My first week as an au pair, living in the beautiful city of Geneva, was not as glamorous as I had hoped. It was a mixture of chores, errands and very demanding children. On top of that, I came down with the stomach flu, which has since, toppled through the family like dominos.
As the days went by, I felt more and more like a slave versus a person who came here to help out and become part of the family. Because I am the children’s sixth au pair, I think they are more used to things just happening for them versus helping me, help them.
On day four I experienced my first breakdown, actually several mini breakdowns throughout the day. It began with a discrepancy with the socks I picked out for Cassie—she did not like my choice. Let me rephrase. She did not like my choice four different times. Then she did not like her shirt. I was obligated to run up and down the stairs eight times to resolve this. After several more incidents that had this similar absurdness, I began to seriously question my being here. I have never been the kind of person that gives up on something I have set my mind to and always persevere through tough times, but I began to think, as a college graduate, do I really want to spend the next year of my life being pushed around by ungrateful children?
That night, I had a couple of skype sessions with some dear friends (thank you Diljá and Caitlin) and they assured me that if I have a chat with the parents about my frustrations and concerns then things would probably get better. In any case, this is the obvious solution, but (and here is my weakness) I do not handle confrontation well—I am the bender in most situations and I like it that way. Usually, things do not bother me that much so if there needs to be a compromise, I am always willing to sacrifice. But, not when it comes to my choice happiness—the only way you can create your own happiness is by standing up for it.
The next day, before I headed off for my weekend excursion, I had a sit down chat with Audrey and told her that I felt the kids were rude to me, ignored me and treated me like a slave. It was harsh, but that was the only way I knew how to put it—“wearing my heart on my sleeve” is a new goal of mine and, in this case, my heart felt unappreciated. I explained to her that the root of my ambivalence probably stems from how I was raised, which was very different–two working parents, household expectations and no nanny.
She then filled me in on the fact that several of their past au pairs had left within the first couple months of arrival (due to being a teenager, suffering from depression or excessive party syndrome) and that the kids are just having trouble connecting. She said Cassie is always asking her when I am leaving, not because she wants me to, but because she expects me to. It was a relieving talk because, not only did we talk about the problems I was having with her kids, but also about problems with kids in general—I took a moment to reflect upon my youth filled with mood swings and lack of manners in the process of learning them.
I realize now that there is more to my newborn pessimism than just, what I pegged as, ungrateful children. I have mentioned it before, but that was when I had a better attitude. It is the fact that I am living in a new place without any friends or ability to even casually converse with those I come into daily contact with. I think I may be clinging to my Swiss children because they are, if they choose to be, my only friends and family as of yet.
Although I feel much better about the whole situation, I am excited to get away to Lesyin this weekend to visit a friend. I am grateful that Audrey is so easy to talk to and I am hopeful that next week I will have restored my optimism and developed a new attitude. But, I also hope the kid’s do.