He’s had enough of other domestic concerns in the last two weeks, springcleaning like crazy and doing odd jobs around the house, especially in the garage where Cat seemingly staked her territorial boundary. Yeah, like Sage, I thought Mama Catherine was about to go some place else, but it turned out hat hubby only wanted to dispose of all the other cats that came home to roost on Catherine’s food bowl.

For a while there, Sagey and I did not know that. I had to endure her distress as she tearfully advocated for Mama Cat’s right to stay.

“You are never home,” she accused.

“That is not so true,” I countered. “I’m busy and Dad’s busy, but it’s not true that we are never home.”

“Okay, but there are times when I need a parent and you are not home,” she wails again. “I am here at home and I can only draw so much and write so much and after that I really need to talk because when you’re ten years old you need to talk. But there’s no one to talk to. Ate is always locked up in her room or she’s at the internet café and the manangs are always watching TV! They tune it up so loud and they don’t hear me when I say they have to lower the volume. They don’t mind me at all. They don’t even clean the house even when I’m sneezing and sneezing. So I go out there and talk to Baby Cat.”

Sagey has mild asthma. Her sneezing is our barometer of the dust factor inside the house. It pains me to hear that her health concern has been neglected by the people I had entrusted to clean my house and take care of my children when I’m out. If these people had been doing their jobs, there wouldn’t have been any need for my husband to do so massive a job of springcleanng in the last two weeks.

I’ve had enough. The cats stay, but my help have to go. I’m done telling them and showing them how I want things done when every time I turn around I have to do it again. They’ve gotten used to what Sage pointed out – I was never home. And when I was I was too tired to go on and on about what they did wrong. So they just weathered my disapproval when I was around because soon I had to go anyway.

Despite workshops and instructions on how I wanted the cleaning done, they ran the broom across the floor once a day and that’s about it. They raked up a bill calling their friends’ cellphones every time I left the NDD open, slept all hours, opened three or four canned goods when they felt like eating, and watched Wish Ko Lang or any and all of those telenovelas where some sicko held everyone hostage to her threat to kill herself any day now. She’d threaten suicide because she can’t be part of Wowowee that had people going home with so much money as scantily clad women bumped and ground and yelped in mock orgasm.

Everybody happy, kapamilya, kapuso. (Actually, the real message is that you are sooooo excluded. So there. Wonder why you want to kill yourself?)

I tried to find placement for my help, but nobody I knew was willing to take them off my hands. I paid them Php1,800.00 every month on top of the allowance they got on their days off. I sent one of them to Assumption Sunday High School where I paid full tuition as well as the cost for uniforms, shoes, school supplies, and book rentals. On Sundays, I gave her Php100.00 for her transportation, lunch, and school expenses. It was too late for enrolment when the other one came into my employ.

Yes, there’s a difference between giving people a leg up and opening one’s self up to abuse. I’d paid them that much because I expected to have a heavy schedule and I wanted to be sure that my household did not suffer.

But suffer my household did and I found myself constantly cleaning up after them and requiring them to do it again as I instructed. Meanwhile, they bought cellphones and lashcurlers and their nails were a lot prettier than mine. They also raided my supply of shampoo, conditioner, and sanitary pads. Unlike Mama Catherine, they never came when called. One could expect better results texting them instructions. I kid you not. I would be in the kitchen and calling them till I turned hoarse. Text them once and they come out.

So whoever said that young girls want to rise above poverty? My poor help only wanted their wish ko lang granted – a secure roof over their heads, a relatively variegated pantry to raid, and someone else to foot the bill. They got paid doing almost nothing except rake up more expenses for me and endangering my daughter’s health. They used their pay to buy cellphones and lashcurlers and nail polish.

And going to school? Gee, I never once saw my help doing her homework or reading her textbooks.

Look, our grandfathers walked ten kilometers everyday to get to school. If this was about wanting to get an education, young girls would walk that extra mile, too. James, who used to troubleshoot my electric wiring, went to high school and college hitching rides with my mother-in-law and bringing rice and oyap for lunch everyday. Sometimes he would come by to ask me about his homework in psychology or literature or history. James is now a licensed ECE.

James and the likes of him prove that poverty is not a terminal illness. It is a temporary condition that you battle everyday. You don’t win it by whiling the day away sleeping and fantasizing that electronic dreams would come true for you.

But obviously, for my help, going to school was about getting there in style and showing off the results of lashcurler, conditioner, and nail polish. Never leave home without those. Oh, don’t forget the blasted cellphone.

Please don’t ask me where my help got those twisted prescriptions to the value of education. Or where they learned that in order to eat all you have to do is to open a can. As Sagey said, they never lowered the TV volume even when she asked. The TV was all that they heard and had a mind to listen to.  Wish ko lang. 

(Wayward and Fanciful is Gail Ilagan's column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. Ilagan teaches Social Justice, Family Sociology, Theories of Socialization and Psychology at the Ateneo de Davao University where she is also the associate editor of Tambara. You may send comments to [email protected] "Send at the risk of a reply," she says.)