What Being An Au Pair Taught Me About Domestic Work and Privilege

I was sitting on my bed in my dark, dungeon-esque room in the casa payesa that I was working as an au pair at, reading Rigoberta Menchu’s Me llamo Rigoberta Menchú y así me nació la conciencia (Unfamiliar? Read a summary here).

I was on the chapter “Sirvienta en la capital.” Going through the pages, I started to feel very angry. I was so frustrated. I hated everything that Menchu’s abusive “master” (it’s an appropriate word for the situation she was in) did and said to her.

I read the following line and for a second couldn’t breathe:

Y la senora todos los dias andaba vigilandome y me maltrataba mucho. Me trataba como que si fuera no se que, ni como un perro, pues al perro lo trataba bien. Al perro lo abrazaba. Entonces yo decia, “Pero ni siquiera me compara con el perro.

(And the woman every day went around watching me and mistreated me a lot. She treated me as if I was I don’t no, not a dog, because they treated the dog well. They hugged the dog. So I said, “But they don’t even compare me to the dog.)

After reading that line, I stood motionless with eyes wide open. I couldn’t move.  I then started to realize why it hit me so hard. The feeling that she expressed, the feeling of being thrown around and dehumanized was one that I had felt as an au pair.

Don’t freak out. I am in no way trying to compare my experience as a white, socioeconomically stable, nanny-with-a-fancy-word situation to that of an indigenous woman in Guatemala being systematically abused for centuries.

I am, however, cognizant of the fact that for the first time in my life, I have been in a situation of slight vulnerability and being taken advantage of. And I hated it. The feeling that is created after feeling as if you were being taken advantage of is one of the most unpleasant I have ever felt. Rage, frustration, and silence.

I will repeat again, that my situation is very dissimilar from the abuses that have happened throughout centuries to the marginalized. My situation was not Nohemi’s, for example, a young girl who was taken from her home and abused as a domestic worker for a rich family in Colombia for years.

My situation was, however, a toned down, micro-example of how easy it is to take advantage of others. How easily you can slip into situations (being a foreigner, not having a place to sleep, needing money, not having many contacts, not having family) and how dangerous and toxic they can become. And most importantly, my situation was an example of sickeningly well the ones who had power were able to manipulate those that didn’t.


There are two important points to note in regards to my feelings towards domestic workers and au pairing in general. The first, is how I got into this situation in the first place (my need to please, my self-denial, my passivity), and the second, how being an au pair is an excellent highlight of white privilege.

POINT 1How did this happen to me

Let’s discuss the first point: why I was in an uncomfortable situation for months and didn’t do anything about it. The señora pulled the wool over my eyes from the start. A woman that is charming, funny, and social, she captivates you and makes you believe she is just a humble woman with a massive house, properties all of Spain, a handful of expensive cars and a boat. One of the first things she told me was, “I live a simple life.” And I somehow believed her.

As the time passed, I soon started to realize that she is a woman who lives a comfortable and relaxed life, because she has people picking up her messes and figuring out her problems. It’s an attitude of superiority that I have never seen before. It’s almost as if the seven dwarfs were working in her house and she was completely oblivious (behind her repeated speech of how she’s rich but “everyone is equal” and “we all mix together”) to all of the work they were doing for me.

About the time I wrote about why you shouldn’t au pair, I was checked out. Yet, I stayed in the house. I let her manipulative guilt trips guide my decisions. I didn’t put up a fight when she refused to pay me and I found excuses for why I should be doing extra work. As if any of her problems warranted that I work for free.

Her attitude is not unique, however. It’s one that I’ve heard repeated over and over again. It’s a personality flaw, but it also stems from a systematic air of authority solely by being from the upper echelons.

POINT 2When I realized that, despite my frustrations, this is what privilege looks like

Being an au pair, or “domestic worker,” nanny or kanguro, whatever you want to call it, I was associated for the first time with a sector of society that I had never been associated with before (I am very aware of the problematic nature of my situation and my interpretation of the situation). No one I met when I was with the family (unless they asked or were close friends) knew that I had a university degree, for example. No one knew that I have won awards or wrote a thesis or have traveled. Or the fact that my expensive university degree from the United States was paid for by my parents.

Refreshing to not have a reputation, it was also a curious sensation to be grouped into a sector that was completely foreign to me. And mind you this is coming from a girl who believed she was left-wing, has studied human rights and social movements and spent time in the “developing world.”

Yet not of the above had as much impact as putting myself in the situation. People were nice. People were friendly. And especially in Ibiza there a freedom of thought and expression that to my knowledge is unheard of in many other parts. But still, I was not Allison who did this, this and won this. I was the silent au pair who was too stupid to know our language (I do speak Spanish, but they didn’t let me around the girl) and didn’t have any wherewithal to contribute to a conversation.

That feeling hit me hard.

But what hit me even harder (and even harder than reading Rigoberta Menchu) was when I realized that as much as I believed I was suffering, it was nothing compared to my domestic worker peers (and of course, the millions of people who suffer all sorts of abuses on a daily basis).

Because the difference between my peers and I, even though the feelings we might have or the treatment might be the same, is that I have privilege, and they don’t.

I spent time with many Filipino immigrants, as they are common domestic workers. I even heard many people at the private school discussing how, “they were looking for a Filipino because they are silent hard workers and never stop.” I threw up a bit.

The difference between them and I, is that they take care of children, they are nannies. I take care of children, I’m an “au pair.” Even though I was in an uncomfortable situation, I could have left. I have a family who can afford a flight or friends who could lend me money. I have linguistic privilege and many job opportunities solely for being a white American who is a native English speaker.

The main difference, I was horrified to find, is that by the time I realized I was being taken advantage of and wanted out, it was not the same experience for my peers. A few friends who spoke to their domestic worker peers also had similar experiences. The peers didn’t think twice about the treatment they were receiving, or about working 12 hours a day for 500 euros a month, or for being watched constantly to see what they did wrong.

And then it hit me again (man, I just keep getting hit!). It’s easy for me, who has access to resources, possibilities beyond au pairing, a university education, and an overall way out to point out all of the problems with their jobs. It’s easy for me to complain, because I can.

They are not in a situation to do so, however. They are sending money home to their families. They are paying for schooling for the extended family members. They have people and mouths who need their work. Whether it is in good conditions or not. They can’t afford to not have an income, even if it’s a lousy one. This is not my life. My life was not destined to be a domestic worker. I have resources and options. And this sickens me. It’s hard to me to swallow.

And the cycle continues. This is how abuses happen, and this is also how they continue (oversimplified? Yes.But there is some truth to it).


Why Do Shitty Experiences Matter?

I’m still trying to digest my experience this past year and what I want to do with it. How I want to go about transforming the working conditions and attitudes, and dreaming big, world power imbalances.

The one thing I have realized for sure, is that I am so grateful to have been put in an uncomfortable situation. Pablo Picasso said, “I am always doing that which I cannot do, in order that I may learn how to do it.” I’m not certain that I’ve fully learned, but the next time I find myself in similar circumstances, I will handle it better.

I am also eternally grateful for the opportunity to feel for the first time, a sense of real solidarity with someone different from me. I have sympathy. I’ve always had sympathy. I believe in a universal system of human rights and a standard of treatment for all human beings.

But it has never meant more to me than it does now. Although my situation was clearly not comparable to the abuses most domestic workers suffer, I feel empathy for the first time. There is a switch that only comes from having experienced first hand. It holds a different weight. It hits closer (yet again, the hitting!) to home and creates more rage and frustration (but I’m trying to handle that rage and frustration in a constructive way, while still seeing the power abusers as human. It’s a task.)

A few weeks after reading Menchu’s testimony, I watch the documentary Que Rico Ser PobreThe documentary centers around a man who has decided to abandon his previous life and opt for one of living day-to-day in precarious living situations. In the end, he feels that this life is freer and more fulfilling in this way.

The thing that stuck we me the most after watching the documentary, is that the man explains why he loves to live this life. He explains that via living like most of the world actually lives, he feels closer to the universe. He feels a sense of unity with others that can only be achieved through putting yourself, literally, in their situation (not just imagining it).

For me, this is the most beautiful about any situation, positive or negative. The more experiences I live, the most I can relate to others, and the closer I feel to the people of the world. Shared experiences unite us, and I feel very fortunate to have felt the negative feelings this past year, because for once, I feel connected with a sector that was previously far from my reach.

What is the point of living, if not to create circumstances that will unite us?

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What It Means To Be A ‘Sex Positive’ Au Pair

When the little girl “accidently” touches my boobs any chance she gets (“oh, you see I meant to touch your shoulder/stomach/back…it was an accident, promise!”), I firmly respond, “You cannot touch anyone else’s body without them giving you permission.” When she sticks her hand up her butthole and then smells her fingers, I politely and calmly tell her that she “cannot do that in public. That is private and should be done where other people aren’t looking.”

Children Are Inquisitive Human Beings

Being an au pair is the first time in my life that I’ve spent significant time with a child. As the youngest of three girls, I was always the young one trying to act older than my age. I don’t have younger cousins and I don’t spend time with babies, infants or children. In short, up to this point I haven’t had anyone significant in my life that would have clued me into what it would be like to have to constantly confront a pre-pubescent, extremely sexually curious 8-year-old girl.

As I mentioned in my post for Sexual Assault Awareness Month, I believe in the power that every individual has in making a difference in sexual education and violence prevention. Having had experience researching and being a proponent for this type of intervention in schools, it wasn’t difficult to implement. It required very little second thought.

However, when it came to my job as an au pair. It was more difficult. It often left me stumped and I didn’t know how to act or respond to some of the things that came out of her mouth. I was very weary of saying certain things, or too much, or the ‘wrong thing.’

We Don’t Touch Our Vulvas At The Table

Last summer, I happened to click on an article on my Facebook newsfeed called, “Sex Positive Parenting, or We Don’t Touch Our Vulvas At The Table” (Excellent article, you should read it!) This article would later become extremely important in my time as an au pair.  It turned out to be extremely influential in my way of handling such conversation. Because being an au pair is as much about the academic aspect as it is the personal and developmental. Spending many hours a day with her, these issues come up frequently.

The author of the post explains her parenting style when it comes to talking about sex. She says,

I’m what some people call “sex positive.” That doesn’t mean I talk with my four year olds about how great sex is and how good it feels. It means I don’t pretend it’s something other than it is.

She goes on to explain that,

It’s telling them the truth, the whole truth, and letting it sink in so they can make their own good choices

At this point in the girl’s life, it isn’t horrible to confront the situations (sometimes, however, I regret not responding in certain ways). Often, I have to be sex positive when it comes to touching – both her body parts and mine – consent, and general questions about relationships.

It is important to note here that sexual education can happen at all ages – the only difference is appropriate information for the time in the child’s life. In Argentina, for example, the government passed Integral Sexual Education Law 26.150  in 2006 with the goal of equipping teachers and schools to implement comprehensive sexual education (including violence prevention) to all ages. In their curriculum, the content varies by age; for example, in primary school, topics of equality, anatomy, respect for others’ bodies, and diversity of families. The earlier the education begins, the less abuses are likely to happen.

Imagine You And Your Boyfriend…

The first time I realized that this role of being sex positive would become a significant part of my caring for her, we were playing. We were in her room ‘playing house’ – a usual game for children that transcends international borders.

She had the brilliant idea that I would be the older sister, and she would be a cat. She said that we were all on the boat for vacation (their family has a sailboat they frequent).

Suddenly, I saw a sly look in her eye. Her mind was churning. She said, “Also, your boyfriend is here.” I said okay and we were continued to “play on the boat.”

Then she said it was getting dark out and it was time for bed. She (the cat) snuggled up in one side of the room. The next sentence she rattled off is what left my in shock for a couple of seconds. She said, “Now, Allison, I am the cat so I am going to sleep here. Imagine that you and your boyfriend go to bed and start having sex. And I’m just going to be here asleep. Go, start making noises.”

I froze. My mouth dropped. There were a million questions running through my mind – where did she learn what sex was? What did she hear about the noises?

And then, I thought about the article that I mentioned above. If I hadn’t have had the feminist education I’ve had or hadn’t have read that article, my first reaction might have been, “No! Don’t say things like that!” or “Why would you say that, don’t talk about that!”

Instead, I first calmed myself down, and when I was composed enough, I said the first thing I could think of: “My boyfriend and I will not have sex because that is not realistic. We wouldn’t have sex when other people were watching.” (I guess that’s not entirely true for all people, because, after all, there are all kinds of tastes and sexual behaviors. But it was the quickest and most appropriate thing I could think of to say and not ruin her perception of sex).

Importance of Sex Positive Parenting (or in my case, au pairing):

Why is the sex positive perspective so important? Why is it necessary to deal with it instead of ignoring it? The author argues,

I don’t want them to grow up ashamed of their bodies or confused about what they do. I don’t tell them about cabbage patches or storks, I make an effort, always, to be honest about human reproduction. Every aspect of it.

It is a human right to have correct and accurate information. I believe that whoever is with children has a responsibility to address confusions, curiosities, and errors of consent (such as touching my boobs without my permission).

Working in the IES (high school), I can see a huge difference in behavior of children who obviously have parents who talk about sex, and those who don’t. The difference in education leads to a difference in self-esteem and respect for others. I hear swirling gossip of incorrect information, or degrading language and slut shaming. Perhaps if students were taught unbiased and scientific – sex positive if you will- information at home, education at school wouldn’t be such a challenge (one can dream).

She and I

I want to tell the girl the truth, but I don’t want to tread where it doesn’t correspond to me. Yet, that’s the whole point. Being “sex positive” doesn’t mean explaining every detail, especially when it isn’t necessary for the situation. It does, however, mean that you don’t lie. You don’t create answers that confuse. You respond in a way that doesn’t encourage feelings of humiliation.

The girl is extremely interested about anything related to sex. I have noticed she has already started to masturbate and if she sees anything sexual happening on the news, on a TV show, or in public, her eyes become immediately glued. You can’t pull her away.

And there is nothing wrong with that. She is feeling things and seeing things that she doesn’t quite understand, so when she asks me questions, the least I can do it tell her the truth. The last impact I would ever want to leave on her is teaching her to be embarrassed. Or that she is wrong. Or that what she is feeling isn’t okay.

In a world where girls (and boys alike) are meant to feel that they are only valid if they look and dress a certain way, it is my hope that by being honest and direct about things related to her body, she has one less pressure connected to her body image. Because if she’s already starting to feel awkward and uncool (as indicated by the comments and comparisons to her classmates she makes), it’s only going to get worse. And if I can make a difference in at least one aspect, I will try my best.

Learning Curves

Since I’ve been here she’s discovered a lot of new things – correct body anatomy in English (you’re welcome), Shakira’s ass in her music videos (not encouraged by me. She seeks Shakira out), and even menstruation.

The last one was by accident, but it was more than entertaining. I left the door to my room open and went into the kitchen (across the patio from my tiny house). While I was gone, the dog came in and went through my trash can. What he found was a pile of previously enjoyed, blood-soaked, smelly pads.

When I left the kitchen to go back to my room, I found the dog in n playful position, with his backside towards the sky, tail wagging, eyes staring straight at me, and something dark in his paws. He was chewing contently on it when I came closer. As I stepped towards him, I realized it was my dirty pads. Trying to grab it from him only encouraged his playful attitude, and soon there were white and dark blood bits and pieces of the pad strewn across the patio.

dogs chewing pads
Son snacking on my menstrual blood.

My reactions (“OH MY GOD! GIVE THAT BACK”) were met with confusion from the girl: “What is that? Why are you trying to get it Allison? Why is he playing with it. But, seriously, what is that!?”

I learned a lesson (shut the damn door), and the girl learned that once a month (if it’s regular) a female sheds her uterine lining. This forms part of a menstrual cycle.

Gender and Sexuality Education Beyond Being Sex Positive

Something related to giving honest and unbiased information has to do with expanding the image of gender and sexuality that she is taught in the media, at home, and at school.

I don’t specifically bring up the topic, but when it’s appropriate I will make a comment in attempts of amplifying her perception of how the world works relating to family structures, bodies, and gender roles.

For example, the other day at the beach it somehow came up that girls have vaginas and boys have penises. And she said, “Well, a boy would never have a vagina.” To which, I realized, I had an opportunity to respond. I said, “Well sometimes. But sometimes someone can dress like a man and have a vagina or someone can dress like a girl and have a penis.” Because, it’s true. And taking the opportunity to explain something in the world is a chance to plant a seed.

The same goes for the typical gender stereotype assumptions – “No, Allison, boys don’t wear bracelets (why not? If they like them they can!).” “Allison, you have to be a mother. You’re a girl. (I can if I want to be, but I don’t have to be).”

And typical sexuality assumptions: “You would never see two dads, Allison (you wouldn’t? I know lots of people who are two boys and they have children together). “Families always have a mom and a dad and kids (au contraire!).

Making an Impact

I might never know if anything that I say or do – sex positive or academic related- will have an impact on the girl. Nevertheless, I know that the subtle behaviors, actions, and speech of adults has a crucial influence on children’s perceptions, whether they are conscious of it or not.

Therefore, in choosing to be a sex positive au pair, I am aiming to create a sense of ownership of her body, self-expression, and respect for others and their bodies.

She is only 8 year-old now, and I know that the years to come she will be faced with more difficult questions than if she can touch my boobs or not. I hope that in some way she will remember my comments, or at least the environment I tried to create.

Crack for 8-Year-Olds: Pencil Cases & Their Contents

I should have known something was up the first day I was at the house. When she got home from school (after having the snack, of course), she emptied out the contents of the bag. Folder, reading book, and…pencil case. Before proceeding to the homework, it had to be carefully reviewed. Were things in order? Were the pencils organized from biggest to smallest? Were the markers in rainbow order? And the colored pencils? And the eraser? Is everything sharpened? Is a trip to Carlin necessary? What if the erasers are too worn down?

I once picked her up from school and noticed a girl I thought wasn’t very nice. Later I asked her what said girl was like. She replied, “She’s so mean. If you ask her, can I have a pencil, she’ll say no..,” and with a disgusted face, as if I reacted with a surprised expression, she’ added, “Yeah… I know… she’s that mean.”

Most people have some obsessions. Some things that they dream about through math class. For the girl, besides animals and food, it’s her pencil case. And the contents inside of it. It’s even her way of valuing whether at 8 years-old a girl is a good person or not.

Each day before we begin her homework, it’s something similar to the first day. Math problems are typically interrupted by her unremitting staring of her colored pencils, and caressing of her erasers. With her right hand she’ll write out the problem or the sentence, and with the left stroke the contents of the pencil case.

Although as the weeks passed, the obsession became more complicated. No longer was she obessed with touching and rearranged one pencil case, but she started to acquire more styles of pencil cases …. Hello Kitty, Monster High, flower prints, see-through, double stacked, you name it- she has it. Therefore, on certain days of the week, she must empty the contents of one of pencil cases and transfer them to another.

However, some of the pencil cases came with markers. Therefore they are of a certain brand, and different than the rest. If by some mistake one brand gets mixed up with a bunch from the other – GOD FORBID. Alert the media.

This happened more than once. The first time it happened, she took to the back of her house (in her room) to a dungeon of neon green tubs where the family stores “her things.” There was a pile of 4-5 tubs. She looked them up and down, and looked at me, and said, “Allison. We are missing one of the markers that has the label “Milan” on it. Now you,” she said, pointing at me, “must look through ALL of those, and find the missing marker,” she said, now pointing at the pile of green tubs.

If just the mere thought of being at home with so many pencil-case-makeover-possibilities was too much for her to handle, passing a libreria on the street, or even going in one, is like putting a period-soaked dirty underwear in front of a dog (you like that?). You must touch it, and if you can, have it all.

If we walk into a store, she takes intermittently slow…then FAST… then pacing, skipping, and even galloping struts around her favorite items. Her lustful glare when faced with twenty different styles of Milan erasers (complete with a pencil sharpener on the other end!) is only equal to that of when she sees freshly baked bread.

I wouldn’t consider it over-dramatic to say that she literally touches everything in the store. Those dirty hands on everything. Imagine.

Her obsession took to a whole new level yesterday night. Right when we got home from school she reached for her mom’s cell phone and opened Whatsapp. I didn’t think twice, because this is normal for her to talk to her dad or bother her mom’s friends with inappropriate voice messages.

However, yesterday, she was glued to the phone. We would work a little on homework, then she would turn to me with an exhausted face and say, “ugh can we have a break?” Normally, her breaks include watching Violeta, pretending to be on a cruise ship (which she pronounces like “cruise-y” no matter how many times I correct her), or “helping” the various Filipino workers we have on the property (read: throwing dirt around and making them do more).

But today, we breaks were her sprinting (I’ve never seen her sprint) to her mother’s phone and keep opening Whatsapp. I looked over her shoulder saw she was sending messages to the mother of one of her classmates.

Then, on one of her breaks, she started sending voice messages. Again, because she thinks I don’t understand her native tongue(s), things usually get pretty interesting.

The first thing I heard her send was, “POR FAVOR CONTESTA” (Please answer). Turns out during her previous breaks she had already sent several.

I asked her what she was doing. She furrowed her brow and through her pouty lips said, “It’s private stuff.” As if I don’t already know all of the intimate details about her personal life.

Ignoring me, she continued to send more… and more…

In one of them, I heard her say, “Ya no hace falta que me compre el estuche ese que te dije para mi cumpleaños…” (I don’t need you to buy me that pencil case I told you about for my birthday anymore).

Then I overheard, “Pero mandame la foto ya así le enseño a mi mama” (But send me the photo now so I can show my mom).

After this, we continued reading. She was more distracted than usual. We take turns reading (she’s very lazy and if I ask for more than the minimum she whines and says it’s “not fair”). When it was my turn to read, I would glance over and see her eyes wandering to her mom’s phone on the table. I would say “HEY!” and she would open her mouth wide and roll her eyes saying, “NOTHING!”

Finally when I let her have yet another break, she raced for the phone, snatched it, and ran out into the garden.

A few minutes later, I saw her pacing back and forth next to the lettuce plants with the phone pressed to her right ear and her left arm bobbing up and down with her emotional talking.

Since I was watching from a distance, her words were faint, but I could hear the ups and down of her speech. I saw the passion in her eyes as she described (what I would soon discover) the mother of all pencil cases: a 36 euro four-part multi-pack case, complete with two erases, two pencil sharpeners, colored pencils, felt-tip markers, four pre-sharpened pencils, and a glass (or plastic, really) ruler that fits perfectly.

Today, her dreams came true. After school, we battled the traffic going into Ibiza Town to go to a very special and exclusive Staples-like store on Via Punica to get the mega-pencil case.

I have never seen her so content. As you can imagine, the reading tonight included extra breaks to arrange, assemble, rearrange and reassemble, and extra caressing of the pencils.

But, at least she’s happy. And she’ll be the envy of all of the addicted 8 year-olds.

If You Don’t Give A Girl A Cookie, She Will Have A Temper Tantrum

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.

If You Are Brave Enough To Au Pair, Here’s What I Wish I Would Have Done

If you read my depressing and whiny post “8 Drawbacks to Working As An Au Pair” and you’re still considering it, I like to throw at you some advice.

I’d like to urge people to do exactly what I have failed to do this year. Small details would have made my experience as an au pair a more comfortable one. So, essentially I am asking you to take my advice that I myself have trouble implementing.

Because no one experience, person, or family is uniform, please take this advice with a grain of salt. Recognize that it comes from my own personal struggles working with an Ibicenco family.  Some of these pieces of advice may only be relevant in certain situations. Keep in mind, I did not go through any sort of agency. Rather, I was introduced to the family once I had already decided to come to Ibiza. This can make a difference in negotiation and expectations.

Maybe you think I’m a complainer or maybe this doesn’t make sense to you yet. Either way, I believe it’s best to put everything out on the table at the beginning. And remember: I warned you.

  1. Be completely honest from the beginning about why you are au pairing

If you are truly trying to enjoy your experience, you must be honest from the beginning, with yourself and with the family. It may be more difficult to find a match that will make both parties feel comfortable, but it is worth the extra effort.

For example, what is your motive for wanting to be an au pair? Is it to be able to learn a new language? To live a “crazy life abroad”? To travel frequently? To get free housing? To make a lot of money?

Think seriously about why you believe you want to do this. It will have a big influence on how you get along with the family. If the family is very wealthy and travels a lot, you will probably get to go with them. However, you might be going to Costa Rica with them for two weeks, but only stay inside a resort without seeing the country. Therefore, you won’t be “traveling” the way you might be used to.

On the other hand, if you make sure to point out that you are au pairing because while, yes, you love kids and want to help out the family, you are also hoping to see a lot of their country. If the family relies on you as the sole caretaker of their children, as opposed to a tutor for homework, it might be difficult for you to schedule vacations.

  1. Make a clearly defined contract

Especially if you find an au pair job once you are already living in the country, your family might not be interested in making a formal, written contract. However, do your best to create one and make sure that it clearly defines the most important aspects of your work, including:

  • Salary. Reflecting differences in increased work hours (do you get overtime?). What other compensation can you expect to get: will they pay for toiletries? Gas? Transportation?
  • Hours per week (again, should you be available during your “time off” just in case they need you?). What are you hours specifically? Are they flexible? Can you ‘make up hours’?
  • Birthday parties. It seems to be the cat’s meow to send your kid to a birthday party with the au pair. And they are typically at nights or weekends. Which means if you think you have weekends off, you don’t. Make sure to define if and when you have to accompany the children, what your compensation will be.
  • When kids have school off are you required to take care of them, and what happens if you can’t? For example, I have a day job at a high school. I cannot take care of the girl when she’s on vacation (her school has a different calendar than the public schools). If you do need to watch the kids on their vacation, ask for extra pay. It’s a lot of work.
  • Your duties. A clearly, no-nonsense guide of what exactly they want. Logistics as well as expectations. For instance, it’s important for the mother of this family for her daughter to reach one level higher by the end of this year. That means she expects me to prepare extra homework and learning games for her daughter.
  • Expectations around the house. You will be losing your freedom, and probably for the first time in a long time will have to obey like a child again. Try to avoid any confusion that could cause problems. Are you expected to keep your room orderly? Are you allowed to use everything they use, or are there specific items for the au pairs? What is off limits? When are you allowed to have friends over, and who?
  1. Don’t be afraid to ask for clarification

And I mean clarification for everything. It is much better to be annoying than to be confused or unclear on what’s expected of you. There are things that will come up that even a perfect contract can’t predict.

I had a conflict at the beginning of my experience because once the mom was discussing taking the girl to the psychologist on a Saturday morning (at the beginning she said weekends would always be mine. Then she switched it up on me. We had no contract set, so I was stuck. She “needed me”).  The way she talked about it that Thursday, it seemed like she was just mentioning that we could go together to the early Saturday morning appointment and if I wanted I could meet up to have breakfast with one of my friends. She framed it as if she was gifting me an opportunity to see my friends.

I understood it was a suggestion. I didn’t get any message or word from her about it further. On that Saturday morning, I slept longer than normal because I had gone out the night before. When I finally got up, she had a nasty face on. She said, “I took the girl to the psychologist this morning, because you were in there [she pointed to my room].” I was so confused and it finally hit me that she expected me to go. When it was my “day off?” I didn’t ask for clarification, I assumed. I didn’t know what was expected of me.

OH NO. That’s about when I realized that I had no power, and I was already on my way down a very confusing slippery slope.

  1. Give warning about vacations early

I somehow had it in my head that if I didn’t tell the family when I was going on vacation until a few weeks before, there is no way they could say no or have any problems with it.

Why that seemed like a good idea, I’m not sure, but regardless, don’t do what I did.

If your family has made it clear you can go on vacation, it shouldn’t be a problem. But they will have to rearrange their schedules and have enough time to do so. Especially if they work and rely on you, they will need to know to be able to find someone else.

  1. Make a list of what you want from the grocery store

Part of your payment comes from room and board. If you hate the food they buy or miss some of your favorites, don’t be afraid to ask (especially if you don’t do the grocery shopping, you will have little control over what they buy if you keep your mouth shut!).


Do you have any other advice to add? What have your experiences been? Do you agree or disagree? Comment below or tweet at me at @yasminesoyyo

If You’re Going To Be An Au Pair, You Must Drive A Stick

Scaring People Shitless

She was sitting in the passenger’s side of the teal blue two door late 90s model of the Arosa. Her body faced towards me, she was gripping the glove compartment with her right hand and the headrest on the seat with her left, her back pressed up against the door (a door with the interior plastic missing, I might add). Her eyes were as big as two grapefruits, and her gaze was glued to my every move. Her face was flush. You could tell she was trying to keep extremely calm for my sake, but that her heart was racing.

The constant honking, yelling, arms flying out the window from cars passing by gave me a sign that the rest of Ibiza was either thinking “Fuck you!” or “What the hell?” It was disheartening. The never-ending stalling and jerking of the car as I switched gears didn’t help the situation either (she later told me that she thinks she pinched a nerve in her back from the stress).

Encouraging me, she kept repeating, “Ves, mujer? Ya esta, ya esta (or rather, ya ‘ta, ya ‘ta in her Andalusian accent)” and “perfecto, perfecto, tranquilo, eso es…” as if I were a woman giving birth in anguish and needed constant reassurance. She was the kind housekeeper working at the house who felt bad for me and offered to teach me. This is how I learned to drive a stick shift in Ibiza.

The First Outing

On my first day in the house, the mother said to me, “Do you know how to drive a manual?” When I replied no, she didn’t think it would be an issue. It would be almost six weeks before I got the hang of it.

The car I was to drive, the arosa, was in the back of the property near the chicken coop at the time of my arrival. It was dead and took several hours of charging with cables for it to start. Bad idea to have a flakey car battery when you have to constantly restart after stalling.

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you should hear the revs on that beauty

The car is missed the interior plastic of the doors, so that it merely replicates a shell, or skeleton of what a car is supposed to be. Like on the commercials where they teach you the process of building a car from scratch. Like a car going down an assembly line.

Nothing could prepare me for the panic I was to feel the first night I went driving, not even the many youtube tutorials I watched in attempt to prep myself. The first Saturday I was in the house, the mother thought it would be a good chance to start my driving lessons. I felt bad that she had to teach me in the first place, after all, in many other parts of the world they have to learn on a manual and then can learn automatic if they want. She reassured me to not worry, that she had taught her son how to drive.

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“Check out the booty on that one” – She’s the Man

I quickly learned that while she is a wonderful woman in many ways, she has no business teaching people how to drive. Her angst and stress while trying to explain things to me often came across through curt remarks like “ALLISON NO ES TAN DIFICIL. ALLISON. CAMBIAS DE 1 A 2, 2 A 3, 3 A 4, ETC” or “TIENES QUE ENCONTRAR EL EQUILIBRIO ENTRE EL ACCELERADOR Y EL EMBRAGUE.”

But it was that difficult. Repeating herself over and over again, it was like hearing the same phrase in a different language but never really understanding what it truly meant. It was difficult when somehow during her lesson I managed to get the basics completely messed up. For example, I thought that the car kept stalling because I pressed too hard on the gas instead of not enough. Trying to be on my best behavior as I had just arrived in the house that week, I didn’t have the nerve or strength to talk back to her or truly express my frustration.

That night, we went to go pick up the girl at a birthday party we had dropped her off at earlier in the afternoon. I truly had no idea what I was doing, and cringe at my daring attitude that night. It was already dark out and the only light illuminating the country roads were from the car. The birthday party was at a house in a neighborhood with narrow, winding, one way streets, hills and sharp turns.

She got out of the car to go inside and get the girl, and said, “While I’m inside, why don’t you circle the block, practice.” I was nervous but excited. I think I understand how this works!

In hindsight, I was really being cut loose without any sort of real preparation, mental or physical. God knows how, but I somehow managed to get the car running, and was more relaxed after getting from 2nd to 3rd. My heart was pounding but I was really proud of myself. Earlier that day I had read some inspirational quote about thrusting yourself into the unknown. I was doing it alright!

Things soon turned sour. I had found myself first and foremost confused about the narrow, winding one-ways and was somehow rolling down a hill. I knew where the break was, but the clutch was sticking and I couldn’t shift gears because I couldn’t press all the way down. It stalled, I started it again, but then couldn’t get it to move.

I had found myself at a dead end at the bottom of a hill right in front of a gated house. The dogs behind the gate were howling and barking and I kept trying to start and then it would stall; this repeated itself 4-5 times. Finally a woman came out and was really confused as to what the hell I was doing. She was so kind but said something like, “maybe it wasn’t really the best idea to practice on these streets, in the dark, on a hill.” I GUESS NOT.

She got it started for me and turn it around so I could mosey my way back to the mom. The mom had to have been waiting a good 20 minutes for me. She didn’t seem to be too worried why I was gone so long or why I was flushed with embarrassment and fear.

She got behind the wheel, and we left the confusing streets to get back to the pitch black country road that takes us to the house. She told me to get in the driver’s seat and try again. I was already a little traumatized by the last incident but kept repeating that inspirational quote in my head. YOU HAVE TO PUSH YOURSELF ALLISON.

I would get two feet, and then we would cringe with unpleasant noises coming from all ends of the car when I tried to shift or break, the car would jerk, and then it would stall. We had to be quick when it stalled, because as you might recall the battery was very weak and if the lights were left on when the car was off we could be stuck for a while. Meanwhile all of this is happening, she’s taken a negative tone and gotten very annoyed with me. She truly didn’t understand why on earth I just wasn’t getting it.

I was so frustrated with myself (WHY DIDN’T THAT INSPIRATIONAL QUOTE WORK), worried that she thought I was a complete idiot, and besides that, sulking in the fact that if I didn’t learn how to drive soon, I would never get out of that house. I would be a prisoner in a beautiful house that I couldn’t even enjoy, because, who cares if your prison is a mansion? It’s still a prison.

As soon as we got home, I had to shut myself in my little house because I immediately burst into tears. I couldn’t contain my emotions. Then a few minutes later she came knocking on my door asking if I wanted dinner. I tried to answer from my room but it’s hard to hide the emotion in your voice when you’re crying. She made me open the door and she saw my red and wet face. Then she really thought I was an idiot (she said it was ridiculous I was crying). Better yet, she forced me to come inside and eat, and she had invited a friend over to join us.

You know when you start crying, and then you just can’t stop? It’s like your fine, and you’re over it, but the tears just keep flowing? You might be fine for a second, then something triggers your sadness/frustration, and it starts all over again? That was the entire hour-long dinner.

The friend would make some meaningless conversation just to talk, and I would answer, but then halfway through my response it would be like pipes bursting.  I would be wiping my tears from the tortilla on my plate and blowing my nose to the cooing of repeated, “TRANQUILA, TRANQUILA, TRANQUILA, YA ESTA ALLISON”

The worst part is, in the way they try to calm you down, it sounds like they are yelling at you, which makes you cry even more. You could say I was a bit of a mess.

It All Went Up From There

After that incident, I never rode with the mother again. Instead, the housekeeper described at the beginning was the one who really taught me how to drive. She made more sense to me, she was more patient, and she understood what I was going through.

Thank god for her help, after three times going out in the car with her I was driving just fine.

It still took me about a month before I could stop getting flushed and petrified by each roundabout. I still stalled in while waiting in traffic on a hill. In fact, I still do.

But when I was starting to get the hang of it, I stopped being so nervous and started to find humor in the various incidences that happened to me. Instead of getting angry at the workmen who would chuckle when they saw me stall, I would honk and wave at them. I got a lot of thumbs-up signs and smiles from by-passers and witnesses to my many mistakes.

I’ve broken down on a highway and had nice people help me push the car to the side, I’ve broken down on the way to drop the girl off at school (she really freaked out at that one. Punching the seat, banging herself against door, screaming and crying while I’m trying to figure out what I’ve done wrong). I’ve had a lot of trials with this car, but in the end, I am so lucky to have one on this island.

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Don’t hate me ‘cause I’m beautiful

My friends may be fearful of my jerkiness, they may be scared of how to pull the string to open the passenger’s door, and they may hate that smell of gas that secretes when you shove more than two people in the car. But either way, we’ve gotten to go on amazing hikes, seen more remote parts of the island and had more freedom than most.

BONUS SECTION:

I’m not the only one who has learned to drive on this island! Check out my friend Daphne’s hilarious experience in driving school in Ibiza. My favorite part of her post:

The teacher, Nando, was quite a character and took the classes in a very particular style. There was lots of shouting and banging on the white board as well and endless swear words and sexual references which had the class clapping and howling with laughter. Moreover, the speed at which he talked was quite something. To get us to remember the facts, he would fire questions at a million miles an hour, repeating them over and over so the answers would stick in people’s heads. This was too much to cope with at first and I sat at the back totally lost; clueless as to what had just been said and what was so funny.

A few weeks in however, and I was getting the hang of it. Nando’s technique was actually effective and the constant repetition of facts and figures meant they were sticking. I was even laughing at his vulgar jokes. Even so, I can’t say he was the most honest of teachers. It was soon evident that he wasn’t there to teach us the road rules but the tricks to the exam. Each week he claimed he had ‘seen the questions’ on the test and did everything he could to get us to pass. This even went as far as making stickers that he advised everyone to stick on their arm when they went into the exam! Only in Spain.

If you are considering driving in Spain, don’t forget to learn the rules of the road. I had some difficulties at first because street signs and laws are a bit different!

I Never Thought I Would End Up Living In A Zoo: One Girl’s Story Of Her Relationship With Animals

If you were on the edge of your seat, I would like to begin this post by reassuring you: Yes, the new chicks have made it (so far). We even survived the uprising of the kitchen when one tough guy figured out how to get through a crack in the cage and subsequently informed his loyal followers. I opened the door and was bombarded by pooping, screaming, chicks.

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When chicks attack

We have to be careful that the feral cats don’t eat them for lunch (see below for more details on them), but aside from that it’s been smooth sailing. I’m glad I was able to calm your worries. The chicks are amusing, but there more animals around the property besides them, and it’s unfair that they have been in the limelight so much.

Son, not Sun

The first day I stayed at the house, I was greeted by a fat, lazy, slobbery white Labrador named Son. Son and I later developed a love-hate relationship, where I feel bad that no one cares about him but at the same time I can’t deny the fact that he is also very bothersome.

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If looks could kill

He has a habitual sad look in his eyes that is emphasized when he watches us eat dinner through the enormous glass doors that surround the kitchen. He is not allowed inside the house. First, because he pees everywhere, and second, because they view animals as unclean creatures that belong outside.

Unfortunately, he’s often the butt of the joke. For example, “Well, we bought Son to accompany the grandmother but look at how stupid he turned out. He’s not worth much.” And the minute I think, “No, he’s so much more than that!” I am convinced otherwise when he follows me when I try to do Zumba outside and he pounces on me and prevents any workout from taking place.

Once, I thought I outsmarted him. I took my yoga mat up to the roof and began Dustin’s 45 minute ButtKickin’ Power Yoga Flow (thanks for introducing it to me, sister). I was on my second downward dog when I was attacked by heaving panting and paws slapping my ass. You would have thought he was watching too much rap videos.

He steals anything from shoes, socks, to the girl’s school uniform if left unattended. You try to sneak outside to sit in the sun on the patio for a moment, and seconds after you close your eyes you are surprised by a long tongue caressing your legs.

Like I mentioned, very bothersome.

That Darn Cat?

That same day I arrived at the house, I was also greeted by what would become my greatest enemy of the house: a gang of feral cats. As I walked through the patio from the laundry room that connects to the garage to the main house, I was taken aback by the various pitches, lengths, and volumes of “meows” that vied for my attention. I counted 17 cats. SEVENTEEN. They come close, low to the ground, then pounce backwards as if they were in an action movie. They lurk above the patio on the flat roof and watch you like you’re about to throw the first punch. Sometimes they just lounge while banging their tail on the tiles and casually meow like you’re their waiter at the Ritz Carlton.

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THEY AREN’T CUTE

I said to the girl, “Wow, you have a lot of cats. Do you have names for all of them?” to which she quickly replied, spurting out several names like “princess,” “gypsy,” “furry” – which turned out to be complete lies. At the time, the fact that they were wild was an important detail I was unaware of.

One quickly figures out that said cats are not domesticated, and in fact, feral when an attempts to get close to them end up in a shrill winning that sounds like a baby being thrown out a window.

Daytime consists of being closed in by several cats, being literally catcalled, and watched by big brother feline. I recently tried to eat lunch outside. I was relishing my pasta and meat sauce when one cat approached. Then two, then three, then four. Soon at least 10 were circling the table, jumping on the chairs…taunting me relentlessly. I finally gave up and ran inside after beings scared shitless by long haired black cat hissing from three inches away from my right ear.

Nighttime, nonetheless, is a different story. Walk out of your room onto the patio and in the darkness see 20 pairs of glaring glow-in-the-dark eyes watching your every move. Trying to leave to go out (I hope I wasn’t going to Pacha), and being delayed twenty minutes by trying to help one of the long haired brown furred cats get its head out of a tin can it was stuck in. It had taken me a while to figure out what the banging sound near my car was. I found the light switch, turned it on, and wasn’t sure to laugh or feel bad for the little guy who was roaming around with an old canned corn on his head. Confusing me with another enemy trying to steal his food, the twenty minutes were occupied by his/her wails making me cringe and quick steps to the right, left, front and back. By the time I set him free my hand was bloody from the slice of the can. I might have even got bitten. The cat didn’t even say thank you. So ungrateful.

(It’s a common scene to come home or conversely wake up to garbage strewn out in the garage or on the patio. Feral cats have to eat something…)

I can’t even imagine the personalities David Sedaris could create with their audacious personalities.

Deep into the night is even scarier. Often I’m woken up by the same shrill baby sound, and when fear descends on me I am again reminded of the jungle that is my casa de campo. Sometimes different bands of wild cats have territorial battles on my roof. It sounds like a WWE match happened live above my head. Either big steroid-filled men, or wolves throwing each other on the ground. I wonder if they finish off the carcasses before daylight.

In the Time of Luna and Russell

The cats in our house weren’t always feral, however. For a short six weeks the mother toyed with the idea of having domesticated cats live with the girl. Animals bring her happiness and purpose, so the mom believed it would help her low self-esteem.

One day in November, the cousin brought two adorable gray and white striped kittens home. They were just bigger than my hand. The girl was delighted. She named them Luna and Russell. I was about to ask her why when she beat me to it: “Don’t ask me why, Allison, because I don’t know.”

At first it was all fun and games. They were cute. They were clumsy. Their meows were soft and precious reminders that the world is a beautiful place. They were learning what life was, they were excited by everything, and the cuddled with you whenever you wanted (my allergies prevented me from indulging in this).

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I despise you

After three short weeks, I began to daydream and entertain myself with fantasies of getting rid of them…. If you catch my drift. The honeymoon stage sure ended quickly.

Imagine that having Luna and Russell in your presence was like having Son interrupt your yoga session with ass slaps every day, all day.

You’re late for work? Don’t care. I’ll make your journey with hot tea impossible by stepping on your toes and making you trip and spill it all over you.”

“Oh, you want to have a private English class in the kitchen? I’ll make sure to run in as soon as the door opens and shit all over your whiteboard.”

“What? You don’t love the smell of our feces all over your things? Gosh, you can’t appreciate the vanguard these days.”

“You like to sleep at night? I’m going to make that impossible by scratching at your wooden door until 6am and meowing until you give me food or let me make a beeline for your bed.”

“Did you want that food you just made and placed on the counter? Because if you don’t mind I’ll jump on the island and begin to lick your toast and jam. No, calm down, Allison. Just a taste.”

And many more. I was done. I didn’t think they were cute. I despised their privilege and attention.

Once they got big enough, they joined the rest of the association of wild cast. But we always knew they were different. They were once house cats. They came from luxury; these feral cats could never understand what it was like. The brother and sister duo mostly stuck to themselves, climbing trees with their growing claws, hopping like bunnies through the tall grass, watching the girl and I play basketball or tennis. You understand, civilized activities.

Lucky for me, I got home from school one day and realized I wasn’t being bothered. I knew something was up. I asked the mom, “And the annoying little twats?”

They had been taken to “another home.” She begged me to lie to the little girl and say they joined the rest of the band of wild cats who had migrated to the neighbor’s house. They found out she was giving away spoiled paella. While it took her a few days to find out, and subsequently a few weeks to recover from the emotional damage, they are now a distant memory. Once and while she’ll make references to the happier times…back when they were balls of fluff and not raging maniacs.

Wait, There’s More

The most entertaining part about living in the house, aside from the grandmother, are the many precocious creatures who inhabit, or rather, invade it. And Son and those cats aren’t the only ones.

The nighttime is also filled with the cawing of a bird similar to that in the movie Up, and often I am confused as to whether or not sirens are sounding, someone is breaking into the house, or if it’s just that same bird again.

Then there are the frogs. The frogs weren’t such a problem until the weather started getting warmer and they started the mating process. Behind the main house there is a small retention pond, where over the course of the last month has gone from empty to completely taken over by an estimated 30-40 frogs. Jumping on each other, splashing, and producing minnows like there’s no tomorrow.

Living the same lifestyles as those damn cats, the frogs have a pretty hectic daytime schedule. But my god, they are also busy at night. Their ribbits are so deep it sounds like it’s magnified like a David Guetta show at Pacha.

Wait, you thought roosters only crowed at dawn? THINK AGAIN. They crow all damn night.

That is considering, however, that in my typical sleepy state every small noise feels much louder than it actually is. One might consider this entire post an over-dramatic fabrication of an insignificant detail.

But alas, this is my life now.