I have come to terms with the fact that everything in this house must be perfect and in place at all times—whether it be a “doo-doo” (aka. a stuffed animal of many shapes and sizes) on the floor, a loose coffee cup, a used Kleenex, a jacket or the 50 different art projects that are created throughout the day. Laundry must virtually never exist, the dishwasher must never be full and pillowcases must be ironed with a botox finish. Speckles of dust mustn’t last longer than a week and Lord Nanny forbid a crumb on the floor! Who foresees that all these actions be taken on a weekly, daily and hourly basis? That’s right, yours truly.
At first, these chores were all fine and dandy—not only did I sign up (I never directly signed anything) knowing there was a cleaning aspect to the job, but I also thought it could teach me a thing or two about domestic organization. But, this household demand of perfection is beginning to haunt me, literally. When I go to sleep at night I am constantly thinking: Did I remember to sweep? Did I forget to set out their socks? Did I turn the dishwasher on? Did I hang the last load on the line? In the beginning, the answer to most of these questions was negative, but now that this desire for perfection has turned into paranoia, I run through the house at least three times before the kid’s 8:30 bedtime (did I mention my day starts at 7 am with only a 2-hour break in between?). Anywhere I happen to see a stray pile of clothes or loose jacket sends me into a state of panic—how long has it been there, I shriek to myself?
If I happen to finish all of my chores before my designated shift is over and go upstairs to play with Photoshop, attempt a blog entry, read or simply peruse Facebook, I am always waiting for Audrey to shout my name, “KorIIIIIII (channel Dorothy’s grandmother from the Wizard of Oz for sound effect).”
“Yes Audrey,” I reply with a gulp.
“Did you dust the downstairs?”
I tense as the paranoia grows stronger. Crap, I forgot.
But wait, did I forget or did this just magically appear onto my daily list of spick and perfect? Kind of like the time I had to organize the shoe closet, clean the car, wash the glass table and iron the parent’s loads of laundry…
I realize the examples I have provided do not seem to give ample reason to gripe, but I am not actually complaining because it is not the work that makes me apprehensive . Okay, it has me slightly irritated that I am required to be in this house for 11 hours a day, five days a week when it only takes me eight hours to finish all of my work for the whole week (besides what gets added on). I am simply pondering the specific guidelines of an au pair in correlation with my responsibilities and how they may be affecting my relationship with the kids.
I also realize this demand for perfection is all for the kids overall well-being (and imperfections continuously created by the kids), but I guess the real question is, where does my job as the au pair end and the maid begin? Or is it the other way around?
According to The Nanny Forum, an “au pair stands for “on par” in french or equal and it refers to a live-in childcare provider from another country that is seeking to learn another country’s culture while also caring for the family’s children. Great Au Pair (which is the site I used to connect with my family) goes on to say that “au pairs typically serve as an integral part of the parenting team.” There are three different categories of an Au Pairs in Europe:
- Au Pair: works 5 hours per day/5 days per week + babysits 2-3 evenings.
- Au Pair Plus: works 6 hours a day/5 days per week + babysits 2-3 evenings.
- Mother’s Help: works 8 hours a day, 6 days per week + babysits 4-5 evenings.
And the typical Au Pair responsibilities:
- Wake children in the morning
- Make sure the children are groomed and dressed
- Make sure children’s beds are made and their rooms are clean
- Prepare breakfast for the children
- Prepare lunches for the children
- Clean up breakfast dishes
- Make sure children have books and homework for school
- Drive children to school (if needed)
- Chores while children are at school:
- Grocery shopping
- Emptying trash
- Folding clothes
- Pick up children from school
- Prepare a healthy afternoon snack
- Assist the children with their homework
- Bathe the children
I do all of this and so much more for so much longer with a stay-at-home Mom and a Dad that comes home at five. Where is the logic in all of this?
The reason this is such a concern to me now is because my duties as the “almost housemaid” and borderline waitress hinder my overall relationship with the kids. I’ve noticed the only real time I connect with them is when it is their means to their end. For example, they cannot paint unless I am there to help them (aka. set it up then clean it up), but during the process my suggestions are ignored and my help refused (unless they need me to go get them something).
Upon acceptance of this treatment, one day I decided to read a book during activity time. Audrey came in to check on us and got frustrated with my “distraction.” Little does she know how hard I tried and always try to involve myself. Finally I just gave up—can you blame me?
The children’s perception of me became even more clear when Lilly told me to go get her coat, which she was much closer to.
“You’re in the playground, you can get,” I said, “I am not your slave you know.”
Her disturbingly serious reply was, “Yes you are.”
I didn’t get her coat.
And this is just one of the many incidents—there is also: pour my juice, throw this away, and my favorite NO, NO, NO to anything I ever ask of them.
Point is, the responsibilities given to me by Audrey put me in the ‘I will do anything for you’ position versus the ‘I’ll help, I’ll teach and we learn together’ position that I expected as an au pair. I mentioned earlier that Audrey is a stay-at-home mother, therefore the kids never see me as the dignified influence to go to for respectable assistance of any kind. Audrey is always there to resolve their issues (usually giving them exactly what they want) and I am there to see that they get it. Essentially, I am in fact, their slave.
Honestly, pondering solutions for this one has been endless and I may need some advice from my child-wise readers—anyone have any suggestions?
Here are a few of my attempts:
1) Be more forceful, but so far they just seem to shut down and ignore me when I do this.
2) Play more game/initiate more activities—usually turns into a mega fight that my words cannot resolve. For games, Elliot needs to win, Cassie won’t play by the rules and Lilly gets vocally mad at Cassie the whole time for not playing the rules.
3) Fill the silence with songs—first time I tried this was with that old summer camp song, “Baby Shark doo doo, doo doo du du” and they looked at me like I was a nutbag—I guess they are harder to please than I was as a child…wait, I still love that song….
4) Pretend their disrespect does not bother me at all and become oober bubbly and sweet—like the other day at lunch, I started dancing to Ray Charles, ‘Shake Your Tail Feather.’ Lilly looked at me like I was a crazy person (I have to admit, my dance moves were a bit rusty) and did not participate, but thank goodness for her cute little friend Ava who jumped right in and did the monkey with me.
5) Silent treatment—as sad as it is, this seems to be their favorite. They don’t seem to care if I am a part of their lives or not, as long as their juice cups are full, cloths are ready in the morning and the DooDoos are picked up from the “clean” glass table…