a small update and photos from Leuven

(Manneken Pis with a costume. He keeps getting new ones every once in a while.)

Hello! It’s been quiet in this blog for a few weeks, the work schedule is more busy now and when I have spent most of the day with the kids, I am usually a bit too tired in the evening to write a proper blog post. I’m still happy with my job though, even if I have 10-11h workdays every now and then. It’s a lot more satisfying job than anything else I’ve done before. I can actually make a change with what I do: teach the kids new things and allow the parents some time for themselves (something they haven’t had much in the past three or so years).

I get instant feedback for things I do and there is no office gossip. Usually the biggest conflict of the day is “I DON’T WANT to sleep!” or “I DON’T WANT to wash my hands!” That I can handle. Also, I have found that the “I’m going to count to three!” method works if nothing else does. I have never had to say “three!” so far, because the problem is already solved by the time I reach “two!”. And if I don’t have to make the kids wash their hands or stop throwing things around, I’m just having fun with them and taking them to the playground or painting with them or building blanket forts or reading books or learning letters… Basically I’m doing what I did with my sisters when I was a kid myself and I’m getting paid for it. Success! (I do have some nasty bruises from climbing after Mickey on the playground though.)

Since it’s not a proper blog post without photos, I’ll show some that I took in Leuven. I can’t write about the town since I only saw it for a few hours when I went to the Saturday market with FrenchDad, Minnie and Mickey. I don’t know much about the buildings or the life in Leuven, so I will just show a few photos for now and write a proper blog post when I have managed to have a proper day trip there. For now I can only say that it’s a lovely Flemish town a short car-ride east from Brussels.
I’ll try to find some time soon to edit my photos from last weekend’s trip to France. Coming up: a fancy French palace and nasty French toilets!

welcome to the family

Brussels. It’s my third day here and I like it so far. The main thing is that I got a really warm welcome from my host family. FrenchDad and EstMum (because EstonianMum would be a too long nickname and just mum and dad are reserved for my own parents) even brought out the champagne in the evening when kids were in bed. A proper welcome! The kids seemed to like me from the very beginning as well and they keep calling “tädi-tädi-tädi!” or “tädi Terje!” (auntie Terje) when I’m in another room. Since I do not want to mention the kids’ real names here and they both seem to really like Disney characters, I’ll just call them Mickey and Minnie.

Minnie is three years old, she loves climbing on everything and listening to Adele. The latter can change soon if she finds new music to love, but her climbing addiction is likely to stay with her for life. Mickey is two years younger than Minnie, he loves playing with the vacuum cleaner and drooling on everything. Tomorrow I’ll have to stay home alone with them both for the first time, hopefully everything will work out fine. I already spent a few hours with Mickey yesterday and he only cried for mummy for a few minutes, after that he showed me the doll dishes and pretended to eat from them.

Minnie is super-active. I will probably get my daily needed physical activity just from picking her up from the kindergarten, she runs and climbs and keeping up with her is a challenge when I have Mickey with me. Fortunately Minnie has learned pretty well that she is not allowed to cross the street on her own, otherwise this would get dangerous. Talking to the kids is easy, I can just use my own mother tongue. The most French they use when talking to me is usually just small random words like “d’accord!” or “encore!”.

I’m living in the family house, so commuting to work takes about 30 seconds. The time can be shortened once I learn to climb the steep attic stairs without fearing for my life. The entire attic floor is one big room and that’s my domain. It’s still rather empty, but today someone is supposed to come over to see whether they can install heating here (and if not, an electric radiator will be bought) and on Saturday we’ll go to Ikea to pick up some essentials like a desk / table, garbage bin and a chest for my blanket and pillows so I could morph the bed into a couch for the day.

I now also own a Belgian number, so if anyone feels the need to have it, give me a shout. I have no idea how expensive texts will be, but at least I can talk an hour for free every month. And for those who are curious what my room looks like, I took a sneak peek photo of the most cosy-looking corner. Of course it will look a lot better once I have more furniture and perhaps a carpet or two.

Hopes & Fears

I was taught to use the “hopes and fears” method years ago when I started going to European Youth Parliament events. Since then, it has been a very much used method for me and it really is useful for processing things you want to think through before doing. Since I jumped into this au pair opportunity head-first, I didn’t have much time to think of all the details that have now jumped in my head. As with the previous list, this one can get additions when I think of new things and I’ll take a new look at it at the end of my au pair year to see whether I managed to fulfill my hopes and turn the fears into positive experiences.

I hope I will be able to communicate freely in French. This is especially important when dealing with the kindergarten  – I will be taking the older kid there and back home and if there is any information to give to the parents, it’s pretty likely it will go via me. Not much use if I can only come up with nodding and saying “oui-oui!” and not remember anything later.

I hope I will have enough time and money to travel outside Brussels at least once a month. This year isn’t only about gaining experience with looking after kids and raising them in the best way possible. It’s also about new experiences outside my job and I plan to do as much as possible. If you look at the pile of bought and borrowed books at the beginning of this post, you can see a few travel books I borrowed from the library to mark down interesting places in towns I’d like to visit. This is only the beginning, the library shelves are full and my bag wasn’t able to take much more.

I hope I will have a very positive relationship with my Brussels family. This is what can make or break that job for me. Half of the family is employing me and the other half I have to take care of every week. This really is the key to having an amazing year, so I’ll do my best to get to know them properly and have a blast.

I hope I will be able to see Matthijs more often than now. …so anything more often than once a month would already be a very welcome improvement. The only negative side is that it will be more difficult to have longer trips together, but at least we should be able to see each other most weekends.

I fear that my lack of grammar knowledge and practise in actually speaking in French will hold me back from communicating. I have already taken the first step to turn this fear into something positive. Taking another look at the photo, you may notice a book + CD set from the Teach Yourself series. I have already learned Dutch for 1,5 years with a Dutch book from that series and I will be revising and learning French with my newly purchased book from now on. (In addition, I hope to take French lessons in Brussels as well, at least a conversation course.)

I fear I will find being an au pair too difficult. Ah, the fear of failure, my old friend. I have experience with kids, but not as a paid occupation. If I don’t know something, I google it or turn to the library. This time I picked the latter – the book pile also contains four different books that teach adults to encourage creativity in kids, how to help kids handle their feelings and gain confidence, Q&A with a pediatrician and Q&A with a child psychiatrist. I’ll return those soon and get some new ones. Of course I don’t take everything in those books as rules to live by, but they do offer some food for thought and prepare me mentally for many things I might encounter as an au pair.

I fear that there will be unresolvable conflicts between me and the Brussels parents. I have met the family already and so far it looks like we’re on the same page. There can always be miscommunications and misunderstandings though and then everything depends on how good we all are at talking things through and coming to an acceptable agreement. I know some people who have switched families because they just didn’t “click”, so even though I already like the family, there is always the possibility of things changing. I will do my best to resolve all problems as soon as they appear so there wouldn’t be lasting misunderstandings between us.

I fear I will run out of money long before next payday. Living abroad, lots of delicious quality chocolate around, tempting nearby locations for trips… plenty of things that would lure money out of my wallet while living there. I will try to make this fear disappear by keeping a close eye on my expenses and having a calm (read: inexpensive) weekend with walks in the park and reading books (or cuddling up with Matthijs and watching Doctor Who) after a weekend with intense trips outside Brussels.

I fear I will get homesick. This one is pretty much a given – despite all my travels I have never been away from home / my family for longer than a few weeks at a time. This will be my first longer separation from a familiar environment, friends and family. I will try to reduce homesickness by blogging, skyping and hopefully flying home two-three times during that year. Also, I’ll try to persuade friends and family to visit me whenever possible – that way I can be a tour guide as well, showing them around in Brussels and nearby towns which I should know pretty well by the time first visitors would appear.

Why an au pair? And why in Belgium?

Why be an au pair in Belgium? I’ve been asked that a few times already. First, people usually try being an au pair after graduating from high school if they don’t know what to do next / just want to see the world. Second, most Estonians would probably pick some place like the USA, the UK… or any country that offers enough sun for a lifetime in one year.

I’m 22, just got my BA in politics and could be looking for an office job where I could use that education or go and get a Master’s degree in international relations or EU studies or… you get my drift. Why on earth would I be an au pair then? The answer is fairly simple. Even though I’ve travelled quite a lot already, it’s not enough for me; I’ve been wanting to live abroad for at least a year for as long as I can remember. This is the time to finally do that.

For years I thought I’d go to England. I have always loved England and London is the city of my dreams. Then something changed. I fell in love with a Dutchman and suddenly I found I wouldn’t be against moving to The Netherlands. There were a few obstacles though – I had no money for moving and we were both still studying, so just packing everything up and going to a different country was not the most sensible option.

This June I discovered something. I was done with university, I had no idea what I wanted to do next (Master’s degree? In what? What job? In which country???), my eyes were not taking my current office job very well and I felt like I needed a break from everything. I had already had half a week where I could barely see anything with one eye and the other one hurt like mad as well, so I knew I had to make a change. I went through all job offers and put up a profile on an au pair website and the first results came from the aur pair site.

Within 1.5 weeks from the moment I had started searching for a new job, I had an agreement with a lovely Estonian-French family in Brussels and could quit the office job. Being an au pair seemed like the furthest thing from archiving invoices. It seemed perfect. I have always loved children and gotten along well with them, so changing from computers to two lovely small kids… was there even a question?

Of course, one factor in picking that particular family (besides the fact they seemed the best fit from everyone who had contacted me so far) was that Brussels is only a 3h train ride away from Nijmegen. What about Nijmegen? Well, it’s a lovely Dutch town near the German border… and my lovely Dutchman Matthijs happens to live there. We have been flying back&forth between the Netherlands and Estonia for more than 15 months, so being closer to him was such a lovely bonus to everything else. No more asking in January whether he would be able to see me at the end of June or planning the New Year’s meet-up in the middle of the summer. Just jump on a train and go.