious for my textbook pregnancy. At 36 weeks of pregnancy, I am physically tired, awkward, and more uncomfortable (putting on socks has never been such WORK!). I am amazed at the continued growth and ever stronger movements of this baby girl inside of me. I am looking forward to the rest and transition that maternity leave will grant before she comes. I am both always wanting to talk about this pregnancy thing and simultaneously a little tired of the talk and attention surrounding it. I suppose these are all the things that most people would expect me to feel and say about how I am doing now.

Labor. Some days, I think, “It’ll be fine. It’ll be hard and painful and all of that but you just keep your eye on the prize, and do what you have to do.” Other days, I imagine all the worst case scenarios coming together. Water breaking in some ridiculously public place, awful drawn-out contractions, difficulty getting the epidural in, pushing until I can push no more, pooping in front of an audience, awful tearing and then both mom and baby in distress. And I think, “OH MY GOD. THIS IS GOING TO BE MY STORY.” The planner in me does not love anticipation of so many unknown factors.

Parenthood. I fully believe people when they say, “You will never experience love like the love you will have for your child.” “It is the best and hardest experience, but worth it all.” “Get ready to be really tired, all the time.” I will only know what they mean when we start to actually walk through it.

Some of the deeper thoughts that I am processing are about what I call my anticipated undoing.

I love having a plan for the day and efficiently checking off the things on my daily to-do list.

I love a neat and orderly home.

I love my own personal quiet time.

I love sleep.

I like…  ok fine, I love having a sense of control.

I love feeling prepared for things that are unfamiliar to me. I like instruction manuals, clear how-to’s, basically ways to help me not feel like I’m failing with something new.

I have ordered my life and habits around these loves for 30+ years. Oh I am about to be undone. I cannot run from it, and my soul knows I need it. But who honestly looks forward to the biggest anticipated undoing of their lives?  It’s coming. Baby Girl, I hope for your sake that I can give you the best of myself when I have been undone. I do believe them when they tell me it is worth it, for you, because of you, and also for my own growth and sanctification in the Lord.

Undo me.

living outside the Amazon jungle

The baby industry in the United States is, not surprisingly, a multi-million dollar industry, and I have made my small contribution to this in recent months as the process of nesting in my home has intensified. I went online to try and figure out the essentials for preparing a home for the arrival of this bundle of joy, and lo and behold, everything is presented to me as an essential. Positive reviews raved, “I couldn’t live without this!” “A must-have for every new mom!” “I wish I had this with my first child!” We are a country obsessed with our things and all the good we believe they will do for us. It’s hard not to get sucked in, to not believe all the hype about the newest developmental toy that will surely launch my child straight into Harvard.

I am grateful for every gift and gadget that our generous friends have given to us. I truly am. I am grateful to be able to afford extras of certain items so that I am not doing endless laundry just because I’ve refused to buy more than one of anything. I am grateful for the first-world luxuries and conveniences afforded to me and my baby, which will hopefully give me one more minute here and there of precious sleep. I understand that living – surviving – as a mother in the 21st century here in Los Angeles, CA is vastly different than living as a mother in a small, quiet village in a developing country.

But I remain unconvinced that my baby actually needs everything the Los Angeles marketplace has to offer her. Amazon.com is endless but her needs are not. I personally certainly do not remember the way my nursery was decorated when I was a wee one, three, six months old. (Was it even decorated at all?) I remember the one little brown towel that I wanted more than any other item in my toy box. And I remember surviving and moving on with life when even that most precious security blanket got lost on a family vacation. I think I turned out ok.

I want my baby to grow up in a home marked by simplicity and contentment with the things we have. Freedom from the need to keep up with the Joneses. I want her to learn about the world such that she is able to distinguish between a first-world problem and a third-world problem at a young age, both externally and internally. She may be raised in Los Angeles, but I don’t want Los Angeles to raise her. I want her to understand that we live in a rather privileged pocket of a very broken world, to know that what God gives to us is meant not to be boasted in, but to be shared. The ads, the peer pressure, the internal insecurities, they will come at her from all angles. But how I pray for a life of joyful freedom for her and for our home. So free me first, God. Free me too.