Unbelievable as it seems, we had no regular babysitters until the boys were born. What were we thinking? We stayed at home with our daughter for 2 and a half years worth of evenings. This is the kind of thing I now ridicule new parents for (in the inner recesses of my brain, clearly, not publicly, they have enough to endure, poor souls).
Shortly before the boys were born, friends of ours, fellow-parents, told us that they had a babysitter every Saturday night, no matter what. “But, surely,” we babbled, “you’re too tired.” “True,” they conceded, “some nights you’d really prefer to crawl into bed but you’re always tired, so you might as well get out regularly.” We took this piece of advice away, pondered on it and found it good.
When the boys were born, we decided to go for a Rolls Royce childcare solution (we were richer then, now we regret spending money like water, you will be pleased to hear). We had a creche full-time and a woman to mind them at home 2-3 days a week. If she was sick, we could take them into the creche. If they were sick, she could mind them at home. It worked very well from a practical point of view.
That first woman we recruited was called Charity. She came from the Philippines. I met her upstairs in the neighbours’ flat while she was cleaning and I was feeding their cats (they were on holidays). Enterprisingly, she asked whether I had any cleaning work I needed doing. I had not but I asked about her childcare experience. We struck a deal and for the next three years she was part of our daily lives. The children didn’t like her much; she was strict. On the plus side, she had two young daughters of her own who adored the boys and she was amazingly efficient. Theoretically, I would have liked her to have spent more time playing stimulating games with the boys but practically, it was quite nice to come home to a clean and tidy flat and fed children.
She was supplemented by Cheryl, a lovely, gentle woman from the Philippines and Yolanda who had spent many years in Belgium while her children grew up in the Philippines and also by Katya, a young French girl studying to be a cartoonist in Belgium. Cheryl I found via a small ad in an ex-pat magazine, Yolanda through a friend and Katya had an ad up in the bakery. Katya was much too kind-hearted to mind our three and I think she used to be worn down by the strain. I spent a fair bit of time with her as I used to go off with her and the children occasionally on Sunday afternoons letting my loving husband have some time off (am I not a good wife) and she was unfailingly patient and kind. Much more unfailingly than, say, me. She has since diversified into landscape gardening but sends us the odd card which I find very touching.
On our return to Ireland, I was determined to find French babysitters for the children, a project which was amazingly easy to realise. Dublin is full of young French women and almost all of them live within a two kilometre circumference of our home. First, we had Aliette, whom Mr. Waffle found through a French ex-pat chatroom. She seemed very strict to me but the children absolutely loved her. She invented clever games for them and she took her task of keeping up their French very much to heart. She was supplemented by three French students whom I met and recruited in the local supermarket. Alas, I have forgotten their names. One of them didn’t like it and only came once and one of them the children didn’t like. The third girl had an extraordinary name that neither my husband or I ever learned to pronounce correctly. Her surname was double barrelled and Mr. Waffle felt that she was the issue of the haute bourgeosie (which also explained her unusual first name). She was extremely pretty and beautifully dressed. Under these circumstances, I could only regard her with extreme dubiety. The children thought she was fabulous. She was kind to them and interested in their concerns. There is a lesson for me there somewhere, I think.
At Christmas, 2008, it was all change. Aliette got an intern job in a New York financial company (she was, alas, overqualified for us) and our three French students finished their semester in Dublin and headed back to France.
I found our current babysitter, F, through an online recruitment service for babysitters. It cost me â‚¬50 to get an account for 12 months but it has been well worth the expenditure. As you will be aware, I am not a big plugger of products but this one really worked for me, so I feel generous. F. has been with us almost a year, collecting the children from creche and school (and now just school) and bringing them home by public transport 4 afternoons a week. I think she’s great. Enthusiastic, obliging and helpful. The children can’t abide her although they did express the mildest enthusiasm for seeing her again after the summer holidays. Sigh. F has been supplemented by: the girl who put up an ad in the local library and, alas, after a month decamped back to France because she could find no other work; Chloe who was v. popular with the Princess but was regarded with less enthusiasm by the boys (finished her stint studying here in the summer and headed back to Lyons) and by our newest find J (also from the website people), who seems lovely. She is doing an arts administration masters in one of the Dublin universities. When we asked why she had moved from Paris to Dublin to study in this field, she replied, with commendable frankness, that she had met a man and followed him here. Unhappy differences had subsequently arisen but we would be glad to hear that she had now met a nice German (un petit allemand). Somewhat overwhelmed by this unexpected information (even, I would hesitate to share quite so much in this context), we nodded encouragingly. She is very much enjoying her course but regards everything to do with marketing as unbearably sordid: how delightfully stereotypical. Like Aliette, she takes her French language duties seriously and when reading English books to the children translates into French as she goes. That’s the kind of enthusiasm, we like to see.
I am recording all this as, some day, the children might like to know who brought them up. I’m sure Mr. James would approve.