Thursday, March 22, 2012

The thing about plans is...

One month later finds us ayi-less once again.

Today our ayi told us she didn't want to watch the children (Juliana and our teammate's kids) anymore. There is no such thing as two-week's notice; this morning we heard she was quitting and this afternoon we saw her for the last time. That's just how things work. Everything, it seems, is last minute.

It was a little rocky from the start. We thought our new ayi was doing just fine, but she was not very confident in her child-watching abilities. She was always afraid that something would happen or the kids would get hurt. This was not helped by two kids having some minor bumps-and-blood falls on the same day. In the end, she felt like it was more than she could handle. She was exhausted and she was worrying all the time. It's just as well that things ended now before the kids got too attached. If ayi did not feel comfortable it will be better to find someone else. But still. Juliana had finally gotten used to ayi and stopped crying whenever we left her. I don't want to start this all over again.

This could happen to anyone, anywhere, and frequently does. But sometimes I feel like turnover and instability and ambiguity characterize our lives here. It's only been seven months since we uprooted and moved to this new city with new role, found a new ayi, and settled down. Except there seems to have been a lot less settling that I would have liked. Things are still changing all the time.

When we first came to China, we were told two characteristic phrases we must grasp to live in China: “Tolorate ambiguity” and “plans cannot keep up with change.” These truly have been themes just about every year (month?) of the past seven. You'd think we'd have gotten them down by now, but somehow they always crop up and surprise us once again.

Why do we think that things will stay the same? Why do we still make schedules when we know they will change? Why do we still settle in when we know we will soon move again? Why do we still get thrown off by the unexpected?

The train is three hours late. The bus route unexpectedly changes. Your school tells you, “Oh yes, tomorrow is a holiday.” Your teacher/tutor/student calls a two minutes ahead of time and says, “Sorry, I can't meet.” Your friend shows up at your door just as you were about to go to bed. Your leader tells you, “We will have a banquet and you must come. It's in half an hour.” Your internet/power/water stops working, but it's no big deal because it will work again in a few hours or maybe tomorrow. You go to the hospital and the doctor says you need an IV right away except the one person in charge of IV's has just gone home for the night. Your renter tells you they will move out in two days. Your landlord tells you your building may or may not be demolished soon. Your ayi tells you she can't work for you anymore starting today.

These are all things that don't phase Chinese people because that's just how things work. They don't have to remind themselves that “plans can't keep up with change” because it's already imbedded in their mindset. They don't expect to be in control. It's just we foreigners who have a problem, who still delude ourselves into thinking we can control our own lives.

And you know, I do constantly remind myself that these are the small things. Half of everyone I know is having their world turned upside-down by much more devastating changes. Death of parents. Death of friends. Cancer. Threat to personal safety. Trying to explain loss to your preschooler. Mysterious illness. Injury.

Most Chinese have already made the important realization that they can't control their own lives, but they may not realize their life isn't a whim of chance, governed by fate and more powerful people. It is an intricately woven, delicate web. A careful mixture of pain and loss and joy and gain. The hang-ups, the detours, the dead-ends, the unexpected change of course are all just part of it. Either we fight the whole way, or we accept and wonder at the mystery. And I guess that when we see it in the end, we'll realize that's what makes our our lives look like something beautiful.


Nate and Molly said...

This is quite the beautiful and well-expressed piece for such a frustrating situation! thinking about her replacement. .

Jane @ The Borrowed Abode said...

Wow, even if you know you can't control your lives, it's still incredibly frustrating when things like this happen. It would drive me BANANAS!! Hang in there.

Mallary said...

Great post, Ruthie. You said what we all feel and in a way that was so gracious to China. I'm gonna hold onto this one.