What is it about?

The rollercoaster adventures of parenting three kids, dealing with disability and mental health - and discussing disability discrimination and how to tackle it.

Thursday, 21 May 2009

Au pair pickle

This is not an easy post to write. But the thoughts are bopping around in my head, and I need them out. So here goes. Sorry.

Our beloved nanny Jessy is going to do some volunteer work overseas. Good on her, she has my full support in this. But of course, I will miss her terribly. We've had some friends staying with us recently, and I realised how much I enjoy having someone else in the house. It's just fantastic what I can do while little Boo Boo is asleep. A quick trip to the shops, or to the vet. Go down in the bush to collect some foliage for the animals. Or even go and pick up the boys from school without having to wake her up. And then there is the joy of having someone else to talk to, to share a coffee and a chat with. Add to that the idea that this someone in the house could actually help with the chores (you know, running a load of washing, hanging up laundry, taking out bins, that sort of stuff) and the idea of an au-pair was born.

As our kids take a while to get used to a new person, I decided that we should get someone before Jessy is off. This would also allow a bit of an overlap period for the au-pair to get settled while Jess was still around to help out. And thus it was organised.

Unfortunately, things have not worked out that way. The au-pair never really settled in, as she felt overwhelmed by the whole thing, and was repeatedly unwell and homesick. After seven weeks, I finally asked her if she thought she'd last the distance until Jess would come back, and to her credit she was honest and admitted that no, she just really wanted to go home. And thus I told her to book a ticket that very day, and I took her to the airport last night.

And now, I realise how much emotional energy this whole thing has cost me. You see, despite her being quiet and shy, I liked her when I got those glimpses of the person underneath the wall of silence. While I have to admit that I started to worry early on, I was not prepared to give up that easily. At the same time, I found it very emotionally draining to have to manage the household and think about the health and welfare of someone else who was clearly not coping and not communicating. I think I just have enough on my plate and felt not capable of taking on more. Of course I can manage someone with an illness. But very early on I got the sense the underlying issue was a fundamental unhappiness of being here, and an unease of dealing with kids. I admit, I found that simply too much to deal with. And I think she really just didn't like us and did not manage to connect with us – especially not with the kids, which is kind of important!

Now I admit, Beaver in particular can seem difficult. But then again, he's such a sensitive soul, he picks up insecurity a mile off. And like any other animal, he goes in for the kill. It took him a long time to be ok with the fact that the au-pair was in a position to tell him what to do. He eventually came to understand that. But at the same time, he knew full well that she did not quite know how to handle him, and he exploited her weakness in this regard and pretty much ignored her. You know, like a dog can just smell a person who is afraid a mile off – and promptly bark and bite? Possum on the other hand is an easy child – anyone willing to listen to him or play Lego with his is his friend instantly. Boo Boo is unhappy with anyone who is not mummy as long as I am around, and happy with anyone playing with her while I'm out of sight – and probably still young and cute enough to get everyone to like her.

Anyway, it didn’t work out. I keep having these conversations in my head where I am arguing with myself why it didn't work, or whether I tried hard enough. My rational side tells me to stop this, but my mind keeps going – and I hope that as always, writing about it will help.

It just didn't work, end of story.

But of course, this has landed me in a bit of a practical pickle. Jessy is off in three weeks time. That is not enough time to find and organise another au-pair. And on top of that, Jess will only be away for seven weeks. She intends to come and work for us again after her trip, preparing for work and study next year. And I would dearly like our Jess back, and don't want to much her around. But seven weeks, that's not enough time for an au-pair to come. I mean, I can hardly get someone to come from the other end of the world for 7 weeks, can I. So I'm looking for someone who is already here and would like to stay a bit longer. They are far and few between. Or a nanny to help out for a few hours a day, or a few days in the holidays. This too is not easy. It's not easy to find someone, and Beaver is not very happy about the idea at all. You see, when I suggested to him that I get someone else, he burst into tears, saying he did not want a stranger in the house, a stranger to pick him up from school. Well, I can understand his reluctance. It always takes him a long long time to get comfortable with a new person.

So, what to do? Hubby is away for a week and a half soon. Thankfully Francine has offered to come and help me out, and her lovely family have agreed to her staying here a bit longer (dankjewel Monique, Pieter, Caroline, Thomas, Myriam, Sam en Tim!).

But what to do in the school holidays? It's a very busy time for hubby, and we're not sure how much time he can take off. I can't stay at home with the kids for three weeks, we will all go mad! Going places on my own with them is hard, what with Beaver tending to want to get into trouble, Possum enthusiastically running off to explore something, and Boo Boo in the wheelchair. Both boys always want to go off in different directions, and Boo Boo wanting something else altogether. Just going to the zoo is a major undertaking. And no, playdates are not that easy either. Possum is fine but Beaver doesn't get invited for play dates, and when he does, he won't let me go - which doesn't work for the other kids.

So, what to do?

Can't say I'm looking forward to the next school holidays….

They say that when a door closes, another one will open. I'm desperately waiting for that opening!

Or maybe I could try hibernation until August?


Lieve & Stefaan said...

That's not a happy story. It's not easy to adapt when you're away from home for the first time. And 10000 miles from home. I had the same thing 5 years ago. If you would have give me a ticket back after 6 weeks travelling around, I would accepted it straight away. And look at me know, plans of moving to Australia permanently (by the way, all papers found, ready to be translated, end of june application on the mailbox).
One thing you have to do know is, not blaming yourself. This is not your fault. Humans are mysterious. We can't always predict how our body and mind are going to react in a situation. You think you can handle the situation and then when you're there, the reaction can be the complete opposite of what you thought.

So, positive thinking (easier said than done), a solution is sometimes closer than you think.

Many hughs!

fabig said...

Kan alleen maar bevestigen wat Lieve schrijft. Positiev blijven, je geen schuld aanpraten en hopen dat een nieuwe deur vlug open gaat.
Was de afstand toch niet zo groot, was ik al lang gekomen, of jullie naar hier met de kinderen voor een vakantie.
Kopf hoch, auch ist es noch so schwer.

what_the_heck_of_that? said...

Hi Heike - I completely understand your fear of school hols, having Princess and the two (very different) boys as well! I hope something works out for you, or at the very least you find things easier to cope with than you're anticipating. And good on you for giving the au pair thing a good go - you certainly cannot be blamed for how it's all worked out. I think you're very brave for trying so hard to make it work! It's not an easy thing welcoming someone new and unknown into your home. I struggle with the idea of a respite carer for this reason. Good luck!

Jacqui said...

Our carer just came back from almost 3 weeks of holidays. I can't tell you how difficult my life was while she was away.
I hope you find a solution. I find it hard to go out of the house with the three kids too. Thinking of you.