Sunday, September 16, 2012

Smugness, Self Sufficiency and the Western Way

I am not a good sick person. I hate sore throats, coughs, fatigue that refuses to budge, and anything remotely related to illness. I like to be in control; I have far too many things on my list of to-dos; and I have 2 small children who need me to be engaged, energetic and present more often than not.

This past week, my body decided to play host to a rather unpleasant guest. No amount of vitamins and homeopathy could keep this bad boy at bay, so I spent a great deal of time on the couch while my children (gasp) watched more television than I could keep track of (gasp). I bleached all bleachable surfaces, continually washed our hands, and even wore a face mask when I was required to come within a foot of them. Was I over the top? Yes. Would I do it again to avoid the possible outbreak of such a nasty invader? Absolutely!

I found myself a bit homesick for Shanghai this week. It could have been the recent discussion about a potential job offer in Shanghai, but I knew it was more than that. Phil was out of town on a business trip, I was all alone with the kids; and the weight of the housework and childcare in light of my own illness was more than I could really process.

It made me miss those sick days when I knew Ayi would be coming through the door at 8am to clean, care for the kids if I needed her to, and maybe even cook. Poor me, right? I get it. It's very un-American to admit as a woman that I liked having another person help me care for my children and keep my home in order- but I admit it. There is something very lonely in the way we Westerners care for our homes and families; particularly Western women. We love our friends and families. We take great pride in our homes. We have can-do attitudes. These are all good traits. It's how this translates for many of us that can cause a lot of worn out women and families. Oftentimes, this can-do attitude mixes with pride and a few other elements to create overworked, overtired, and overstressed women who walk around feeling the weight of the world on their shoulders.

While Ayi was a hired member of our family, she was not a sign of our wealth or status like a nanny might be here in the US. She was simply an extension of our family as in so many other families in China. Having an Ayi is part of a larger idea that it does indeed take a village to do anything. People would often marvel in horror (if that can be possible) at the fact that I would have two little babies out on my own. We would often get to talking and joking; and the Chinese women would usually tell me- "you Westerners have 1 adult to 10 children while we Chinese have 10 adults to 1 child here."

Back then I felt a bit smug and self sufficient; now- I do not.

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