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 January 4, 2010.
For the first week I wasn’t expected to work. Instead Janet drove me to the Ausländers- behorde (alien’s office) to fill out visa paperwork, to the central train station to find a photo machine that took passport-sized photos, to a language school to take placement tests, and to another office where I was issued the Frankfurt Pass that would get me discounts at museums and a free membership at the library.
The paperwork was easy, that first time. Health insurance, visa application, address registration—Janet was organized and experienced because every year there had been a new au pair to lead through the bureaucratic gauntlet.
Before me there had been a woman from Eastern Europe who the family would laughingly compare me to over dinner: I was vegetarian who ate tons of vegetables, and Olga had eaten more meat than anyone they’d ever met. Before Olga there had a been a woman from Africa who, according to Janet, had never eaten cheese before moving to Germany. “You should have seen her. She gained at least 10 kilos. But she didn’t buy new pants, she just left them open and tied them up with a belt. She always said ‘Why bother? When I go home there won’t be any cheese, and I’ll lose all the weight.'” The rest of my predecessors however, have already faded from my memory, as, presumably, I have already faded from the twins’. Every year a new au pair.
Janet was a stay-at-home mom, and in the case of the wealthy, this tends to mean paying others to do the grunt work and parading the kids around like little trophies when it is convenient. More specifically, it meant that Janet spent most of her time in her office behind the computer, shopping, and at her weekly sewing course. She wore her motherhood like a gold metal, but left the work to Anna, Maria, Mr. Walters, and I.
My average day would go like this, she had told me: wake up the twins and get them dressed, breakfasted, and to kindergarten. The rest of the morning belonged to me, or my German class, depending on the day. After lunch, which was a formal sit-down affair prepared (and served, and cleaned up after) by Anna, I would play with the twins until dinner. In the warm months this might mean going to the park or taking them to a friend’s. On Tuesdays it meant driving them to English lessons at the country club. In the winter and in the rain it meant playing Barbies and doctor and car chase and hide-and-go-seek. Later there would be baths and dinner, television and sleep. I should sit on the stairs until they dozed off, Janet told me my first night, and then I had Feierabend (end of the work day, literally a compound of the words “celebration” and “evening”).
The first week the twins did what kids often do when a stranger shows up and tries to order them around: they acted like monsters and did everything they could do to expose my limits. At the end of my second week in Frankfurt—my first week working—I sat on the stairs shaking my head at a screaming match I had just won. Janet had heard the ordeal from the master bedroom, and when it was over, she came out and looked at me, sprawled out on her wooden stairwell, relaxed. “I’m really impressed,” she said. “You’re the first au pair who they haven’t pushed to tears after the first few days.”