Received Sunday, April 27, 2008- Perspective & Opinion
Two summers ago I was an au pair for an Italian family with two daughters(ages 6 and 11). They brought me along on their holiday, taking place on some friends' sailing yacht, touring the Mediterranean. Needless to say, I was more than happy to tag along. The boat was fairly large and had a crew of three (captain, mate and hostess). Their friends' had a daughter (age 5). Out of the three girls I was taking care of, the younger two couldn't swim when we started sailing. From the beginning that was my biggest worry, considering the parents didn't make them wear life vests. I tried to constantly watch them. Many things happened during the 20 days we spent on that boat, on which I would like an opinion on how I behaved and what I should have done:
- I was seasick the first few days, and the captain and mate advised me to stay outside as much as possible to avoid it (they did that in front of the parents). They girls preferred to stay inside and play with dolls during the sailing, to avoid the heat, and also to have something to do. They tended to create a rather big mess, that I couldn't control since I was outside. When the sailing stopped, I went inside to clean up a bit, but it always took a certain amount of time, and I was often chided for not cleaning faster. Could I have done anything better, and were the parents unreasonable?
- The crew members didn't speak Italian, so when they had a message to pass to the girls, I translated. One day, the mate mentioned that the wind was unpredictable, and that the sail could turn violently, and therefore the girls shouldn't walk around on the deck. I then explained it to the girls, right next to their mother who heard perfectly both the English version and then the Italian one. Two minutes later, they asked their mother if they could do just what I had warned them against, and she allowed it. My question is: Should I have done something to protect the girls against this potential danger? Even if their mother allowed it, was it still my responsibility?
- At the beginning of the summer, I had promised the girls I would read them one chapter of the Chronicles of Narnia every day (they saw the movie, loved it, and were very excited when I told them it was from a book and there was more of it). I brought the book on the boat, and kept my promise going there. "My" two girls really liked it, but the third girl didn't. Since this was her father's boat, we often changed our games to accommodate her during the day, but I made myself clear from the start that I had made a promise, and that for half an hour every day, she could compromise too (I take promises I make to children very seriously). One night though, she threw a tantrum. I tried to calm her down, offered to do something she liked after this, to no avail. She went crying and screaming to her mother, who turned furiously against me, saying we never did anything she liked. I was close to tears, and really wanted to lash out back, but "my" girls started crying after she left the room, and I had no idea what to do. She then came to see me to apologize, saying she went too far. However, ever since, I've wondered if there wasn't something I could have done better.
Despite those three things, my work for this family was great. The girls were very nice to me, just a bit spoiled, but I guess that's something I should have expected. I've just been wondering what I could have done better.