I find that even after 10ish years as a stay at home parent, I still have a hard time admitting how much time I spend doing busy work. It's a combination of cultural and societal pressures, I'm pretty sure. I feel like I should say, "Of course I have time to do that!" whenever I'm asked to do anything. The smorgasbord of menial tasks that I do don't feel worthy of saying "I AM working hard." (Laundry, cooking meals, shopping, chauffeuring, cleaning, home repairs, watching the three-year-old play on the sidewalk because she's not quite old enough to play alone outside yet...)
Long-time readers know that I've been struggling to carve out enough space for myself since Trixie was born. The third child has been really a tough adjustment! (This blog has been one of the casualties of that struggle.) Last summer, when I started playing with the idea of going back to work, I started running scenarios of how I could make it happen.
My preferred scenario was that my parents move to Colorado and become a bigger part in their grandchildren's (and my!) life. Maybe they could help enough to carve out space for me! This doesn't seem crazy to me because it happens frequently among our friends here in Colorado. But it seemed crazy to my parents. And in the last three years, my parents have deepened their roots in Rhode Island by buying an investment property and fixing it up. It takes a lot of their time. Instead of becoming closer to them, we've become farther apart.
So after that, what seemed to make the most sense for us was to get an Au Pair. Au Pairs are typically young women between the ages of 18-26 who come from a foreign country for a year. She lives with the family, takes a few classes, and takes care of the children and household tasks in exchange for a small stipend. For us, without grandparents or aunts or uncles nearby to help out, we really need something more than a structured day care or a scheduled nanny. An Au Pair would mean more flexibility and some extra help with all those menial tasks, like doing the kids laundry and making lunches and driving kids around.
Our Au Pair, Lucy, arrived three weeks ago. Lucy has been transitioning into more and more responsibility over this time. Typically, AuPairs have about 3 days before jumping feet-first into their jobs. Since I am still at home (not employed), Lucy has been working fewer than the maximum 45 hours a week. I've been in the house to keep an eye on how things are going. All the kids liked her immediately. Which is great! But the harder part is building a relationship of respect, especially with the 7 and 10 year old. It's coming, which is pretty exciting to see. Watching the process really makes me appreciate how experienced professionals, like teachers, can take responsibility and control of kiddos right away.
Lucy is German. This is an added bonus both for us and for Lucy. We are a bilingual, dual-citizenship household. The kids, growing up mostly in the US, are always interested to learn more about Germany.
A lot of friends are asking me what it's like to have somebody else living in our house. Really, I think it's fine. With our families in Germany and Rhode Island, and friends around the globe, we have always had a lot houseguests. Fritz and I aren't bothered by it; maybe it is our personalities? Or maybe the whole experience is still too new? We talked about Lucy a lot before she arrived. And when she got here, the kids quickly accepted Lucy as something between a big sister and parent.
We did put in a lot of effort to get the basement finished before Lucy arrived, which gave us some extra livable square footage. The basement was sitting in a sad state of drywalled but not painted or carpeted. My family flew in a couple of times to help with that, for which I am really grateful!