snapshots from bottom street

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 21, 2010.


Monday morning: extract body from bed, stumble in an attempt to put on pants, pray the caffeine gods make consciousness a little easier to bear. And I used to be a morning person.

Trudge down the stairs and into Jo’s room. Say good morning. On autopilot the words play from the tape somewhere behind your ear.

When Jo wakes up with you sitting on his bed, running your hands through his hair, and whisper his name. He wakes up slowly, sees you, shouts your name and throws his arms around your neck, sleep-warm. “I dreamed of you!”

Hug him back and hope the aliens don’t come back for the replacement they’ve left in Jo’s bed.


It was a morning like every other morning had been for weeks: go downstairs, wake up Jo, and get him out of his pajamas and into school clothes.

But that morning, kneeling in front of Jo with his school pants in my hand, I came face to face with the last thing I was expecting: four-year-old morning wood. I stifled a laugh, he pointed. “Look, Nikki! It’s standing up!”


“They simply can’t go outside without hats on anymore,” Janet chided on the way out the door. Astounding logic from the woman who dressed her daughter in a skirt this morning.

Despite the lingering holiday cheer (or is that just the Gluhwein buzz?), it’s business as usual in the Cole fortress. Three maids a bustling, two twins a screaming, and an au pair hiding behind the tree.

When I got back from a week in Barcelona, Jo and Franci came running down the stairs squeaking and calling, they were so excited to have me back. Had I missed them too? Their excitement was almost contagious, but in two hours Jo was screaming and toppling furniture again, and it was like I had never left.


At first when I told Franci it was time for a bath she grabbed my hand and started to skip up the stairs. But then she stopped. “Nikki, do I have to wash my hair?”

“Yes. Yesterday you didn’t take a bath at all.”

Before the words were out of my mouth she was on the ground screaming.

“Washing your hair isn’t the end of the world, Franci.” More screaming. “If you don’t wash your hair you’re not going to have any friends.” Now kicking too. If she was clever, she’d have pointed out that the person saying this hadn’t washed her hair in over a week and had friends. Janet’s words coming out of my mouth.

After more yelling, and a chase in which I almost bit it trying to run on wood floors in only socks, I forced her into the tub, which I’d already filled with water and bubble bath. But in the water the screaming and thrashing got worse, and then there was water sloshing everywhere, which finally brought Jens out of the master bedroom two doors down where he had been attempting to read.

Janet had told me that your entrance is really important in ending a tantrum. Make a loud and theatrically angry entrance, and you’ll have them quiet in a few minutes. Jens burst into the bathroom screaming (like father like daughter), knocked Franci upside the head, and stormed out even more dramatically than he had come. “Women!” he declared in my general direction, as if that explained why his children were tantrum-loving brats. In the bathroom, Franci was quiet.

Our eyes met as I walked back to the bathroom, and he gave me a look that seemed to say “I’m sorry, I know, I hate them to.”


“Nikki look!” We were at the park and a woman—a midget who I’d often seen strolling through the neighborhood in a decadent fur coat—was standing next to the bench where we were piling coats and snacks, and Franci couldn’t take her eyes off of her. “Nikki, look, the small one, the small one!” She pointed and I pushed her hand back down to her side.

“Franci, it’s rude to point and talk about people like they aren’t even there.”

“But Nikki,” she said, now in a whisper, “she is so small.”

You could almost see the circuits beginning to toast as the gears ground together in her head, trying to comprehend this new being. Small like child. Face like adult. Can’t be child. But small like child. Can’t be adult. Can’t be child. Adult? Child? Childadultchildadultchildadult- childadult. Sizzle.

0 Comments on “snapshots from bottom street

  1. Pingback: the au pair chronicles, or we’re not in narnia anymore mr. tumnus | click clack gorilla

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.