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Wednesday, December 14, 2005

nannies talk

Today I met my au pair mentor.

After a morning of games, and then tears over stuffed animal ownership, I took the kids to Pierre Etienne's apartment.

Pierre Etienne is a year older than the young boy, a charming little menace, who thinks stealing and breaking things make for great entertainment.

In this other 16th arrondissement apartment, I met his one-day-a-week nanny, Dimitrina, a young Bulgarian woman who spends the rest of the week working in a clothing store.

Dimitrina is as feminine and strong as her name. I felt safe around her. I felt I could take my first deep breath of the day. She commanded the kids with ease, telling them to play upstairs while we relaxed in the living room.

We sat on the sofa across from a giant dark portrait of Jesus. She told me about her past experience as an au pair, when she first came to Paris six years ago. She came to Paris because her friends were going. It wasn't uncommon at that time for young girls to use au pair jobs as an excuse to escape Bulgaria, which was much poorer at the time. They found jobs through agencies which presented the job like a dream. "I thought it would be amazing, a city of lights, an easy job," she told me, "but Paris was dark and grey; many of us girls felt like slaves."

She told me about working for a mother who played mind games, children who refused to listen, and a bond that never became solid.

Years later she is out of the au pair game, only dipping her toes in, and much happier. But experience has taught her to play the game with ease and expertise.

When the kids came down to present us "une spectacle" she told them to let us finish our tea and coffee first. When the spectacle ended up being repetitive, with the boys running after each other and ignoring the young girl, she told them we were unimpressed and walked out of the room.

I explained the pushover I had become, and she recommended I raise my voice a little more. If I was always cleaning up after them, they would never learn to do it themselves. "They are young, they need to learn these things now," she told me. And I felt the pressure of my au pair responsibilities rise. There's more to it than just making it through the day. You have to teach lessons at the same time.

On the way back to the family's apartment the kids started whining because I hadn't bought them candy. When we were leaving the house to go to Pierre Etienne's I had told them I'd treat them to a couple of candies if they got ready in time. The girl had been crying and was refusing to go, so I reached for the candy bribe. In the end we were late, and their was no candy. So heading home they still had candy on the mind. I thought of Dimitrina. "No," I said firmly, "you took too long getting ready. It's too late for candy. If you are nice, we can get candy tomorrow".

Walking up the stairs both children stopped. They wanted candy. They refused to move. So I sat down, said "Okay, we can stay here and whine and sob, with no candy, or head upstairs and get candy tomorrow." They stayed. I made myself comfortable, and started playing with my cell phone. "I'm comfortable here, so we can stay all night," I told them, "or we could go upstairs and play wolf." "Wolf?! Yes wolf!" The little girl chanted. She started running up the stairs. Eventually the boy came too, after a couple of choked sobs, and "I want candy right now"s.

I don't like being stern, because I'm the kind of person that wants everyone to love me. When you're stern with a child they will hate your guts for a good 15 minutes, maybe an hour, maybe a day, but in the end they forget about it and learn a lesson. I still had them smiling at the end of the night. Thank god for my immature sense of humour.

I went home exhausted, feeling I had made it through the day, conquering all challenges.

A few minutes later I got a message from Madame, "Did you make the kids do their homework, or did you forget?"

I forgot.

It's never easy.


Blogger Just Another Dick said...

Whenever I hosted parties at the rec center (swimming pool) the only way I could bond/play with the kids was letting them attack me, and fake drown me and such.

I hated it of course. I choked on water, got scratched umong other things.

Off topic, but your story made me think of this because I was just so eager to please them. Sometimes we will do anyhting to win a couple of brats attention ;)

12:39 AM  
Blogger Josh said...

stern is important, but it isn't you, Gill. Try to balance that.

you write so well, as if you haven't heard it before.

5:25 PM  
Blogger Gillian Young said...

Oh don't worry, the stern attitude never stays for long. I'm really not very good a it. And they got their candy in the end...

12:04 AM  
Blogger Gillian Young said...

...(the next day of course)

And thank you...I just hope my university profs agree with you when I head back next year.

12:26 AM  

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