Ahhh, the life of an au pair. How do I put this eloquently... There are highs and there are lows and sadly, the last few days have been on the lower end of the spectrum for a variety of reasons. In sitting down to write this, I immediately thought of a scene from one of my favorite movies (500 Days of Summer) where the screen splits and presents the main character's expectations and reality on either side. To some extent, I feel like I had this ideal image of what life would be like as an au pair, and in many ways, those expectations have been met. But in other ways, I am definitely struggling with the reality of at least part of the situation.
I feel it's important to preface this post by saying the parents continue to be wonderfully accommodating and concerned for my well being. I feel very lucky that I get along with them and that they have done so much to help me get settled. The boys are really amazing too and are enjoying learning English through talking, reading, and singing with me.
However, like in any situation, not all expectations can be met and some things aren't ideal as a result. My two biggest struggles have become very stressful for me to deal with after a month of being slowly overwhelmed by them daily.
The first concern is one that I anticipate will be resolved upon the completion of the renovations of my room. For the last month, I have been staying in one of the boy's bedrooms while the boys share the other. Initially, this wasn't a problem because I was just happy to have a space to call my own. Now, I am finding the location of the room to be... exhausting. It's next to the parent's bedroom, other boy's bedroom, the family bathroom, and I share a wall with the kitchen. Essentially, there is constant noise and I never feel entirely separated or rested, even on my days off, because I am in the center of a lot of commotion.
I am holding out hope that once my room is done I will feel better because it is at the end of the hallway and at the end of the house, removing me a bit from the center of everything. They put in the windows and doors to my room the other day and I am awaiting some plumbing fixes to be completed on Wednesday... so the finish line is quickly approaching it seems. I am just anxious to have some quiet time and relaxation every once in a while.
Unfortunately, the second concern doesn't exactly have a guaranteed end date. I have been seriously struggling with some of the behavior I have to handle, especially from the youngest. Hitting, kicking, screaming, are all regular occurrences when something doesn't go his way. This might be terrible twos, but when there is not much discipline for
this kind of behavior it makes it hard for me to know how I am allowed
to discipline him, especially when the parents are around. I find with the older boy, I am able to talk with him and he is reasonable with my requests, even if he is a little stubborn to begin with.
I am doing my best to translate lessons I was taught as a kid... hands to yourself, use your words, inside voices, etc etc. But when a toddler is screaming at you and only wants his mom it is very hard to get the words out correctly in French and I become pretty tongue-tied. Overall, it's an exhausting process-- both physically and mentally.
Sadly, this is becoming more and more of an issue for me because I feel like I'm expected to just take the kicks and hits and still find a way to get him dressed in time. I was scolded today for not being able to get him dressed quickly enough, I attempted to defend myself by explaining that he would not stop kicking, hitting, and rolling around and that it was impossible to work with him despite trying to distract him or even reprimand him. She insisted that I needed to try harder and that it was doable, but by the time they left I was absolutely beside myself and in tears wondering if I had made the wrong choice in choosing to be an au pair.
I guess the thing is, I am not a mom yet nor do I intend to be, but I have begun to feel all the stresses of a struggling mom. As a teacher, I know exactly how to handle my students in a classroom, and I would even venture to say classroom management is my strongest skill. These aren't my kids, though, so I am trying not to cross a line of being too harsh in their parents' eyes, but I definitely cannot continue to endure this kind of behavior on a daily basis and I need to find a solution... quickly.
We haven't finished the au pair contract yet because the parents were waiting to see what my hours would be as a teacher, but I am hoping to bring some of my concerns up then. I also intend to ask for at least one entire weekend off a month, which I had brought up before coming, but I am definitely not finding a half day on Saturday and a full day on Sunday to be sufficient.
I hope no one reads this and finds that I am ungrateful for the opportunity because I am absolutely thankful and want to make the most of it. In any work I do, I always give 100%, but I am just afraid of burning out if some things don't change because it requires a lot of energy. I feel like it's important to document the good and the bad so that if a future au pair stumbles upon my blog, they have a clear sense of the ups and the downs that can occur.
And now to end on a positive note with some of the good I have experienced as an au pair this past month. I truly enjoy helping the boys, and the parents, practice their English on a regular basis. With the boys, I usually say something in English then repeat in French to help them form the connection. The parents enjoy clarifying certain rules or even idioms. One of the books I brought, The Wheels on the Bus, has become an absolute must read-- at least 3 times a day. The boys have gotten really good at singing it and understand most, if not all, of the words.
They have also given me a great opportunity to be able to practice speaking French, which I speak for the great majority of my day. Just today, the four year old gave me, politely, some corrections to what I had said just a second before! I have also had a number of opportunities to socialize with their
family friends over dinner, drinks, or just a quick visit. In addition to the fact that I am speaking French as I get around the city-- there's no way my fluency won't be 100x better when I leave than when I first arrived.
I am going to continue to try and keep a positive outlook on all aspects and look at even the most stressful of moments as a learning opportunity. That's not to say that I am not beyond excited for my first vacation-- because I am. Next Friday, Maria and I will be headed to Aix en Provence for the weekend and then Marseille for part of the week. These are both cities we have never visited, so I think we are both eager to explore... and be in the sunny south of France for a bit! The family and I worked out that for each vacation I would take one full week to travel or do whatever on my own, and then work with them the second week. This will be perfect timing for a bit of a break and I cannot wait!