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Tuesday, 14 November 2006

Au Pair Trouble

Last week, Fatima our Lebanese/Swedish au pair of just two months was visited from Stockholm by her recently reconciled parents to mark the end of Ramadan - they have been divorced four times in the past we were told. It seems Fatima’s mother has recently taken to wearing the niqab (face veil) and jilbab (black robes) no longer content to simply cover her head. Fatima returned to us after her weekend break at a hotel in London, packed her bags, shouted at us in the street (in front of our children and neighbours) about our 'permissive behaviour', 'abuse' (I foolishly expected her to unload the dishwasher and vacuum the house from time to time) and my 'neglect' as a mother and wife. She marched out in the street dramatically, after first pouring shampoo on my Kaiser Chiefs and Robbie Williams CDs, smashing the mobile phone we bought for her to use, and shrieking at the children that they were 'disturbed'! She threw all of her new lycra gym clothes in the bin (gym membership is considered a good incentive to keep an au pair) along with her make-up and contraceptive pills. She took the SIM card we supplied with her.

I realise that we are ‘old hat’ with our musical tastes – I make Emma my lovely fashionable young administrator hoot with laughter when I get the names of bands wrong, like when I refer to ‘Jason Timberland’ – you know exactly who I mean, don’t you? Bad taste should be no justification for the destruction of our property, surely? James and I are so exhausted from our working week, we don't have the emotional energy to be a bad influence on anyone. We don't even watch 'Bad Girls'.

Oh what a week we have had!

Fatima has told the agency that we had refused to allow her to fast for the holy month of Ramadan! This was so untrue, and offended me more than anything else she said (or rather shouted) about us.

Most of the people I work with are not Christian, and I would have fasted with Fatima if she had indicated that she wanted to observe the fast. I would value the experience of exploring how difficult it is for others to observe Ramadan. I long to be better informed, to be more cosmopolitan. She never mentioned a special diet on her application form, or even when we joined 'Weight Watchers' together. The cheeky mare! How very dare she?

Perhaps she could effectively argue that she felt too uncomfortable to suggest that she fasted while staying in our Christian home. I have pondered that thought and wondered if Fatima had genuinely felt we had not accepted her. I suppose she could claim that subconsciously we had blocked her efforts to communicate to us exactly what she needed.

HOWEVER, I was certainly not responsible for the Swedish brand of contraceptives she left behind in the bin, or her 30 double 'G' silicone implants - She arrived with those too. I think it must cause genuine conflict - wishing to have the approval of a family, whose culture is entirely different from that of ones peers.

I believe the Swedes don't get married or even shave their arm pits! Not very Dulwich. I had expected some cultural conflicts - mostly about depiliation to be fair - but not this! Fundamentalist Islaam probably doesn’t sit well with ‘living it large’ in London, sporting implants the envy of Jordan’s. Maybe the best thing is for Fatima to wear a jilbab, or her father might notice . You know initially I could not believe my own eyes. I thought ‘a young pretty girl like that – they must be her own’, but I own two real breasts myself, and if I lie flat on the trampoline, so do they. They don't stand up like great Christmas puddings!

Fatima seemed so innocent initially, she said that she loved 'black music' and intended to travel to Kingston to experience it to the full. When she indicated that she intended to travel there at the weekend by tube, and I pointed out that the Kingston she referred to was in Jamaica and not 'upon Thames', she looked at me in disgust and refused to believe me.

Fatima may have felt a little bruised and rejected when within two weeks of arrival in our home we gently declined her request for her sister, new baby (1 month old) and brother in law to stay with us for four nights while they visited her . We explained that we felt we did not have the space to accommodate her visitors in our modest home, especially as we were just getting to know each other. We subsequently refused to allow her to have two separate friends and her mother to stay during the following six weeks. Fatima didn’t like that at all, and began 'click clack' trotting about loudly on the parquet floor in her high heels and slamming doors.

The storm eventually passed, and I was more than relieved that we refused to accommodate her visitors when only last week Fatima explained to me that the first of her visiting girl friends was currently dating a 'crack dealer' who works out of the Trocadero (just at the weekend she reassured me). Fatima said that she was happy that this girl chum had not been permitted to stay at our home (ME TOO!). Fatima explained that she wished to avoid picking back up with her previous boyfriend a friend of this drug dealer and a 'part-time film producer and personal trainer'. Fatima had dated him last summer during a holiday in 'Croydon'! I must admit I was puzzled not only by his mix of professions, but also by her choice of holiday destination. Fatima elaborated that she had been involved in some dubious film work for this boyfriend, which she was anxious to keep from her parents. I changed the subject at this point, as my smile started to go numb and my wide eyes started to sting.

I feel a storm has passed now that Fatima has gone, I can’t believe I ever left my precious children in her charge. My son Max loved her, and he has gone rather quiet since she left – the poor lamb. He is only five, and he enjoyed doing the kind of energetic things au pairs do with young children. Things that as a more mature mum, don't come easily to me. Fatima would jump on the trampoline with the children for hours, and let them ride around the living room on her back. She said she liked being on ‘all fours’ as it relieved the back pain caused by the weight of her implants. I am sure I will have a laugh with Max about this when he is older. Fatima looked like every young mans dream.

Anyhow, we are now looking forward to welcoming a new young person into our household. Like lemmings we run towards the cliff. The au pair we had before Fatima had bulimia, and we realised she had to go when little Freya began retching for attention, copying the lovely young Sardinian. Any further problems and this will be our last au pair. We will see how it goes. I see no benefit in further distressing our little children in this way. I thought au pairs required board and lodging in exchange for pocket money, light house work, and childcare - no more than 25 hours per week. I am not sure I am ready for the emotional fallout and high drama of having another troubled young person 'to help' in our home. We will see. I am not letting the next au pair use my GHD or make-up! Actually, I didn’t want the last one to use these things either, but she had such a strong personality, I didn’t want her to give me a row and upset the children.

There is a huge price to pay for living in Dulwich. To finance the wonderful schools, we must both work full-time. We live far from willing grandparents, and so we have an au pair. Perhaps I should alter that, an au pair has us!

I will let you know how we get on

1 comment:

Bernie, Amy IRL said...

Hi Dulwich Mum...Really enjoying your site ! much better than sex in the city. Looking forward to the next chapter.... from your fans Amy and Bernie. Nice to know how the other half live