SINGAPORE—Two weeks ago, I was stunned to read on ABS-CBN’s website about a yaya who had been named and shamed for abusing a three-month-old child.
The video brought back memories of my son’s first yaya—one we had excitedly hired after having been full-time, full-on parents for two years in London.
Our first yaya was an accounting graduate from a very good university down south. I actually had her vetted and checked out her “sob story,” since I coincidentally knew someone from the school’s administration.
She seemed perfectly fine, until one day I saw black and blue marks on my son’s arms and legs, and noticed that every time I left her with him, he would scream hysterically until I came back.
It turns out she was hurting my son, who had only started to talk, so we thought his “babbling” was just babbling, when really, he was trying to tell us something was very wrong!
I quickly returned her to the agency, but later on, I realized I had done wrong, because what I should have done was to have her sent back to the Philippines.
By signing her transfer form, I had just released her to another poor, unsuspecting parent here, who, in all likelihood, will end up having a bad impression of Filipinos after dealing with her.
My subsequent ones were no better, and mind you, all of them were our fellow Pinoys. My next one was from my dad, and she used us to get a passport, only to go home one week later after threatening to hurt my family if we didn’t put her on the first plane back.
The third one lied to me about her son being drowned in a flood so that we’d give her money.
The fourth one starved my son. (I was working very long hours at the time, so I didn’t notice how emaciated he’d gotten until I looked at photos from that period. I actually let her go because she was quite surly!)
A matter of luck
The fifth and last one was so special, I had to have her deported (she left Singapore kicking and screaming, apparently). This angelic-looking mother of two, the seemingly devoted wife of an unsuspecting farmer, nearly killed my father-in-law, and she turned my home into her brothel, using my electricity and washer/dryer to service the laundry needs of her three foreigner boyfriends, who she’d bring in when we weren’t around. I know, gross, right?
The question that ran through my mind over the two years that I had maid problems was this: How can my kababayan be so bad, especially to us, who are not only their fellow Filipinos, but the people most likely to be understanding if they asked for tulong?
The answer wasn’t a racial one; it was really just a matter of luck.
I now realize that I had just had incredible bad luck with the yayas I’d met and hired, and really, despite our best efforts in interviewing, vetting and trusting our gut, there was no way for us to know what was to befall us—and I guess, this is what happened to the parents of that pitiful little angel, who was swung around like a rag doll by the woman his parents had entrusted with his care.
From what I gather (because Manila is small and we have common friends), her parents had done it all. They checked her out thoroughly. They got all the clearances. They even gave her an assistant, so she wouldn’t get stressed out. And the icing on the cake was that they, at the expense of their own privacy, installed CCTVs all around their house, which was meant to be a deterrent. What else are parents like us supposed to do?
Be thorough. Don’t leave any hiring to chance. Like these parents and like us, do all the checks, even if the yaya is the daughter of your yaya, even if you’ve known the family for decades. There are no guarantees these days. Just because her mother was a great yaya to you doesn’t mean she can or will be one, too.
Times are different now. The yayas of old—like my Ilongga yaya Auring, who cried when I had my first boyfriend and visited me religiously on every birthday until three years ago, when she became too old to do so, or my friend Nicole’s Tata, who was with her since birth, has followed her halfway around the globe, and is more than a second mom to her—saw their jobs as a calling and treated you like their own son or daughter.
The yayas of today, at least from my experience, treat working for us as merely a means to an end, whether it’s to pay their siblings’ tuition, to get work experience to go abroad, or to steal from us when we’re not looking. Trust me when I say that we are only pawns in their end game.
Of course, there are going to be good people who will be in it for the long haul and who will appreciate our kindness and our relationship with them. But those people are few and far between (and I think the number of posts I’ve seen about this bad maid and that are proof of this). So, if they do come into your life, value them and give them even more love, more appreciation and more help. They are gems in a world full of rough stones.
Guarding the innocent
Employ modern technology. As much as I have resisted putting a CCTV in my home, the experience of the family who was victimized showed me how useful one is. While it certainly did not deter their nanny, the damage done could have been much worse if they hadn’t seen the footage in time.
There must be a myriad of reasons God inspired the inventors of CCTVs to make them, and perhaps this is one: to guard the innocent and the unsuspecting from harm.
Also, be strategic. I had a yaya who insisted I call her mobile instead of the landline. Why? So that she could walk without permission to Lucky Plaza on Orchard Road with my son, and I would think she was at home? Precisely!
Be wise to seemingly-innocent comments like, “Ma’am, pwede ho bang tumawag na lang sa cell phone ko?” Don’t fall for it, and she will think twice about breaking the house rules.
Get reviews from other people. As much as we’d like to trust our gut, modern life has sometimes made us either doubt our gut (and pass it off as paranoia), or blinded us to what is otherwise an obvious reality. It is, therefore, a good idea to ask for feedback.
For example, the yaya who starved my son was outed by my grandma’s nurses, who had traveled with her here. They noticed that whenever we went out to dinner and Gabby was left at home, she would just give him cookies. When one nurse asked her why she wasn’t cooking for him, the yaya replied, “I’m on the After Six Diet.”
My grandma’s nurse was dumbfounded, but even then, quite honestly, I did not believe her when she first told me because whenever I’d ask Gabby, he’d say he was full. Yes, full of cookies and all the fat and sugar contained therein. He was eating, but he was really malnourished!
Besides that, I just could not believe that anyone would starve a kid because she was on a diet. Apparently, she could and did, and the photos I looked back on over a year later were proof. By then, of course, she was with another family, likely starving their kids, too!
The yaya I deported had horrible reviews from everyone starting with my mother-in-law, whom she repeatedly lied to about everything, from my regulating the number of times she could change the dish rags (thankfully, my MIL knows how OC I am) to my, check this out, wanting the towels ironed (okay, I’m OC, but not that OC), to the teachers in Gabby’s preschool who would catch her texting and/or talking on her mobile and not being alert while crossing the street.
It was just her bad luck that Gabby’s Chinese teacher walks the same route as we do going to and from school.
When I confronted her about her behavior—and this was after she’d caused my father-in-law to fall and hit his head—she said, and in very clear and confident terms, that she didn’t care, because “Lahat naman naaawa sa amin.”
Not the end of the world
Don’t be afraid to let go. Let’s face it, we’re all afraid to lose our helpers. For working parents, having helpers is a godsend, but really, it’s not the end of the world if we lose them.
After my fifth traumatic yaya experience, I decided not to look for work and go back to being a full-time mom as I was in London. I found that I cleaned faster and more thoroughly than my helpers did, I got the laundry done more efficiently (no mounds of laundry waiting to be folded, as I would do them immediately—and incidentally, this is a good way to cut back on the ironing work), and Gabby was much, much happier having me as his yaya.
Of course, the money was tighter with one less income. But then if I computed how much we were spending on our maid, from her salary, levy (we pay a levy or tax here in Singapore to have a maid), to the additional electricity (especially since the last one was washing all of her BFs’ clothes in our home), not to mention spending on her clothes (we bought her going-out clothes and shoes, aside from providing uniforms), toiletries (we provided everything she needed so her salary was net to her) and food, it came out cheaper for me to just do the work, even if it meant goodbye to movie night with the hubby.
Now, we are a family of four, and yes, I did succumb once more to employing a helper because a good job offer came just as I’d found out I was pregnant. But do you think I have become more trusting or changed my way of thinking? Not in the least.
I am still hyper-vigilant, even if my current yaya is quite nice and good with the kids. I don’t take anything for granted, and I maintain that I am ready, at any time, to leave my job for the sake of my kids. And I’m saying this in a national broadsheet, because even my boss knows my kids always come first!