Having a life,on a family vacation
According to a recent survey in the UK,working parents prefer the stress at their jobs to a family holiday,with two third respondents confessing they don’t look forward to even a week long trip with their children. The pressure of entertaining kids over long flights,queues,and fatigue-induced tantrums can completely take the fun out of a vacation. Lately,I’ve been part of some animated discussions regarding holidays,and one of the most urgent issues of travel for some Delhiites,is how to organise a visa for a maid or domestic worker to accompany the family. I’ve learnt through friends that getting a visa for household staff to the US is far tougher than procuring one for the UK. And Spain and France are almost impossible. India being India,there are touts operating,specifically in visas for the household help. Someone I know has sent her housekeeper for training on how to ace the US visa interview. Since the landmark judgment in March,where an Indian maid was awarded $1.5 million after accusing her employers,an Indian diplomat couple of harrassment and slavery,the rules have changed. Domestics face something of an inquisition: they have to attest that they’re not made to work more than eight hour a day and have weekends off,before their visa application is considered.
Any honest parent will agree,a family vacation is an oxymoron. Traveling with kids is backbreaking work,requiring Gandhian patience. You will enter more McDonald’s and KFC’s in two weeks than you will in an entire year in your hometown. Sure,the scenery changes a little,and there are rare moments of quiet enjoyment. But if your idea of time off is idling with a book and long naps,the hassle and sheer drudgery of the exercise of travel always comes as a rude shock. Having said that,the concept of traveling with a domestic help is a very Delhi thing,or rather Indian attitude to parenting. While it might be entirely true that I can’t handle my kids on my own I’m not sure how comfortable I am with the whole world seeing that. Not to mention the huge intrusion on my privacy. But parents too deserve an occasional escape from their children,even if its just for a couple of hours in the evening. After enduring innumerable evenings watching lousy movies like Indecent Proposal in matchbox sized hotel rooms while my son slept,I got proactive last year and explored the foreign babysitter option.
If you’re not a paranoid parent,finding a sitter in big cities like London and Paris is eminently doable,provided the child is four-plus. On a friends advise,I discovered http://www.babysitters.co.uk where,after an initial registration fee of 10 pounds (approx Rs 800 for a lifelong membership) you can hire a baby sitter for seven pounds (approx Rs 700) an hour. Post midnight you have to pay return cab fare. It’s not exactly cheap,but for a couple of nights,its a justified indulgence. The first day,we had a Hungarian Ph.D student in her 20s who was also trained in first aid. If the parent asks,the sitter will show you ID proof and verifications. It’s a good idea to make a pleasant but firm introduction to your child before you hightail it out of there,but even better if your child is already asleep. Of course he should know his parents are going out so he doesn’t freak if he wakes up. If your child is very young you may not want to go very far off. Sitters are so much in demand in London in the summer,that you need to book two to three days in advance or no one’s available. Another popular website is http://www.rockabyebabysitters.co.uk which is slightly more expensive. I’m told France has similar options,one of which is http://www.paris-babysitting.com but English-speaking babysitters cost more. If you’re going to a familiar place where there’s friends and family on whom you can rely on,nothing like it,but if you want to enjoy a vacation with kids abroad,you should tie up the childcare before you board the flight. Then the endless sightseeing and fast food restaurants become surprisingly bearable.