One of my good friends made the quite pertinent observation earlier this week that however hard it must be for me managing “staff”, imagine how it is for her.
In fact what she said was: “I’m not sure who I feel most sorry for – you or the au pair?” Alright, I concede that perhaps her remark wasn’t a commentary on the general nature of employer / employee relationships, but rather – IMAGINE being my au pair...
And THEN my sister instructed me not to sigh at her.
Sometimes I think that I’m a bit misunderstood.
So - to assuage any concerns anyone might have about how I’m treating my little teenage sloth – worry not. I am amazing myself with my patience, and general management skills. I am actually being nice. (To her; not to anyone else. Let’s not get carried away.) We have a chat at the end of every day, whereupon I employ everything I’ve ever read about managing toddlers. I praise the good, and suggest ways of changing the bad.
“I really liked how you were so thorough in washing the bread knife, but in future, you really only need to give it a quick rinse...”
“It’s great that you sat down and read to them during dinner, but maybe try to keep them sitting at the table and eating while you’re doing that...”
It is yielding results – a vast improvement, daily (which just goes to show that all those toddler books might be good for something). She’s great with the Grubette – tho’ frankly, given a choice between minding the Boy and the Girl, or minding the baby (that’s how the labour is generally divided in the house) I’d get myself up to speed with babies pretty damn quickly too. (Btw, on a completely different topic – the Grubette is now three months old...Huh? How? And how did we ever think our family could be complete without her?)
But the really big problem about having an au pair – apart from having to be nice – is that you start to see your life through her young eyes.
It’s not pretty.
For starters, you realise that you are the person she sees. I cling to my school and college friends because I want to be around people who knew me BEFORE ALL THIS. I want them to see me as I see them: 20, enthusiastic, energetic. Pert. She sees me without this veil of symbiotic delusion: I am old, haggard, have little to say that isn’t child-related, and wear the same clothes every day.
But worse – far, far worse – is knowing that she sees your offspring without any allowance being made for their FOUL behaviour. Which – as every non-parent knows – is a direct result of the FOUL parenting they receive.
In the past ten days she has witnessed:
- The Boy disappearing off up the street on his scooter, while I stood by the car, my entreaties to him to come back getting louder and more frequent. (Eventually I gave up and pegged down the road after him – at top speed, roaring every step of the way – whacking his bottom when I eventually got to him);
- Me stopping the car one evening, yanking the Boy out (it hasn’t been the best week for the Boy) and depositing him on the pavement; (I relented – somewhat – by asking the au pair to walk the 50m back to the house with him – only because I feared the ensuing tabloid furore when he failed to ever arrive home);
- Complete and utter pandemonium as she stepped in the front door yesterday evening; me kneeling in the hall in front of the naked Girl, telling her to NOT MOVE YOU’RE GETTING IT EVERYWHERE, and barking orders at the Boy to SCRUB! SCRUB IT WITH THE CLEAN WATER, before noticing the au pair (“STAY THERE DON’T COME IN”) The Girl, having something of an icky tummy, decided to take a shit on the only adult piece of furniture we have left in our lives - the posh sofa. Not only did her bottom explode all over it, but then she WALKED THROUGH IT all over the carpet and the rug and the hall... “It’s like peanut butter!” the Boy said, helpfully, putting me and everyone else off peanut butter for evermore. God forgive me, I tended to the sofa before the Girl got a look in (“STAND THERE, DON’T MOVE!” “But Mummy, I’m coooooooooooold, and I have...” – sob – “...poo! on my leg..” “DON’T MOVE!” But in the end she moved – up the stairs, Christ alive – and so I had to get the Boy scrubbing and get her wiped down. Into all of this the au pair walked. I’ve warned her to listen at the door in future before coming in, and to scarper if she hears anything resembling Armageddon.
All that on top of the all-day-every-day implorings at the older two to leave each other alone, put it down, get off that, take your feet off the table, YOU’RE SPILLING IT, etc etc.
So I can’t help feeling that my friend is right, and we should be feeling a bit sorry for her after all.