After having the time of my life in Hong Kong, my next summer somehow had to top it. So I moved to the north of Spain for a few months to stay with an incredible family and look after their two beautiful sons. I brought the boys to and from school, occasionally made them lunch (mostly successful with a few disasters). I forgot how much kids eat (I swear one had a hollow leg) or how little they actually like to eat (extremely picky). When they had their holidays I occupied their time indoors, took them to the beach or to friends houses. My time off was the one of the best feelings of freedom I’ve experienced. I cycled around the countryside on my trusty bike; over steep hills, through rolling grasslands, bright sunflower fields, fruit orchards, dragonfly clouded paddy fields, chasing goats, avoiding wild boars, picking up an easy instant tan from the dirt tracks and visiting small quaint villages. The family were wonderful, the parents so welcoming, the boys (for the most part) sweet and so full of life. After finishing I travelled around Spain making lifelong friends, visiting some beautiful cities and finding what I was looking for. Confidence,self-acceptance and the knowledge that I could do anything with a little courage. The word happy doesn’t even begin to describe my time in Catalonia. Without further ado, here are some things I learnt and advice to anyone planning to work as an au pair:
- You are in a different country. Relax and adapt. Walking home with the boys from school day one I found them stuffing grassy plants into their mouths. Cue mass panic. Thankfully it was fennel, not foxglove.
- Don’t stress. Mistakes will be made. Perfect example – taking them for gelato in a nearby village, locking the bikes, eating some delicious ice cream and then realising I forgot the lock key.
- Children can’t be bubble-wrapped. But just in case always have some antiseptic cream and plasters in your handbag. I had the most accident-prone kid ever; tripping over his feet, running into a bees nest, falling into a cactus, getting stuck in a metre high scratchy tree, face-planting cycling up a hill, face-planting again on the way down….. the list goes on.
- Easy things can cause endless amusement for hours. We stopped for a picnic on the way to the beach. The boys began throwing rocks into the river. Three happy hours later and we still hadn’t made it to the beach.
- Always have something up your sleeve, a fall back. Make car racing tracks under the beds during the perfect kid-terrifying thunderstorm which ruins your outdoor escape plans, create a game where they zap you with an anti-itch mosquito bite device, pick delicious ripe blackberries from the hedges on your cycle home with them & curl up in your misery together when you eat too many.
- It is acceptable and often necessary to use bribery. No card games until they brush their teeth for two minutes, Nutella sandwiches for breakfast only if they finish their dinner the night before, 5 minutes access to the very best computer game on your laptop if they clean their rooms.
- Everything becomes adorable, so take the time to enjoy the moment. Even if it’s twenty six-year-olds banging pots and singing an out of tune pirate song, having an entire bottle of suncream smeared lovingly over your back, an enthusiastic four year old shouting ‘come on Eva’ when pedalling your bike (which is attached to his) uphill, being locked on the balcony with the rest of the family during alfresco dinner by aforementioned child who wants his ice-cream NOW rather than later.
- Become immersed in the local culture. Try the local cuisine (snails), get stuck behind sheep traffic, cheer when Spain win the world cup after weeks of putting up with their Germany sucks chants, get tipsy with the parents at the local wine tasting festival, converse using self made sign language.
- Prepare yourself for the pride and tears when they do something amazingly unexpected. E.g. kid repeatedly throwing himself into the water to practice his swimming and complaining when you save him from drowning, besides not knowing a word of English after two months he tells you that “putting that grape in mouth here and then yummy and then down and then no explodation in tummy is good”, jumping into your arms for a huge gangly bear hug following the announcement of spaghetti for dinner.
- Sometimes you have to power on through. Your life should and will revolve around the children. When you’re kayaking along a rugged coastline with a six year old who refuses to paddle you just have to keep going. Likewise when you go to the most amazing cove beach you have ever seen and would like to rest after lugging several bags containing all the kids “essential” beach equipment.
- Expect the unexpected. This may range from cycling home at night with farm dogs snapping at your heels while swallowing insects, gathering spiderwebs and bats in your nest of a hair and accidentally squashing a croaking frog, the old man who serenades you in Madrid train station or running into your Portuguese neighbour from Dublin.
- Take every opportunity that comes your way, you will really regret the things you haven’t done. Do an impulsive skydive, say yes to a romantic date with the handsome Latin man although he said you look much better with a face full of makeup than your sweaty sun-creamy beach face, take the restaurant recommendation of your local tour guide – even if it’s a disaster it will be fun.
- “Explore. Dream. Discover.”
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