Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Helpful Hints for the Future Au Pair

As I mentioned in the last post, I've started a part-time job as a nanny. I'm spending the afternoons with a very precocious 5-year old girl, and so far I'm enjoying the job a lot. But it reminded me that its never the kids that make or break the job-- its the parents. If a kid is naughty, I can handle that; its really whether or not the parents are easy to deal with that counts.

Reflecting on my 5+ years of nanny experience, as well as much more time spent as a regular babysitter, I've noticed some general tendencies that Moms who hire nannies tend to follow. (I hardly ever deal with Dads, take that for what its worth)

MYSTERY MOM. This is a mom who doesn't work outside the home or in it. She disappears for odd hours doing God-knows-what. Her schedule is sporadic and she doesn't ask many questions about what her children have been up to in her absence. Is she conducting a steamy affair? Or is she a secret agent?

ANAL-RETENTIVE MOM. She rations her children's toilet paper and if she's gone for more than a few hours schedules babysitters back-to-back so that each can be "fresh" for her kids. Her children are scheduled to the max and must be dragged kicking and screaming to a variety of after school lessons that they hate.

DOUBLE-STANDARD MOM. When she's around the kids watch TV and eat junk food, but when you're there all that is verboten. She gives in when her kids scream, but because she's paying you, expects you to get them to eat their vegetables and practice piano. When she's around she'll also overrule any punishments you mete out to her kids. This is the worst type of Mom to work for.

MESSY MOM. This Mom is totally overwhelmed by her surroundings. Her house is a mess, she's never on time, and she talks constantly about her terrible work situation. When she asks you to stay late for the first few times you feel bad enough to do it-- you even try and tidy her wreck of a house. But after a while you inevitably realize this job is too big for one nanny to handle.

MASTER MOM. Here is a Mom who brings her professionalism home with her. When she says she'll be home at 5:30 she is. Or if she's not, she slips you a tenner and apologizes profusely. She realizes that you too have a personal life, and doesn't make excessive demands. When you're both home she lets you do your job. She's not perfect, but by respecting her au pair she'll keep her.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Thieves!! (and news update)

Its been a very busy October and I haven't posted much. I've started a part-time nanny job after school (I feel like I'm 16, I just go to school and babysit!), I entered a short story contest (if I lose I'll post it here), and I took the B2 German test yesterday. If I pass then I'll move on to the final level of German!

We have been preparing for the test for a few weeks now, and we took several practice tests, which were very helpful. The test consists of 4 reading comprehension exercises, 2 listening comprehension exercises, 1 essay, and 1 proof-reading exercise. What amused me were the topics of the reading comprehension sections. Its as if the Goethe Institute is trying to indoctrinate us with German values as we read. There were articles on eating organic, riding bicycles, and putting your children in Kindergarten. But the best was about preventing theft in your apartment.

I can be a bit paranoid about thieves/rapists/murderers entering my apartment, especially when Ryan is gone, as he was when we read this article about theft prevention. I stop myself from taking ridiculous precautions like sleeping by my cell phone or hiding the butcher block, because that's what crazy people do, and I try really hard not to be crazy. I lock my door and tell myself that criminals probably choose apartments belonging to rich people, or at least apartments without so many stairs.

This article recommended that when you are gone you should have your neighbor raise and lower your Rollladen every night. (For those of you who've never had the pleasure, Rollladen are strange metal blinds that fortify your window.) I NEVER raise or lower the Rollladen. I live on the 3rd floor (4th in American parlance) and so I don't really think that someone would scale the front of my building and break through the window. And we only have them on our living room window, so they don't provide convenient darkness while we're sleeping in.

But then I started wondering: are thieves spying on my Rollladen? Do they think I'm on vacation? Once or twice since then I have put down my Rollladen at night. But I realized that if they are spying on me and I don't put the Rollladen down, maybe I won't have to have a neighbor do it when I go on vacation. Which is good, because I've tried introducing myself to my neighbors and they are very unfriendly. (Case in point: I said to my neighbor "Hi, I'm Katy, I'm your neighbor." She looked at me, said "Yes." and closed the door!)

So I've decided to ignore that advice. If only we would read an article about finding friendly neighbors, I'd be set.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

German Class Round-Up

I am entering my seventh month of German classes (my 3rd in Frankfurt) and although I'm not so sure I will ever get a job for which German fluency will be necessary, I am glad to be learning more about German language and culture. But mostly I enjoy classes because I have a very juvenile sense of humor. I laugh out loud, or sometimes covertly, through most of class.

Because I aim to please, I have translated the best quotes from my classmates into English for you. Recapping the stories that go with these quotes would probably be boring, but feel free to imagine the weird conversations that precipitated these:

"Ha ha. You have made a mistake. Now you will be beaten!"

"Your government is corrupt. You need some communism."

"Ghosts are a different topic than foreigners."

"Can you better define this 'shit'?"

"In my life I have experienced that men fillet very often. (long pause) Oh, I mean flirt, flirt very often."

"Where is that answer in the text?"
"Between the lines."
"Between which lines?"

"Please, I am very frustrated and I would like to speak with your ladder!"

"Men are primitive. Primitive, but sexy."

I suppose the funniest part of German class is that everyone comes from radically different cultural backgrounds, which apparently have very different ways of looking at issues. Or they are all completely nuts, I'm not 100% sure either way. But my favorite classmate is Natasha, who is on holiday in Belarus for the last two weeks. :( She speaks so fast that our teachers can't correct her and she is full of ideas. One class we spent conversing about controversial issues and I lost it during the third issue because Natasha had for all topics this chain of logic

bad parenting ---> teens putting their shoes on the u-bahn seats ----> Controversial issue X

X= school shootings, truancy, racism, alcoholism, drug abuse

The moral of the story is, never put your feet on a chair when in Belarus. Who knew one could learn so much about the nature of life in a German class?

Are you from Belarus? Do you know any further societal ills caused by putting your feet up on public transportation? Feel free to leave a comment.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

The Threat of Failure

There have been a flurry of articles lately about women's happiness. Our feminist fore-mothers predicted that as traditional roles loosened and more areas of opportunity were opened to women, women's happiness would increase. But it hasn't. In fact, it's tanked.

I've been mulling it over, and while I'm no expert, I can say that in my own life I find the expectations of others to be a huge source of stress. Its like body image. I get up in the morning and take a look in the mirror and say, "I'm not perfect, but I look pretty good." But often as the day wears on and I see and compare myself with others, my faults begin to leap out at me. At this point there are two responses:
1. say to myself, she is probably more attractive than me, there's nothing I can do about that.
2. I bet if I lost 5 lbs I could have legs/abs/arms like that

And while response 1 seems more hopeless, I think its actually a better way of looking at the problem. Because I know that I'm healthy, and it doesn't matter whether or not I'm the most attractive woman I know. I have more to offer than a pretty face.

The same thing happens with career comparisons. If I were alive a generation ago, and Ryan and I were introduced to another couple and I said "I'm a housewife, he's an engineer" no eyebrows would have been raised. But, in our current situation, I hate facing that question. People feel awkward meeting an unemployed person; they don't know what to talk about. Its a relief to meet other women who are in the same boat.

When people do engage me on the subject of work, its always the same conversation. "Well, what did you study? Theater! How...interesting. There's an English Theater in Frankfurt, why don't you go do some acting there?" As if I'd snap my fingers and dash out of the building, run straight to the stage, burst into tune and instantly get cast in an entire season's worth of shows. I know people are trying to be helpful, but I'd rather talk about the lint that collects between my couch cushions than hear most peoples' suggestions for furthering my career in Frankfurt.

Ryan and I have been having the "what should I do with my life" talk lately. I know that I like working with kids, and I think I would like to become a teacher. But I've started looking into that possibility and so far all I've gotten is a big pile of NO. I'm going to investigate further, but if I end up "just a nanny," it would be nice if people actually treated that like a serious job. I certainly do! Instead of giving me piteous looks, people could imagine that I'm highly qualified and good at what I do.

Maybe the only way to deal with the outrageous expectations placed on women (great career, successful marriage, happy children, volunteer work) are simply to defy them. I don't believe its possible, that American mantra, "you can have it all." And the more people that would acknowledge that, the less expectations we would feel. Perhaps we'd all wind up happier.