A friend asked me if I’ve had the opportunity to watch “The Help,” which came out on theaters recently. Unfortunately, I have not had a chance. I read the book about two years ago. It was passed on to me by one of my sisters-in-law. I also passed it on to one of my other sisters-in-law sometime last year.
I have wondered how the stories would be received the general public. Certainly, there is that loud and clear issue of racial discrimination. The story is no “Mary Poppins” or “Nanny McPhee,” but rather something much more serious and mundane. But really, there are layers and layers of other important issues: about the haves and the have-nots, the elite and the plebes, the women and men, the young and the old, about nannies and mothers, and many more.
I wonder if the story would be received a little differently by people who have lived with nannies or who were nannies themselves. I grew up with a nanny, as did my siblings. We called them “Yaya.” It was and still is customary in the culture of Manila. She was a part of my life almost as much as my parents were. She made sure I did my homework completely and on time, that I ate my meals with all the food groups in correct portions, or that I drank my milk and brushed my teeth before bed, and that I got up early to get ready for school. She would be there to bring me to the door of my school and she was waiting outside the gate in the afternoon when school was over. When I lost a tooth, she’d comfort me and wash the tooth before I showed it to my parents.
Such was the closeness we had that lasted years. She knew me well enough to take one look at me and without a word, she knew when I was not feeling well or I was troubled by something. By the time I was nine, she was ready to leave and start her own family. I was becoming quite gregarious and I did not really resent her departure. Looking back, I used to fantasize her taking care of two or three more just like me in her own home.
A few years ago, while visiting in Manila, I was introduced to a young girl by one of my aunts at her house. She was being trained to be a yaya for one of my cousin’s daughters. I was informed she is the granddaughter of my cousin’s yaya. I remembered her from my childhood and I used to wonder why she suddenly left. My aunt very casually informed me that she had to let the yaya go because her then husband had attempted to molest the young girl. And without skipping a beat, she moved on to other trivia!
When my daughter was born in Toronto, I had to quickly figure out how she would be cared for once I was ready to return to work. I was on my third year of residency and I badly needed to finish my training. My mother introduced my to Rizza, who later on became my daughter’s nanny. I could see that she genuinely loved my daughter and cared for her very well. She was also quite sensible and firm but kind.
I have always been puzzled by friends who would share with me their fears that a nanny would replace them as THE important parent-figure in their child’s life. I never felt this way. Rizza never attempted to take over as my child’s parent. When we would come home, she would retreat to her room and my husband and I would spend time with our daughter until bedtime. In the morning, we would get her ready for school.
I felt the same way when I was growing up. I loved my yaya but I loved my parents even more. I saw the same with my siblings. We all appreciated our yayas. In fact, to this day, some of us have kept in touch, sending gifts, cards, and when the opportunity came, we visited. And wherever they are or whatever life they chose to eventually live outside our family, they are always remembered fondly.