Patience is a virtue
All children have their moments. They scream, wail, fist pound and head bang. At least one girl I know does (guess who!). This year as an au pair has made me feel deeply guilty for all of the trouble I have ever caused caretakers, parents, sisters, or teachers. I think I now finally get why it’s so important not to drive people crazy.
Tonight, our house was host to a rather strong temper tantrum. Luckily, it was particularly entertaining, as it had much to do with me. While she was sobbing and barely annunciating her emotions in Catalan, she suspected I was clueless about the whole episode. Which made the 25-minute incident even that much better.
“Eat is Life”
To understand the significance of the story I’d like to tell, you must first understand a few points about the girl I take care of and her relationship to food.
Every day when I pick her up from school, before greeting me she always asks, “Allison, what do I have for eat?” and every day I correct her grammar and then explain that she must first say “hello” to me before asking her snack.
When I don’t have a snack ready because we’re going directly home, she typically spends the 10 minute car ride with her mouth turned into a dramatic frown, her eyes well up with tears and she incoherently mentions that “IT’S NOT FAIR.”
Food is probably her favorite thing in the entire world, besides animals, of course. When they found out she was gluten intolerant, the next day she stood in the kitchen, watching me toast bread and drizzle olive oil on top with glossy eyes and her drooling mouth wide open. She let out a sigh, threw herself on top of the counter so that her chubby face was smashed against it, and said, “Ugh, Allison… that looks so scrumptious.”
These are the everyday occurrences that characterize her love of food. It’s actually a bit depressing. While she has always had a “sophisticated culinary palate,” as my sister observed, I sense a dependency on it to bring her happiness. The viscous cycle of low self-esteem, anxiety from her parents’ separation and bullying at school has led her to relish in the comfort it brings.
While this is a serious topic to be discussed on a later date, we must first appreciate the humor in it all.
Eating what’s not actually yours
Last night, the mother kindly let me invite three girls over who were visiting from France. University students from the U.S. studying abroad, I was excited to have them over and show them the side of Ibiza that they probably didn’t read about. The mother was so generous with her time and energy and made us a delicious dinner of muscles, tortilla Española, homemade olive bread, and a salad.
She sat with us for a while, but in attempt to give us our “intimacy,” as she said, went to bed early and took the girl with her too. On her way to her room, she said, “Oh, and there are cookies in the oven. Eat them for dessert,” almost as an afterthought.
What we didn’t know at the time was that the cookies were made with special gluten-free flour and almond milk. The girl had helped her mom prepare the dough and was looking forward to eating them. Her mother had told her that she would pack some in lunch the following day.
That would explain the princess and duck shapes they had.
After our dinner, we got the cookies out of the oven, put them on a plate and sat back down at the table. They were so delicious, and we continued to talk, that before we knew it we had eaten all of them. Without giving the swift finish of the creamy and soft shortbread cookies a second thought, we finished cleaning up and headed out the door.
Kids never forget
Today went by as normal. I picked her up from school (No, no snack. She handled it better today than she usually does). Making her read about the Roman Empire was like pulling teeth. We frolicked around the garden and “helped” one of the other men that work at the house to plant lettuce. Then it was time for dinner.
Feeling special, she typically sits at the head of the long wooden table. I sit to her right, and across from me the grandmother and the mother sit next to each other. As I mentioned, the family speaks in Catalan. It’s common that I understand everything that’s going on, although I can’t participate in the conversation because “I’m only supposed to know English.”
First, the girl asks her mom if she can have some cookies for dessert. Her mom told her that “Allison and her friends ate them all last night.” She stood stone cold, her lips starting to curl and her eyes squinting in typical I’m-going-burst fashion. Her nostrils even start to flair a bit, which is scary because that’s something I do.
She calmly turned to me, similar to the way a doll’s neck turns to the victims in a horror movie. In a soft voice she asked, “Did you and your friends really eat all the biscuits last night?” I said, yes, but that we were so sorry we didn’t know that she wanted any. I asked if she could forgive us because we didn’t know. She snuffed and rolled her eyes, “No. Not with things like this.”
Then she was oddly calm. That’s when I knew there was a big storm coming.
Quietly eating her potatoes and broccoli (a light dinner), it was eerily tranquil. She even attempted some small talk with me, throwing around some phrases about the gossip from the school day (“Aitiana pulled some kids pants down…” etc.). Then, we finished. Her mom looked at me and said, “Would you like yogurt for dessert?”
THE STORM CLOUD WAS MOVING IN.
With a bulge in her and eye and slap of her hand on the table she signaled the end of her complaisance.
Her first words were (and mind you all in Catalan. Not once did she address me directly), “WOULDN’T IT HAVE BEEN NICE TO EAT SOME COOKIES RIGHT NOW, BUT THOSE GIRLS WERE SO INCONSIDERATE THEY ATE 25 COOKIES.”
I promise you, there were not 25 cookies in that batch. TWELVE, if we’re being generous. She repeated the phrase, TWENTY-FIVE COOKIES” at least 7 times in the following 25 minutes (at one point her grandmother said, “Was it really 25? Or was it 26? It’s unclear”).
I wish I could record the way she whines. Her words are so muffled by her throaty groans. Her face turns into a complete distorted multi-topping pizza, with curves, lines and dents where they’ve never occurred before.
We were entering into a deep well that would be rough to get out of.
It’s a good thing I can understand her native tongue. Because if all I saw was her accusing finger pointing at me, her stomping foot and her tear-soaked face digging into her mother’s shoulder, I would be awfully confused.
It first started out as her anger over the fact that we had eaten not a few, but TWENTY-FIVE cookies, that weren’t even ours – they were hers!
The constant back and forth between the girl and her mom was the girl saying something outrageous, like “they are stupid and fat, those friends of Allison’s” and her mom trying to speak calmly and logically and explain that “they were guests in our house, It’s okay that you are upset but you don’t have to exaggerate. You can be a little generous, you know.”
I was kind of disheartened by the whole thing, because it’s depressing that she was getting upset, but I was trying hard not to laugh. I kept my face down and only looked up when I loud crash or shrill scream would catch my attention.
At one point I thought to myself I would give anything to have not eaten all those cookies. Anything to avoid this. I wish I would have known.
And then I turned that one around, because, wow, this was very entertaining. Those though processes, though. For me, watching this was like being in high school again, or better yet, in church, when something so funny happens but it’s the absolute wrong moment to express your laughter.
But then, around 10 minutes into her cries, shit got real.
She started to accuse us of frivolously wasting her money. Excuse me, her money? Yes, she said that.
Because “WHEAT, AND BUTTER, AND MILK… THEY ALL COST MONEY. THEY WASTED MY MONEY. NOW I HAVE TO SPEND SO MUCH MORE MONEY. THEY ATE 25 COOKIES, AND WASTED SO MUCH MONEY.”
Her mom tried to explain that none of her argument made any sense, but she was a lost cause.
She would run into her mother’s room, probably have just enough time to lay on the bed before she realized we were all still sitting at the table and eating contently, and she would rush back in and repeat the same logical fallacies as before.
Around minute 18, her pacing was so dramatic and her eyes were so big and her voice was starting to go hoarse. I believe she was on round 6 with the “TWENTY-FIVE COOKIES” when I looked up from plate of potatoes and for a millisecond caught eyes with the grandmother.
It was right at the moment when the girl said, “THOSE GIRLS ARE NEVER WELCOME IN THIS HOUSE AGAIN.”
At that moment, we exchanged subdued grins, and I lost it.
I did a loud snort and my face contorted, similar to the girl’s, in my attempt to pretend like I wasn’t laughing. Then my chest started heaving and buried my face in my hands until I could control myself.
I couldn’t look at the grandmother anymore. It was too much.
The girl caught on and I looked at her and made some excuse about how the grandmother was eating weird or something. In solidarity, the mother said, “Yes the grandmother is eating like a little girl.”
At least she found the humor in it too.
In one last shot at reasoning with the girl, the mother said, “Well, these girls come from France, and they won’t be able to try these cookies again.”
To which the girl responded, “WELL, MOM, THEY COULD CERTAINLY LOOK UP THE RECIPE ON THE INTERNET AND MAKE THEM THEMSELVES. WHY DO THEY HAVE A BRAIN THEN IF THEY WON’T EVEN USE IT.”
After that comment, the mother firmly said, “SE ACABO” (IT’S OVER).
And the two of them went off to make more cookies for the girl, and I cleaned up in disbelief.
Another night in my humble Ibiza abode.