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What does an Au Pair do?

My day officially starts at 7:30am when I leave my “house”, that is my granny flat in the garden, and I walk about 12 steps to the back door of the house.
On a good day I will have had time for a peaceful breakfast and might even be strolling over with a cup of tea in my hand. Yorkshire Tea, purchased recently, which makes my day start an awful lot better than Bushells.

Breakfast time consists of teamwork to get T & S dressed and fed, so T can get out of the door for school on time with Dad. It doesn’t always go smoothly – Fridays are particularly painful mornings. When the TV is switched off – my preference – the morning is a breeze. When it’s on, which it usually is – it’s anyone’s guess what will happen.

After T goes to school, S and I can start our day. My morning tasks are getting S to have some breakfast, as it’s unlikely this was successful earlier, and a second attempt at dressing her. When she is pottering about with the dog, or today’s teddy, I unpack and repack the dishwasher, tidy the kitchen and make a start on the laundry, make the beds and have a think about today’s plan.

If I haven’t already had a conversation about tonight’s dinner, it will be written down somewhere. Making dinner is an important and enjoyable task for me, so it needs to be factored into the day’s plan.
Very often S and I will pop to the local shop to top up on ingredients. She will go in the pushchair, and my bag will be loaded with snacks and supplies and off we go. Sometimes we pick something up and turn around and go back. Sometimes we have coffee together in the cafe. And less recently due to bad weather, we will come home via the park.

Most sunny days lunch is a picnic at the park. We sit on the picnic benches together making crow noises and discussing what dogs are doing. We lie on the grass and find shapes in the clouds, sing songs on the swings or we go on an adventure to the wooded area of the huge park we live near to “see what we can see”. This is a general term I use for any journey we embark upon, as it seems to give it some purpose.

After lunch S usually has another energy spurt, so whizzes around the back yard on her bike if we are at home, and I use the opportunity to lock the dog away and make dinner. Not locking the dog away, as I very quickly learnt but surprisingly often forget, very often results in something or everything being stolen by the pesky Labrador.
S often helps me make dinner: I give her a bowl and she does “mixing” which consists of her collecting all the peelings and leftovers in her bowl – we often season it, add water and “taste” it to see what she has created.

On these recent boring rainy days I have been doing a number of little baking activities – scones, or cupcakes perhaps, which we later eat at a teddy bears’ picnic in my granny flat, sometimes under the table if it’s raining really heavily! Getting a 3 year old interested in baking isn’t difficult. I measure things out, she pours them in: complimented all the time on her great pouring skills. We can’t wait until it’s in the oven, so we can both be naughty and lick the bowl.

After a few stories and cup of tea it’s time to locate shoes (never an easy task, as they never stay on for long) and a cardigan, a book or two, some snacks for the ride, water and anything else I can think of before we head to school to collect T. Very often I have to do “fast walking” because the previous tasks took longer than I wanted them to and we race to school, nattering all the way, looking for things to point out, so S doesn’t fall asleep.

T gets a high 5 if he’s eaten all his lunch. If he hasn’t, “nasty nanny” makes him eat his sandwich before he plays footy. We hang out at school for as long as the weather and the caretakers allow, or we head to a park and we kick and pass the ball or have running races before heading home. Apparently I am “awesome” at this. I have tried to teach him “English football” (I refuse to call it soccer) but I can’t get him to stop picking the ball up!

Dinner comes round pretty quick, as I’m doing a few last minute adjustments and bringing in the washing, it all happens at once. Countdown is on: tidy up music is playing on my computer, play area is tidied, hands are washed, table is set and bottoms are on seats for a 5pm sit down. The 3 of us sit together and enjoy our dinner with silly conversations and mostly good manners. Politeness and table manners are greatly rewarded and seeing empty plates and smiling faces makes me happier than I can express. Dinner done, everything is put away and we might just have time for a story before mum gets home. Or if she’s stuck in traffic we run the bath and they hop in. To pass the time we sing songs about frogs, or tell stories.

When mum gets home, we have a debrief and the children turn from calm collected creatures to manic little monsters on their second, third of fourth wind of energy, so I bid my farewell and head to my room.

I later meet with a fellow au pair and friend and we go for a good stomp and a vent… often all the way to the shopping centre for frozen yoghurt.

Doesn’t sound bad? No, very often it’s wonderful. I adore T and S and on GOOD days they are my two best friends…

Perhaps I need to write a post on the trials and tribulations of life as an Au pair…

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a day in the life of a cattle station governess

A day in the life of a governess on a cattle station…

The alarm goes off at 6:50, and as usual I feel I have been robbed of some sleep because the crows have started cackling at least half an hour earlier, and the dogs would have had something to bark about at least once in the night, so I hit snooze.

It goes off again, this time I reach down for the remote and switch on the tv, letting breakfast television into my life, and starting my day. I resist another snooze, get up, stretch, open the blinds to see another sunny day in the bush. Sometimes Tiger, one of the old milking cows is in the paddock outside my window or one of the horses has come up for a different patch of grass. The crows are there, sitting where I can’t see them, but taunting me with their child-like cries.

Flip-flops on, I head into the house yard, to my “bathroom”, which is a glorified shed. It’s got a toilet in one room, washing machine in another and then a shower, which is like a walk-in wet room. Sometimes there is a frog there to greet me, or one of the dogs comes for a sniff on my way.

The shower is fed by the dam, which I am now used to, but the smell used to put me off getting washed in the early days. I nip back to my room, have a cuppa, shovel down some breakfast, get dressed and pack my bag for work.

I have to walk approximately 15 paces to the classroom, which is where I spend the next 8 hours. On a chilly morning, I have my gloves and scarf on, switch on the heater and wait for the burst of energy that comes over from the house at 8am. Now internet is part of our lives, I plug in my laptop, and wait for any school notices of sickness, timetable issues, or last minute requests for phone lessons to appear. I also get some funky music on if it’s a Tuesday, cos that’s when we have an early morning boogie.

First class of the day is at 8:30am. One goes off to the phone room, and I stay and have a concentrated hour with the other one. This time it’s maths, which isn’t always easy! 9:30 we have a quick brain break, which is a new invention, and helps marvellously. We chuck some soft balls around between the three of us, improving our catching techniques and taking our mind off the previous lesson.

Just enough time after that for a spelling lesson, or some maths revision before Smoko at 10am. That was a new word for me, originating from Smokehouse, which perhaps is where morning tea used to take place? In we troop to the house, although the kids usually have some energy to burn outside first, and it can be a battle to get them back inside. If I have had a good morning, I go for a piece of fruit, but if we’ve had a bad one, I seem to hit the cake.

The next two hour session is broken into chunks, which depending on the day, consists of reading time, handwriting practise, journal writing, or a simultaneous spelling lesson: which can be quite complicated running at the same time, with two kids on different levels. It goes something like this: “Ok, C, exercise A, write this down, E spell NOISE. C, what’s the spelling rule for those words? E, spell SIGHT, C, do exercise B, No E, that’s not how you spell that, C, what are you doing?”

11:30 there is another phone lesson for the other student, so one-on-one time for E and I, again it’s maths. We have a quick brain break between activities, and if things are going particularly bad, we have to put pens down and they do laps around the house. It works, trust me!

Pissing me off, answering back, getting into class late or fighting results in a yellow card. I am a referee in so many ways. Two yellow cards and they get a red card and are sent off ( we like football here), and have to make up the time after school. This has only happened once, and I made sure the other student was doing something REALLY fun, so we haven’t had a sending off since!

After lunch we have science or history, and this lesson is conducted to both at the same time. Again, it goes something like this: “Ok, C, start on task 6, read that for me, and tell me what you have to do. E, go to task 4 on the disc. Ok C, what do you need to do? E, click on that, C write down the answer please, E let’s try this activity. One Sec C, I’m explaining this, do your maths sheet whilst you are waiting. Ok, have you read that? Let’s try the next one. E, draw a picture of what you just saw….” It’s exhausting!

Half past two rolls around and if we are on schedule, we have an hour of craft or project. Paints come out, we get messy! Then it’s tidy up time, there is always a squabble about whose turn it is to sweep. Jelly babies are given out for good behaviour, classroom is tidy and they literally burst out of the room.

I have a few minutes to myself, go to the house for a debrief with mum and a cup of tea. At 5pm, sometimes earlier it’s time for a walk or a jog. This is sometimes accompanied by children and/or dogs and the length and destination change according to mood. 6pm, shower time, minute to catch my breath.

6:30 over to the house to help dish up dinner: this is the only way to ensure you don’t have to eat a bushman’s portion of meat (which is a lot for us non-bushies!) it’s meat and veg of course. Then the station hand and I clean up the kitchen, knowing we both have stories to share, and few moans to have, we clink and clang in the kitchen as the family sit down to the tv.

Off to the classroom to get first lessons ready for the morning, make sure exercises are cut up, books are ready and read up just in case! And then I go back to my shipping container after checking my emails in the classroom. Now it’s getting hotter and there is a station hand to share my evenings with, we sit in my hut, with the fans on, crack open a beer, have a whinge, let off some steam and chill out, before getting an early night for it all the start again the next day.

mini school

August 14th

Temp 25C

Location: Emerald, QLD

I am sitting on my stretcher bed, in the outstation where I sleep with about 50 other people all in their swags. That’s like a heavy duty sleeping bag to you non-aussies. It’s made of canvas and is like a bed/sleeping bag/possibly even tent all in one.

The snoring is horrendous. The babies crying is even worse. And then there are the mental ones who get up before 5 am with no regard for the sleep of others. The first morning I woke up at 6:50am and really was made to feel as if I was wildly oversleeping! People kept saying things like: “oh you’re not a morning person then” or “what time do you usually get up?!” It was a little confronting to say the least.

Throughout the week, breakfast is served from 6:30 am. Having worked at many camps and residential schools before, THAT was a shock to me. Can anyone who has done a summer school in Spain imagine them getting up at that hour? In fact, I have never worked with kids who did NOT need to be woken up, and quite often dragged to breakfast!

School starts at 8:30am, and this is also odd for me too. I am not teaching this week. Their teachers are doing it. So the home teachers and mums sit around all day drinking cups of tea and getting bored. Very bored. I am the only foreigner here. Most of the govvies have been doing this for some time, and know the drill. Then there are the mums. Most of them have been to the shops and bought brand new water bottles, hats, duvets, blankets, anything for their kids just for this week. There are mummies with babies, and with kids who have been friends for years. I say friends, when I refer to the friends these children only see for 1 week, four times a year at this residential school.

These children live far too far away from neighbours to have sleepovers, do homework together. But this week they are best friends. There are no fights, no bickering, no discipline issues… it’s all just too easy! Never have a worked such an easy week with children.

As the week slowly drags on, we eat more and more to compensate for having nothing to do and I go to all the “teacher development” workshops to learn things i already know and listen to every single mum who thinks her child and her problems are unique and they are something we all wish to hear about. Poor little Johnny finds this hard, and angellic jane found question 4 on lesson 8 just impossible. Really thrilling stuff!

Still half way through, on the home straight and you never what might be on the shelves in Big W that i might have missed yesterday, so it’s always worth the trip into town later on…

Emerald City

12th August

temp 22C

Emerald

Here I am at residential school in Emerald for one of the termly “mini-school” weeks with the two children.

I should start by talking about Emerald itself. It’s a city, apparently. It has an airport (my entrance and exit to the bush), a huge mine and really not much else. Yes, in fact there are a number of motels that serve the miners, there are a collection of schools and three shopping centres that house Coles, Target, Big W etc., There are also your regular dumping of fast food places and really to be honest, not a lot more. People who live in the bush travel for miles (sorry, here that would be kilometres, but it doesn’t right does it?) to get here because it’s got the big supermarkets and clothes shops that the little towns (of course!) don’t have. It’s got the banks that they don’t have, doctors and a hospital or two and even a train station, where I could take a train to Brisbane if I wanted, if I am prepared to sit on it for 12 hours.

And that really IS all there is to say about Emerald….

24 hours in…

So…. 24 hours in…how does it feel?

Well, it so rarely fits the pictures you had in your head and this is like none of the images I conjured up of a fairy-tale-like city with a rising castle and crispy air and smiling people and either a wintery snow covered landscape or a crisp deep blue sky.

Yes, I DO live in the “eastern block”, as in I live in a place that from first glance you would assume to be a NASTY council estate. Petrˇzalka. Yes, grey tower blocks, litter and badly parked cars. I live on the 13th floor of a building whose entrance would make you not really wish to proceed.

The journey into the centre is pretty ugly until you actually get to the bus stop in the centre where there are some nicer looking buildings. The tram is pretty nasty looking, often with graffiti or advertising cleaning products. Not the quaint rickety wooden tram you picture trundling along cobbled streets.

The weather has been grey, damp and misty, so hasn’t painted the city in the prettiest light.

The “school”, as in the primary school where I am teaching is on another of these delightful housing estates, again where at first glance you wouldn’t want your child walking there alone. BUT on entering, you are encapsulated by the most charming environment: decorated beautifully and delightfully inviting for children. You are instructed to wear slippers in the primary area, or cover your shoes, and although the paint wasn’t painted in perfectly straight lines, the rooms are bright and colourful and a wonderful atmosphere for the children.

Of course I must mention TESCO. It IS the world here. It’s not just a supermarket. It’s like El Corte Ingles in the centre with a floor for toiletries , another for clothes and an acre for the actual supermarket. In my “local” one, a hypermarket, I could buy iceskates, a treadmill, a double bed or just a packet of stock cubes. I could also sit down in the café and check my email, pop next door to pizza hut, or even have myself a haircut.

I remain optimistic. I arrived open-minded and I am determined to leave knowledgeable of the culture, surrounding countries and of course a better teacher.

Oh and I have a Kindergarten class times 2 tomorrow. Three Year olds!

xx