An Afternoon with the Maid’s kids

To those who know me for a while, my struggle to find some affordable help with the home and Nisarga is no news. For the most part, the options are either too expensive, too disrespectful of kids to be acceptable to me, or unavailable.

Then, last month, my maid had a health problem and wanted to decrease her workload without losing too much income. She knew I was looking for help with Nisarga, and since the two of them get along very well, she knew I would be interested in her spending time with him. However, I couldn’t afford the money she wanted, and she needed that much money to run her home at any cost, including working harder.

Her husband is a carpenter’s assistant and they have two kids and between the two of them, barely manage to make ends meet, even with kids studying in a Municipal school and getting free food, uniform and study materials in addition to free education. With the recession, he wasn’t able to earn as much as he used to, and things were getting expensive.

Two of us… in a similar fix and speaking candidly with each other, we hit a solution. She has started spending an extra hour at my home everyday, doing whatever help I need. Be it with laundry, tidying up, playing with Nisarga, cutting vegetables, getting something from the shop… whatever. One hour.

I am in the habit of offering food or tea or whatever is on hand to guests in the house and I offered them to her as well. After initial hesitations, she was accepting almost daily, unless she was in a hurry. Didn’t refuse a single time because she wasn’t hungry. Soon, as a part of tidying the kitchen, she often asked me if she could take some left overs – since knowing us, we would be unlikely to eat them later. I had no problem with that, of course. I even sometimes made or ordered a little extra, so that there would be something for her when she came. Is that a waste? Maybe. I did it anyway.

She reminded me of my own days transporting constructing materials on horses, when we really hoped that at the end of a hard morning’s work, the client would feed us, because otherwise, it meant another hour at least of getting home, unsaddling, feeding horses, cooking and finally eating in a hurry before letting horses out to graze. While we never asked to be fed, it is no secret that every horseman we knew appreciated it. It was also the money saved for one meal.

Reminded me of when I used to work with Sushma Sharma in Resonate Consulting, where I often ended up leaving the home in a rush without eating, and it was really nice that she often invited me to join her for lunch. I will never forget the caring with which her husband, Raji ALWAYS asked me if I wanted tea and made it and brought it to where I was working. I was family. I felt cared for.

I also remembered Sainath’s lecture on hunger, where he speaks of school teachers asking him to use any influence he has to double the size of Monday’s school meal, because for many kids, that is their first meal since Saturday in school, and the children are not manageable till they get fed. My maid has made no secret of how good it is that her children get fed well in school.

It is no secret that my marriage is going through a rough patch and many have heard my side of the story, but what is my husband’s greatest anger with me? Food. He doesn’t give me money at home, and I make no special efforts to provide food for him – particularly at night. It is petty and spiteful of me, but I justify it because he doesn’t give me money to buy it in the first place. Leaving aside the right and wrong of it, and simply noting the fact for what it is, in the fracture of our marriage, the largest wedge from his side is his wife not feeding him.

How intimately linked food is with well being.

But all these links became a chain in my interaction with the maid. I made sure to store left-overs carefully, even heating them if needed, so that they would stay good for her. She, on the other hand, tried to spend as much spare time as she could with me, so that I could have some company as well as help in the home.

Today, she asked me if she could get her kids to our place and leave them there while she went to another place and worked before coming to spend her time at our place. I was delighted. Nisarga would have company. And remembering Sainath’s story, I made sure the kids had a glass of milk and an omlette and bread snack. The stray thought hit my mind that today was Saturday. The maid said they both had just had lunch and the girls certainly didn’t ask or act over eager, but they had perked up at the idea. They finished every crumb and accepted second helpings after I offered and finished those clean too.

A friend I shared this with was concerned that I would “spoil” them by raising expectations too far. That I was taking on an unaffordable burden by setting precedents of cooking specially for “the maid’s kids”. I don’t think so. In the money I save from ordering out because I simply am not able to cook and do all my fifty things… with the maid’s help, I think I can afford the amount I am paying her and the occasional added food expenses for us all.

When the maid finished the work and came back, she washed the dishes quietly. She cleaned an extra super dirty area in the kitchen, and told me that we would be cleaning the fungus infested dead fridge soon. I was quite glad she was taking the initiative, because frankly, I suck at housework.

When she tried to rope in her elder daughter to help get more work done, I told her it could be done tomorrow, and that I was paying her and not her daughter, and it was unfair to make the child work. She protested that it was a matter of being at home, being family. I told her that when her daughter volunteered, then it would be like that.

Then I made it clear that I don’t believe any sane child would volunteer for housework unless it caught their interest – and that as a people watcher, I can spot that very easily and to not bother to tutor them at home to volunteer. She was a child. If something needed two people, the two of us could do it. And frankly, considering the messes I nurtured, the slow improvement is a plus. The whole world didn’t need to change in a day.

I realized much later that that was her way of trying to do more for me in return, and went back to tell her that what she was already doing was precious and important and no less than what I was doing for her. She told me very quietly, very soberly that I was a very good person. Just before she left for the day. I think she’s pretty damn special too.

Have I created false expectations that will ruin the relationship? I don’t know. I’d rather have this good time for both of us for however long it lasts and find out when we do, rather than begin with an assumption that kindness should be avoided. Will there be problems? Of course. Just wait till the mother-in-law comes to stay and finds a low caste woman acting like our home is her home too! Obviously, for the sake of everyone’s dignity and sanity, we’ll have to take a break on those days.

But otherwise? I think I’ll see her kids more often on weekends. Nisarga will grow to know and like them like he knows and likes the maid.. Maybe we’ll try ice cream next.

Why am I sharing this on the blog? Because I think many of my readers have maids.

Note: I am calling her “the maid” and her kids “kids” instead of their names, because I have not asked them if I may share this and I don’t think she would want her name shared. Not because I call her the maid.

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6 thoughts on “An Afternoon with the Maid’s kids”

  1. Don’t know what to comment as these points are condition based. But do u really….think sharing all this about ur maid n her family has any good for ur maid n her family but may be good for ur thought or internal satisfaction….
    may be…
    with rgds
    Ashok

  2. Don’t know what to comment as these points are condition based. But do u really….think sharing all this about ur maid n her family has any good for ur maid n her family but may be good for ur thought or internal satisfaction….
    may be…
    with rgds
    Ashok

  3. Vidyut-

    I really appreciate the humanity with which you guide your life.  Although the subject is food, the issue is how we choose to conduct ourselves and what impact we wish to have on the world around us.  How easy it is to ignore the personhood of those a little less fortunate than us by focusing on differences rather than focusing on similarities.  Acts of kindness are allowed to be a little self-serving, too, and anyway, treating others kindly always gives us a huge benefit of spiritual elevation. 
    Recently, I had a run-in with someone very dear to me–ostensibly over food.  I ate some hummus out of my girlfriend’s refrigerator and neglected to mention to her that it was gone.  When she wished to have it as a meal, she was really disappointed.  She let me know I am always welcome to share her food, but please tell her what I eat so she can replace it or ask me to.  OK.  The next week, while waiting for my girlfriend to get ready to go out, she asked me to keep her daughter company at the table while she ate dinner.  I also enjoyed a small portion of some left-over food that she had brought home from a restaurant meal I had treated her to a couple of days before. 
    The next day, when we three were returning from an event, my girlfriend looked for the left-over food and noticed that I had eaten some of it.  She was very upset that I had done what in her mind was the same thing twice, and in what in my mind was not.  After all-I had only snacked on a small portion of the leftover–not finished it.  She felt violated and unheard.  This seemed to me to be petty and trivial.  What was the deal? 
    So it was really not about food, but about boundaries and respect.  My girlfriend had set boundaries (which were a little unclear to me) and I had disregarded them–to her, seemingly willfully.  Food became the catalyst for pain and bad feelings, instead of a binding material for caring. 
    It is easy in a land of abundance to forget that food and clean water are scarce in many parts of the world.  America is the only country in which many of the poor are fat.  Yet, almost every holiday across the world is celebrated locally by a festive family meal, whatever the means. Food is a way of expressing freedom, welcoming others, showing love.  It is not just a meal, it is sharing life.

  4. Vidyut-

    I really appreciate the humanity with which you guide your life.  Although the subject is food, the issue is how we choose to conduct ourselves and what impact we wish to have on the world around us.  How easy it is to ignore the personhood of those a little less fortunate than us by focusing on differences rather than focusing on similarities.  Acts of kindness are allowed to be a little self-serving, too, and anyway, treating others kindly always gives us a huge benefit of spiritual elevation. 
    Recently, I had a run-in with someone very dear to me–ostensibly over food.  I ate some hummus out of my girlfriend’s refrigerator and neglected to mention to her that it was gone.  When she wished to have it as a meal, she was really disappointed.  She let me know I am always welcome to share her food, but please tell her what I eat so she can replace it or ask me to.  OK.  The next week, while waiting for my girlfriend to get ready to go out, she asked me to keep her daughter company at the table while she ate dinner.  I also enjoyed a small portion of some left-over food that she had brought home from a restaurant meal I had treated her to a couple of days before. 
    The next day, when we three were returning from an event, my girlfriend looked for the left-over food and noticed that I had eaten some of it.  She was very upset that I had done what in her mind was the same thing twice, and in what in my mind was not.  After all-I had only snacked on a small portion of the leftover–not finished it.  She felt violated and unheard.  This seemed to me to be petty and trivial.  What was the deal? 
    So it was really not about food, but about boundaries and respect.  My girlfriend had set boundaries (which were a little unclear to me) and I had disregarded them–to her, seemingly willfully.  Food became the catalyst for pain and bad feelings, instead of a binding material for caring. 
    It is easy in a land of abundance to forget that food and clean water are scarce in many parts of the world.  America is the only country in which many of the poor are fat.  Yet, almost every holiday across the world is celebrated locally by a festive family meal, whatever the means. Food is a way of expressing freedom, welcoming others, showing love.  It is not just a meal, it is sharing life.

  5. You are doing good & I’d say you ve a nice maid too. now lemme  tell you about our’s
    1.She has a very good knowledge that men must go for low fat milk products, only egg white’s etc.etc. & she tells this again and again to both my mother & wife.
    2.She is aware of child obesity & tell all of us what is wrong  with high fat intake. problem is SHE is over weight & everybody in our house has normal weight.
    3. she is 1st one to tell my wife about sales & biggest sales in the market. if we go for a purchase she never hesitate to ask about my old jackets,denims for her husband.& sometimes i get confused who is this lady when i saw her clad in my wife’s saree/salvaar kameez.
    4.She has an exclusive access over every eatable in kitchen 

    & ofcourse she repeats it again & again how lucky we are who have a maid like her……….

  6. You are doing good & I’d say you ve a nice maid too. now lemme  tell you about our’s
    1.She has a very good knowledge that men must go for low fat milk products, only egg white’s etc.etc. & she tells this again and again to both my mother & wife.
    2.She is aware of child obesity & tell all of us what is wrong  with high fat intake. problem is SHE is over weight & everybody in our house has normal weight.
    3. she is 1st one to tell my wife about sales & biggest sales in the market. if we go for a purchase she never hesitate to ask about my old jackets,denims for her husband.& sometimes i get confused who is this lady when i saw her clad in my wife’s saree/salvaar kameez.
    4.She has an exclusive access over every eatable in kitchen 

    & ofcourse she repeats it again & again how lucky we are who have a maid like her……….

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