A domestic experiment

published at The Standard, 31 May 2015 
There was a time I could not imagine life without househelp. Being a mother to four kids, on top of the pressures of providing for our needs, meant that I had to have at least one reliable assistant to attend to the menial work that would needlessly tax my body. If not, I would be wasting energy I could use for more important things like spending quality time with the children, getting some serious work done, resting or indulging in a well-deserved me-time.
Our most immediate helper, Cathy, had been with us five years when she said she had to go home to her southern province and keep her mother company. We never made any effort to find a replacement.
Our being “help-less” coincided with our move to a new city. It was actually the kids’ idea. They are growing up to be a lot like me – protective of personal space. Having an extra person in our new home just would not do. “We can do all the work,” they volunteered, and at first I was not convinced.
It dawned on me eventually that they were not babies anymore (21, 19, 14 and 12) and that I should be happy that they were signing up for the job when other kids would grumble about having to do household chores.
And so we’re enjoying the novelty of the new set-up. We managed the move by ourselves, with some help from our friends, with the eldest, Beatrice, taking charge of figuring out what to do with the stuff we were not able to bring along to the new place. Because we all have our own rooms now, we are responsible for our individual spaces – and individual laundry – only having to work around common chores and common areas.
Thus far, it’s been working out well. Not perfect, and certainly not easy all the time, but we cannot imagine having to give up this precious, continuing bonding activity.
It helps to know what each individual family member is good at, or what he or she likes to do. There are kids who are curious about how the kitchen works and would willingly try new dishes, while there are those perfectly content to just keep things in order. Some like to ply the role of sidekick, accompanying me to trips to the grocery or the market, making sure I don’t lose my wallet, cell phone or my balance. Some take the lead, planning tasks and delegating chores to the younger ones. Some just do as they’re told – kids are kids, after all.
They are excellent entertainers. In our first week, we’ve had visitors six out of seven evenings.
Our “golden days” are taking place now because we are still just in transition and kids are still on vacation. In a few days, all this will change. The eldest has just signed up for her first job and the youngest is preparing to go to boarding school in Makiling tomorrow. In a week, the tenth grader will begin school, too, as will the university junior next month.
By best days I mean everybody converging at the dining table during breakfast, planning our activities or telling jokes while determining whose turn is it to do the dishes or bring the garbage to the colored bins outside. Because the unit enjoys good natural lighting and ventilation, air flows freely, bringing with it good vibes and clear purpose.
We have no fancy gadgets or appliances, and we always aim for a minimalist touch that would make our home both nest and refuge. Always here is music playing, reinforcing the notion that our life is a story yet telling itself, and yes, it needs a cool soundtrack.
I know that one of these days the home will be empty, with everybody going off to his or her own activities. I know what I will do then: sip some tea, sit on my rocking chair and gape at the view of the city from the wide windows on our floor.
It’s a leap of faith and sometimes I tremble to think what await us all. Still, nothing beats the feeling of knowing that you will be okay because you have everything you need – no more, no less.