Tag Archives: nannying

Au no Fair!

2 Aug

My 6 week au pairing experience was drastically cut short, ending after just 10 days. If you read my first post about au pairing you would have read what a great time I was having, blissfully unaware of any apparent discomfort I was causing the family. I want to be respectful and not use the family’s real names so for the purpose of this post I’m going to give them all pseudonyms. The Daughter will be ‘Adriana’, Mother – ‘Carla’, Father – ‘Mario’, (I know some of you are bound to imagine him as Nintendo’s Mario with a thick black moustache but so be it), and the son, ‘Fabio’.

Things began taking a bad turn after just a week. A Thursday evening meal ended with me being quite teary and emotional, after being told that things were awkward and there was a ‘problem’, of which I was at the centre of. I sat at the end of the dinner table, as they spoke in vibrant Italian, their foreheads wrinkled. Their body language hinted it was something serious but of course it was completely undecipherable by me. Their expressive sounds were made intelligible, as usual, by their Father, Mario’s, translation. I can’t remember word-for-word what was said and the general dialogue was delivered somewhat fractured due to his wife’s and daughters’ continued interjections and his faltered English. The general message was along the lines of ‘the children don’t understand you, both my wife and daughter feel uncomfortable, it’s not working’.  Adriana and Carla continued to try to add to his translation.  As each bit of information was relayed in slightly broken English it delivered another slight blow to my bubble, in which I had thought everything had being going well.  It’s a little bizarre that the main issue seemed to be communication when they had deliberately sought out an English speaking au pair; it’s not as though I tricked them into thinking I spoke Italian. I couldn’t even if I had wanted to. The daughter’s English was very basic which made conversation challenging but surely that’s the point? I made gestures, drew pictures, and used Google translate to get what I needed across. She had an English textbook that we went through a couple of afternoons but I didn’t want to force her to do it if she didn’t want to, I don’t want to become the enemy. In fact, this was reiterated in the conversation when the father translated that she didn’t want to be doing a textbook like school work. I had brought children’s books with me. So far we had gone through ‘Goldilocks and the Three Bears’ together, I drew the words and looked up translations to aid her, but she seemed exasperated as though it was too challenging. Ideally, the parents would have been understanding, ‘yes it is challenging’, but encouraging – ‘keep trying’.

Instead the Father concluded with, “How can you fix this problem?” It sounded like he was decisively directing all the blame onto me. I wasn’t sure how to answer and the table seemed to stretch out before me as though adding greater distance between ‘me’, the foreigner, and ‘them’, the family. In that moment, I felt very alone. I apologised, but for what? I wasn’t sure. I felt I had tried my best but agreed I would try harder. We had been to the park, painted, had Fifa tournaments, played ‘Guess Who’, I did English homework with Adriana, as well as getting food shopping and preparing a simple lunch. We hashed out a vague plan of how to ‘fix’ things; I was to do more activities with the children and not only talk more, but to be more determined in my approach to talk to Adriana, (i.e. be more repetitive and do whatever possible until Adriana successfully understood my attempts to make conversation). The Mother, Carla, who I had tried and failed to manage simple conversation with due to her minimal response, upon seeing me well-up, tried to comfort me with a hug. Her affection didn’t go unappreciated at the time, but in hindsight it now seems, as harsh as it might sound, a little weird, since it was she, who decided, less than four full days later, that I should leave.

The next day, I had planned to go to the small nearby park again on the advice that I should be doing more activities with the children. However, due to a misunderstanding, the daughter called her Grandparents and arranged for us to go round to play ping-pong as we had done all together, parents included, one afternoon earlier in the week. I didn’t mind of course, the Grandmother, Mother to the children’s Dad was especially nice. Her English wasn’t great but her effort and perseverance in trying to talk to me, made her extremely likable. I only wish the daughter and Mother had tried half as hard as she did. I searched my memory of Italian words so I was able to express my gratitude and tell her how kind I thought she was. It probably didn’t sound all too melodic, to say the least, but I managed to get my message across.

-On a side note, another misunderstanding led me to spending an afternoon wandering around the town of Macerata alone despite me believing she would be accompanying me. I’m independent enough to enjoy my own company a while I just hadn’t expected it. However, she did kindly drive me into town, point me in the right direction and even provided me with a guidebook. When I explained the misunderstanding to Mario, it transpired that, (roughly translated), she hadn’t wished to ‘cramp my style’. In actual fact, I had been looking forward to us going around town and even imagined us having lunch together in a cafe, as I would my own Grandma.

– Friday seemed pretty successful. The kids enjoyed playing ping-pong with their Grandad and we ate a nice lunch. On the other hand, the children’s habit of turning on the TV in the kitchen during lunch continued. It seemed like a happy distraction from having to try to engage with the stranger in the room – me. I hated being a killjoy but due to the previous night’s conversation, I suggested to the daughter that maybe we should talk instead, reminding her that her Dad had wanted us to talk more. Unfortunately, it fell on deaf ears. She half-shrugged and told me she hadn’t seen the episode before. I mentioned it to Mario when he was home from work, as I didn’t want it to lead to me feeling ganged up on again. Yet, he said it was fine, let them watch TV.  I was getting mixed messages but didn’t want to push the point. I was led to believe that I was there, primarily, to help Adrianna with her English, however after less than a week, she didn’t seem too enamoured with the idea of learning English whatsoever. When I suggested going through her English textbook again she said ‘no’. Again, I didn’t want to force her. Also, she often gave up quickly when she thought trying to explain something seemed like too much of a challenge or would take too much effort. It’s an entirely different dynamic to what I had done in Korea, I was not there to be a figure of authority like a teacher so didn’t try to be, I tried to be their friend but without conversation it was difficult.

I felt bad for the young boy, Fabio, he was full of energy and enthusiasm. I actually think I could have gotten more success teaching him the odd phrase or the lyrics to an English song than his sister, but the parent’s only wanted me to focus on the daughter’s English. They said I shouldn’t try to teach him, instead leave him to his own devices on his Playstation as he was ‘timido’, shy.  This seemed bizarre to me and entirely contradictory, as Fabio was anything but in my company, he would dance around the living room with more moves and mischief than King Louis, of Disney’s ‘The Jungle Book’. He was a little cutie. I made him giggle as we had staring competitions, pulled faces at one another and I’d mess up his hair affectionately.

That’s not to say the girl wasn’t nice, she was, she just wasn’t motivated. When she explained to her Dad the following Monday that she didn’t always understand me, which I think is normal when two people of different languages are talking to one another, it was translated as though it was a fault with me, my personality. I was told I needed to be ‘more friendly’ when I don’t believe I was at all unfriendly. Mario said I needed to ‘smile more’ and that I was ‘too serious’. I was actually much more smiley than usual, but they had seemed to have taken my natural expression and odd furrowing of the brows when I was trying to decipher what was being said in Italian, as some kind of, I don’t know, anger…In fact, I specifically remember the Dad telling me I scared them. I can honestly say I never raised my voice to them once; I never even wag my finger at them.

The only telling off I gave them, if you can call it that, was when I asked them to get dressed before their Father came home for lunch. I didn’t get cross; I asked them once. Adriana bluntly replied ‘NO’.  I asked again five minutes later. I again she flatly replied ‘NO’. Leaving a little more time, (this was all whilst I was in the middle of making lunch.) Again, she replied ‘NO’. The fourth time, I went over to the Playstation and said that if they didn’t go to put their clothes on, (I was pointing at my own clothes and their pyjamas, to demonstrate what I meant), that I would turn the Playstation off. Again, Adriana replied, ‘NO’.  I didn’t want to, but I know from experience with my younger sister, that if you don’t follow-through on your threats then you rarely expect to ever garner any respect or have any co-operation from kids. I counted to five, they looked at me as though they didn’t think I would, but I did – I turned off the Playstation. Little Fabio whaled and they both stomped off to get changed. This was all a big mistake, to my surprise, Mario said I should have left them to stay in their pyjamas all day if they wished. That was a little frustrating, it made me the ‘bad guy’, the enemy.

I would describe the parents as quite lenient, very loving, but very lenient. The kids went to bed the same time as their parents and they watched kids TV until 10.30 most nights. They weren’t made to eat vegetables if they didn’t want to. I’m not criticising their parenting it just meant that the daughter knew that she only had to do what she felt like doing, and speaking in English, by the end of the first week, was NOT something she felt like doing. At least, that’s the impression she gave. Of course, as far as she and her parents were concerned, that was my fault.

Pretty much every conversation with the parents, (mainly the Dad, since he was the only one who spoke in English), about how things were going was a re-hashing of the same conversation of the first the one, on the Thursday previous, and with each conversation it made a small issue bigger. What can make an uncomfortable situation worse is talking about how uncomfortable it is. I think it’s reasonable to expect a certain level of awkwardness if you invite a stranger who doesn’t speak your own language to live with you into your home to take care of your kids, but it takes time.  Usually the awkwardness would go unmentioned. Instead it was discussed at length turning it into a much bigger issue. Mario kept bringing it up, probably out of concern – I don’t doubt that he had good intentions, but it just made things worse. I was determined to not let it get me down, I reassured him that I was happy, I hadn’t given up if they hadn’t, and that I was genuinely doing my best to make it work.

Despite me treating each day as a new day, putting their concerns out of my mind and pulling all my usual kids repertoire out of the bag: playing frisbee, football, making silly faces, singing songs, telling jokes, drawing numerous cartoons, showing them how to do origami and performing many magic tricks, (I can literally make a handkerchief disappear – what’s not to love about that?), it all went to pieces.

One day, which turned out to be my last day, I was playing volleyball with the kids on the beach at our usual spot, by the rented sun loungers when a woman from the cafe a few meters away, called the daughter’s name. It was usual for Carla or Mario to call the daughter and check in every 45 minutes or so to see how things were going. However, this time Adriana hadn’t heard her phone ringing whilst we were playing. She missed her Mother’s call. Anyway, she spoke to the Mum via the cafe phone and reassured her that everything was fine. However, when we returned to the apartment, after I set the table for lunch and the kids played FIFA on Playstation whilst we waited for their Dad to join us, things went from bad to worse. First, the Dad dived into yet another conversation about his concerns, all pretty much the same as before. Then his mobile rang. It was his wife, Carla. She crying, saying she was beside herself with worry he told me, she said she “couldn’t trust me and wanted me to leave as soon as possible”. Some painfully awkward hours later, (I hid in my room the best part of it), I was on a plane back to the sunny UK.

And so that’s it. My au pairing experience came to a sudden end. Would I au pair again? Probably not. Not because of that particular experience, every family is different and I know people who have had great au pairing experiences. However, in September I’ll be training to be a teacher. My summer holidays will be precious and I’ll have money to spend making it count. There are still so many places I want to see and things I want to do. I have four weeks left before I have to commit completely to my PGCE and write off my social life for around ten months. In the meantime, I plan to enjoy myself.

Macerata

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I’m sorry about these au pairing titles but for some reason, as cringe-worthy as they are, they really tickle me.

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