After four months of living the high life, being spoilt with good quality food, a double bed and my own TV I have left my post as an au pair.
I’m writing this sat in the lounge area of a hostel. This can only mean one thing: I’m a backpacker once more.
It feels very strange.
Four months doesn’t sound long, and all things considered it isn’t. However, when you’re over here on a one year visa you become aware that four months is actually one third of that year, and I am so happy to have spent a third of my working holiday living with the most amazing family.
When I first embarked upon my Australian working holiday I didn’t want it to be filled with the stereotypical ‘backpacker’ stuff – goon, working a commission based job and only seeing the touristy things. I wanted to live in Australia, get a feel for what it’s like, see what Australians do in their spare time and compare it all to my life back in the UK, and what better way to do that than living with true Aussies for a couple of months?!
The au pair industry – for want of a better phrase – is a loose one to say the least! In order to become an au pair I created a profile on the website New Au Pair. The website then matched my details and preferences with potential au pair families, where I was then able to contact them based on whether I liked the sound of them or not, and vice versa. The family I ended up getting a job with contacted me after I ‘favourited’ their profile, and after a few emails and one Skype session later that was it! I was their next au pair! It’s a real leap of faith on both sides and there are a fair few horror stories out there about au pairs being spied on by their families, or au pairs taking complete advantage of the kindness and generosity shown by those willing to welcome them into their homes and lives.
I’m very thankful and happy to say that none of those horror stories rang true when it came to my experience. I was working for a family based in Sydney’s North Shore looking after a little girl (aged 3, however she had her 4th birthday whilst I was there) and her younger brother (aged 17 months when I arrived). I would work Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, spending my days off on Tuesdays and at the weekends off adventuring and exploring Sydney. My day to day duties involved keeping on top of the laundry, cooking occasionally, maintaining a clean and tidy household and most importantly looking after the two cheeky monkeys that I completely fell in love with over the course of my stay.
The 3 year old (let’s call her Miss K!) is a very strong minded, creative, inquisitive, playful, stubborn, funny and INSANELY CUTE little girl. Her favourite colour is pink and she loves to wear dresses but that was about as far as any girly girl stereotypes went, and we would spend our days making dens, doing craft, baking and building Lego houses. (I spent a lot of my time trying not to sing Ed Sheeran throughout that last activity!) I thought I was a ball of energy and enthusiasm until I met her – she just didn’t seem to have an off switch, and my wish for her future is that she forever stays that way. Her constant questions could be frustrating at times, but I think the most fascinating adults I know are the ones who never accept anything as given and question everything. She knows exactly what she wants, and the temper tantrums we were faced with when that didn’t happen weren’t fun, but with any luck that drive and focus will stand her in good stead for the rest of her life.
Her brother (Master A, for the purposes of this post) is way more chilled out than his older sister. When I first arrived he was still learning to walk and his words were limited, so it was a really exciting time to be around and such a privilege to witness his development over the four months I was there. Master A is a total flirt and all who met him just went gooey at his little chubby cheeks and huge smile. My favourite things about Master A were 1) His laughter. It’s a sound you wish you could bottle because it is just pure happiness in that one moment, and it was even better combined with his sisters laughter. And 2) When he learnt how to say my name. After two months he went from just signalling to me with arm gestures to going “Kaaaaaaate!” whenever he wanted me. Seriously, everyone should wake up to a 20-month old coming down the stairs and shouting their name – even if it’s earlier than you were hoping you can’t help but melt at the sound. It made the dirty nappies just a little more bearable!
Honestly when I was planning my Australia trip I never envisioned myself changing dirty nappies, or even just living with a family but like I keep saying I am so glad I chose to try out au pairing. The parents went from being my employers to people I consider part of my second family. I can’t deny it wasn’t weird at first because slotting into someone else’s family is hard given that all families do things differently at the end of the day and this was a family on the other side of th world! However once I’d got my head around their routine I settled quicker than I had hoped. I won’t lie – sorting through the laundry and knowing what underwear we all wore the previous day took a bit of getting used to, but once I’d conquered that particular issue it was all grand!
Being an au pair was never something I set out to do, but it was definitely the right thing for me, and I like to think it was for the family too! It was while I was living with them that my Grandad died, and it was at that moment I was so grateful to have a strong family unit around me. I couldn’t have wished for more understanding employers around that time, their support meant I was able to go home and say a proper goodbye.
My experiences with au pairing were all positive and I feel so lucky and blessed to have worked and lived with such an amazing family, who I now just think of as my Australian family. If I send The Mothership a text about what I’ve been up to more often than not my Australian mum will receive the exact same message! I really feel like I’ve seen a side of Australia I wouldn’t otherwise have seen if I’d stuck to living with backpackers the whole time, I cannot thank my au pair family enough for the experience and all that they did for me.