Here in the playground in Manila, we stand out. Okay, so my three year old daughter and one year old son do not look even the littlest bit Filipino or Chinese (except maybe for their noses). But we also stand out because on most afternoons, I am the only mom out with her own kids — all the other kids have their own yayas (nannies) keeping an eye on them (or at least they are supposed to be keeping an eye on them – some yayas are too busy texting or talking on their cellphones). And, siblings do not share yayas. Each child has their own yaya attending to them. Which means there is an extra kid out there (one of mine) without full adult supervision (Gasp!). Sometimes, even if the moms or dads are there, the kids still have their yayas watching them. The parents seem to just pop in and check on them.
From what I gather, yayas are supposed to:
- Keep an eye on their charges (i.e. kids don’t trip on the slides, bump into other kids while swinging, go wandering off to the street where the cars pass etc.) and anticipate mishaps
- Play with their charges (i.e. play catch or kick the ball with the kids, lift the kids if they can’t reach the basketball hoop, push them on the swings, etc.)
- Haul the play equipment to the playground (i.e. scooter, bicycles, balls, etc.) and keep track of where they are at any one point in time (ex. “Ya, where’s my ball?”)
- Ensure that their charges are dry by keeping a towel (called bimpo) on the inside of the shirt, leaving a short end to hang out from the back collar.
- Ensure that their charges are hydrated which means they have to always carry a bottle of water.
- Feed their charges their snacks.
I would hate to be a yaya. It is a tough job. First, it is boring. Honestly. I am a mom and I love my kids so much. Most of the time, I enjoy hanging out with them and every now and then, they do something funny or worth sharing on Facebook, but see, there are long stretches of time when it is just plain b-o-r-i-n-g – like the nth time they want to go up the slide, the nth time they want you to throw the ball so they could catch it, etc. Now imagine you have to watch over a kid, not your own. Who happens to be especially whiny. And speaks only English (I salute the yayas who insist on replying in Bisaya or Tagalog). Plus shit happens. My husband and I have a no-blame agreement. If anything happens to the kids while they are in our care, we have agreed not to blame each other. But how about with yayas? How many yayas have been faulted when kids get injured? Shit really happens. My daughter and my son were on a bed when my daughter happened to bump into my son and he fell head first onto the floor. There were three adults, including myself, keeping watch over the kids in the room.
Many of my friends with kids here in Manila cannot imagine life without a yaya. I cannot imagine life with one. It’s always just been me and the kids for the most part of the day, with my husband on his days off. And I thought we were doing just fine. Except “fine” probably has a different meaning in Manila. Case in point: Mealtimes. Yayas are tasked to feed their charges at mealtimes. In restaurants you could see a yaya positioned beside each child, spoon feeding. My kids, on the other hand, feed themselves, even my younger one who just turned one. He cannot manage a spoon by himself very well but he prefers to use his hands. Because my kids are not very coordinated yet, you can imagine the mess they make on the table, chairs and floor. We look like a total disaster (but I do stoop down to clean up our mess despite the insistence of waiters that I shouldn’t). If yayas were to feed my kids, the eating area would be immaculate.
During a playdate a friend of mine said my kids are so koboy, a Tagalog adaptation of the word “cowboy”. Koboy is used to describe people who are easy to be with because they are adaptable, not whiny or picky. I let my kids trip and fall even when I anticipate that they are going to (to a chorus of Hala! Gasp! Oh no! from the yayas and the parents nearby) and I also let them pick themselves up and dust their hands. I could only hope that by letting them do and experience a lot of things by themselves, they learn quickly and become more street smart, even though we may look like a catastrophe.
I feel especially sorry for the kids on Saturdays and Sundays and I still see them with their yayas. Where are their Mommies and Daddies? Surely they don’t have work on the weekends (maybe if this were Japan, I might not be surprised if the parents work weekends, but not in the Philippines where employees are known to leave the workplace at 5 p.m. sharp). I feel sorry for the parents – they end up with kids who are more attached to their yayas (i.e. overheard from a yaya at the playground, “I’m the one who raised him and his older sister. They always look for me and can’t sleep without me.”). I feel sorry too for the yayas. Don’t they ever get a break? (The answer? No. One yaya said she has been working for 2 straight years, no days off not even Sundays, no vacations to go back to her home in the province). On the other hand, the yayas and the parents must feel sorry for me because I don’t have anyone else to take care of my kids. They might also feel sorry for my kids who look neglected compared to the bimpo-wielding kids.
Yes, it is boring. Yes, it is exhausting, but I want to be that person the kids go to to say: “Hey, check this out!” (except my one year old son says “Ungh!” and points at whatever he wants me to see) or “Hey watch me do this!” I want to be the one dispensing generous hugs and kisses when my kids hurt themselves. I want to be first person my kids want to show something new they found. I want to see their lives unfold before my own eyes, and not the retelling from a third person. Yes there are hundreds of other things I could do if I had a yaya, but those can wait. For now, I am mommy and it’s off to the playground for me.