Kids say the funniest things- Mariaam Bhatti: Tales of a Domestic Worker
2017-07-05 14:24:29 -
Opinion
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Working with children is always physically demanding and keeps one on their toes, but it is also fascinating and never has dull moments – unless, of course, when the children are unwell or have bad days, just like we all do sometimes.

These moments are what help many childminders stay sane in difficult situations. I recall when I was in my first job in Ireland as a live-in childminder and housekeeper, I was being exploited and constantly worried about being thrown out on the street if for some reason my employer woke up not wanting me in her house anymore. This is a worry that many live-in domestic workers, including au pairs, often have.

When I was with the kids, however, life was much easier. I always went with the flow and did not limit myself when we were out playing, even if it meant occasionally ‘flying’ like a kite in an open field. The youngest child, who was a toddler, was hard to please; she seemed to have a bad day almost every day, but with the help of her eight-year-old sister we managed to get a few giggles from her a few times each day.

I always cherish some of the silly things children ask me, as they are usually well thought-out. Another time, when in my second childminding job, as I and the three-year-old I was minding cycled passed a fire engine filling up with water from the river, I asked myself out loud: “I wonder what one needs to have to be a firefighter.” There was no response at first from the youngster, so I assumed he wasn’t paying attention. But moments later I heard a little voice from behind my bike saddle: “You need a fireman hat, gloves, engine, boots and a hose.” He was coming from a totally different angle; it was true, original and just beautiful.

Another time, this little boy’s eight-year-old brother asked me on a bus trip: “Mariaam, why don’t buses have seat belts?” This was a valid and intelligent question which got me thinking about my bus journeys around Dublin in a whole new way.

That same young man once asked me on a stroll through a beautiful park: “Mariaam, where do you work?” I had been minding him and his brothers for at least two years, so I turned to him a little confused and said: “Young man, what do you think I’m doing here? Isn’t looking after you work?” He responded: “It is, but I mean, do you have a real job like my mom and dad have in their office?” 

I had no words – that’s when the young man’s eldest brother, who was 10 but had the intelligence of a secondary school student, chimed in to knock some sense in his younger brother’s mind. 

In all my experience with these kids, I was never sad. I certainly always looked forward to my day at work in that second job. I often hummed in the shower as I was getting ready for the day, believe it or not. This line of work is undeniably demanding, but it is also truly rewarding and valuable.

The only black spot is that it often lacks security. One might want to stay in childminding for as long as they want, but will not likely be entitled to things like paid annual leave and other rights that are enjoyed by most other workers.

Mariaam Bhatti is a member of the Domestic Workers Action Group and Force Labour Action Group of the Migrant Rights Centre Ireland.

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