Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Imaginary letter to the V family

If I were to give a letter to the family I work for tonight, it would look something like this:

Damn, she gets to cook, carry, and wear a starched hat!
To Jan: I appreciate you offering to hold Alice for half an hour, to give me a break in my 13 hour day today. However, asking me to then make you coffee, make Alice milk, and then reheat your lunch because "those are things you can't do while holding the baby" doesn't really make it much of a break, and how the #@$& do you think I manage to get both kids up, bathed, dressed and fed real home-cooked meals while you and your wife are still in bed? Magic fairies that come and hold the baby for me? If all modern fathers are as useless as you, then I'm totally going to raise my own kids with another woman.

Also, when your son starts saying at 6.30pm that he's tired, send him to bed early. At the very least, adhere to his 8pm bedtime rather than having him stay up an hour late to write. I don't care that you think it's important he works on learning the alphabet with you everyday, if it's that important, maybe you could have emerged from your office before 8pm on a Sunday. And yes, I made it clear I was pissed off about it, but I knew I'd be minding a tired and exceptionally grumpy kid today (although I did not expect his teacher to complain that he had been tired and disruptive all day, and I did not expect him to keep up his tantrum for a whole 15 minutes). And yes, I'm now even more pissed off seeing as its 9.30pm and you've only just arrived home with him from working on one of your properties. Bring on dealing with Arin tomorrow...

To Arin: I know that you're tired. I know that it's not fair your parents are too lazy busy to come pick you up and therefore you have to walk home with me, and I agree that sucks when you're only five, you didn't get enough sleep last night and its a 2km walk. But dude, you're five. You're too old to throw tantrums on the ground kicking the baby's pram. And for all that I'm sympathetic, you should have learnt by now that crying will not make me give in to you. It just makes you more tired. Great.

I realise that you weren't put to bed tonight until 10.30pm, two hours after you should have been tucked in, and therefore you're really overtired and having trouble sleeping, but buddy please please please stay in bed until you fall asleep rather than getting up every five minutes to complain, because you're damn well keeping me awake too, and you know we don't have fun when both of us are tired and grumpy tomorrow morning.

To Koi: I realise that you come from a country where you had a personal assistant, full-time nanny for Arin, a cook, and cleaning ladies that were on-call 24/7, but welcome to the western world, where nannies do not appreciate being "asked" at 1pm if they could work the entire day, that same day that is already half over, because you have appointments that you've known about for weeks. That's not cool. Nor is you arriving home to find the baby fed, clean and ready for bed, and the entire house clean (which was never in the job description but it's easier to clean rather than chase the baby around all day taking away the random shit and dead flies that she's picked up off you're filthy floor before she puts them in her mouth) your washing done and me tired after working since I woke up this morning, and not saying thanks. I realise that you've never tried to cook, clean and watch children all in the same day, but let me assure you that it does deserve a thank you when your nanny does it outside of her job description.

Can I also say, I guess a lifetime of paid staff bringing meals to your table means that cooking is not your strongpoint, but really, cold pizza and ice cream for a five-year old's dinner on a regular day? And giving him five slices of cucumber with whatever rice/meat dish he happens to be eating each night may be better, but is not the same as 'five a day'. "Oh, your five year old has already had to have more than half his teeth pulled out, really, what a surprize." And starting to cook him dinner at 9.30pm because you 'forgot' that he'd need to eat while with you this evening, not exactly stellar parenting.

And finally, I don't think coming from a developing country is an excuse for not teaching your son to wash his hands after he goes to the toilet. Why is my bathroom the only one in the house that has soap in it? Am I the only one in the house the actually washes my hands? That is gross. Please invest in an economy pack of Imperial Leather and some of those Horoia Ō Ringaringa signs that are stuck to every public bathroom mirror in NZ.

Keep that up and I'm coming after ya!
To Alice: I love you. You are the cutest thing on two legs and the adoring look you give me when I kiss your tummy is the about only thing keeping me around here and stopping this nanny experience from putting me off procreating one day. But for the love of all that is good in the world, please stop crying every time I put you down. You are damn heavy, and while I can make milk, coffee and reheat food with one hand, I cannot peel vegetables for your dinner while holding you. Just sit at my feet and play happily with your toys, because screaming like you are dying a slow death from a very painful disease is not going to make me suddenly grow another set of arms and agree to carry you around for the rest of your life.

To the frogs that live in our pond: SHUT THE @*$# UP! I've averaged five hours sleep a night for the last two weeks because of you. I get that its that time of year, and you're up all night partying 'coz you just wana get laid, but go take a cold shower otherwise I am coming after you with some heavy-duty rat poison.

Be warned, it is getting near the time I had a change of scenery.

Kind regards, your dedicated nanny Claire

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Madrid Again - The Visa Saga Hath Endth

The holy grail...a Spanish ID card
So last time I was in Madrid, back in March, before I quit and returned to civilized lands, I was finally given a temporary NIE and told that to get a proper ID card that permitted me to remain and Spain (and therefore in the whole Schengen Area because there are no border controls) I had to return in 40-45 days, hence the return journey. I ablogrrived at midnight on the Wednesday, no problems at all with border control here, and just managed to get the metro to Annabella and Jose Angel's place before it closed at 1.30am. We pretty much went straight to bed.

View from my spot in retiro
We got up the next morning and had breakfast and then lunch before I made a move, with the office reopening at 4pm after siesta. The address was a bit strange, they list no street number, just the street itself, meaning you gotta pick a direction and just walk until you get there, although I asked the security guard at the metro stop and found it pretty quick. All the foreign-looking people walking that way with papers in their hands was a good giveaway. Turns out it is actually a detention centre for illegal immigrants, a huge prison-like building with big walls and stuff. Pretty scary looking.

I walked through security into the office. Normally, when I go to Foreign Offices, there is a line at the front desk (and sometimes I line outside waiting to be let in to get to the front desk even!) waiting to check in and get a number to wait in another yet another queue to see someone at another desk, but this time there was no line at all for the front desk. Surely I wasn't at the right place then. A Foreign Office with no line?

My spot in Retiro
I went up and asked the girl if I was in the right place to get my NIE ID card, and she replied that I was and asked for my temporary one and passport. She took them, checked my name, opened a filing drawer, took out a card, and handed it to me. Just like that. I stood there a bit stunned and asked her if that really was all I needed to do, and she nodded, and I still stood there a bit stunned. Was this really the same government that had spent so long insisting my type visa didn't even exist, now giving me an ID card so easily? I later decided that the lack of line at the final Foreign Office is due to a lengthy, ridiculously difficult and expensive process - most people were either still stuck back in the lines at the first offices or had given up all together!

So now I have a Spanish ID card permitting me to stay until the end of March. The Visa Saga hath endth. Although its the ID card of an exchange student, meaning if I want to actually work in Spain there are further chapters to the drama, as I would then have to take any contracts to another office and go through a currently-undefined process to get permission to actually accept them. Mmmmm. At least having an ID card that says 'Estudiante' means I can try to get student discounts here in Belgium.

view from my spot in Retiro
That outa the way, I brought a heap of beer and food and headed back to Annabella and Jose Angel's to celebrate with them. I made curry for dinner, I thought it wasn't spicy but it nearly killed the two of them, and then we spent the rest of the day just drinking and talking. I didn't do much on Friday either, I got up late and went for a haircut after lunch, a cheap place down the road with some lady that cut it in about ten minutes and didn't try to make conversation at all, not even to ask where I'm from. Then I headed off to Retiro, back to the spot I've claimed to read and lie in the sun some more. Finally, I went back to Olga's aunt's place, to meet Olga and grab the big bag I'd left behind and say hi to her aunt, and then I had a late dinner, tried to repack everything into a bag and suitcase of 15kg each and only 10kg carry-on, and then it was off to bed.

It was my tenth trip out to Madrid airport, and my eight flight in and out of Madrid on Saturday in four months, I'm a pro at it now. I just scrapped through with my luggage, luckily they didn't weigh my carry-on, and then it was back to Belgium!

Monday, May 23, 2011

London Calling

Arin asleep, does not look comfortable!
Last week the builders were camping out at the house, to sandblast and then varnish all the wood in the second story of the house, so Koi, the kids and I headed away. They spend the week in London with friends. I hitched a ride over with them and then headed to stay with my friend Philippa (co-worker from Vic Uni, not an AFSer!) and her fiance James for a couple of days, before I flew to Spain to continue the Visa Saga.

The trip over was pretty good, I was dreading car sickness, the baby crying incessantly and 'are we there yet' whinging, but they both fell asleep pretty fast and stayed that way for most of the car journey, apart from one fun moment when Arin woke up and insisted he had to pee immediately (we were on the middle of the highway).

Alice trying to stand up on the moving boat
It only took us a hour or so to reach the ferry terminal in Dunkerque, France. I had a fun run in with English border control there, turns out they weren't very happy about me travelling around Europe while I had a Spanish single-entry visa (duh, Im from NZ, I don't actually need a visa to be in Spain, England, or anywhere else in Europe. So I got a coded entry, next time I go there they're going to pull me aside and ask me further questions, but by then my spanish visa will be fully sorted so it won't be a problem. It was a bit of a shock to the system though after months of lax (ie non-existant) European border controls. I was expecting Koi (who doesn't yet have Belgian citizinship) to be the problem! The border control people can't have been too intelligent though, because when we pulled up they asked us which one was the mother of the two very asian looking kids in the backseat. Hmmm. Pretty sure that would be the very white looking girl, not the asian looking woman driving the car. We had a bit of time to kill there before the ferry at 4pm. I remember taking the ferry from Picton to Wellington, and us having to wait in the car in the sun for ageeees, but there was a big playground and cafe and everything here. The ferry also takes a lot longer, it was only two hours across the channel, you could see both coast lines from the ferry. Arin spent most of that in the playground, with Koi and I taking turns to eat, walk about and look after Alice. She was very cute, trying to stand and walk about on the moving boat, she was weaving all over the show like a drunk person. I noticed on the boat that compared to all the other babies there, she is really pretty! There were some ugly kids headed to England, and I got heaps of smiles walking around with her. 

Cliffs at Dover
I had been pretty blasé about visiting England, but we we neared Dover and I could see the cliffs, just like in the song, visiting the country that has had the most impact on our history, society and culture in NZ finally hit home. We piled back into the car, and headed off to London. Koi was now driving a European car (where they drive on the right) in England (where they drive on the left). It was pretty scary, she isn't the best of drivers anyway, and because the steering wheel was on the outside edge of the road she kept veering inwards, putting me in the passenger seat out over the middle-line. Apart from that, the drive was good, the countryside seemed more similar to parts of NZ than anything else I've seen recently, as there were rolling hills with gorse hedges and sheep-filled paddocks.

Paddington Tube Station
We got to London quite late, and headed to her friends' place, which is actually in Slough, outside of London. They have a two-year old kid, and watching him made me swear I'll quit this nanny thing before Alice turns two and starts throwing similar tantrums. Of course, that would set both Alice and Arin off crying too! The dad dropped me off at the train station muttering about how glad he was to be going back to work tomorrow morning! At the train station I had a nice introduction to London, as a stabbing had just taken place and I had to wait for about an hour before we could go inside, with a drunk man next to me alternatively telling me about how he had once played rugby for Wales and sobbing about how sad it was we lived in a world where stabbings took place. Once it reopened i managed to take the train to Paddington Station, and then the tube to Liverpool St in Hackney, and then a bus to Philippa's. This trip backed up London's reputation for being ridiculously expensive - the train (similar to going from the Hutt Valley into Wellington proper) cost about $20NZD and each trip on the tube costs about $10NZD. $30 gone and I'd only just made it into London, it didn't bode well for my bank balance over the next couple of days!

I love the old vs new everywhere
Philippa had cooked an awesome feed and some kiwi mates were hanging out with them, we sat around chatting and trying out the bunch of belgian food (speculoos!) I'd brought over with me before going to bed. I was only really in London for a couple of days, and I had a huge list of things that I wanted to buy while I had the chance in an english-speaking country, like a pile of second hand books. I also wanted to pick up a whole bunch of cheap clothing to wear while looking after the kids, and Philippa and James recommended Primark to me, so on Monday morning I headed of to hunt for it on Oxford St. I popped out of the tube onto a street filled with massive shops, things like H&M, Zara and River Island that I know from all around Europe, and a few blocks down found Primark. Primark is massive. Possibly the biggest clothing-only shop that I've been in.

Brick Lane
It is also scary, there are people absolutely everywhere and they can be quite aggressive. I saw some amazing displays of poor manners. The clothing there is cheap, like from $2NZD for basic tops to $10NZD for dresses, and the quality is below average but I figure that working with kids who cover me in sand, paint and baby-drool, quantity is better than quality, and I still have my 'normal' clothes for my days off, so I loaded up a big basket. The downside of Primark is the lines, you can wait half an hour to try stuff on and then another half an hour at the check out. I left after a good couple of hours in there with a bunch of stuff, feeling quite faint! You definitely need to eat and drink before going in there! But it was an experience. Apparently there's a Primark in Spain as well, I'm quite glad no one told me that before, because I am terrible at wasting money on cheap crap. I nearly wrote, luckily there isn't a Primark here in Belgium either, but I just googled it and found that there is one, in a city my good friend lives in. Damn you Google!

Portobello Market in Notting Hill
I then headed off to Notting Hill, to wander around a little and check out the Portobello Market. It was actually kind of hard to find once you're out of the tube station, but my good sense of direction prevailed and I ended up there in the end. The market is quite cool, but I liked the actual shops lining the street even better, there was heaps of cool stuff, from stores that had been run there by the same family for 20 years selling ethnic rugs and handicrafts, to chain shops selling modern homewares and accessories like the French Pylones. I wandered around for ages but as I was already broke from Primark, didn't spend money until I stopped in a second-hand bookshop on the way back to the tube.

Beigel goodness
Philippa cooked again on Monday night, a awesome curry. Koi makes thai curry quite often, but I really miss indian curry, so I really enjoyed it, and then the three of us headed out for a drink. They live in Tower Hamlets, an area to the east of the city centre, and right next to Hackney. The area is quite ethnic and really arty, full of stuff done by street artists and famous for having the first council housing and some of the worst slums on London back in the 1800s. The Old Nchol Street slum was apparently the worst, and was demolished in the late 1890s with all of the rubble being pushed into the middle of the new development to make a weird huge roundabout type thing with a big raised garden, its still there today. We headed to a bar just off Brick Lane, a street that has awesome markets on Sundays, heaps of curry places (a huge percentage of the population in the area is from Bangladesh) and all of the shops and galleries associated with art and fashion students, its quite cool. Reminds me of Newtown a bit. We grabbed salt beef Beigels on the way home at one of the two Brick Lane Beigel shops, Beigels are like a Jewish bagel and salt beef is like corned beef, only hotter and with spicy mustard.

Tower of London
On Tuesday I headed off the check out the tourist stuff. I walked through Tower Hamlets and Hackney a bit, and went to the Spitalfields Markets. I was there quite early so many stalls were just opening up, but there was some really cool stuff there, I got some random old maps for next to nothing and found the awesomest huge leather bound book from the 1950s, a translation dictionary for technical terms between English, German and French, stuff like 'charge the batteries', totally useless but so cool that I would have brought it had it not weighed heaps.

London Bridge
I jumped on a bus and back off it next to the Thames, and got my first look at the bridge. I have to say, its actually kinda small and insignificant-looking, but I guess that's true about all famous monuments, and the Thames is really dirty and gross. I climbed to the top of The Monument, a huge column to commemorate the Great Fire of 1666 to get a look around, and had some fish and chips for lunch, but they were tragic and not like I'm used to at all. 

Big Ben
I wandered around the outside of the Tower of London and over the Bridge, but I was too broke to pay the entrance for either, and then I walked down the river to Westminster. It turned out to be a longer walk than I'd expected, and all the way I had this annoying empty coke can in my hand. Despite it being a proper walkway alongside the Thames, I walked for almost a hour without seeing a rubbish bin, but I kept seeing these barges that dredge the Thames for rubbish, with these signs on the side about keeping London clean. The irony was not lost on me, and I was really tempted to biff the can just because the council is too dumb to put rubbish bins in useful places, but my tidy kiwi breeding was too good for that.

the flags outside Buckingham Palace
While London Bridge seemed small, Westminster didn't fail to impress. Big Ben really is pretty cool, and the Palace of Westminster government buildings are awesome. Westminster Abbey was ok, I don't think I had any idea of what to expect there, but I didn't go inside. Then I walked down through St James Park, past the Horse Guards Palace and up the Mall to Buckingham Palace. The actual Palace seems quite small, again, after Versailles any other palace pales by comparison, but even the palaces in Spain are much more impressive. I did really like the flags outside however, they made the place seem nice and tidy.

The beefeaters were a bit of a letdown, there were only four of them and they were well inside the huge fence and outnumbered by regular policemen carrying huge guns. Kinda ruins the effect. Probably due to terrorism or something. 

one of the NZ War memorial crosses

I kept walking, heading into Hyde Park. At Hyde Park Corner they have the NZ War Memorial, a series of huge cross pieces standing up with words and pictures carved into them. I stopped for a while to reflect, I was conscious of having missed the ANZAC day celebrations for the first time in years and was also finding it quite weird to come across such a big reminder of home after five months over here. I think its a beautiful memorial, and outshines the Australian one over in the opposite corner, although its probably not good taste for me to say so!

Part of the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain
Hyde Park itself was kinda average, I love the Parque de Buen Retiro in Madrid and have spent days there, and prefer it to Hyde Park, and I got accosted by a strange man while sitting next to the lake. I did like the Memorial Fountain of Princess Diana. Its not a normal fountain, but kind of like a circular granite-pathed stream, with people invited to put their hands and and feet in the water and play. I like these modern kinds of memorial, like the Memorial to the Murdered Jews in Berlin, the kind that is interactive in the sense that you can walk in and around it and do whatever you like, whatever suits you and how you want to acknowledge it, rather than the old fashioned kind that you just visit once a year on anniversaries to leave flower wreathes on.

Buckingham Palace
By this point I'd been walking for ages, so I jumped onto the tube and headed off to meet up with Philippa and James and some mates of theirs, at James' new exhibition. I like his new photos, of buildings around England, and I liked some of the other works there on the architecture in London, like the huge council flat buildings that are now pretty shoddy. Incase me constantly commenting on the architecture in different regions didn't give it away, I am quite interested in the urban landscape and learning how to photograph it. We went back to their place for some drinks, it was weird to be sitting around with a bunch of kiwis talking, having only seen three New Zealander's in the last five months! We finished the night at a gig of one of their friend's bands, he was really good and I had a good time, it felt like a normal night out in NZ! The walk home was quite hilarious, turns out Philippa might have had a little bit too much to drink, and might have reminded everyone of that whole 'stand on a crack and you'll marry a rat' thing.

Phone box outside the NZ Embassy, see the flag
Wednesday was my last day here in London, and I visited the Apple store to by a new laptop, a MacbookPro. After five months of internet cafes and friends computors, keyboards in other languages, using different photo-editing programmes, and storing everything on a million memory sticks, having my own computor that I can have all of my stuff on and use whenever I want to, and to go back to the world of Mac, is amazing. Thanks mum and dad. The Covent Garden store was huge, and had these weird systems, where you talk to a guy in amongst all of the display laptops, and he leans over and puts your order into one of them, and he charges it via some handheld device I didn't look at to closely (Ipad?) and then a guy from the storeroom brings it out and gives it to you. Its a bit surreal, didn't feel serious enough considering you're forking out a couple of thousand. I quickly walked through the market there and up the Strand through Trafalgar Square to Piccadilly Circus, where I sat and had lunch, and past the New Zealand embassy to a New Zealand shop where I picked up some marmite.

Trafalgar Square
And then it was time to dash back to the flat, buy a new suitcase for my Primark clothes and books because my original plan to meet Koi to give her my stuff to take back had fallen through, and head to the airport. I really had no idea how to get there, beyond Philippa's friend telling me to bus to London Bridge Station and get a train out, so I was a little paranoid about the whole thing. Some guy at the station told me where to get off to swap trains and I wrote what I thought he said down, only to get on the train and find out that wasn't a stop! But I jumped out at one of the two places that sounded similar and managed to get it right, and arrived at the airport ok. I had ages to kill before my flight to Madrid, and spent my last few pounds on macdonalds, only to be given only half a burger! The bottom half was missing, and when I went back the girl was really suspicious, looking at me like I'd eaten half of it and then brought it back for more. Weird.

Piccadilly Circus
So on the whole, although I was only there for a couple of days and didn't have much money to spend, I really enjoyed London, more than I thought I would. There is heaps to do there, I really want to go back and do all of the tourist things, explore more neighbourhoods and visit all the museums and aquariums and stuff. It was creepy to be back in an English speaking country, and one that seems similar to home, and one where you can hear NZ accents all around you when you walk on the street or go into a shop. Huge ups to Philippa and James for being awesome hosts!

Friday, May 20, 2011

The Nanny Diaries - a day as the V family's nanny

Let me just point out, as a bit of a disclaimer, that today was an exceptional day. Normally, I only have Alice for a few hours in the morning, and then Arin between school and bedtime, but because Koi was catering for a party tomorrow and needed to go to various supermarkets and Thai shops and then cook a billion dishes, I agreed to look after the kids all day. I like what I do here, otherwise I wouldn't still be here, and I have never before heard them trying to concieve child number three. I also want to point out that this actually did all happen, I'm not exaggerating. Life with these guys is normally this comical. Because the story of why I now resemble a zombie began last night, the story begins yesterday afternoon...

3.30pm - Arin cries upon seeing me, rather than mama or papa, coming to collect him from school. Give him cookies and suddenly he turns into an angel that happily walks out the gate holding my hand. Bribery and corruption, hell yes.

4pm - Drag Arin around the supermarket to get something for dinner, thanks Koi for telling me that I was cooking tonight, and for six people, only three minutes before I left the house. And I mean literally drag, because he threw tantrums when I refused to buy him crap from every single aisle we walked down and kept lying on the floor holding onto the end of the basket I was pulling behind me. I thought going down the pet food aisle was a safe way to reach the pasta without encountering things that look appetizing to small boys. Two minutes later I found myself saying "No Arin, no matter how much you cry, we are not buying dog biscuits when we don't have a dog. And yes, Alice might like to eat them, but I don't think Child Services would like us to let her".

5pm - Finally arrive home. The bank manager is here talking to the grown ups, so I take Alice so they can talk without a screaming banshee in the background. There is something wrong with this kid, in the evenings she she cries every. damn. time. that you try to put her down somewhere to play while you do something else. Unfortunately, I only have one pair of hands, and they can't hold the baby, help Arin with a jigsaw and cook dinner all at once. Normally, whoever cooks dinner just lets the baby sit and cry, but with Bank Manager here some epic juggling and one-handed manouevers ensued over the next two hours.

7pm - Arianne (the girl that comes to speak dutch to Arin) and her boyfriend are late. Arin is given a sandwidge (not by me) because he is hungry. In my head I remember mum saying "No, if you have a biscuit now you won't eat your dinner".

7.30pm - Dinnertime. Is Arin eating his dinner? No, he's not. Thank you very much, sandwidge giver.

8.30pm - Arin with Arianne, baby with Koi, and I have finished cleaning up the clusterf**k that was the kitchen post epic-meal-cooked-by-one-handed-superwoman and Arin doing three seperate, although now very mixed up jigsaw puzzles while only barely supervised. How did jigsaw puzzle pieces end up in the microwave, seriously?

8.45pm - I am looking at the clock. Arin is happily playing with Arianne, but his bedtime is normally an hour earlier. Which means he will be grumpy tomorrow, and guess who's picking him up after school?

9.30pm - Arin is in bed, baby is in bed, Arianne and boyfriend are sitting with Koi and Jan and a bottle of whisky. I am taking the babymonitor and going to bed.

11pm - I am lying awake listening to the four of them downstairs via the baby monitor, which hears everything through the paper-thin wall and which I cannot turn off incase the baby cries during the night. Grrr.

12pm - Koi and Jan apparently decide that since the wall between our two rooms is paper-thin, they will enjoy the pleasure of each other's company in the living room. I am not even kidding. How do I subtlely inform them that there is also a paper-thin wall between them and the baby monitor, which they handed to me earlier in the night.

1am - Koi and Jan are in bed. Baby now decides to wake and do that pitiful not-really-crying-just-wimpering-for-ages-before-falling-back-asleep thing. I decide I hate the baby monitor with a passion.

3am - Arin wakes up and makes his way to Koi, the opening doors and footsteps also waking me up.

6.30 am - Arin wakes me up. Arin never comes to me when he wakes up in the morning, Koi gets him up and ready for school. The times we've specifically wanted him to wake me up instead of them we had to put big signs on Jan and Koi's door and even then it didn't always work, thereby lulling me into a false sense of security about sleeping in only my underwear. So now its 6.30am, I've barely slept, there's a four-year-old jumping on my bed, and I'm in only my underwear. Awesome start to the morning, and now he is going to be really tired and therefore exceptionally grumpy today.

totally look like I've had no sleep
Why did he wake up so early? Because he was hungry. Again, huge ups to the sandwidge-giver. I should really get revenge by sending him in to wake them up, but there's really no point in all four of us being sleep-deprived and grumpy today.

7.30am - Koi wakes up and relieves me of Arin, and I head back to bed.

8.30am - Having only fallen asleep 15 minutes earlier, now baby wakes up. Breakfast and bathtime for her it is. At least I manage to watch a movie and skype my parents and grandparents, and put through loads of dishes and clothes to wash while looking after her. Multi-tasking win. Unfortunately, this will turn out to be the most productive part of my day!

11am - Baby back in bed. I would go take a nap myself except unlike her, I don't sleep through the noise the builders make. Is the whole world conspiring to prevent me sleeping???

12am - Baby awake again. Lunchtime for both of us, play time for her, and then back to bed between 2-3pm

so hungry she's eating her own foot....nanny fail
3.30pm - Baby still not asleep. She yawns and cries and snuggles into me and then the minute I put her into her crib she jumps to her feet and laughs. It's like she's taunting me. I've tried everything that normally gets her to sleep plus some others. At least Koi has called to say she can collect Arin, so if I can get baby to sleep I might actually be able  to get half an hour of child-free time.

4pm - I pull an unorthodox trick out of my hat. I've noticed that every time I've had Alice and talked to someone on Skype, she's fallen asleep. Its freaky, it'll be the middle of her playtime, when normally she is bouncing all over the show, and as soon as I start a conversation she falls asleep on me. So I skype Hauke. Ten minutes later, she's asleep in my arms. I put her in bed and head for the coffee machine, looking wistfully at the liquor cabinet on my way past.

4.30pm - Koi and Arin are home. Koi is doing Thai catering for our neighbour's birthday party tomorrow, so I look after Arin while she cooks.

5pm - Arin falls asleep in Jan's arms. They move him to the couch and run to the hospital to see Jan's mother. Two sleeping children, awesome! I head to the mattress in Alice's room.

Cutest advertisement for FoC ever?
5.30pm - Alice wakes up. I think I got about 15 minutes sleep again. Time for her dinner and 'quiet play' so that she doesn't wake Arin up, i.e. I take her up to my room so the noise won't reach him and she eats my bathroom products and Flight of the Concords DVD. This is when I took all the new photos of her, I now feel guilty for taking no photos of Arin recently to include :-(

7.30pm - Koi and Jan are home. Jan wakes Arin up so that he will actually get back to sleep again later on in the night. Arin is not happy. Tantrums are thrown by Arin for being woken, and then Jan and Arin for being hungry. They eat ice cream while they wait for Koi to cook dinner. Again, I hear mum saying "if you eat a biscuit now..." At least Jan spends the next couple of hours entertaining him leaving me with just Alice to contend with.

10pm - Alice was only slightly easier to get to sleep this time, she drunk her bottle and then rolled over to sleep like she normally does, I breathed a sigh of relief, and then she popped up onto her feet and chuckled evilly, before collapsing in a tired crying heap again. Finally she nods off.

Jan is now working on the alphabet with Arin, Koi is still in the kitchen, and I am off to bed! I love how Jan got woken up at 9am by the builders, and spent the whole damn day complaining about how tired he was (he normally works until around 3am and wakes at lunchtime, he's a night owl). Dude, I've been looking after your kids since 6.30am. Shut up before I smack you with a sandwidge. Preferrably one that you've made for your son right before I serve him dinner...

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Lost May post - And my first month as a nanny comes to an end!

Alice, soooo cute.
Opps not sure what happened here, but I wrote this post back in May!

I've survived! One month done and dusted and both I and the two kids, and the house, have survived. Things have been much easier the last couple of weeks. Arin is a lot more used to me and doesn't fight about every little thing I ask him to do anymore, and sometimes he is really cute and gives me presents (ie his toys that he reclaims ten minutes later) and kisses and sits in my lap when I read to him. I'm starting to really teach him my rules too, he is learning pretty quickly that nannies from NZ don't do anything for you without the use of some magic words (please and thank you, in other languages they are not as important so as he has learnt english from non-native-speakers, please and thank you haven't been big on the agenda). Also, him being back at school and me not being able to drive means I don't have to get up so early in the mornings, Koi takes him to school and then goes back to bed and I just wake up when Alice wakes up. Looking after Alice is easier because she just sleeps and eats and plays with whatever you put in front of her (as long as its not her actual toys. She gets bored with new toys after about five minutes. The TV remote and my cellphone never seem to lose their charm however!), so I'm happy to look after her and then just have Arin for the four hours or so after he gets home. Alice has also adjusted better to me and doesn't cry so much, only if she can still see mama. She has fallen asleep in my arms a couple of times which is possibly the cutest thing ever, I'm totally in love with her now.

Sunny day in Antwerp
If its sunny I walk to Arin's school and we walk home together. He is never happy when I turn up to get him, often I have to cajole him out of the gate with the teachers looking on, but once we get going he's fine, we hide from the imaginary tigers in the trees and he sings me the dinosaur songs that he invents (always unintelligible, with the same tune, but a different dinosaur name) endlessly, and then he's in a good mood when we get home and tired from all of the walking. It really drives me crazy though, it takes me 15 minutes to walk there to get him, but it takes us a hour to walk home because he walks So. Damn. Slow. Its like accompanying a turtle. A turtle that is determined to stomp on every one of the five thousand dandylion flowers that line the roadside. I know that its good that we're outside and he is entertained and all, but there's something in me that hates walking slowly. Like either we walk home, or we stop and play somewhere and then walk home after, none of this dawdling crap. And why is it that he always finds every disgusting thing within a 6 metre radius of our trajectory, picks it up, and then asks my why when I tell him not too? Its horse poo mate, does the word 'poo' really not answer that for you? Apparently not when you're four.

I kept asking Koi and Jan to arrange play dates for him, as he is essentially an only child and often behaves as such. He isn't really a spoiled brat like you imagine kids with nannies to be, but he is just used to getting his own way and I am sure that won't always work out for him well in the playground. Also, having another kid over means he will play with the kid instead of with me, and I just get to sit in a deck chair sunbathing and watching them. Or so I thought. We had a little girl over, one of his classmates, who is pretty similar to Arin in that she is an only child and has a Flemish dad and foreign (African) mother. She used to be Arin's enemy and we used to tease him by calling her his girlfriend, but then he had to go spend a couple of hours with her one day when it rained and we had no car to pick him up, and he decided she was ok.

Some kind of dragon/dinosaur/green monster thing called Arin
Jan went off somewhere, and Alice and Koi took a nap, leaving me alone with the kids. Piece of cake I thought. However, I had forgotten that four-year-old Belgian kids can't speak english, the concept of translating is way beyond Arin, and my normal tricks for getting around language barriers don't work at that age either, so when she tried to ask me for things, or talk at all, I couldn't respond to her. I don't even know how to say 'I don't speak Dutch'. Or 'You're welcome', which made me feel pretty bad considering I've been quite a magic-word-nazi with Arin and then for a whole day stopped saying it. Somehow though she decided she really liked me and gave me flowers from the garden and walked around holding my hand and sat in my lap.

Antwerp station, probably the nicest train station I've ever seen
It was all quite comical until she started asking for something really urgently "schpinka". I was freaking out thinking it might be urgent medicine or something, as unlike everything else she asked for that day, this seemed really important, but there was no one around that spoke dutch apart from the polish cleaning lady and her husband, who only speak a little and who she was terrified of. Eventually they guessed might be schminken, or make-up. I let her put my moisturizer on her face and she seemed pretty happy, and then when Koi woke up she painted their faces, and then the kids spent a couple of hours running around with the polish dude while I sat in my deck chair with the baby. Almost a success. I actually found out after she went that she speaks french too, I can actually speak a little bit of that. Turns out Koi and Jan thought it was French I spoke, not Spanish, so they weren't too worried leaving me so alone with her! Next time someone comes over to play, I'm making sure one of them stays in the house!

Antwerp town square
So far I haven't really done much with my days off, I'm pretty broke and always really tired. I have walked into Schilde, the town centre thats actually closer to us than the town centre of Zoersel where we actually live. This part of Belgium is really affluent, with houses in this area costing twice the national average, with villas costing over a million bucks NZ, so the shopping in Schilde is rather upmarket and you don't want to do more than just look in the windows! I did manage to get my shoes fixed my a man who spoke pretty passable english (Im still amazed that everyone here can speak english) even if he did turn C-L-A-I-R-E into C-L-A-Y-R-I, but oh well, and I met some lovely ladies at the post office who spoke to me about NZ for ages.

Dusk in Brussels
I went to Brussels one day, Koi went to the Thai Embassy and I found my own way from there, I was quite impressed with how I managed to work out what direction to walk in, then found the centre of the city and didn't get lost all day! I had intended on going to the European Parliament, something I meant to do last time I was here in February but didn't because we got too drunk the night before, but this time I missed out because I forgot that the time on my Belgian cellphone didn't automatically change with daylight savings. So I just spent the day wandering around and sitting in the sun reading, and then I had dinner with Arthur before catching the train home. Its quite cool to be able to do that, just go to Brussels to meet someone for dinner, because the trains are cheap and fast and everything is close together anyway.

Simon on the banks of the river in Antwerp
I also went into Antwerp one Saturday and met Simon, a guy who lived in Lower Hutt on an AFS exchange from 2008-2009, he was really good and showed me all around Antwerp, like the different areas for shoping and the library and where to eat and find the metro, and all that kind of stuff. I actually think that Antwerp is one of the nicest cities I've been in over here, you can tell that it used to be one of the richest places by the buildings. Was also really good just to hang out with someone who can speak whole sentences and doesn't constantly pretend to be a dinosaur.

Street in Antwerp, see what I mean about rich buildings
So, end of the first month and Jan and Koi and I have agreed I'll stick around for awhile, until I have had enough anyway, hopefully not until at least Christmas. I've got Fridays and Saturdays off permanently, which will be good for heading off to visit friends and explore Belgium some more, and the other days I normally do mornings with Alice and end of school until bed with Arin, it looks pretty good. We have to leave the house for a week for the renovations, they're sandblasting all the wood in the top story, so we're off to London (I'm not working, am staying with Philippa from my old work and doing touristy things) and then I have a couple of days in Madrid again, trying to resolve the visa-drama before I come back. It will be good to have a week off, but packing up everything in my room to move downstairs was not fun at all, I swore I was done with the packing and unpacking thing for awhile. London is new for me, I've never been in England before, and its my first time in an english-speaking country for five months! Looking forward to it!

New photos of Antwerp and Brussels are here.