I've just been wondering what I could have done better...

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.


anonymous1 said...

as we look back on events in our lives, there's always that question as to what we could have done differently or better. just remember this, you did the best you could and if you do decide you made a mistake- -learn from it.

Anonymous said...

Sounds slightly nightmarish at were seasick and required to work while ill. And you did---be proud of that.
Your employers were often dissmissive of your nanny-authority with the kids, but you continued to work---be proud of that.
You made a promise and kept it, in spite of the tantrum of a spoiled (and no doubt bored) charge---be proud of that.
You speak English AND Italian---be proud of that as well.
Au Pairs and Nannies are human, and should never be expected to be "perfect".
Take your memories of this interesting and sometimes challenging "vacation" and let yourself be happy.

Anonymous said...

Great post, 3:26.

Janet E. said...

Maybe next time you can throw the ignorant mom overboard as a "learning" event to demonstrate drowning.

Anonymous said...

Boy this Mother certainly was not showing her child anything good was she? Did she appologize in front of the spolied child?
You did the right thing. If you spoke up you would have probably gotten in trouble. Too bad about the sea sickness. Next time be sure to get some sea sick pills. They work well.

Upstate Mom said...

I think you did the best you could under difficult circumstances. I feel bad that you still carry this with you after 2 years (if I read the post right). Let it go....I am sure they have!

Anonymous said...

Maybe the book was a little old to engage the 5 yo. This is a common situation I've been in with siblings of different ages. I would provide something for the child to do, coloring, legos etc. while I read to the older children.
You maintained your dignity when the mom attacked you, which was admirable, and did your best in a difficult situation. That is all we can expect of ourselves.
A Nanny

UmassSlytherin said...

sounds like you did the best you could in an uncomfortable and difficult situation.

Anonymous said...

You might learn as your career
about this stuff...should have,
could have, etc....dont beat yourself up over this stuff...

Sprak said...

I've often wondered when we obsess over a situation after the fact, whether the others involved ever give it one afterthought, even though their very actions may have caused us to become beset with doubts about ourselves or worse. Don't let these people take up space in your head. They do not deserve residence there. Box this memory up and leave it behind, and don't let it affect your tomorrow.

mpp said...

Excellent post, Sprak.
I agree %100 ... let it go.

You did the best you could under the circumstances, and it sounds as if you're 2nd guessing yourself.

I understand how difficult a situation may be when a Parent specifically asks you to do something, but the next minute the kid is around, they undermine you.
What do you do? That's a very good question ... and I believe if it's a safety issue, as it seems this one was -- step up and do what you were asked, then they can't come back at you and question your ability to do your job.
And if they get upset, gently remind them that this is what they had asked of you.

I really hope you put a period at the end of this and move on. You sound like a very caring Nanny, and I wish you the best.

mom said...

I think you behaved well in all circumstances you describe and people here have given you great advice. Let it go. It's the nature of dealing with people. None of us are perfect. Forgive them for their shortcomngs (as long as they're not totally overboard or abusive) and expect that they will overlook yours too. (Not that I saw any from your post...but, as I said, we all have a couple.) ;)

And take a lesson from the bad nanny post the other day...if there are any ongoing issues, be sure to speak up right away as soon as you recognize anything that might become a recurring issue and you can deal with them before they ever become issues for either side. Hopefully you will be able to have a long and happy association with "your" family. They don't sound all that bad. (Except maybe the friend's mom. But you don't work for her...and at least she had the deccency to apologize.)

Sarah said...

What you could have done better is not vacationed with complete and total assholes.

Anonymous said...

You need to be proud of yourself for doing the best job you could do, considering the circumstances. I feel almost that your self esteem is a bit low in general and that these families didn't help that at all. Stand up for yourself and recognize that you rock!

It is in the past and is over with. No need to worry. I will say this: when you told the girls about the winds/being careful and they then went to ask mom and mom said yes? That is HER responsibility then. I've learned that I do what I can. If parents go against that, they have to deal with the repurcussions.