Au Pair? Oh God: My Week With a 6 Month Old
I’m writing this post at my terminal in at the airport while waiting to board a plane back to Atlanta. After spending the week babysitting my six month old cousin, it’s a relief to hear a baby crying nearby and not have to answer to her. But a part of me also feels nostalgic for the one I just left behind.
See, I was never the babysitting type...probably a good call, considering that I still consider Reese’s peanut butter cups a food group. I’m also an only child, so younger siblings were never a responsibility. I didn’t grow up with babies so I never really understood the joy people experience in their presence. Sure, I felt excitement for other people’s kids but never really had that biological panging to have my own version before turning 30.
So why did I say yes to taking responsibility for a six month old? Because when two people who have done as much for you as my uncle and aunt have done for me, you say yes. Plus, free food.
I’m not going to lie, it was a tough week. The baby was a dream—as far as my very limited knowledge of babies goes—but the stress of being the sole caretaker of someone else is something I had never experienced before. My mom laughed at me when I said I was going to work remotely and babysit. Now I understand why.
Guilt was the theme of the week. I felt so guilty for not writing my weekly blog post and for not working traditional hours. Then, I felt guilty for FEELING GUILTY about those things when I should only be concerned with caring for a baby.
But the week was also an unforgettable learning experience. For instance, now I know how to feed an infant while on a conference call. And whether it's hunger- or diaper- or nothing-related cry.
I learned a few things about myself, too. They’re not really pretty or Insta-perfect, but they’re real.
And who knows? Maybe you’ve felt this way too. Or maybe you’ll think I’m a monster. Here goes nothing.
I’M STILL SELFISH. AND THAT’S OKAY.
Rare, women-run sushi restaurants in Japan. Female motorcycle gangs in Scotland. Matriarchal societies of the Samburu region in Kenya. My idea of the future right now reads more Broadly and less Baby Einstein. Call me selfish, but I’m so ready to experience the world now that I am old enough to appreciate it but young enough to not complain about sitting in Coach. I think one of the best things you can give to your child is a sense of adventure and you can’t do that if you don’t have some pretty wild adventures of your own first; I think I owe it to myself to see the world before bringing someone else into it.
AMERICA NEEDS BETTER PARENTAL LEAVE LAWS
Before I rant about this, I want to acknowledge my family’s privilege when it comes to parental leave. Both parents work incredible full-time jobs with great benefits. They can afford to have a nanny during the week and live in a safe neighborhood. They’ve got a pretty sweet deal (that they worked extremely hard for), but this certainly isn’t the case for everyone.
In a 2008/2009 study of parental leave in 21 countries, the United States ranked 20th for time allotted in protected job leave for two-parent families. While benefits vary across full-time positions and popular companies, what about households with single parents or both caretakers working multiple part-time jobs? Not everyone can afford to take unpaid leave, even when their job is protected.
“The U.S. Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) sets a minimum standard for parental leave, but due to the exclusion of small employers and short-tenure workers, about 40 percent of U.S. workers are not eligible for the FMLA.”
During my short time with the baby, I was lucky to experience so many firsts while sitting next to both of her parents. Regardless of their socioeconomic status, every family deserves better financial options when it comes to parental leave.
And if your response to one or two parents only being able to work part-time jobs is, “Just don’t have kids,” then get out. Or support Planned Parenthood so low-income families can receive adequate health and contraceptive care. Okay, /endrant
THAT WHOLE “IT’S ALL WORTH IT” THING? YEAH, THAT’S TRUE.
That kid kicked my ass all week but man, I still think she’s the cutest thing I’ve ever seen. For all of the jokes I made about this gig being the best birth control, I really am thankful that her parents trusted me enough to be part of E’s life so early on. I mean, how often do you get to say that you knew someone when they were six months old?
Which brings me to my last point:
TO my baby cousin (WHEN YOU’RE OLD ENOUGH TO READ THIS COLORFUL, EXPLICIT, STRANGE LITTLE SLICE OF THE INTERNET)
After really getting to know you this week, there are quite a few hopes I have for you.
I hope you are a lifelong feminist. And I hope you live in a world where it’s not a novelty to say that.
I hope you’re as brilliant and badass and caring as your mom. I hope you’re as creative and curious and empathetic as your dad.
I hope you like The Rolling Stones even though Mick will be like 5,000 years old by the time you start listening to him.
And of course, I hope you know you’ll always be able to talk to me about anything, because I’ve been through it all. Well, at least I will have been through it all by the time you read this.