The Nanny (Ayi) Diaries

Today I welcomed our new ayi into our home. She’s working for us 5 days a week for 4 hours each morning. Cheng Ayi has been an ayi for many years, and so she was relaxed and went with the flow – seeming very comfortable with us at once! JM left for school about 10 minutes after she arrived with admonitions to listen for the main differences in the dialect (switching “n” and “l” sounds, ending everything in “a”). It was by far the longest stretch of Chinese speaking I’ve done with one person since our arrival in China. I had four hours to introduce her to our home, our routines, and Leo’s schedule. Thankfully, after 3 ½ months here, I am much more comfortable with the fact that I can’t say everything I want to say, I have to get creative with the vocabulary I have, and I have to ask everyone to speak slowly and infer meaning when that doesn’t seem to help. When all that failed, I had my dictionary for a few necessary words.

To be honest, the strangest part of the experience was watching her roll her sleeves up to wash our breakfast dishes. Never in my life has anyone done my dishes (well, my husband and my mother, but they are not paid to do so ☺). Her main responsibility is to babysit Leo, but she told us she doesn’t mind doing some housework. I do not have a problem with this (I’m not crazy, after all!), but it is something I’m going to have to get used to.

After putting Leo down for his morning nap, I usually attend to our house to keep it in running order. Today, however, I was able to study for 45 minutes straight. It was blissful to study during a time of day when I have energy! This is why we hired Cheng Ayi! Yay!

Leo doesn’t use diapers, but Cheng Ayi was very accustomed as a Chinese woman and mother to taking babies to the toilet. We had an extended conversation about his bathroom habits (my bathroom vocabulary is pretty good because I have a baby, so this part was easy). Most Chinese babies don’t use diapers of any kind; mothers rely on their babies’ signals and timing to take them to the bathroom until they are able to go on their own. In fact, many of them wear split-crotch pants for easy access when they do need to go potty. She took him to the bathroom without any problem – she’s a pro!

All said and done, it was a very successful first day. I am exhausted after speaking and listening to so much Chinese. Leo also had a good dose of Chinese, with Cheng Ayi taking him through all the familial terms today with our family pictures. Maybe Leo’s first word will be in Chinese!

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2 Responses to “The Nanny (Ayi) Diaries”


  1. 1 mjfalk June 3, 2008 at 12:43 am

    Dear Liz,
    Great insight. What a blessing to have an Ayi to fit in at least seemingly so. Great opportunity to grow naturally into the understanding of the moment and need.
    Keep up the blog daily if at all possible. It is the first thing Dad reads. I wonder why? Love BABA.

  2. 2 Becca June 4, 2008 at 7:23 pm

    If I get into school I need to hire a driver for the commute! Any ideas?


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