Thursday, 12 July 2012

I cannot live without her…

Like most working women, Angela Epstein needs help. Her life is dependent on a significant other, someone with whom she’s besotted. No, not her hubby, the au pair…

Written by Angela Epstein
I've just spent the last hour sitting in a dark room, damp flannel on forehead, trying to calm myself down. I'd been expecting the worst – how was I going to cope – but miraculously my fears had been misplaced. You see, when my au pair uttered the portentous words: 'can we have a talk', I assumed she'd already been on the internet and booked herself a one-way ticket back to the Czech Republic.

Actually, all she wanted to know was whether she could take a few days o€ to go to some music festival. I nearly expired with shock and she nearly expired with fright when I practically steamrollered her with a bear hug and thanked her for not leaving me.

You see, my name is Angela and I'm addicted to my au pair. No, not in a weird, Stephen King-novel kind of way. I simply cannot manage without her.

Look, I know, I should be a bit more grown up about these things. But Eva is the centre of my world (yes, move over children). She maintains order in my life, remembers to bring the washing in when it's raining, always Šfinds my car keys when I can't, and generally ensures that my domestic environment never strays into chaos and confusion.

So, why the dependency? I mean my children are hardly babies: Sam, 19, is away on his gap year, while Max, 17, Aaron, 13, and Sophie, eight, are perfectly capable of getting ready for school all by themselves (once they've been dragged out of bed). And though I do juggle a busy home life, with a husband who works long hours, and a freelance writing career, surely I could manage with just a cleaner a couple of times a week?

That's what my friends constantly tell me. But employing Eva means far more than simply having someone around who can, with Harry Potter-esque magical power, transform my house from looking like it has been burgled into something warm and inviting. It's a bit like having the tooth fairy on the payroll, since all those hideous jobs such as scouring the bowl you left soaking with the remnants of last night's lasagne, are miraculously dispatched.

The dishwasher is always unloaded (my husband pleads a bad back and my children assume that a sink is the natural home for dirty dinner plates), and those bags of Tesco shopping are emptied faster than you can say 'Every little helps'.

Employing Eva also means there is someone to stay at home for one of those annoying 'am or pm' repair-man appointments. My au pair is the other 'me': the mummy I would be in the parallel universe of the Fairy Liquid advert. With a crowded and unpredictable working life, I know I can dash off to an appointment and rely on Eva to be there when Sophie gets home from school.

So, does all this make me a pampered princess whose French manicured fingernails have never been within touching distance of a shammy leather?

Actually, no. In fact when my husband first put forward the suggestion of having an au pair many years ago, I was resistant to the idea. Not because I thought he'd run off with some Twiglet-thin Slavic goddess (let her pick up his socks). No, I didn't fancy the idea of sharing my house with 'a stranger'.

But when I became pregnant with Sophie, knuckled by tiredness and blessed with a spare bedroom, I capitulated.

When my first au pair, Silvia, arrived, a smiley, strapping lass from Bratislava, I knew my husband had been right. Particularly when we brought baby Sophie home from hospital – to a neat-as-a-newpin house – and Silvia sat holding her while I gorged on all the food friends had brought round.

That was eight years ago, and since then there have been several au pairs. They usually stay about 18 months, long enough to grasp the language, find a place to live with friends, or decide to go home. On the whole they've been peaches – well, Lenka didn't say much, despite my efforts to communicate, but ironing is an international language. Above all, my au pairs ensure I stay sane.

When Sophie has a tantrum, refusing to eat supper or go to bed, Eva slips in, plays good cop to my bad cop and deŠflects her attention by telling her a story. 'You go for a walk,' she suggests, allowing me to slip out for half an hour to jog my way back from blood-boiling incapacity. By the same token, it means Martin and I can be spontaneous, nipping out for dinner or the cinema when we feel the need to get to know each other again.

I could say I've been lucky. While there are 12,000 au pairs working o" cially in the UK – although the real number is in excess of 100,000 – I'm sure they don't all have perfect party manners. I treasure mine and treat them well: for they are the key to my freedom and my sanity. And the ironing gets done, too.

For all you need to know about hiring or becoming an au pair, contact the British Au Pair Agencies Association: 07946-149916,

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