A Raging Case of Post-Colonial Guilt With A Side of Socialism
This following sentence is only going to make sense if you are a Rolls Royce douchebag or you live in Asia.
I'm a stay-at-home parent and I hired a nanny.
I know. I know. I know. It sounds ridiculous. And truth be told, I'm kind of embarrassed about the whole thing. Honestly, who do I think I am, some sort of Rolls Royce douchebag?
If you're new around these parts (Hi Deanna's readers!!), I live in Indonesia, in Jakarta to be precise. And here, nannies are ubiquitous. On Saturdays and Sundays, they fill up malls and restaurants, wearing cheap polyester uniforms, a salandang slung over their shoulder. They push strollers, carry sleeping babies, lug bags full of infant accoutrements, and chase children around, forcing them to have just one more bite of food.
Seemingly everyone has a nanny. Or three. Many families have one nanny per child. It's an expectation: in our first weeks here, small-talk would almost always contain an inquiry into our personal staffing situation: "have you found a nanny yet?" To not employ one would be unthinkable, irresponsible, cheap. Just as after school activities, enriching kindermusik classes, and play dates are markers of "good parenting" in North America, in Jakarta so is employing a nanny to wash, dress, and feed your child.
I wavered on the nanny question. Initially I was gung-ho about the idea. Yoga! Work! Writing! Finished projects! Productivity! The ability to cook a meal or wash a sink of dishes without my child totally losing her shit at the fact that I was not paying 100 percent attention to her 100 percent of the time! Yes! Sign me up! Let's live here forever!
And then the sight of a nanny wiping the ass of an overweight 6 year-old forced me to change my tune.
I questioned the morality of descending on another person's country, and paying the locals to do the grunt work that I don't want to do. A lot of expats, and rich Indonesians alike, develop a world view wherein they imagine that their money and objects and privilege of birth owes them respect, deference, and the right to never have to scrub a toilet. An accident of birth gave me white skin, money, and privilege, but there's nothing about me that makes me more worthy of this privilege. (I have a lot of post-colonial guilt, you see).
I worried about my child becoming spoiled, and entitled. I worried about her own sense of superiority and privilege. I fretted about her ordering someone to, "Get me a glass of water! Carry my backpack!" and thinking that this is the way the world works, that it is her birthright to dole out orders, and have her every whim catered for.
I though about my own self becoming spoiled and entitled, comfortable with someone doing all of my own dirty work. I imagined myself totally unable to cope when we eventually one day move back to a place where labour is scarce and wages unpayabale. And even more than that, I worried that I'd develop an inflated sense of value, closing my heart to the humanity of the people who scrub my toilet or drive me to the grocery store.
But I also want my girl to have a relationship to Indonesian culture. I wanted her to learn to speak Basha Indonesia. I wanted her to know and love real people who are from here. A nanny is the fastest ticket to all of these aspirations.
I want to work. Not full time, but I do want some measure of professional achievement, even if my goals are modest. I want to contribute to this family in some monetary fashion, even if in just in a nominal way. I want to take pictures and practice yoga. I want to fill up the parts of myself that were by my time in Japan.
All of this would be impossible, given the hours my husband works, without child care.
I tell myself that we live here, a million miles from family, without any close friends, or even acquaintances whom we've known for more than two months. We're faced with the stress of moving, cultural adjustment, and lack of community. Having a helper around would be a brace that carries the extra stress.
I tell myself that I'd be a good employer. I'd take care of my staff, encourage their development, raise their skill level, pay them well, and in some small way, contribute to a greater good.
But realistically most of this is bullshit. The bottom line is that I can afford to pay for a nanny, and in so doing, improve my quality of life.
Anyway, I agonised about this, I worried about it, and to be honest, I'm still feeling quite guilty. But I hired someone. A lovely girl, who colours with my kid, makes her paper cranes, and tells me about Indonesian folklore.
I think this is the right thing, but, Internet, I'm still plagued with post-colonial guilt. So excuse me while I work this out in public.