The Nanny State

Someone watching over you at all times. Keeping you safe, clothed, and fed. Paid to make sure you don’t injure yourself and you’re overall well being is maintained, but not necessarily concerned with your upbringing. This is the Singapore I’ve noticed recently. I have become increasingly annoyed with some of the children in our complex during Emmet’s nightly playtime. Mostly they are good kids, but they can be little heathens. As all children can at times. The problem is we live in a nanny state. Not in the way radio talk hosts in the United States mean it. In a much more literal way. There are evenings where of the twenty or so children at the playground I am the only parent in sight. Most nights there are only one or two more. If anyone accompanies the child it is the nanny, or Helper as they are called here.

There are basically two ways families treat these women here. The first, and unfortunately most common, is as a servant. The children are brought up knowing that the Helper is a hired hand of the family and treated much like a useful tool. They are cared for, in the sense that they are housed, fed, clothed, and paid by the family. The children also know that they carry no real authority in the household and their words have no weight or impact on the child’s life. To this end it can create an atmosphere that William Golding would be proud of. The strong and fast lord over the small. Toys are taken at will and games are exclusionary. What is odd is the immediate change in behavior of “Jack” or “Ralph” when the parents do happen to be there. They become little angels of civility. If someone else they see as an authority figure corrects them they also modify their behavior accordingly, at least for the fifteen minutes their five year old heads can remember to. The Helpers, however, are powerless to correct them. The Helpers know it and worse the children know it.

The other less common circumstance is when the Helper becomes “part” of the family. They are still hired help but take on the feel of more of an aunt or grandmother. One shining example of this is Ruby. Ruby is the Helper of our friends Adam and Sybil. Ruby has been with them since the birth of their son Ethan who is now five. Ruby shares meals with the family and genuinely loves Ethan and his little sister Elisa. Both children have been raised to respect her and listen to her. The parents are involved in the kids lives and Ruby is not “just” a hired hand to them. I rarely see Ethan acting out at the playground, at least not any more than one would expect from a little boy.

It frustrates me to have Emmet there and see this but I guess it is all part of the learning and growing experience here. The cleaning ladies, guards, and groundskeepers all love E. Mostly because he says hello to them, gives them high fives and talks to them. I expect him to treat them all with dignity and not as pieces of machinery. I don’t think they are used to it. The lady who cleans around our building in the complex Emmet calls “Orange’s Friend” because she care for the big orange kitty who hangs around. Emmet always has a smile for her, sometimes a hug. He has even given her one of his school art projects. It seems odd to me that she greets us and not everyone else she passes from our building, but then again most of them don’t even acknowledge her presence. I refuse to let Emmet grow up with a sense of entitlement like that.


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