When we moved to Shenzhen six years ago, we did not even consider hiring an ayi to look after our home. After years of maintaining historical sites and holy places in Haifa, Israel and training staff in museum-standard cleaning, I doubted I could find someone up to the task of caring for my home. Add to that a wife who is an internationally acclaimed gourmet chef and we didn’t see any reason to bother with extra help. We could have tried to train someone to clean and cook for us, but neither of us knew how to instill a love of cleaning (something akin to an incurable disease) and a passion for cooking into someone just working for a paycheck. So we happily managed our own humble estate.
That all changed after Reina was born. It wasn’t that we no longer maintained the will to cook and clean, so much as we needed someone around who could help soothe a crying child, change a nappy, and take the place of absent extended family. More importantly, we wanted someone at home who would constantly speak to Reina in Chinese, and thus help ensure she grew up with native proficiency. Oddly enough, no one had faith in my 60 words of spoken Chinese as sufficient to raise Reina as a native speaker.
It’s a bit of a blur, but after trying out a couple of ayis in Shenzhen, we eventually settled on one that did a fair job of cleaning, a mediocre job at cooking, but who absolutely adored Reina. As is customary in Shenzhen, our ayi lived in our apartment, but it was always a bit odd to have someone in the home all the time – especially after her work hours.
A year later, we relocated to Beijing and made a conscious decision not to have another live-in ayi. Savvy quickly found someone up to the task while I was away on an overseas photo shoot for nearly two months. When I returned, I was the one who had to adjust to the new situation at home.
For a year and a half, our ayi, Xiao Xiu, was a dependable, caring, and welcome part of our lives. Reina prattled away in Chinese, had another person to depend on, and was fully potty trained by 18 months – a bit behind the Chinese norm, but well ahead of most of her Western friends. Xiao Xiu clearly had a great bond with Reina, but when Reina started kindergarten full-time, the need for full-time help was hard to justify. So our ayi happily started working part-time for us and part-time for another family. Still, it seemed more help than we needed. Savvy was cooking more often again and I, hermit at heart that I am, desired more solitude in the home office while the ladies were away at work and school. It was a very emotional decision, but in retrospect we know that letting the ayi go was the right choice.
Xiao Xiu still comes over on the odd Saturday afternoon to play with Reina. And it gives Savvy and I an excuse to go out and do something romantic like pay the utilities or go grocery shopping. It isn’t perfect, but it works for us – for now.