Helicopter in the backyard
After graduating college, I decided to become an Au pair in Germany. My plane landed in Munich on June 25th, and my work as an Au pair began the next day. The Schätz/Schindler family has three children, two Au pairs, a cleaning lady, a helicopter in their backyard, and they like to entertain guests on the weekends. My work week is much longer than the 30 hours promised to me, the host parents haven’t bothered to go over a contract with me, I’m still working here illegally, I don’t have health insurance, I don’t have a cell phone, and I haven’t been enrolled in a German course. The family didn’t fulfill the promises they made me, but I stuck it out for six weeks nonetheless.
Post started on August 8, 2013
The last week has been a wild one! Just last Thursday, I set off to Lago di Garda, Italy with the Schätz/Schindler family, and last night, I moved in with an entirely different family in Nürnberg.
I wasn’t even sure if I would get to go to Lago di Garda with the family, first of all, because I had just told Jakob I wanted to go home in the beginning of September, and second of all, because Savannah (3) and Veronika (4) had both sprouted their first chickenpox two days prior to our planned departure. If I didn’t go with the family to Italy, it would have meant staying home with Martina and the sick girls while Diego (7) and his dad set off for Italy. The night before the Italy trip, Jakob informed me (1) that I would be joining them, (2) that this trip wasn’t a vacation for me, and (3) that his sister, Leoba, would pick me up at 5:30 a.m. because his dad “Papa Ike” would be riding with him, not Leoba, as originally planned. Was it really necessary to change plans like this? It seemed that the only purpose of switching me and Papa Ike was to inconvenience everyone involved except for Jakob and Martina. Leoba would have to go out of her way to come get me, I would have to wake up two hours earlier, and Papa Ike would have to ride in the very back of the Hummer, buried under everyone’s luggage. When I really thought about it though, I didn’t mind the change all that much. I had begun to prefer the company of Leoba and her children to that of “Jakob and the pack” (as Jakob used to sign the emails he wrote to me before my arrival in Germany). I secretly celebrated the change in company and tried only to let Jakob see a confused expression on my face.
Papa Ike during a previous trip
I stayed up late that night, packing for Italy and thinking about returning to the United States. I didn’t really want to go home yet, so I surfed the web for other options. The most realistic way to stay in Germany would be to switch families, but I didn’t come up with a good match that night. A few hours later, it was 5 a.m., I woke up, got ready to leave, and found out that I got up early for nothing because I wasn’t riding with Leoba after all. As it turns out, Papa Ike was sick, and wouldn’t be coming with us to Italy. So at 8 a.m., I climbed into the back to the Hummer and curled up amongst the luggage.
View from the hotel room
The first days of “vacation” were the most difficult because Veronika had such a bad case of chickenpox. The girls were nearly inseparable from their mother, and Diego was nearly inseparable from me. Diego and I shared a room, which, according to my non-existent Au pair contract, isn’t supposed to happen. I remember reading that if the family brings the Au pair on vacation, and she’s “on duty,” then she’s supposed to have her own room. At first, I shrugged it off, but when Diego woke me up at 6 a.m. the next morning, opening the blinds and chatting my ear off, I realized how much I wanted my own room. I was a little irritated, so I paid the parents back by teaching Diego how to play my “Don’t Starve” video game for three hours. The parents should be happy because we spent three hours, covering new vocabulary (e.g., camp site, axe, pickaxe, gold, wood, twigs, monsters, wormhole, spider nests, insanity, health, etc…”), but I knew they would be displeased because video games and TV are highly discouraged in the family. Then Diego and I spent the rest of the day together, except for two hours during which I went for a walk along the lake.
I slowly gained a little more free time over the next few days, and by the third day, my and Diego’s room had become the arts and crafts hub for six children. That was one of my favorite parts of the trip. I also enjoyed riding my longboard for the first time in six weeks, swimming in the lake when the waves were strong, and playing a mean game of keep away that disturbed quite a few beach blankets. The last two days, Savannah and Veronika were nearly back to their normal selves, except they had both begun to show more affection towards me. I wouldn’t have expected that from Savannah because, before the trip, she wouldn’t even let me pour her milk. She would only take something if her mother got it for her. Then all of a sudden, she wanted to sit by me and would let me cut her bread and smear Nutella on it.
Diego, taking a picture of Veronika’s chickenpox.
Using an ashtray for pencil shavings
Drawing the entire galaxy took a really long time!
Where I go, the arts and crafts will follow.
I was pretty certain this would be the only trip I took with the family, and I had a suspicion that Jakob was already looking for another Au pair. I hoped he was, at least. I have to confess that in my dissatisfaction with my living and working arrangements, I may have done a few ornery things. I let Diego put ice in his water, I gave Veronika a few sips from my cola (which I wasn’t even allowed to have in the house), I opened the window to my room when my light was on, letting bugs in through the hole in my window screen, etc… They were small things, but things I knew grated on Jakob’s nerves. Perhaps the biggest reason I wasn’t a good match for this family was because I understood too much German.
My first day in Germany, during the ride home from the airport, I found out I wasn’t supposed to speak any German in the children’s presence. Nor was I supposed to respond to anything they said in German. I knew I was supposed to spend 30 hours a week playing with the kids and speaking to them in English, but I didn’t realize that I would be so limited outside of my 30 hour work week. I became pretty good at only speaking English with the kids, but I was never really able to stop responding to things they said in German. That was mostly because I didn’t even notice what language the kids were speaking and partly because I resented playing stupid. I’d spent eight years trying to get fluent in German, and I wouldn’t just erase those years for the sake of deceiving spoiled children.
So, as it turns out, I was right in thinking that Jakob had been searching online for an Au pair during our vacation. The very night we returned, I walked into the living room while Jakob was Skyping with a potential Au pair named Olivia. I overheard enough to know that she has experience driving a car with manual transmission and that, according to her self-assessment, her German language skills were minimal.
When Jakob ended the call, he asked, “What do you need?”
“When I asked you about next week’s schedule, you said we’d talk about it tonight.”
“That’s right,” he said, looking disappointed by my perfectly reasonable excuse to be in the living room. “Have you found a plane ticket home yet?”
I was too surprised by Jakob’s question to answer right away. “No,” I said.
“Well, look and see if you can find a flight that leaves in the next five or six days. Then, once you know which day you fly out, we’ll figure out your work schedule.”
Suddenly my timeline had shrunk from a month to less than a week. What made Jakob think I’d be able to come up with $1700 for a plane ticket within the week? I wouldn’t be able to afford anything until the 3rd of September, when the tickets were in the $700 range, but now he was rushing me out the door. I should have known that giving notice would backfire on me! I was so enraged that I abandoned all thoughts of going home. I wouldn’t be one of the “replaceable people” in Jakob’s game. I wouldn’t play by his rules. The first thing I did once I was back in my room was look for a new host family. Let the race begin!
That night, I sent messages to three families. When I woke up the next morning, I had many messages, but only one was a reply to a message I had sent. The rest were unsolicited. This family needed an Au pair immediately, lived in Nürnberg (one city out of three in Germany where a Dance Dance Revolution machine is rumored to be), and their desired duration of stay was the same as mine: 1-12 months. They wanted an Au pair for at least a month, but would consider letting the Au pair stay longer if she were a good match. This worked well for me because I wanted to stay at least one month longer, but I didn’t want to make a year-long commitment right away, not after my first Au pair experience…
We skyped the same day (Tuesday), and agreed that I would visit for the weekend. This agreement evolved into one where Assol (the mom) would pick me and my luggage up on Friday evening. The final evolution of the agreement involved catching a train on Wednesday.
A long night of drawing, coloring, and packing
Tuesday night, I stayed up late, packing and drawing a picture of Greece for Lingling. I woke up early on Wednesday, and the morning drug on forever. I tried to avoid everyone except for Lingling and Babiana, refusing offers of breakfast multiple times. Once my room was striped and clean, I sprawled out on the bare mattress, listened to music, and fidgeted until it was time to catch my train.
Next time: A true story about a lost backpack and two extremely helpful German ladies at the train station…