After years of babysitting and tutoring, I decided to become an au pair for a couple of months in Italy. It would give me a first-hand cultural exchange experience and I’d be able to earn a small income so that I could travel afterwards. You can read more about how to become an au pair here. I luckily got to experience au pairing for two families. This is the Italian experience I had been hoping for and the one that saved me from the nightmare situation I was in (read more on that here).
As the taxi pulled up to the house, I was greeted by Mama G. Young and beautiful, she came down the stairs and beat me to paying for it. She called out “Aiuta!,” prompting her teenage son came out and help me carry my very heavy bags. Inside, I was met by two beautiful girls who introduced themselves and complimented me on something we already had in common: long hair.
I followed my luggage up the stairs to my room. I was graced with time to unpack and settle in. One of the girls came in to give me an ice-cream (that’s right: food, in my room). It was then that I knew I had walked from hell and into heaven. Yes, they had saved me. My first day ended off with a tour of the house and city, where I learned that I’m the family’s 19th au pair. It explained why they were such good hosts and so well prepared for me, although I wondered to myself what would make me more than just a number to the household (it’s this unrelenting desire I have to leave a mark wherever I go).
Getting weekends off, I was to work about 20 hours a week. 7am marked the start of my day. I had to unpack the dishwasher, help the kids get ready and make their beds. Then I’d have a couple of hours to myself, where I’d either go out into town, sometimes to be a secretary for Juliet. Other days, I’d stay in, blogging, reading and learning Italian at my desk which had a charming view of a tree and traditional style house. About 15 minutes before the teen arrived home, I’d prepare a simple lunch for us. It was usually pasta and he always had coffee straight after.
Now the real job began: teaching English. After learning that spelling was his main concern, I prepared daily spelling tests and worked on other areas I thought he should be focusing on. Side note: Italians strive for perfection and want to learn as much as possible. I needed to reign in this ambition, teaching him to use the words he knew properly before too many learning new ones. When the girls got home, we also worked on English. Our lessons depended on their ballet and gymnastics schedules. Twice a week, they’d read Roald Dahl’s “The BFG” to me. Other days were occupied by working in their grammer booklets. I planned it out so they’d finish by the time I left.
Wednesdays, the girls had no activities and so we played. The one, more of a nature lover, loved to play with teddies. The other, loud and girly, loved to act and put makeup on. I taught them how to play poker, which they quickly became obsessed with. Trying to come up with interactive activities, we played charades and told stories in between it all. My favourite moment with them was when one asked me what “chi-ne-mon” was (cinnamon, pronounced the Italian way). When the dog ran away one day after I let it out, Mama G simply said “stupid dog” and checked up to see if he eventually returned.
Before retreating to my room, I’d finish the day by setting and then clearing the dinner table, while the kids took turns playing piano and reading before bed. There would be an exchange of thank you’s, a far cry from the unrequited ones I gave to the prior OG Family. The food was healthy, but real (veggies were plentiful) and filling, albeit a little too healthy (can you imagine never having tasted fried chicken?).
I spent my weekends exploring. Each Saturday morning, I was up and out of the house early to make he 3.5 km trek to the station. Of the 4 weekends I spent here, I visited Venice, Bologna, Lake Garda and Bergamo. Sundays were strictly for recovery.
Reflecting on the family, I can unequivocally say that they are close. They are all very busy, with Papa G working away from home in Milan for most of the week. The kids study more than I have ever seen. What I loved about this household was how they would always come together for meals. Sometimes, there would be tea and cookies before studying, along with a once-a-week gelato treat. Being a family of five (and Italian), they got loud and as “crazy,” as Papa G would say. I learnt that being called meant having to call out a name several times to catch the person’s attention and that a perfectly suitable response was “eh” (è)? Spending most of my afternoons with a teenager— and a teenage boy, no less, was a lesson too.
Part of my Twitter bio reads: “I embarrass myself more often than not,” and really, what would my life be without moments like these? Like the time I thought it was okay to add my towel to the household washing (not my own), which lead Mama G to think that I didn’t know how to use the washing machine. Then another time, I shook it out the window to get a bug off it, then dropped the towel and had to casually go retrieve it. Or the time I saw tea bags and cups on the table, so I used them to make myself a cuppa. This, without realizing that it was set up for the kid’s morning tea. Finally, the time I ate an ice-cream that one little miss was hoping to come home to.
If there’s one question that everyone from home keeps asking, it’s “how are the boys?”. Well, I wouldn’t know was the answer. It may have been the fact that I look so young, or that the language barrier is quite intimidating. Tinder chats and DM’s were weird for the most part and I the ones I met with a friend were unambitious (and nicked my new boots, ugh). That was until the last week, when one approached me and said a whole lot to me in Italian. Now, let me set the scene: I had just got back to the house, carrying a new luggage bag that I had walked all over town with, with no makeup and messy hair (of course it happened at a moment like this). Anyway, he was actually stopping by from Ferrara, hoping I’d be going there. Before we exchanged details, he give me a kiss on the hand, the way you’d imagine a chance encounter would happen in the city of love with an Italian.
One night, as I was clearing the dinner table, I had a moment alone with Papa G. He asked me something that I knew would delight (and was worthy of) my parents: what is their recipe for parenting? He wanted to know about my education and apparent grace, which I attributed to my mother. Of all of the au pairs, none of them had lesson plans the way I did. None of them corrected the kids as they spoke. He said I had great leadership with the kids and complimented me on my independence. When I visited Venice and told them how much I loved the museums, they said something along the lines of “that’s why she’s the best. She actually visits museums!”. I stood there, surprised. My work, my ‘being’ had been noticed and appreciated. The words said were nothing short of wonderful – as wonderful as this family is.
I will always hold Verona very dear to me. I loved it the first time I visited and would never have imagined that I’d be staying just a couple of weeks later. Famiglia G showed me what a good au pair experience can be and I feel fortunate to have gotten a glimpse into what life in Italy is like. It was authentic, honest and lovely.