woensdag 23 mei 2012

We're going to the movies! Or: Singaporeans do babysitting differently

I know, I know, Katrijn going to the movies? Yawn. When does she ever do anything else?

Thing is, about 19 months ago a tsunami ran through my body, leaving in its wake this tiny human-shaped blond thing that needed round-the-clock care. Or at least, supervision. Even while sleeping. (I know! She's sleeping! Leave her alone! But no, society has decreed sleeping babies must be closely supervised although one should not actually be in the same room with them, since then they don't sleep. Apparently they don't like to be supervised when snoring. It's all so very counter intuitive!) So my days of catching a movie straight from work and going on home to watch some more are sadly over.

But I love me some good film. So, enter the babysitter. Which in the Netherlands was fine. And free. (Thank you, sister F., brother P. and girlfriend IJ.!)

It is not free in Singapore. (Oh, it is so very not free.)

This is not quite a story on how Singaporeans do things differently. (Although some things they certainly do very differently and I'll get to that in a minute.) But I am quite sure that Singaporean mummies get their sisters, mothers, sisters-in-law, aunties and neighbours to look after their little ones, just like we did back home. So, actually, it's mostly the same: free, familiar faces for baby.

However, when you do venture into the world of PAID babysitters, it's ALL different. Well, not all. They're still female. Elderly females, with broods of their own. No malleable teenagers coming round to eat all my cookies and drink all my diet coke and watch all the tv they can while texting all their friends what a brilliant way of earning money babysitting is: doing the same as you'd do at home, but getting paid! And gratitude as well!

The thing about elderly ladies with broods of their own, is that they also have opinions and ideas of their own, honed through years and years of child- and grandchild-rearing. And their ideas differ from E.'s and mine in several crucial aspects:

1. Babies like cuddling with appreciative people.
E. enjoys admiration and worship just as much as the next person (with her white blond hair and blue eyes she gets a lot of that). But she prefers people to keep a proper distance. As her beppe remarked, E. has a very strong sense of self and an accompanying preference for who gets to cuddle her. As a rule of thumb those would include A. anybody sharing a blood tie, B. anybody her own size or under and C. her teachers at daycare. Yes, that is indeed a very short list and there are no babysitters included.

2. Babies like television.
E. gets bored by television. (Unless it's this video of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.) And then she'll start looking for trouble. This is not a good way to calm her down, as one babysitter found out to her astonishment. "How do you get your baby to sleep?", she asked in wonder. "She did not want to close her eyes until 11pm!" We came home at 11.30pm.

3. Babies need milk. Lots and lots of milk.
In the evening E. gets her dinner, yoghurt and night bottle of milk (I like to think of it as an equivalent of the cup of warm milk before bed time of yore, it soothes my feelings of guilt by still giving her this nutritionally completely unnecessary feed, just because I love cuddling her so much while she drinks it). That is it, after that she's done until breakfast. For one thing, she doesn't need more, and for another, I don't want her to think of it as an option. I want her to sleep. If she does wake up, she gets cuddles in a dark room, until she falls asleep again.

"But what if she's hungry?" Babysitters worriedly ask me. She will not be, I tell them. "No, but what if she's hungry?" Well, she just is not. Soothe her some other way.

4. Babies should not cry ever.
E. has this thing where she sometimes cries out during her sleep. It sometimes even sounds as a proper cry. But it's not. And if you go in, she wakes up and that's that, you're stuck for the evening comforting her, or in a worst case scenario, have to let her sleep next to you in the extra bed. So, DO NOT GO IN unless there's some proper panicky stuff going on in there.

"But she cried!" says our babysitter, with a wild-eyed waking little girl on her lap when we come home at midnight. That she did. And the rest of the night, while I tried to soothe my little bundle of tears, I cried too.

Basically, we want babysitters to leave our child alone, unless there is something majorly wrong. A teenager would instinctively know this, because they would very much prefer to have a sleeping baby themselves and not have to worry. An experienced granny however, apparently wants to show off her skills.

Unfortunately, the local skill set, although loving and very child centred, is not adapted to what we have taught E. with our detached style of lazy parenting. Which means that it upsets her.

But! There is a solution! Friends have helpers who have been trained in expat ways of thinking - and if friends go on holiday, their helpers are free to babysit. Isn't that a match made in heaven? So Friday we're off the movies while helper G. looks after E.

She also looked after E. last Friday (we're enjoying this weeklong holiday very much, even though we miss the friends) and when we came home, not only was E. sound asleep, but the dishes were done as well. Bless her heart.


Sleeping E., in the taxi on the way to the zoo, February 2012

ps. There is a small added aggravation with the babysitters we'd been using. Reception would book them, and not only was the hourly rate fairly steep - much more than I've seen quoted elsewhere - also they would require a minimum of 4 hrs and 25 SGD for the taxi - whereas I met one of them shopping down the road the other day, indicating that she lived nearby and could easily walk home after babysitting, thus pocketing an astounding 25 SGD - to wit, I've only ever paid 25 SGD for a taxi when going to the airport after midnight. I don't mind paying for good service - we're paying the helper as well, including her taxi fare - but I mind being taking advantage off. Especially blatantly.

5 opmerkingen:

  1. When we hired babysitters I have always said: there is nothing to do. The kids will be sleeping. you are just here in case of fire or flood ;-) Teenagers understand really well this concept. I agree.

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  2. this was so interesting to me. I love reading about the difference between cultures and how baby is raised. Your little one is a cutie :) I can see how hard it can be for them to avoid cuddling her. But yeah, they should respect space. Baby needs a lot of time to warm up to people otherwise I feel it can be traumatic for them. I used to be a very shy kid myself and didn't like strangers touching me.

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  3. Thank you for your kind words! It is interesting to notice the differences, I love that about living in a foreign country. I love having to re-evaluate my own thoughts and assumptions. And Singapore is a very child-friendly country, so it's been brilliant living here with E.! Having said that - the showering of attention did take a little getting used to for both of us and cuddling strangers is definitely not part of the menu yet :D Generally people are very good though and E. thankfully loves to smile and wave.

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  4. My mum will frown if I say I leave my baby sleeping or awake in our bed on her own (for hours on end) while I switch on the babyphone downstairs in the kitchen, or if I dun go check on my baby after she cries for 30 seconds. It is so un-asian, so to speak!

    When we go back to Singapore, we do notice the difference in how my toddler behaves as compared to his niece and nephew. My boy eats his meals on his own with his baby cutlery and he finishes his meal at about the same time that we finish ours, while his niece and nephew who are few months older, has to be spoonfed cos asian parents do not like their children dirtying the table or the floor, so they would rather spoonfeed them even when they are already 3 or 4 years old; What is worse, some parents have to chase after their kids while they are eating! :)

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  5. My mum said, when E. was a week old: "You do realize you can also put her down?" Different cultures! (Although I think my mum actually meant: "Hand over the baby now.")

    I love love love the child friendliness in Singapore and how we can bring her anywhere, including fancy restaurants and the H&M and the staff will actually smile at us.

    But it is funny to notice how E. is a little wild and independent barbarian compared to most local toddlers her age :) And then when we went back home, it turned out she was just like all the other Dutch toddlers.

    So for now, I think we have the perfect balance. But I have to admit to small shudders of panic when I see slightly older white haired barbarians running around restaurants, whereas their Asian counterparts manage to sit still and let their parents enjoy the meal :D

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