Of all the Au Pair stories I’ve heard, this has to be one of the funniest (but maybe that’s just because it happened to me).
When I received Adriana’s text, I felt like I was watching one of those videos you see on social media, where the mom is taking a video in disbelief, just to record how absolutely ridiculous the situation is. The kids are staring at her like, “What, Mom? Don’t you like my handiwork?”
I was sitting in a restaurant with some colleagues, waiting to be seated for a work lunch. They all saw me cover my mouth and say, “Oh, no. No, way!”
Let me just preface this by saying it could have happened to any of us. So many people are going to see this and judge, thinking, “Why wasn’t she watching the kids?”
An Au Pair Story We’ll Remember Forever…
Here’s the thing. After I covered my mouth and said, “Oh, no,” I actually burst out laughing.
Because it’s happened to me before. It’s happened to hundreds or thousands of internet moms, and it can happen to Au Pairs, too.
Adriana was in the restroom for less than five minutes.
That’s all it takes! Just five minutes for two mischievous toddlers to wreak havoc.
This was the message I received while at lunch:
Her text read: “Hi Jenni. [He] made a huge mess with the powder baby and it’s in everywhere. How can I clean that?” She also sent me a video of my three-year-old trying in vain to sweep up the mess with his kid-sized broom.
Now you understand my reaction.
When my colleagues saw this video, many of them covered their mouths and gave me knowing looks. (This is certainly an Au Pair story for the books).
One of my co-workers asked me why I was so laid-back about the whole thing.
“What’s she going to do?” said another co-worker. “It’s not like she can go home and take care of it right now.”
So why didn’t I freak out?
This conversation got me thinking. I know Adriana is attentive and engaged with the kids. She doesn’t spend her entire day texting friends— in fact, if I want to get a hold of her during the day, I often have to wait for her to check her text messages, or I just have to call her.
When I come home from work, my kids are relaxed, well-fed, and happy. And most importantly, they’re safe. Adriana follows all of our safety rules (of all the things I’m neurotic about, safety comes in first).
These are the things that matter to me, not the messes. Sure, I ask Adriana to help clean up. But when our placement first began, I explained to her that it’s more important for the kids to learn to clean up their toys than it is to have a perfectly clean house. (Still, the house is next to perfect when I come home, she does an amazing job).
Since we started hosting Adriana, the kids have started cleaning up after themselves with less and less prompting. One night, my four-year-old even insisted on cleaning up his toys before going to bed. Because, he said, “If I wait to do it until later, it’ll be waaay harder.” (I knew those were Adriana’s words when I heard him say this).
So, next to all the Au Pair stories I’ve heard, this one wasn’t anything to get worked up over. If Adriana focuses on the things that are most important to us, her Host Parents, then it’s only fair that I focus on those things, too.
“I know she’s doing her job,” I told my co-workers. “This has happened to me before—although it was confined to their bedroom last time. It could’ve happened to anyone.”
Trusting My Au Pair
Trust is hard. It’s so easy to blame someone, especially as parents who fear what could happen to our kids while we’re away. Especially after hearing all the Au Pair stories out there and knowing that things don’t always work out perfectly.
But you know what’s harder? Traveling to another country to live with a foreign family, hoping they’ll like you. You try your best, bond with the kids, and do everything you can to impress your Host Family. Then, one day, your Host Kids dump baby powder all over the house, your Host Parents freak out, and all your dreams come crashing down around you. After talking to so many Au Pairs and listening to all their hopes and dreams, this is all I could think about.
Now, that’s not to say every incident is a laughing matter. If I found out Adriana drove my kids around without a car seat, I’d flip my lid, just like any other mom. (I doubt that will happen, as I’ve already warned her that safety is probably the only thing I’ll flip out over).
I make it my policy to give her the benefit of the doubt.
The moment I got Adriana’s text, I knew she would worry about me freaking out. All Au Pairs worry about this. So, I wrote back, “Don’t worry about getting it perfect. I’ll help you when I get home.”
I did my best to reassure her that it had happened before. In fact, I was even tempted to tell her, “Well, now that it’s everywhere, they might as well have fun and play in it!” But I knew it would just poof everywhere and make a bigger mess, and I didn’t want them to be rewarded for wasting the powder. So instead, I gave her some tips for cleaning it up.
Later that night, I learned Adriana had been on the phone with her mom, distressed that the vacuum cleaner didn’t really help because of our wood floors. She went out of her way to clean everything to near perfection.
If you’d walked into my home later that evening, you never would’ve suspected that my kids had created their very own winter wonderland just hours before. (Though, the house was still quite dusty in unexpected places. My computer chair went poof! when I sat down).
How do you know when to address a situation with your Au Pair?
No one was harmed by this absurd mess. Sure, that was $6 of baby powder down the drain, but my kids have been doing chores to earn enough money to replace them. (Yes, two entire, brand-new bottles of baby powder were used to decorate my home. My children are such artists).
Of course, we talked about ways to prevent this from happening again. After all, Adriana has no desire to clean up that mess a second time. (She was probably more upset about it than I was!)
She told me she now leaves the door open when she uses the restroom, as well. I congratulated her for officially becoming a pseudo-mom. “You go to the bathroom with the door open and you keep Transformers in your purse! It’s official! You’re an Au Pair!”
But nowhere in this conversation did I feel the need to impose new rules on our Au Pair. We’re keeping the baby powder up high, but we all know my eldest will reach it eventually. Probably more effectively, we’re teaching the kids that they can’t waste things like baby powder, and we’re teaching them how much work it takes to buy things.
Actually, this has become a funny Au Pair story that we share with friends and family. Adriana shares this story with other Au Pairs who come to visit our house, and they laugh with mixed amusement and horror.
This is a story we can all learn from.
Honestly, I’m glad the whole situation happened. My house is fine, my kids are learning, and it gave us something to bond over.
So, if your child falls and gets a scrape while your Au Pair is on duty, if your kids get into your makeup, if your Au Pair leaves the light on or the window open all day, or if the kids track mud through the house, it might be inconvenient. It might even suck.
But take a look at your kids’ smiling faces, and your Au Pair’s face when she sees the momma bear awakening inside you. And remember what’s most important to you when it comes to the care of your kids. If she’s being attentive to the things that are most important, exploding over this stuff is probably unnecessary.
So apparently, this Au Pair story ends with us buying a fog machine…
But only after the kids earn enough chore money to buy more baby powder.
When Adriana asked the kids why on earth they decided to dump two entire bottles of baby powder all over the house, my eldest answered, “Because we wanted a fog inside the house!”
Yep, that’s my kids for ya.
“There’s fog right outside the house!” she cried incredulously, pointing at the mountains. “You could just go outside and play!”
My four-year-old just looked at her with a serious face and said, “Oh, okay.”
I later explained to him that there are other ways to get “fog,” and said we could go look for a small fog machine this Halloween (after they earn enough in chore money to replace the baby powder). Now, it’s all he talks about!
Update: Believe it or not, this happened to us again, though in smaller proportions this time. The other night, while I was finishing my dinner, I sent the kids upstairs to brush their teeth. It got quiet, and when I went to check on them, lo and behold, my three-year-old had decided he wanted to be “fuzzy like Millie” (our dog) and dumped baby powder all over himself.
The boys have officially earned $6 by doing chores together, and we’ll be going to the grocery store to buy more baby powder together this weekend. But they’ll have to earn another $3 to replace the third bottle that was wasted.
We’re all still learning—me, the kids, my husband, and our Au Pair. And we’ll keep learning, together.