Why I said au revoir to my porn-loving Mary Poppins
Now that au pairs are legally considered employees who must be paid the minimum wage, Carol Hunt remembers her experience of hiring one
Published 13/03/2016 | 02:30
About a decade ago we had what could be called a childcare crisis. After five years of spending every spare penny on creche fees, both our children were now firmly ensconced in a local primary school. You'd think things would have gotten easier then, but, as many parents in similar situations will tell you, while full-time creche might be ruinously expensive, at least you don't have to deal with the vagaries of the Irish school calendar. Or the charming way that every other week, there seems to be a reason to celebrate school-life by sending the children home at 12.30 in the afternoon.
Primary school life is predicated on the fact that there is a smiling mammy (with or without the apron) waiting to greet her little darlings every day at the school gate - even if she has only dropped them there three hours previously. Sure what else would she be doing? And so, we had the "au pair" discussion. It seemed the obvious solution. We had room to spare and we were stuck. But I had doubts.
I had heard horror stories from friends and family about experiences with au pairs. There was the one - Maria, tall, brown-eyed, Spanish - who would go to bed early every night, only to reappear in her skimpy night attire when the woman of the house had retired and the hapless husband was catching up with the footie by himself. Needless to say, he was only delighted with Maria's interest in the Champions League and quite happy to overlook the fact that she couldn't tell the difference between Messi and Ronaldo. The wife, sadly, wasn't quite so tolerant and the young siren received a red card within three months.
Then there was the family who had numerous telephone conversations with their prospective au pair before she set foot in the country. Problem was, when Bianca stepped off the plane, her sister accompanied her to explain that sorry, Bianca didn't speak English. It had been the sister who had spoken to them on the phone. Amazingly, Bianca wasn't sent back on the return flight. The family accepted her sister's pleas that she was a quick learner and agreed to give her a chance. And so, they waited until Bianca slapped their young daughter because she didn't understand what she was saying (in French) before escorting her back to the airport.
I heeded all the warnings. "Don't get a young one, they've no idea how to mind children". "Don't get a pretty one, she'll set her eyes on, if not your husband, then the partners of your friends." "Better she has a boyfriend so that she's not bringing strange guys home at weekends…" "Don't get one with a big family, they'll all be coming over to visit".
And so, after a very enjoyable few months with a Spanish mature student who unfortunately left us to study full time, we found ourselves one afternoon, sitting opposite a young French woman in her late 20s, who was working as an au pair in the UK already, but wanted to move to Dublin for a while. She seemed gorgeous. But importantly, not too gorgeous. She had a nice Irish boyfriend. I called the English family whom she had been working for previously and she gave me a high recommendation for her. Crucially, she said her kids doted on her, and they had arranged to keep in touch. And, to top it all off, she loved to cook and dance. A week later, her boyfriend moved her stuff over and we congratulated ourselves on a great choice. She would only work 18 hours a week and babysit one evening a fortnight. Her English was excellent. What could go wrong?
We probably should have realised that our young woman had boundary issues when, on the first night, she asked could she have a birthday dinner party for a visiting boyfriend. Against my better judgement, I said yes - it was her birthday after all - and myself and the family were relegated to the sitting room for the night as she and her young man took over the rest of the house. But, no harm done, and our children adored her. With good reason: she sang, played, drew and cooked with them, with great enthusiasm and genuine love. And boy, did she love to cook. Each morning, she would give me a shopping list of expensive ingredients for the day's feast. Sadly, cleaning up wasn't a priority (who can blame her?) and I would return each evening to happy, well-fed children and a kitchen that looked like Gordon Ramsay had thrown a major tantrum in.
She broke up with the boyfriend soon after she moved and would retire to the study most evenings with my laptop to watch movies and Skype home. The laptop suddenly acquired a virus - odd for a Mac. Luckily, I took it to a friend to get it repaired, who on returning it, advised me with a grin that I might like to take some of the more, ahem, exotic pornography off it, lest the kids get to see it (he may also have diplomatically meant my husband). When I asked the au pair what she was watching on my laptop, she happily 'fessed up to her love of "interesting" porn and tried to recommend some sites she thought I might like. From then on, it all got a bit surreal. "Don't you mind her hanging her lacy bras and skimpy knickers in the bathroom?" asked a friend. "I don't see the problem," I answered, perhaps naively. When, after a party in our house, she arrived down to breakfast with a strange young man, I thought that things had gone as far as they could. I was wrong. Our young French woman went on an exploratory weekend away with some similarly minded gentlemen. She returned, with gleeful tales of debauchery which would shame de Sade. We parted ways amicably soon after and she moved back to Paris. The kids still miss her. I'm hoping the husband doesn't.
Carol Hunt is an Independent candidate for Seanad 2016 NUI panel.