Suddenly, it was October. I was going back to work (still telecommuting), and we needed a baby sitter. I had put zero thought into this. Kella was not allowed to go to daycare because her prematurity put her at high risk for RSV, a common cold virus that could either a) kill her, b) put her in the hospital for weeks, or c) give her asthma.
We were not allowed to have friends over, take her to a mall, a church or any indoor public place. She could not be exposed to sick people or small children. Before we could touch her, we had to wash our hands. We were to be housebound until the end of flu and RSV season—six months.
I could only afford to pay someone minimum wage, and this person would have to come to our house, four hours a day. This did not sound promising in my mind. I envisioned a college girl watching TV while my child cried in her bassinette.
I asked the Bolivian lady who cleans my mother-in-law’s house if she knew anyone.
“How much?” she asked.
“$8.50 an hour.”
“Sorry, that’s too little,” she said. “I don’t know anyone who would babysit for that. It’s hard work!”
“That’s all I can afford,” I said, apologetically.
My husband’s best friend called. His wife is Peruvian, and their next door neighbor, a sweet woman from Lima was looking for a job. She couldn’t drive, so her options were limited.
“She’s the kindest person,” he enthused. “You will love her!”
I picked Esther up on Monday.
Esther is three years older than I am, but when it comes to homemaking, she is well beyond me. She married at 18 or 19 and had her first son maybe a year later. (He’s in college.) Her three younger boys are six, nine and thirteen.
She told me she’s been taking care of children since she was eight years old, when she was put in charge of her parents’ house. She would cook and clean before going to school. In the evenings, she’d babysit her premature niece. Practically raised her.
She cooked everything from scratch, using vegetables and fruits from their garden. Orchids grew in their yard. She adopted 15 stray dogs and trained them all perfectly.
Other aspects sounded less idyllic. After she had her first child, she had to hand wash his cloth diapers every day in a big boiling pot and hang them out to dry. She said it was so miserable, she’d cry.
Her husband worked on a cruise ship for a few years, and they’d only see each other three months a year. He spent most of his time in Finland. Finally they moved to the U.S., and they’re going through the process of obtaining citizenship.
If you ask me, we should beg this family to become naturalized citizens this moment. Esther is involved with every community activity in town to help the poor. They go to church twice a week, and she’s always cooking, bringing her famous tres leches cakes and banana bread to all the neighbors every few days. She seems to know everyone.
I think she fell for Kella instantly. Esther was worried about her choking again, felt intimidated by Kella’s breathing monitor, so she just held her the entire time.
She would read her Bible with one hand, while Kella slept, and would tell me that she was praying for my daughter and husband.
We’d have lovely conversations in the car each day. For many months, she was almost the only friend I could see because of Kella’s quarantine.
She would bring us apple cake, homemade breads and little samples of her Peruvian cooking. It seemed like every time I’d pay her, she’d come the next Monday with a new outfit for Kella.
I told her, “I am paying you so little. Please don’t give us too much.”
But, I realized that she is one of those people who shows her love that way.
She was a gift to us.