It had taken me almost exactly 2 years, but that’s when it happened. 20 months, one week, and 2 days, to be exact. I only know this because somehow, as I stood there shaking in anger yet crying in my defeat, the left side of my brain suddenly clicked on for the first time since grade school. In that eternal 35 second flash of mental collapse, I effortlessly and involuntarily calculated, to the tee, my precise breaking point.
Almost 2 years of awkward Dad conversations, critical Mothers, countless nods of fake comprehension with pretending smiles and language barriers, yet it was a little French girl with saucer brown eyes and delicate curls that threw a tantrum so high and lasting, with screaming cries and kicking legs, that it was on that sunny Wednesday morning in Paris… I reached my breaking point.
I exploded with a voice so deep and raging, it was as if the boiling blood of all past nannies who had ever had to deal with a demanding tantrum of a spoiled child was stabbing through my voice like an enraged demon set free.
The 7-year-old girl stood frozen, staring up at me in her Louis Vuitton shoes, with her mouth open in shock, left over tears staining her doll-like cheeks.
15 minutes later, she was giggling in the garden asking me to do cartwheels with her.
I was an Au Pair in Paris.
I’m not very maternal. I’ve never awed at little girls giggling or had my ovaries skip a beat when I see a baby. The first time I even held a baby was when I was 21 years old, and it was only because a friend of mine had to pee during a wedding reception and shoved him in to my hands before I could gather an excuse or my wine glass. I have, in fact, been in a room multiple times where one friend held a newborn, the other her toddler, and myself, holding a heaping golden glass of Chardonnay.
I was not jealous.
For the past two years, however, my entire financial stability revolved around children. I was an Au Pair, in Paris and before I moved people I knew were amusingly confused when I told them this would be how I was going to make my living there.
“But you’re so not a ‘kid person’, Kendall”
would be a general response from many of my friends and family members.
They meant it well and I knew that. I think maybe even a lot of them just thought I was somehow not aware of that already. But I was. The complete truth being the only reason I took these child care positions was straight up visa and travel wants. I wanted to move to Europe and Au Pairing was and is the fastest, simplest route to getting a visa for France.
The grey zone of the job is vast, having to remind myself, weekly, that I was a 25-year-old ‘adult’ instead of a 15-year-old lady-child idiot the French mothers would like you to believe you are. Unlike an office job where it’s about your actual work or a restaurant job where it’s about the service or food, being an Au Pair is sometimes just plain ol’ being judged on how you would raise a child, and how most of the time that is entirely and completely…Wrong.
I didn’t hate my entire time as an Au Pair, I really didn’t. I had moments where the kids and I got along and the parents were friendly enough. Where I felt I made a difference in a child’s life in some small way even if they won’t remember or maybe I just learned a new French slang word from eavesdropping on afterschool conversations. If nothing else, I never had to pay rent and made just enough to buy a bottle of wine and sit with other expats that have since become some my best friends.
Overall, I’m actually glad I was an Au Pair.
Because, even with the spoiled children or the demanding parents, those two years gave me more insight into my
deeply hidden maternal instincts than I ever even knew existed.
Without meaning to, I actually developed an affection for all the little boogers.
Subconsciously noting, that at the end of the day, all kids are sticky little piles of screams sometimes.
While other times, they can actually be pretty cool to be around. For all the dramatic and spoiled there’s a knowledge thirsty and little love seeker in there. And, most importantly, the type of parent they have makes the biggest impact, not the yearly Au Pair who makes them dinner…which they never want to eat anyway.
By no means am I saying I am magically Mary friggin Poppins of child care love. I’m not. I still enjoy my Chardonnay and am in no rush to be a part of any birthing situation. Plus, if your kid’s a shithead…I still don’t want to hang out with them, pay or no pay. But I don’t actually cringe in fear, or annoyance, at the sight of my friends’ kids anymore. Instead I pop a squat and am more than willing, sometimes even happy, to sit with them while they show me their 27 different kinds of dinosaur figurines, none of which of course they want you to touch.
Hell, I might never have children of my own at all or maybe I’ll shoot out more babies than the Duggar family. At this point, I have no clue. But either way, I’m grateful that I’ve had that experience of stepping out of my comfort zone, of having a job that wasn’t always easy and I didn’t instantly, if ever, excel at.
Because maybe you don’t need to be a ‘kid person’ to become an Au Pair. Because working as an Au Pair is what led me to finally realize I might just be a ‘kid person’ after all.