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Close encounters with the maid kind

Close encounters with the maid kind Family life as we know it Milestones and growing up The Kao Kids

No more maid woes (for now) – phew!

May 19, 2014

Life’s back to normal at last.

We’ve been without live-in help for 3 weeks and let’s just say, although it’s a good thing to be hands-on once in a while and do everything ourselves, there are mundane chores that can be outsourced so that time can be better spent doing more meaningful things. Afterall, what’s the use of folding clothes for the third time in the day with the kids, and having to re-fold what you tasked them to do because they still can’t do the folding properly just yet?

These 3 weeks have been nothing but exhausting. It’s not so much of the chores, if I come to think of it, it’s more of having to put up with the whining, the sticking (these are clingy children sometimes) and constant quibbling with NO ONE in the day to share your load.

I was supposed to be only maid-less for about a week, but something happened to the domestic helper who came recommended. She chickened out at the medical examination back in her home country; I heard she grabbed her suitcase and was never heard of again. So much for having cold feet.

After receiving this bad news, I looked through a couple more bio datas and interviewed some promising ones only to be rejected in my face. These days, for help that comes from a particular nationality, they choose you instead of vice versa. I seem to fall into the category of being the worst in the lot: three young children, no maid room to offer, employer (that is me) stays home (and so can watch her like a hawk); that plus I also requested that the helper be compensated for off days for the first year which made the search even trickier. Fatherkao was joking that we’d probably get people willing to work for us when our youngest turns 7, when we move to a landed property and when I return to a full-time job.


So after some time of praying and hoping, someone finally agreed to come, and we were more than happy to have her. Our present domestic helper came last week and I am glad to say, she’s a great extension of my hands and feet. She came and cleaned and the last I know, everything from the kitchen larder to book shelves and toy boxes have been sorted and organised. There are no more communication breakdowns and I don’t have to teach her to do anything (she can read instruction manuals, labels, and knows how to operate appliances, thank God!). She can practically run the household now, and can even have conversations with the children and read them story books. Becks has been waking up early to be with her, asking her to tie her hair and reading her her princess stories, and although I have to share my children’s love with someone else now, it’s great to be doing my own things once in a while.

So excuse me while I go sip some coffee. I’ve been gulping my cuppas down for 3 weeks and it’s nice to be finally tasting my lattes.

Life just got better.

Life is good

Close encounters with the maid kind Family life as we know it I ♥ lists The Kao Kids The real supermom Thunderstorm days

3 lists, 30 things, 7 days

May 6, 2014

It’s Day 7 since I sent the helper back to the agency after she demonstrated how weak-willed and unwilling to work she was. It’s the longest I’ve ever been without a helper since I’ve had three kids, and it’s going to be this way a while more at least.

There’s just one word to describe it all.


On the brighter side of things, I now have a list of 10 things I never really say but now say so very often, 10 things I’ve discovered since maid-less, and 10 things I am eternally grateful for. I’m exhausted, but that ain’t gonna stop me from making lists, and more lists.


10 things I never really say, but say so often now:

1. “I’m ONLY ONE person now, kids. So please (fill in the blanks).” Usually it’s “cooperate”, “do it yourself”, “help me out here” or “follow instructions quickly”.

2. “Do I look like I’ve got an extra pair of hands or legs?” This is usually in response to the kids making requests like finding a lost toy or picking a book off a shelf they can’t reach – and always at a time when I am unavailable to help. I now make them solve their problems – by taking a stool, using a torch, and getting help from the other siblings.

3. “My back is breaking.” Self-explanatory. Said whenever I feel my back is breaking. Which is very often.

4. “Seriously. Like seriously.” Said whenever the kids start fighting for my attention or squabble amongst themselves whenever I am at my busiest.

5. “Sorry I can’t sayang / hug / cuddle / kiss you now. My hands are full of soap.” The kids always seem to have a boo-boo for me to kiss whenever I am washing the dishes.

6. “Can you please wait? I can only do one thing at a time.” I can’t dry three wet kids at the same time but it’s always the same time they want to get out of the bath. And they get really upset who gets to be towel-dried first.

7. “Want to watch TV?” I usually never offer much but ever since we became maid-less… It was something that had to be so that I can cook / hang the laundry / do the dishes / wash the toilets. SIGH.

8. “Aunties are a privilege. Now no Aunty so please do it yourself.” Said to the kids whenever they revert to suddenly not being able to do what they can do on their own and asking for help, like wearing their socks and shoes and bringing things back to the kitchen.

9. “Too bad! No Aunty!” Said as a taunt after #8 and when a tantrum is thrown for not getting help.

10. “Are you going to give me problems? Are you seriously going to give me problems now?!” This can be said in an exasperated tone, in a furious manner or in a totally resigned style when the kids start to act up or refuse to do the things as they are told.


10 things I discovered, since going maid-less:

1. If children don’t test boundaries, they won’t be children.

2. If children don’t make a mess, they won’t be children.

3. If children can learn instinctively how to clean up, sort and organise, they won’t be children.

4. That children CAN be taught to clean up, sort and organise, and they HAVE TO BE taught; and this ability comes with age and a sense of responsibility.

5. That Ben is as OCD as I am, and I can always count on him to pack in the OCD way I’ve trained him to.

6. That going on all fours to mop to the house with a cloth and a pail of water is faster than using the vacuum cleaner and then the mop.

7. That it’s OK to wash the children’s laundry together with ours.

8. That if I told the children I’m gonna be turning into a monster they would do as quickly as they are told.

9. That the children can watch Frozen or Lego Star Wars: The Movie again and again, and be completely engaged even if it’s their 18th time watching it because they are really watching it to repeat the lines after each character.

Although I don't agree with the "No right, no wrong, no rules for me - Let it go" and some other parts of the lyrics of the song, the kids love, love, love this movie. Especially Becks.

Although I don’t agree with the “No right, no wrong, no rules for me – Let it go!” and some other parts of the lyrics, the kids love, love, love this movie and the theme song. Especially Becks.

10. That even if Frozen or Lego Star Wars: The Movie is on, the littlest will still come and hug my legs and not give me a break; either that or he will be up to some mischief somewhere in the house, like wetting tissue papers at the basin, flipping his (cloth) “roti prata” up the ceiling or colouring the switches in the house with crayons. Why am I not surprised. The most he can sit through is the ‘Let It Go’ song.


10 things I am eternally grateful for…

1. Forgiving and accepting children, whom I can always count on to remind me not to yell.

2. Helpful children who will try to help out as much as they can.

There's clean clothes to fold every single day, and on most days the kids are enthusiastic

There’s clean clothes to fold every single day, and on most days the kids are enthusiastic

3. The husband, who’s a solid rock for the family and me, and who would gamely whip up a three-course dinner in a stuffy kitchen complete with jazz music and a glass of red, and then help to clean up and put the kitchen back in order.

The photo on the left had 113 likes after I shared how this man would cook a meal, do everything and still smile at the camera. I would've bitten everyone's head off if they stepped into the kitchen if it were me.

The photo on the left had 113 likes on FB after I shared how this man would cook a meal, do everything and still smile for the camera. I would’ve bitten everyone’s head off if they stepped into the kitchen if it were me.

4. Kitchen appliances that help automate processes and simplify things. I officially love our bread machine, washing machine, Espresso machine, microwave and Philips Airfryer on a whole new level now.

5. This contraption from Tupperware (whoever who gave me this gift, bless your soul!) that allows me to dice my garlic and shallots in 30 seconds which I can store and keep in the fridge for later use. You know how troublesome it is with Chinese cooking, with all the garlic, shallots, ginger and all.

It's a spinning dicer of sorts and it's small, handy and easy to clean!

It’s a spinning dicer of sorts and it’s small, handy and easy to clean!

6. Supplements that give me a little extra ounce of energy and makes me feel more recharged every morning.

I used to never take any supplements but now I'm liking what I'm taking (from L to R): I'm getting sponsored to try out Forever Living's Arctic Sea; Focus Point (by Root King) from my MIL who insists that I take these for my brain and cholesterol; Longevity from YL which lets me swallow Frankincense, Clove & Orange in a capsule; and a Multivitamin from Nature's Way which the husband makes me take

I used to never take any supplements but now I’m liking what I’m taking (from L to R): I’m getting sponsored to try out Forever Living’s Arctic Sea; Focus Point (by Root King) from my MIL who insists that I take these for my brain and cholesterol; Longevity from YL which lets me swallow Frankincense, Clove & Orange oil in a capsule; and a multivitamin from Nature’s Way which the husband makes me take

7. This wonderful invention called the jigsaw puzzle which keeps the kids engaged for at least 10 minutes. A few minutes of silence is always a good thing.

Thank God for jigsaws!

Thank God for jigsaws!

8. Educational resources like these which I use to keep kids occupied and improvise for our homelearning (no time to create and make new things!): flashcards, magnetic word and shape strips, counters and activity books with colouring, mazes and word search.

I buy at a sale and keep these in my stash. Very handy indeed.

I buy at a sale and keep these in my stash. Very handy indeed.

And these 3 for $10 activity books are great value-for-money and lets the kids go gadget-free while waiting for their food outside

And these 3 for $10 activity books are great value-for-money and let the kids go gadget-free while waiting for their food outside

9. Community libraries all over Singapore. We can always pop in one of those in the day to escape from the sweltering heat, nestle into one of those comfy couches and read away.

Hanging out at the library

Hanging out at the library

10. Young Living’s ‘Peace and Calming’ Essential Oil. This blend magically calms me down and helps me unwind. At first it smelled really strange. But then I grew to like it so much I need it to help me sleep. And I sleep very well because of it.

YL Peace and Calming EO

Also linking up with Mum in the Making‘s Thankful Tuesdays:

Close encounters with the maid kind Family life as we know it Milestones and growing up Re: learning and child training The Kao Kids The real supermom Thunderstorm days

An unexpected trickle of happiness (nope, not because the new maid is here)

May 2, 2014

I’m bone tired and beyond exhausted, but you know what?

I’m actually very, very happy.

I’ll tell you why I’m happy. First reason.

My kids. It’s beginning to look like they are going to be well-trained.

The new helper was sent back a few days ago, and other than witnessing on the same day their mother morphing into a monster and militant ready for combat right before their eyes – complete with aggressive hollering, arms flailing and the crazy quivering; oh yes, and the often sung refrain at 140 decibels equivalent to a jet plane take-off “I AM ONLY ONE PERSON, THERE’S NO MORE AUNTY OK!”, the kids are pretty much well-adjusted to the fact that there’s only one pair of adult hands, eyes and feet in the day, at least before their father returns.

I think that seeing me react so violently under the stress of suddenly needing to handle everything alone from the moment we wake till the minute everyone hits the sack made Ben and Becks realise that things can’t be what they used to be any more.

The afternoon the helper left, we came home and I started putting things in order. I tidied up, I bathed them, I gave instructions clearly and I prepared dinner. Then we had dinner – and they had to eat every single thing I cooked with no complaints, I washed the dishes, prepped everything ready for school the next day, cleaned them up and tucked them in bed. Things didn’t go smoothly, of course. Nat stuck a Yakult straw in his ear. Someone left the tap running while I got busy. Becks left some pee on the toilet seat. Ben splashed water everywhere showering himself. They made faces at the meal I cooked. Crayons were strewn all over the living room floor. My legs were hugged while I was stir-frying. Nat begged to be nursed while kitchen fumes filled the house. Becks whined for an apple while I was chopping garlic. Nat tried to reach for knives. I could list 50 more things that happened but I don’t want to bore. Basically just three words: the kids happened.

But in the midst of the chaos, the kids happened! Ben took on his role as big brother readily and (sometimes) helped me watch and distract the mischievous littlest. They asked how they could help and by the end of the day we were all at the sink, with me doing the washing and the kids drying the plates and cutlery. All three of them, yes! They promised to help more. They offered to make less of a mess when they played or coloured or drew. They agreed to respond quickly to my commands so that I don’t have to turn into something ugly and start yelling.

By the second day, they were offering help in every way – from folding the clothes to picking up eraser dust and handing me the clothes pegs. They moved quickly when I called, got ready for school without needing help with socks and shoes. They carried their bags and heavy water bottles with no whining, and brought everything back to the sink whenever they were done with drinking and eating. We cleaned up in record time – Lego blocks were picked up and sorted, books were returned to the shelves and crayons back in the basket on the easel.

A mountain to conquer!

We conquered mountains (of clothes) together

When we headed out, they held hands and told me not to worry.

The car was at the mechanic and we were bus-ing to school - and this happened!

The car was at the mechanic and we were bus-ing to school – and this happened!

Can somebody first give me a pat on the back before applauding for these kids?

I’ll tell you the second reason why I’m happy.

The maid’s departure gave me a chance to be my totally OCD self. She came, whirled through my kitchen and made a big mess with my children’s wardrobe. Now that she’s gone, I singlehandedly sorted and organised my children’s clothes – sleepwear, underwear, home wear, going out wear, swimwear – and even managed to categorise everything according to clothes type, colour and size. I turned every single spoon, fork and chopstick in the cutlery tray in the same direction, bundled bedsheets by sets, cleaned out the fridge for expired items and hung out the laundry the way my OCD self would be happy doing. I’m a strange person to be feeling merry just rolling socks the way I want them paired and scrubbing toilets with just one toothbrush, but yes, I am merrily, merrily doing all these.

Now, this is what I’ve been dreaming about, albeit with much muscle ache and terribly wrinkled hands – a house in order at last.

Just proves one point: who’s the BEST maid for my house?


But that doesn’t mean I am not going to decide against hiring a helper. I’m bone tired and beyond exhausted, remember?

I think this absence of a domestic helper is doing the kids who have been taking many things for granted a whole lot of good. We’ve got two weeks to shape up before a new one comes and I have a feeling we’ll be doing even better by then – to the point that we’ll have a relationship with her that’s interdependent and not dependent, and that is the third reason why I’m happy.

Close encounters with the maid kind Family life as we know it

Maid woes, Part 5

April 30, 2014

What?! I am not believing this. I’m writing a Part 5?!?!



The new domestic helper came and was settling ok. Other than the fact communication broke down a lot due to a lack of language proficiency, I thought I caught a glimpse of this girl really trying. I mentioned in an earlier post that she couldn’t cook for her life – and even made my littlest some soup noodles that resembled gooey puke – but that, apparently, became history.

I passed her some cook books, and wa la! Like magic, she suddenly was able to cook a decent meal. Even the kids liked her cooking.

Of course, she’s got huge shoes to fill with the previous helper being way too capable – and stronger physically. She’s all bones and looked a lot paler than the previous. Ok, anyone would look pale standing next to our previous helper if you’ve seen the previous. She did also appear a little too stressed out handling a chaotic household with three kids, plus having to understand a new language and adapting to our lifestyle. I kept having to worry for her because we rushed a lot from place to place and still wanted to eat in more than out (which means meal planning is essential at the start of each day). There’s always two huge baskets of laundry to do, too many clothes to fold and sort, toilets to scrub (my son aims quite poorly and my daughter sometimes jump off before she’s done, and I’m not even going to try toilet training the littlest yet) and plenty of things to carry from groceries to bags to water bottles. She did look like she could crumble under the weight of things, literally.

Because she was like the fourth kid I had to mind, guess who ended doing the bulk of the chores?

During the second week, she began to display signs of a lack of mental resilience. And then I also found out that she constantly felt tired and was also much younger than what the papers said she was (I wonder what her intention was by coming clean). By the third week, she seemed unable to cope, and I often had to nag her about keeping well and staying physically and mentally strong to help out in a household with three kids. She started – on an on and off basis – telling me perhaps I should go look for another helper and hinted that she may be better off caring for one child or an elderly folk. I made a mental note of her hints and started asking for recommendations from friends who hired domestic helpers of another nationality.

Now, she began to really annoy me a few days ago doing the “I-want-to-work-for-you-I’m-not-sure-I-think-you-should-get-someone-better” dance. Maybe she was feeling insecure, maybe she felt she needed more compliments than criticisms, but whatever it was, I did what she suggested: look around for someone of a better fit than her.

Long story short: she found out two days ago of my decision to not keep her after a month was up, and suddenly, she had breathlessness, tiredness and pain in her heart. She claimed she wanted her misery to end and asked me to send her back immediately yesterday. And it wasn’t even a month yet! Needless to say I was furious and demanded that she be counselled by her agent. The agent cajoled her and convinced her to work her keep of a month’s salary and after the phone call ended, she apologised for her immaturity.

Despite solo parenting yesterday with three kids in tow, I was so turned off by her childishness I refused the apology and sent her back to the agency by a taxi yesterday afternoon.

No way am I keeping someone like this in my house. Good riddance anyway.

A good domestic helper in Singapore is really hard to find. I’m not sure if everything will go well with the new new helper, and if we will all be a good fit for each other. All I’m asking for is an extra pair of hardworking and honest hands to help me out while my little children still need to be minded and cared for, a peace of mind when I leave them with her when my work needs to get done and a humble attitude to learn and adapt. Not very complicated, isn’t it?

finding a good fit

I just need an acceptable fit!

Until then, I am Mom Maid again. And I’m hoping not to ever write a Part 6 on this space, which has become a series in itself already with a Part 1,  2,  3,  4 and now this. No thanks to all these foreign domestic helper woes, I now too experience breathlessness, tiredness and pain in my heart (for the money we have to part with).

Going to have to train and ready those little troopers, I say. And get ready to play MITKH* v.2!

If you have any maid woes, I would love to commiserate with you. Share them with me in the comments below!

*Maidless in the Kao Household (read about version 1 here)

Close encounters with the maid kind Family life as we know it

Maid Woes, Part 4 (Didn’t think I would need to write one after so long!)

April 17, 2014

Stay home mom ecard

So we’re back to more madness these days for reasons of another kind.

My capable domestic helper has left us.

Excuse me while I go lament the fact that I’ve never had my domestic helpers stay to finish their contract for 2 years.

We first got our domestic helper when I was pregnant with Becks. We decided – despite our extreme reluctance to get live-in help – that we would give up our privacy for more time with our kids. We will outsource the washing, cleaning, cooking and packing to the helper while we will give (the remaining of) our energy to play with the kids. We were both working full-time then. The last thing we wanted to do after a day’s work is to labour in front of the sink or to hang out the laundry.

Our first helper lasted about one year nine months because I discovered she was lying to me. She was using our house phone to chit chat in the day – and with men – and vehemently denied when I questioned. I later found out from our neighbours, after sending her home, that she would scoot off  downstairs in the day while Ben was at childcare to chit chat with different men. I value honesty and integrity more than competence, and so she was history.

Our second helper was a godsend. She was the rich young thing I wrote about in 2012 herehere and here and she came to Singapore to experience new things. She said it was better than bumming around jobless, and she was a tough and earnest cookie, this one, all enthusiastic and ready to learn and work. Unfortunately, she also suffered some pain in her ears after a year of working for us, and after consulting a couple of GPs and two ENT specialists and burning a hole in our pockets, I had to send her home to seek treatment on her own. She was well-to-do anyway and could well afford a CT scan which we can’t afford for her. Ben and Becks remember her till this day because she was such a sporty ‘Aunty’ who would piggyback them, teach them all the Korean she knew from watching Korean dramas and make them laugh with her horrible English.

Our third one lasted no more than four days with her poor attitude. I wrote about how angry I was with myself for choosing her – the fair-skinned one instead of the dark-skinned one – and ended up having to send her home. I eventually got the dark-skinned one and this helper was the best we’ve ever had. She’s a workhorse and a terrific cook. This was one woman who single-handedly cooked up a feast for 30 people for Becks’ rainbow party and the same one who would make the yummiest curries from fish and chicken to beef and vegetables. We’ve had friends over for countless curry pig-outs, thanks to her. She also does a great job massaging my children’s soles every night like a pro, and making delicious lunches for the littlest every day from fried bee hoon to sliced fish soup and bolognaise.

Her mother was gravely ill last year and we did let her return home to take care of things like hospitalisation and surgery, and that was when I played the ‘Maidless in the Kao Household’ Game version 1. Those were very tough 5 days, I tell you, having lived with very capable help for about a year or so.

Last week, the poor girl told us regrettably that her mother was gravely ill and it seemed like there was no hope. She said she needed to return home. The kids were saddened, and so was she as she had hoped to work another 5 years for us; and Fatherkao and I felt extremely sorry for our stomachs, and her mother, of course.

We miss her cooking so much.

I am working a lot more from home these days and it is indeed a blessing to have efficient live-in help who can pretty much run the household while I need to be working. With her, I could pretty much leave her to take care of the physical needs of the kids while I prepared homelearning lessons, did my freelance writing, blog and design the preschool curriculum for my business. And now with her departure, I am back to square one of having to train the new helper and keep an eye on her until I can trust her to be on her own.

First-world problems, I know.

My new helper is settling ok. She’s enthusiastic, loves children and has a positive attitude. Except that she CANNOT COOK FOR HER LIFE. I am devastated. I’m back in the kitchen again, organising the larder and planning lunch and dinner and I am missing good food in the house.

Finding a helper is like buying a pair of gloves. I have only had the opportunity of buying gloves twice to vacation in winter, and even then there were so many things to consider. You want a good fit. You want to be able to move your fingers freely. You want to feel comfy and not scratchy. You want those gloves to keep you warm yet not have you perspire profusely in between those fingers. And. Do you want it floral? All chic black? In satin? Wool?

We’ve all got different needs, preferences and priorities. I need my helper to look pleasant and smile often, because the kids need to know we didn’t kidnap a slave to work for us. I need her to be particular about hygiene. And speaking of which, you can do absolutely nothing if your helper smells, as I have discovered. It’ll be mean to send her back for this reason. And the only thing you can do is get her lots of deodorant. I also need her to be able to handle stress taking care of three young kids, especially when we’re rushing or when the kids are unwell and be an extended pair of hands and legs. I need her to be able to operate appliances as we automate quite a fair bit in this home. Aack, I need her to be so many things. I need her to be able to cook so it frees me up to work in the evenings. Sadly with this one, it ain’t happening.

Hello everyone, I’m Motherkao and I’m going to be Mom Maid again, at least for a while.

Mom maid

Close encounters with the maid kind Family life as we know it The Kao Kids What to Expect... As a Mother


October 16, 2013

While most of my friends were busy candy crushing and completing their heist missions in GTA V, I was busy accomplishing the missions in MITKH* v.1 the last 5 days.

* MITKH : Maidless in the Kao Household

There were many levels to complete in MITKH v.1 and all of them came with challenges which had to be completed mostly in single player mode. Like any RPG, the player has to take responsibility for acting out roles within a narrative through a process of structured decision-making and character development.

Here are some of the challenges I completed in MITKH v.1 in ascending order according to the level of difficulty:

  • Challenge Take Care of Daily Needs of Three Children ON YOUR OWN

Level of difficulty 1.5/5

In this challenge, you double up as mom and maid. With one pair of eyes, hands and legs, you feed, bathe, dress and tuck in three kids aged 4, 3 and 20 months simultaneously. With practise, the children learn to wait their turn and you get better and faster such that you don’t get too flustered by the tasks any more. Sometimes, unexpected things happen, such as one of the kids falls and hurts himself, spills food on the floor, poops at meal times and throws a tantrum.

Cheat trick: Take deep breaths, ignore if you can so you can focus on mission, ensure that the older ones follow instructions to the letter. Enlist the help of Mr Cane if you have to to ensure order and discipline so mission gets accomplished with minimal yelling and nagging.

* Bonus points if you accomplish tasks with minimal yelling and nagging.

  • Challenge Mind the House that has NO Window Grilles with Three Kids

Level of difficulty 2/5

In this challenge, you face bored kids with mischief up their sleeves and no grilles in your confines. The kids unexpectedly throw ball, shoot Nerf guns, jump up and down sofa, tables, waist-level shelves and beds.

Cheat trick: Locate books and scatter them everywhere in the hope that kids will see them and start reading. Shut windows if needed. Enlist the help of Mr Cane if you have to to ensure order and discipline so mission gets accomplished with minimal yelling and nagging.

* Bonus points if you’re able to get grilles installed in time.

  • Challenge Bathe, Poop and Pee with Nobody Watching Three Kids

Level of difficulty 2.5/5

In this challenge, you need to do the above real quick. Unfortunately, all kids are awake and needing your attention. You do not have the option of skipping this challenge as you smell like a stink bomb.

Cheat trick: Usher kids into the master bedroom. Shut windows and doors. Turn on the air conditioning. Get them to sit in a circle. Tell the kids that you are going to play a game and you will emerge in a few minutes looking all gorgeous and get them to imagine what a sight it will be. Ask them to close their eyes and guess what colour of clothes you’ll be putting on / what t-shirt you would wear / whether you would appear wearing a skirt or a pair of shorts. Throw as many questions to them as possible and run into toilet to accomplish mission.

* Bonus points if kids don’t start banging on your door after one minute.

  • Challenge Do Laundry: Fold, Wash, Hang with Baby Holding on to Your Legs

Level of difficulty: 3/5

In this challenge, the laundry bags are filling up faster that you can say ‘laundry bags’. There are clothes on the bamboo poles which require keeping, dirty laundry not washed and baskets of laundry unfolded. Plus there’s a baby perpetually grabbing your legs everywhere you go.

Cheat trick: Ask older kids to help you and be specific – pair up the socks, fold your own underwear, bring these to the washing machine, give me 5 pegs for this pole – and remember to ask nicely. Make it sound like it’s the most important job they could do in the whole world.

Helping to keep clothes

Little trooper following instructions to hold clean and folded laundry this way and to keep them in the cupboard

* Bonus points if kids don’t walk out of their job halfway and decide to do something else and if you do not abort tasks in this challenge with baby grabbing legs.

  • Challenge Prepare Fried Rice for Lunch with Baby Holding on to Your Legs

Level of Difficulty 3.5/5

In this challenge, you’re alone and kids are starving. It’s too far, too hot, too troublesome (plus too embarrassing since you smell like a stink bomb and haven’t brushed your teeth) to walk out to buy lunch. You need to cook something quick with what you have in the fridge.

Cheat trick: Mince garlic with food processor. Mince frozen prawns with food processor. Ensure there’s eggs and leftover rice in the fridge. Give baby empty containers with caps that he can screw and unscrew to keep him occupied while you prep and cook.

* Bonus points if kids don’t faint from hunger and you’re able to wash all plates, bowls and wok, and clean kitchen up before dinner.

  • Challenge Clean House Thoroughly

Level of difficulty 4/5

In this challenge, there’s hair everywhere (yours). Plus dust, dirt, grime, food bits and booger. Every step you take makes your feet feel icky and the baby is starting to pick food bits up to ingest. Some cleaning is in order.

Cheat trick: Use lots of Magic Kleen cleaner and wiper sheets. Better still, enlist the help of older children if they are willing. Close both eyes if you need and imagine the mess and dirt is not there. Ask children and husband to do the same.

Helping to mop

Little trooper helping to mop the house

* Bonus points if you can vacuum and mop (not just use Magic Kleen!) with all kids sitting still on the sofa and not come down from it at all.

  • Challenge Prep Lesson Materials for Two Older Kids AND (actually) Teach Them Something While Baby is Awake

Level of Difficulty 5/5

In this challenge, you have to continue your home teaching endeavours and follow through with lesson planning and delivery. Kids need to trace their letters, read their readers (both English and Chinese), practise their addition and sequencing, draw, do craft, go on field trips and listen to stories.

Cheat trick: Not known.

* Bonus points if you can do all the above and not lose your cool at any point in time.

I didn’t manage to start on the last challenge. It was all too difficult and exhausting by the time I reached that. I’m hoping I never need to clear that level nor play another version. EVER. AGAIN.

Just for the record, I don’t like this game. At all. Cos’ IT WAS FOR REAL! (Sorry, need to vent.) It gave a whole new meaning to the words “bone tired” of which I am experiencing right now.

P/S: The reason for MITKH v.1 was because the helper requested for home leave to visit her gravely ill mother. Initially she asked for two weeks. I said no. She asked for one week, and I said no again. 5 days is my limit. We had a deal, and I am glad she honoured her word and returned.

Close encounters with the maid kind

Maid Woes, Part 3

November 1, 2012

Never judge a book by its cover. And never dismiss a maid because of her skin colour.

That’s the other lesson I learned from my week-long maid woes, apart from the fact that I should heed my gut instincts when I meet someone with shifty eyes. My current domestic helper is in a hurry to go back to her country to get her ears checked. She’s called her family to meet her at the capital and given them instructions to bring enough money so she can get an MRI scan at a private hospital. Unfortunately, at the agency’s end, there aren’t any maids with ready passports. To get a new one would mean my helper, who is now unable to focus with the swelling pain in her ears and spinning head on her shoulders, would have to stay on for another four to six weeks more before her replacement comes. I didn’t want to prolong her suffering, so I asked the agency to let me know when they have suitable transfer maids coming in. They did – they sent me two sets of biodata and I chose the one with the more pleasant smile. And fairer skin.

The thing about being transferred and “returned” to the agency is that, it usually is never a good thing. You must take the time to go listen to the story behind why the maid is there. So the story for the one I sent home (yes, the one I got suckered) went like this: she worked for 13 months without any problems. But one fine day her then-employers got a call from their previous maid who worked for them for 4 years saying she wanted to return. So without any hesitation, they made arrangements to take back the old and promptly “discarded” the new. Yes, so I got the one the employer “discarded”. She came and staged a pitiful drama and was a complete disaster.

Now that she’s gone, and I am still desperately seeking a replacement, I asked about the other transfer maid whom I didn’t choose. I didn’t choose her in part because she had a big built (she looked huge in the photo) and in part because she was, well, very, very dark-skinned. Don’t judge me now. Believe you me, I’m not racist. My first concern was that I’m worried if my kids would be used to seeing someone who looked so different from us in the house. But after what happened with the shifty eyes girl,  I was desperate. I decided to interview the dark-skinned one. I was also allowed to bring her home for a four-hour orientation, to see if she was suitable for us. In those four hours, I was able to assess her attitude and aptitude to learn. I could also make sure she didn’t have shifty eyes. And I also had the chance to observe how my children took to her and if she genuinely liked children.

The conclusion after those four-hours? I kicked myself really hard. Why didn’t I choose her in the first place? She was warm, friendly, and most of all, kind. She shares the same faith as us. She listened attentively to my helper who was trying to explain things to her. Her transfer story (with lots of corroboration) was acceptable: elderly folk she was hired to take care of had to follow son to to his new post in Japan, so maid was sent back. Best of all, she was bubbly and happy, and even tried to make Becks laugh. Now, anyone who attempts to engage my daughter and tries to play with her, in my opinion, is worth her salt. So I said yes to her and told the agent to proceed with the paperwork. And I also told myself to never ever dismiss someone because of her skin colour.

Shame on you, motherkao, for judging a person by the colour of her skin. Let’s hope things will work out for us now.

Close encounters with the maid kind

Maid Woes, Part 2

October 29, 2012

I am so angry. I was made a fool last weekend. This replacement maid whom I’ve sent back to the agent is probably kicking her heels off in her hometown now, sipping a nice cup of tea, laughing at me, the sucker she suckered in Singapore.

Why couldn’t I tell she had no intention to work? Why couldn’t I read her better? Why did I even trust the recommendation of the agent? I knew I couldn’t trust her right from day one – she had those shifty eyes that made me very wary – but I just couldn’t put a finger to how I really felt about this new person in the house. The signs were everywhere – unwillingness to follow instructions, never smiling at my children, trying too hard to please only when I was around – I was the fool to believe the best; that she was trying to adapt to working in a new environment and needed time to adjust. To be fair, it would be overwhelming for anyone to help out in a house with three adrenaline-charged kids.

So when I told her I was sending her back to the agent on Saturday, she broke down and cried. I asked her if she wanted to go home instead and she said yes. I could do two things: buy her an air ticket and send her home (but this means she had to stay for a few days more till I get all the documents processed and the air ticket settled) or send her back to the agent and get them to buy her an air ticket on my behalf. I chose the latter, because it was infuriating to have her around every minute. So I assured her I would tell the agent to buy her a ticket home. And for the first time, in six days, she smiled genuinely. And laughed. She even told my helper with such glee that she could finally go home.

So we went back to the agent and I paid her a month’s salary even though she “worked” only five days, and she’s off on a jet plane back home as of now, with this money. I’m thinking: did she maliciously stage this? Showing us such horribly lazy attitude just so she can worm her way out of here with a one-way air ticket fully paid for by the sucker that is me? I mean, these girls know that the moment they’ve found employment, no matter what, they would have to be paid 30 days’ worth of work even if the employers decide to return them to the agent, isn’t it? I knew I couldn’t trust those shifty eyes. And to think that I could have been used that way! It sure feels terrible to be suckered like that.

I have so many takeaways from this lesson: number one, the agent and domestic worker always stand to gain more than the employer, so from now on, I’m not gonna assume the best of everyone – this world is really the survival of the fittest and wittiest; and number two, the next domestic helper had better be able to look me in the eye for more than 20 seconds. Shift your eyes and I’ll stay clear of you. I’m not going to be your sucker anymore.

Close encounters with the maid kind

Maid Woes, Part 1

October 27, 2012

Having a good domestic helper in the house is like having three extra pairs of hands and legs that are intuitive, quick and nimble. My second maid from Myanmar is a godsend and has been, for the past one year. She started off not knowing English and what to do around children. She also vacuumed the soles of our shoes, washed two of my Tempur pillows (and subsequently made them totally unusable), and brought bedbugs into our house. But she’s got great attitude and such a tremendous sense of keenness and initiative.  She also takes pride in her work and has a spirit of excellence. She learned how to cook and take care of the baby from the confinement nanny after Nat was born. Because she cooks well, we look forward to going home for  home-cooked food everyday.

Unfortunately, she is also going home. If you’ve read this blog in April, you would remember that I brought her to see an ENT specialist for the pain in her ear. The problem didn’t go away; in fact it’s worsened and gotten so bad this girl is getting dizzy and woozy. I’ve brought her for reviews, sought a second opinion from another ENT specialist, and even taken her for TCM treatment. No one knows what’s wrong. The specialists couldn’t find anything when they investigated. So far, nothing’s worked – not even popping six Panadols a day – and she’s really desperate to get the pain in her ear fixed.

She’s reluctant to go though, having built such a good rapport with all my kids and loving them like they’re her little siblings. She doesn’t have to stay – she’s finished her loan and doesn’t need this job in the first place. Her family is extremely wealthy and prior to this job, she stays home to watch Korean drama all day. She speaks almost fluent Korean and knows the names of every Korean heartthrob by heart. She once pointed to one of the bungalows in Thomson while on a car journey and said her house back at home looked like that. Her family owns land, dogs and horses. She rides a motorcycle and gets manicures, pedicures and hair treatment on a weekly basis. She came to Singapore because she was bored with her life and has now grown to love this job as our helper.

Last week, her replacement came (and went). The new one was a constant source of our frustration with her utter lack of initiative. My helper, who’s the most patient one in the house, lost her patience with the replacement so many times. Whilst she stayed on to train the new helper, the new girl refused to learn and succeeded in annoying everyone at home. The straw that broke the camel’s back? She held open the fridge door for a good two minutes looking for sugar despite being told many times where sugar was kept. AND shoved a scalding hot mouthful of porridge into Becks’ mouth. We promptly sent her back to the agent and could finally heave that much awaited sigh of relief.

Now we’re in search of a new one. I’d wished my helper doesn’t have to go. With our plans to homeschool the kids next year, it’s so crucial that we get good help so I can focus my energies on teaching the children.

Here we go again.


Close encounters with the maid kind Thunderstorm days

$374.55 for some serious ear-candling

April 28, 2012

There’s a huge hole in my pocket.

It’s a bittersweet feeling, I don’t know if I should laugh or cry. The Ear, Nose and Throat Consultant whom I paid $95.01 to consult did a series of Specialised Investigations (it says that in my bill) called Pure Tone Audiometry and Tympanometry, two Clinic Procedures called Clearance Ear (Simple) and Syringing and a Surgical Procedure called Nasendoscopy.

The findings: the left ear has wax that needs to be cleared and basically, sucker, you’re ok! If you wish to investigate further, I recommend a CT scan but that will burn a hole way bigger than this one, so ginormous you can fit my Nasendoscopy machine in it. So go home and take some extra strong painkillers if the pain bugs you.

So this entire experience costs me $374.55 just to see some earwax and hear a specialist say three magic words. You. Are. Ok. 

Except that I went through this as the third-person and not the first.

Remember I mentioned the maid has been complaining of a earache for months now? She was pale as sheet on Friday morning and looked like she had cried her eyeballs out the night before. She said there was so much pain in her ears it felt like ten years of bathwater needed to be drained from them (ok, I paraphrased and imagined – all she managed to say with limited vocabulary was “pain. block. heavy. headache”). I decided that the visit to the ENT clinic couldn’t wait till May and if she were to go deaf in her ears, her entire Burmese village would probably come and hunt me down. So I called my lifeline from the hospital – this wonderful Medical Social Worker whom I’ve know all my life, also affectionately know as my mother – to ask if she could help me get an appointment to see a doctor immediately. And then I grabbed the baby and rushed her down to the hospital because the consultant would take a walk-in, like NOW.

After the whole ordeal, she was sobbing away, saying she was really in pain and still is (I just checked) and she was really sorry for everything. I tortured her with my nagging of how she is not my fourth child and why she must learn to take care of herself (she’s from a very well-to-do family and came to work here because ‘Singapore good!’) because she’s probably never taken care of herself a single day of her life (believe me when I say she used to stay at home and do nothing. But to her credit, some sensibility hit her one day and she realised she can’t be a bum forever so she decided to choose the fate of a housemaid! See, I told you she doesn’t have much common sense). I unleashed all my angst about paying so much money to hear the doctor say she was perfectly fine. She seemed grateful that I was willing to pay for her medical fees and asked if she could pay me back. I’m still undecided yet because dragging her to the specialist was totally my idea (she has seen the GP four times!) and it would be terribly unfair to make her pay with her wages although she totally does not need money (so she claims).

Nobody, not even a qualified person, knows what is happening to her ears. But at least I know now it’s not contagious and I did not get a earache from her – the GP said mine was a case of an external ear infection, easily resolved with a round of antibiotics and some eardrops. I joined her in her sobbing nonetheless. Three hundred and seventy bucks could have gotten me lots of new shoes (and soles) for her to vacuum.