When I first told people that I was going to be an Au Pair, the most common reaction was: “since when do you like kids?” Mostly because I have no intention of having my own any time soon. To those people I would like to say that I like kids fine, and I also like handing them back after looking after them all day.
We were pretty poor when I was growing up-I was raised by a single mum and I was desperate to get a job and earn my own money. But I was only 14 and couldn’t even get a job at the local supermarket until my 15th birthday. The legal age to babysit was 14 so that was just what I was going to do.
I printed off a homemade flyer and stuck it to the bulletin board at the supermarket that refused to hire me. It had lots of copies of my number for people to tear off, and although I had no experience, I’d been looking after my brothers for years so after that other kids should be a piece of cake right?
My first call was from a woman who lived a few streets away, and had a nine month old baby. She was on her own and needed a cheap babysitter, and I was just the girl for the job.
That baby used to cry so loudly I’d think she was dying. I’d put her in her stroller, and inevitably end up at home where I would hand her to a much more experienced woman.. My mum really saved my life in these situations, and taught me what to do when the baby was fed, had a clean diaper and just wanted to cry. I would ring her at all hours of the night, often nearly in tears, and she always helped me sort it out.
Around the same time, I had a bunch of calls from people who were desperate because their usual babysitter had canceled. One of these was for a lady who needed me on a Saturday night from around 6 to 11pm. I arrived to the house and was shocked by how dirty the place was. The little girl was four and had been born with no arms, and her little brother was two, and “a little bit sick”, neither of which had been explained to me. Perhaps I would have known if I had gone to meet the family, instead of blindly agreeing to babysit that night, while rubbing my hands together in glee at the prospect of some real money.
The two year old threw up all night, while the little girl cried for her mother. All calls to the mothers cell phone were ignored, and I was too scared to go into the kitchen, after seeing a mouse scuttle past. Mum arrived to pick me up at 11, and then again at 12, but the woman didn’t arrive home until 12.30, giving me $30 for my effort.
That was the last time I would babysit for someone without meeting them first-until I decided to do the Au Pair program.
Anyway, I couldn’t really blame people for their disbelief when I gave up a perfectly good office job to look after someone else’s kids. I mean this wasn’t just babysitting-it was an all-day every-day kind of thing. I’m the girl who, when someone dares to bring a crying baby into a coffee shop, I give them that look. You know the one-that “You may not notice that your spawn is screaming, but the rest of us do, so why don’t you do something about it or come back when it’s asleep?” look.
And when people bring their kids into a store and let them run around, I’m not at all impressed. I get this from my mother. When we were kids she could take us anywhere and we wouldn’t touch a thing-all she had to do was give us a look and we knew we better behave. Now I’m not saying that children should be seen and not heard, but I do blame the parents if the kids are little brats.
I babysat on and off through high school, and for the most part I liked the kids that I looked after. When I decided to come to the states, like most Au Pairs, I wasn’t thinking too hard about the actual job itself, but the amount of traveling I would be doing and the cute American guys I’d be seeing. I hoped the kids would like me, but mostly I hoped that they would do what I said. It wasn’t until a few weeks before I left when I was talking to my mother about how small the kids were. I hadn’t looked after four and five-year old kids for years, and I finally got a little nervous about being responsible for two little humans.
It’s funny now, because I feel the exact way one of my friends described feeling after she had her baby-my host kids are great and I love them to bits. Everyone else’s kids are just barely tolerable.
What I’m trying to say is that you don’t have to be especially maternal to do this job. Spend enough time with the kids and they become your little brothers and sisters. Today miss five goes to me “Stacey? I don’t love you.” My mouth dropped open. She quickly followed it up with “I love you toooooo much.” Pretty cute huh?