A beautiful spring day at GasWorks Park in Seattle
Spring is starting to show its lovely face in Seattle, and the warm sun and beautiful flower in bloom have served to encourage me to bring my period of blog hibernation to a close. I’ve missed it, certainly, when I stopped to really consider its absence in my life, but for the most part, I’ve been bouncing from one incredible experience to another and just living life so wholly that it has only recently crept back into my daily thoughts. All of which is to say: I’m excited to start blogging again!
When I ceased blogging at the beginning of March, I made only vague allusions to my reasons for leaving Amsterdam after only five months (when I had made a year-long commitment), and I had promised to share some horror stories when I returned to blogging. But after more than a month ruminating on it, I decided that it was in poor taste to share detailed stories about the family that I worked for. The thought seemed exploitative and unkind, and those are two adjectives I don’t want attached to me. I will, however, try to explain how and why it became apparent that returning to Seattle was the best option for me, and for everyone involved.
I had only been in Amsterdam for ten days before I knew, without question, that I was not going to be able to last the entire year. Even now, it kind of amazes me to think that it took such a short period of time to reach the conclusion that there was a huge disconnect between my expectations going into this and the reality of the situation. I had envisioned a scenario in which I was welcomed as if I were part of their family, where I built a lasting friendship with the parents and came to think of the children as my little brother and sister; in hindsight, it seems naive to expect such things, but I’d known former au pairs whose experience mirrored those expectations, and maybe I was just hoping so hard for something better than my previous job that I blinded myself to the possibility of a less-than-stellar situation.
What I found, instead, when I arrived was a family that had no interest in welcoming me into their familial fold, or any interest in getting to know me at all. The parents set the tone: from the very beginning, if ever I would linger for a few minutes after they arrived home from work, they would say to me, with what they probably felt was a great degree of politeness, that I could feel free to leave, to go back to my own apartment, and if I didn’t leave immediately, they would simply start speaking to the children in Dutch as if I weren’t there. They took me with them on a weekend trip to Paris, and as I walked around the city and ascended the Eiffel Tower with them, it was overwhelmingly uncomfortable. I felt like a complete outsider, like I was following behind the family at a distance and like that was the way they preferred it. When we made the five-hour return drive from Paris to Amsterdam, they didn’t speak to me at all, even after the children had fallen asleep; they simply spoke to each other in Dutch the entire way. They never asked me any questions about myself, or about my family or my life in Seattle; by the time I left, they didn’t even know if I had any siblings. They made it clear that, to them, I was simply an employee and not someone that they were willing to invest in as a person. As a result, their children exhibited the same kind of attitude toward me, only more extreme. They always wanted to play alone instead of playing with me, and any time I tried to engage them, they just ignored me. I tried to ask them how their day at school was, and they just ignored me. When I tried to get them to follow directions, they ignored me. No matter what I did they had no respect for me as an adult authority figure, and their parents did nothing to discourage that. I tried to talk to the parents multiple times about what a struggle it was to get the children to listen to me and that I felt helpless, and they told me that it was up to me to earn their children’s respect.
There were several other factors that contributed to my daily unhappiness in the five months that I resided in Amsterdam, but this was the one thing that I could not abide. I couldn’t keep living in an environment where I wasn’t valued as a person, but only as a source of labor, and it became obvious that the parents and I were not going to be able to find a happy middle ground. For about two months, I researched what it would take to go to another European country to be an au pair, and it would have been incredibly difficult to do without first returning to the U.S. to take care of visas and work permits and such. I tried to find another family in Amsterdam to be an au pair for, but was also unsuccessful. And so, my two options became clear: stick it out in a deeply unhappy and unsatisfying situation, or go home. I chose home. For a while, I felt really guilty about leaving them early and about not following through on the year-long commitment I made. But ultimately, I realized that nothing is worth such a high level of unhappiness; the three days a month I was able to travel weren’t worth the other twenty-seven days of the month that were miserable. I moved to Europe to have an experience and what I got was a job, so I let it go and, before I left, opened myself up to a new experience that I could remember with fondness.
After I left my job, I traveled around Europe alone for three weeks, from Northern Ireland to Scotland to Sweden to Portugal to Spain to Iceland, and it was the best experience I’ve ever had. Ever. Like, I barely possess the words to accurately describe how grand it all was. But I’m going to try! In the next couple days, I’ll be recounting those three weeks with photos, anecdotes and a pretty rad video of some of the highlights of my travels. I’m so excited to share it all with you! #EUROTOUR2012! So much awesome is in store for your eyes, I promise. I can’t wait.