What Is It Like To Be an Au Pair in Madrid, Spain

What Is It Like To Be an Au Pair in Madrid, Spain

For those of you who don’t know, being an au pair usually consists of living with a local family and being assigned certain responsibilities. These can include taking care of one or more children, fixing them meals, cleaning up after them, playing with them — all while they benefit from having exposure to another language such as English.

Not a day goes by that I don’t think about my short five-month stint as an au pair. For me, this was an unfortunate occurrence as the memories have been like a black cloud trailing after me stubbornly for around a year now. One of life’s greatest mysteries is how we can come to love a person so much and still feel resentment and anger when things end adversely. Perhaps writing this will allow me to process it and put it far away in a folder inside my brain.

Au-Pair-Madrid-Spain-local-housesTrying to Be the Best Au Pair in Madrid Was a Little Impossible

I tried. I tried really, really hard regardless of what they (specifically the dad, Rogelio) thought. Things were not easy for me, but I wanted to stick it out until the end of my six-month contract. Two weeks before I was asked to leave due to compatibility issues, I had spoken with the mother concerning those very same issues. I had been turning over the idea of leaving, but we had had a deep talk and in the end, hugged it out.

When they told me of their decision, Rubi said that ultimately, they wanted to maintain a positive relationship with me. They wanted me to continue to be around the family, but that our differences were such that they put our friendship at risk if we continued to live together. I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised when eventually they stopped responding to my messages or my queries as to when I should come back for a visit. I subsequently blocked them because I guess I’m real mature like that. Well, I guess that if it wasn’t before, it certainly was a burned bridge afterward.

Around halfway through my au pairship, I wrote a bullet-point list of advice for the next person who would become an au pair for the family. I have it still, and it has helped me piece together what exactly went wrong. You can judge me, you can judge them, or you can withhold judgment. It’s totally up to you. I can judge myself enough for the both of us, regardless.

The Interview and Inevitable Disillusionments

During the interview, the parents, Rogelio and Rubi, as well as Tatiana, the child, and I tried to ascertain whether or not we would be a good fit for one another. I learned a few things about the family during that interview. They told me that they wanted someone who would be apart of the family – someone who would help out occasionally with chores and spend time with their daughter. Cue me to imagining family dinner nights, laughter floating through the air, cooking, eating and cleaning up together.

Uh, no. Structure, structure, and more structure should have been the mantra for this family. Tatiana and I ate alone in the dining room while the parents ate after everyone went to bed. Tatiana would watch TV during dinner, and I spent the majority of that time on my cell phone (which later turned out to be a big no no. I could kick myself for my idiocy) To me, this structural staple of higher-class Spanish families felt very lonely, but there was nothing that could really be done about it.

Cultural Conflicts

They felt that I was overly sensitive. I felt that they were hovering, micromanaging, control freaks. I felt that they were incredibly rigid and they felt they were changing for me. They wanted me to adjust to Spanish culture but wouldn’t even try my American dishes whenever I cooked for myself. They were Trump supporters. I am a raging liberal who loved and loves Bernie Sanders. What more can I really say? Well, let’s see…

cleaning dishes

Spotless Perfection

Their idea of basic cleanliness is absolute spotless perfection. If there was a smudge or a hair or a speck on the mirror or countertop, then it was in need of immediate urgent attention. I tend to be a bit disorganized, and my ideas of cleanliness were definitely more relaxed. In short, my standards and best efforts simply didn’t measure up.

Avoid Conflict

I avoid conflict whenever possible, opting instead to word things carefully and to time it perfectly when I don’t like something that is happening. They, on the other hand, were extremely liberal with their critiques (probably the only liberal thing about them, haha). Nothing I did ever seemed right, and I always felt like I was doing something horribly wrong. I felt like I was constantly treading on eggshells.

One time, a bit of sawdust had fallen on the inside of the guest bathroom cabinet due to the hardware separating from the wood. The mother took it for makeup residue. I received several texts, pictures, and verbal reminders throughout the day to clean and clean well before I figured out what was really going on. Eventually, I started tuning out their complaining because it all seemed like white noise. That was a really bad habit to fall into, especially when they needed to talk to me about something actually important.

My Personal Failings as an Au Pair

I legitimately messed up sometimes. One time I forgot to let them know that I would be coming home very late. This was a big deal because I told them that I would always let them know. Apparently, they were so worried that they were about to call hospitals and everything. I was never able to make up for that mistake, I think.

My ScheduleAu-Pair-Madrid-Spain-to-do-list-book

I spent too much time on my cell phone.  I took too many naps. Sometimes my naps between jobs cut into Wednesdays until 6:00PM, when I was supposed to start work at 5:00PM.  Nevermind that Tatiana was busy at the time and the house was generally spotless, so there wasn’t much that needed to be done. Nevermind that I was out of the house by 6:20AM and back by 4:00PM, only to work from 5:00PM until 9:00PM or 10:00PM. Sometimes, especially towards the end, I didn’t even have Sundays off. — Hold up —  I am getting distracted. Sorry.

Check In With Them

I think my biggest sin was that I didn’t check in with Rubi when she was a bit sick, especially on Saturdays, my day off.  It wasn’t that I didn’t care, but more that I was oblivious.

Important Items

I left my keys at my school once and Rogelio flipped out because I was “careless” with important things. Apparently it’s totally imaginable that someone from school would snatch the keys from my secure locker in the teachers’ lounge, follow me through a 45-minute bus ride to Madrid, a two-change half-hour trek on the metro, and a 10-minute walk to the apartment, break into it, and then wreak havoc. By this time, I just went with it. I couldn’t even fight anymore. It’s probably not a big surprise to you, but I don’t actually consider this to be a big mess up on my part. I mean, who hasn’t forgotten their keys at least a few times in their life?

Plan Outings as an Au Pair

I wasn’t proactive enough with Tatiana. I didn’t plan outings or lots of cool activities. It’s true that my suggestions always seemed to get shot down because apparently riding bikes in the park is “ridiculous”, or that her schedule didn’t allow for very much, but that was no excuse for giving up. I knew what they wanted and I simply didn’t deliver. Maybe it was a lack of experience or maybe I was simply too exhausted. Regardless, Rogelio owned a business and Rubi had her own career and woes, so my excuses paled in comparison.

Au-Pair-Madrid-Spain-walkIrreconcilable Differences

This next issue is key, though. Generally, I didn’t want to spend my scraps of free time with them.

They wanted me to feel and become apart of the family, but whenever I started to relax, surely enough, I would get corrected in whatever way I was starting to become laid back: don’t go barefoot; do not lay on the couch; don’t put the couch blanket around your shoulders and walk around; don’t shower at the wrong time of day (guests might come over and hey, your bathroom is also the guest bathroom); definitely don’t do dishes later in the night than they should be done; and don’t do the maid’s hair if you’re both working late. Actually, don’t talk too much to the maid at all. She is here to work, not to gossip. There is a time, place, and way to do everything.

Picking on the Small Things

You definitely shouldn’t keep a trash sack in your bedroom. There is a correct wine glass to put different wines in, and it certainly isn’t that one (an outing to a restaurant is where that particular one occurred. Rogelio wasn’t griping at me – I just couldn’t believe his level of stuck-up). Don’t look at them like THEY are the bad guy after you fall down a lot and knock things over because they say that you are the clumsiest ever, and really, Amanda, you are too old for these kinds of ridiculous mess-ups.

Don’t look at them like you hate them to your very core after they (read: Rogelio) accuse you of not wanting to learn the routines, when it is he who asked in poor English to complete a task, which didn’t make sense and you didn’t understand what the hell he was talking about (normally his English was flawless so this took me off guard).

Do not put a reassuring arm around Tatiana when she is getting scolded by her dad for getting a math problem incorrect. And for the love of God, don’t go to Rubi to tell her that Rogelio flicked his damn kid in the head after she messed up a math problem. Don’t be worried and stressed for her because she is literally the unhappiest, busiest, most stressed-out little girl you have ever seen, or may ever see, and as a result, she treats you like utter crap. But lo and behold, the parents won’t do anything more than say, “Resolve it yourself, Amanda! You are 29 years old!” Whoa.  I really got ahead of myself there. You get the point.

The Point Is This:

How can I love them and miss them so much? Yes, we weren’t right for each other, but I still wish sometimes that I could go back and do it over again, but better this time around. I learned a lot about Spanish culture through them, and while not all of it was always pretty, it was pretty damned priceless. Not only that, but their hearts always seemed to be in the right place.

I won’t forget putting up Christmas lights with Rogelio. My first impression of him was that while he seemed to be a strict and somewhat an intense individual, he was also funny and enjoyed the little things. Rubi and I sometimes played with the baby together if Tatiana was busy, and those were always lighthearted times. I miss the baby. I miss his smile, his laugh, and the gurgling, guttural sounds he would make when he was trying to communicate. He was the happiest baby I have ever seen. I regret that I will likely never see him again.

My Little Mariposa

I miss telling Tatiana bedtime stories at night even though I had to make them up as I went and I didn’t feel like I was very talented. Tatiana, however, seemed to really enjoy them and always wanted me to tell her one on the nights that I put her to bed. Apparently, I was the only one who ever did that. I love thinking about when I helped her really learn how to ride a bike. I helped her build up her confidence by being patient and not yelling (like she was used to) and really get good at bike riding. We really had a lot of fun together sometimes. She was my little Mariposa. That was my nickname for her, which means butterfly.

Madrid Spain Amanda Whitten

If I had a question, Rubi always had a supportive answer. If you recall from previous blogs, I had rocky experiences with the school that I taught during that time. (Last year was really horrible. This year is going much better!) Rubi and Rogelio were always willing to give me the advice to help navigate through rough seas.

Understanding and Great Conversations

Once, after my phone had been stolen earlier that day, Rubi let me leave halfway through my shift to go to the police station and file a report, no questions asked. One time I was crying because of romance issues and Rubi was right there to help me work through it. Rubi was interested in my life and wanted to understand why I came here. We had a lot of great conversations and I really opened up to her at times, and she to me. We both shared moments of tears and of joy.

That’s why I was taken by surprise when they asked me to leave. I wish I could make amends and be a better au pair. I also wish I didn’t feel that way because there’s a small part that feels like I was emotionally abused. Sometimes I f–d up, and I want to take all of the blame. But if it really is all my fault, why do I feel so pissed at them? Why do I want to scream and cry and hug them all at the same time? It was only five months. It was only five freaking months…

by Amanda Whitten

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