It’s Saturday afternoon. I’m trying to feed cereal to my baby. R is being fussy, his tiny hands flailing about – to be expected from a seven-month-old. But it does make the task of manoeuvring the glob of cereal into his mouth a difficult one.
‘Ma’am, he likes to hold his foot while he eats. Maybe allow him to do that first, then he will eat peacefully.’
The voice comes from my maid. There is a pregnant pause. I stop and look at her. She looks at me. We look at the baby together. He now has his chubby fist wrapped around his foot, and is trying to grab the spoon with his free fist. Just like she said.
She knew how he likes to have his cereal. But I am the mother! Why don’t I know what my son wants?
So this is what it feels like to be a working mum, I think. You miss your child’s little developments. Little things that make up R’s R-ness: ‘Ma’am, after you left, he tried to balance himself on all fours for the first time.’ ‘Ma’am, just before you came; he was playing this little game of plopping back on the pillow and giggling.’ ‘Ma’am, he sleeps two naps in the morning now, not three.’
I don’t know that he prefers stewed apples over pears. That thunder makes him scared. At least, I don’t know these things until the maid tells me.
True, there are weekday evenings and weekends. And there are hugs and kisses and laughter. But then there are moments like this: Mother versus Maid. I feel I’m reduced to a fleeting shadow. I’m the four-hourly caller for ‘How is he?’ updates, the weekend bather, the cereal feeder who doesn’t know that R likes to hold his foot while eating.
The weekend. Two blissful days. R has been with his daddy and me all the time. I have cherished every moment, almost selfishly keeping him to myself – nipping off for showers and toilet breaks only when he naps. And she has gazed on from a safe distance, not daring to spoil the family moment. Laughing at his antics from the kitchen entrance.
It’s Sunday evening, R’s bedtime. He’s in his little PJs, examining his surroundings with innocent curiosity. She lingers in the room once he’s changed.
‘You go on and eat dinner. I’ll put him to sleep tonight,’ I say.
She hesitates. I’m slightly impatient now, wanting R to myself. ‘Go on. It’s okay. You have an early night.’
She kneels down beside the bed – a typical gesture of an Indonesian maid in the presence of her employer. She touches the baby’s tiny feet and says, ‘Let me look at him for a while longer. I didn’t get to play with him the whole weekend. Usually it’s just the two of us.’
I look at her and feel ridiculous. Almost ashamed of my jealousy. How can you be jealous of someone who loves your child? I should be relieved, not anxious.
R has rolled over onto his stomach now, and grins at her and me. The Mother and the Maid. The Life-Giver and the Caretaker. We laugh together at his grin… two women united by their love for a child.
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