Those of you who have been reading for a while will remember the au pair chronicles—a serial about how it is that I ended up in Germany and what it was like spending 10 months au pairing for a insanely rich family in Frankfurt am Main. Well, I’ve been busy writing new installments to share with you during operation whirlwind baby. But since a hell of a lot of new readers have become regulars since I first began the series a year ago, I thought I would start by re-publishing the series thus far—both to buy me baby time and to get everyone caught up before continuing the saga. You can find an index of the entire series here. This segment was originally published on February 22, 2010.
The twins birthday party had been chaotic and exhausting. The entire kindergarten class had been invited and Anna and I spent the evening herding, chasing, and picking up after them. It was more or less just like the birthday parties I’d been to as a kid, except they opened their presents right away, as people brought them, and there were different games.
Schlagtopf (hit the pot) is the only one that I remember now, a ridiculous game in which one person is blindfolded and candy is hidden beneath a small pot somewhere in the room. The blindfolded person is then given a big wooden spoon and crawls around on the floor hitting everything with the spoon until she hits the pot. Everyone else sits around and laughs and gives bad directions about where the pot and the candy are.
Now it was Jens’ birthday, and there was going to be a dinner party. We (we being the younger kids and I) ordered Chinese food, and Janet instructed me to give the kids dinner in front of the tv, to keep them upstairs and away from the guests.
The dining room had been laid out for thirty people, all white table clothes and silver candlesticks. I had forgotten to get something to drink, and when I walked into the kitchen it had been transformed: four women in cartoonish white chef hats were crowded around counter and oven, preparing the meal. This, Janet had told me, is what she had spent so many hours on her computer for in the last month.
Guests started to arrive around the twins’ bedtime. Franci went quietly, but Jo was agitated, aggressive. At the mention of bed he’d started throwing toys, toppling the tiny chairs and table where we would paint and draw on rainy afternoons. I got Franci into her pajamas, and then came back to try to get him to talk.
“Jo, you know I can’t do anything to make you feel better if you don’t explain to me what’s wrong. Will you try to tell me what’s wrong? Even if it’s hard?”
At first he didn’t react, distracted in his attempt to tip the wooden play tent that sat in one corner of the room, all the while making the same crashing, exploding sound effects he made when he was playing with his little metal cars.
I sat down on the bed and watched him, repeating myself every couple of minutes. “Maybe if you told me what was wrong I could help.” Finally he got out a few words.
“I hate them! My parents don’t love me. I’m going to burn down the house and run away with the dog.” Five years old.
He threw himself face down on the bed and pounded his fists against the mattress. I patted his back gently. There was nothing left to topple in the room, and soon I was tucking him in and singing him another goodnight song.