When I made a post on Facebook a fortnight ago about the relationship between my son and our helper, I didn’t expect the reaction it would get.
Here’s what I wrote:
This is a love story. Our son, Alex, is autistic. He’s 14 and is a giant at 1.78m tall. Yet in many ways, he’s very much a child, requiring supervision for many things, much of which our helper Rizza provides. She has known him since he was 4 years old – he was half her height and a third her weight – and the end of last year marked the 10th year she has been with us. Rizza and Alex are best friends. As Alex’s parents, Cara and I worry about what will become of him when we’re dead and gone. During dinner on Sunday, I asked Rizza – only half in jest – if she would consider adopting him when that happens. “Don’t worry, sir,” replied Rizza firmly. “I will take care of him.”
While I did expect positive comments and accolades for Rizza, I thought it would get about 200 reactions as previous posts similar to this one did. However, this post, just 132 words describing a very brief exchange over dinner, received more than 2,300 reactions – 10 times more than the combined reactions of my two wefies with my former Mediacorp actress friend Sharon Au (when she was in Singapore) that were posted before and after it.
All the comments on my timeline – many from strangers – were full of praise for Rizza.
One producer from ChannelNews Asia even called to ask if he could do a documentary with Rizza as its centre and inspiration.
Which was all very sweet.
Meanwhile, Rizza was completely overwhelmed by all the attention.
“You’re now the most famous Filipina in Singapore. At least the most famous one who isn’t famous for having been abused,” I told her. She chuckled. It’s been more than a decade since our first meeting at the maid agency, so she’s very accustomed to my barbs.
It was never my intention to make Rizza famous with that post, though. Rather, it was my expression of gratitude.
Rizza is the fourth helper we’ve had. The previous three, like her, were from the Philippines. But they were nothing like her.
The first was a bit of a nightmare. We hired her primarily to help take care of Alex, but when she arrived, we realised she spoke very little English and had no idea how to take care of a baby. She seemed quite happy when, on her third day, we told her we were sending her back to the agency. It was no fault of hers. We just weren’t the right match.
The next helper turned out to be a horror, but we realised this only months later. At that time, I was working the 4am shift in The New Paper and would usually return home in the afternoon. On that fateful day, I returned home early – at about 10am – because I knew Alex had not been feeling well. To my shock, I found him alone at home, in his perambulator. The helper was stunned to see me when she returned about an hour later but lied that she had been gone for only a few minutes. She was also dressed like she had gone out on a date. My wife Cara and I decided to let her go. We had no idea how many times she had left Alex home alone in the four months she had been with us and we couldn’t live with the worry that she would do it again.
Rizza’s arrival in our home a decade and several months ago was under less than ideal circumstances. Our third helper then, who had been with us for four years and was very affectionate towards Alex, was technically still with us. However, she became uncontactable after returning to the Philippines on home leave. We tried calling and texting her on the day she was supposed to return but received no response. After another week of worrying whether or not she was still alive, we had little option but to get on with our lives, so we went back to the agency for another helper.
More than two months after her leaving, our third helper finally called to tell us that she had had a domestic situation she needed to attend to and was now ready to return. It was too late, for by then, Alex and Auntie Rizza had begun the beautiful relationship that they still enjoy today.
One night during her first few weeks with us, I heard her sobbing in her room. She told me the next day that she missed her family – her husband and three children. Her eldest is a boy and her youngest are twins, a boy and a girl, who are just a couple of years older than Alex.
While she remains grateful to be employed by us today, we are just as grateful to her for forgoing her right to watch her own children grow up in order to help us to raise our son.
She’s on Facetime or on WhatsApp with her family for a lot of the time, but it is an enormous sacrifice nonetheless, and I’m sure she still misses her children dearly.
Rizza has seen the best and worst of Alex and has never once been upset or lost her temper at him. Friends and relatives who have seen them together have always remarked that she is an amazing helper.
She has never asked us for more than what we have given her. Even when her eldest son had a fall and needed to be hospitalised, she asked for an advance but we were more than happy to pay for that bill which came up to only $200.
We’d occasionally buy her gifts, and there was once we gave her a pair of tickets to the F1 Singapore Grand Prix. They were complimentary anyway and Cara and I didn’t feel like going ourselves, but Rizza was filled with so much gratitude simply for being given the opportunity to do so.
By and large, as employers, we try to make Rizza’s life here as happy as possible. Her service to our family, though, is priceless.
Which is why I’m outraged whenever I read a report about maid abuse. Or get seriously upset that there are Singaporeans who think that Filipinos should make themselves scarce so they can have a quieter Sunday afternoon in town. But that’s another story.
On that evening when I asked Rizza whether she would consider adopting Alex when Cara and I are dead and gone, I probably didn’t even sound serious. But she sensed that Alex’s future was something we worried about constantly.
“Don’t worry, sir,” she said. It was not a wishy-washy remark in response to a question made half in jest. She was serious.
“I will take care of him.”
I’ve said before that I know Rizza will protect Alex with her own life, as she would her own children. Nevertheless, her answer – delivered with absolute conviction – almost made me cry.
As that post made its rounds on social media, I received a friend request from a young Filipina. It was Rizza’s daughter.
“Thank you for treating my mother like your family, sir,” she said in a message.
“Thank you for lending her to us,” I replied.
“Alex always calls me ‘ate’ (big sister) when we have a video call with my mother, sir,” she said. It was a fascinating revelation for I had no idea Alex talked to them, too.
“Your mother is now more famous than me,” I told her.
“Hahahaha! Yes, sir,” she replied. “It’s because of you, sir.”
I didn’t think so. It was what she did that made her famous, I merely told the story.
“But fame is not important. Kindness and goodness are,” I replied.
And Rizza’s kindness is what makes her a star.