Secret Diary Of An Au Pair
Screaming, crying, cursing, and shouting. Dried up shit in the toilet, on the loo roll, and on the walls. Toys everywhere. This was my life now. This beautiful Bondi beach house had become my own personal punishment, a jail cell, complete with four kids under the age of 10 who, quite simply, hated me.
I had bigger eye bags than I did in my final year of university, where sleepless nights and back-to-back Red Bulls pulled me through my dissertation. I was drowning in a sea of laundry, cleaning duties, and in an overload of nappies. Who on earth thought that Au Pairing would be a good idea?
Au Pairing is the norm for backpackers coming to Australia. Parents hire backpackers who don’t want the hassle of bills, food costs, and housing, and invite them into their home to look after their kids at a discounted rate. The pay is called ‘pocket money’, and is based on how long you work and how many kids you are looking after.
Normally, it’s a semi-easy gig, with heaps of free time to explore, and people usually do it in their first six months in Australia while they are trying to get settled and find friends. You get the added perk of a luxury home that you would never be able to afford – some even have granny flats, meaning that you live separately to the family. All you really need is some babysitting experience, a Working With Children Check, and proof you can actually look after their kids. Then it’s easy. Not for me though.
“You’re a fucking idiot – why would you bring down my pyjama shorts when I obviously need underpants?”
This was my greeting one morning by the eldest, a nine-year-old boy with a severe attitude problem. And I had brought down underpants. Just clearly not the right ones.
The week earlier, he screamed non-stop for three hours during a night of babysitting because I tried to have some authority. He reduced me to tears. He was the golden child to his parents, caring with his brothers, but a demon to me. In the space of a week I had been called “a bitch”, “a fucking idiot”, “a moron” and “a shit driver”. To be fair, the last one was deserved, but who needs four backseat drivers who can’t actually drive themselves? Not me, that’s for sure.
The parents seemed nice. They just weren’t there. Both extremely high up in their jobs, they left at 7am, and came back at 7pm. The mum used to come in and float around the kitchen with a glass of red wine – she rarely disciplined them because she simply loved to be loved. The dad was English, and he tried to have some control, but ultimately, he failed. He was openly disappointed to see that his kids behaved so badly compared to their peers, but neither parent did anything about it. There were no boundaries, no rules set. I was on my own in this battle for good behaviour.
It wasn’t all bad though. I taught the two-year-old to say, “Meg, I love you!” and that was adorable. He was a chubby-cheeked, blue-eyed, blonde-haired little boy. He used to say it on repeat, normally when he wanted a cookie. My heart used to melt when he called for me. Other parents in the park and in cafes used to think he was mine, to which I very willingly agreed to. We spent our days playing on Bronte beach, and at one point my camera roll was filled with pictures of our little adventures.
“Hey, this is your guidebook to our family.” It was a 12-page document that contained an outline of a daily schedule, character profiles of each of the kids, food suggestions, activity suggestions, and more. “I don’t think we will need a contract, because we are pretty relaxed.”
I screwed up before I had even started, and by not signing a contract, I had sealed my fate. Last minute texts, asking for extra babysitting, calls to say they would be late home, and no set schedule meant that a 38-hour week had turned into more like 55 hours, and all for $350. And because my room was next to the family bathroom, I could never escape. The screaming and crying went on till 11pm, and started up again around 5am. I was constantly on call for bath time, nit picking time (they were rife in every child, and my hair has never been in such a tight bun for such an extended period of time), and all sorts of other times.
Even after I had finished for the day, the laundry was a never-ending heap of shit: literally. So much poo. And not just from the two-year-old. I was even doing the parents’ laundry, purely because they just couldn’t be bothered to do it themselves. I was an Au Pair, washerwoman and a house cleaner all in one. Boundaries were never set and this was a major problem, caused partly by my own naivety.
As for me? It was time for a jailbreak. After a month of this hell, I decided to fight for my rights and asked to be paid hourly. I was given an hour to pack my shit and get out of the house. A stand-off between the mum and me ensued, culminating with the two-year-old sitting on my bed none-the-wiser. I packed up my life and moved on out of my Bondi Prison.
Cover by Kim Clarke