Für alle jene Blog-Leser*innen, die ihre Englischkenntnisse testen möchten bzw. auffrischen möchten, haben wir den Blogbeitrag „Granny Aupair oder Oma auf Zeit: Ein Erfahrungsbericht“ auch auf englisch!

The idea of being a granny au pair had been in my head for years. I always planned to do it when I retired. In the summer of 2023, I realized this plan. I explored the possibilities on the internet and found some interesting destinations and families. To find out which family would suit me best, I had at least one phone call with each family. After these conversations, I narrowed it down to two families. In the end, I decided on a working single mum with a small child. I thought this family could really use my support.

Although the telephone and written contacts with the mum before my departure were all very friendly and encouraging, I left with a certain amount of uncertainty:

– What could I expect over the next few weeks?

– How will the two-and-a-half-year-old react to me? How will the mum?

– Will I be able to establish quickly a basis of trust with both of them?

– Do we have similar ideas about parenting?

– What will everyday life be like for the three of us?

– How will I feel about my new role as a „temporary granny“ and the tasks that come with it?

These were not the only questions on my mind during the train journey. I knew from my few experiences as a short-term nanny that I enjoyed spending time with children and that I was especially good with small children. But you never know. And my work as a nanny was always previously limited to one afternoon a week for a few months at a time. Now I would be living with the family 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for several weeks. And in a different country to boot!

It rained during the journey. When I got off at my destination, the sun was shining. I took that as a good omen. There was still one more hurdle to overcome: finding a way to buy a tram ticket. A friendly young man, whom I asked for help, found a ticket machine for me and helped me to buy the ticket. After about 35 minutes of travelling, I arrived at my new address for the next few weeks. The house was on a busy road with a wide green strip with tall old trees between the two lanes. I reached the front door through a small front garden. I rang the bell and a friendly, smiling woman appeared above me on the balcony and greeted me warmly. She opened the front door, came to meet me and helped me carry my luggage up the stairs. The flat was in an old building and had four rooms. My room was very large, so I didn’t feel claustrophobic. The mattress on the bed was very comfortable for my back, not too soft and not too hard. At my age, the bed is often the most important piece of furniture if you want to feel comfortable in a new place for a long time.

Tea was waiting for me in the kitchen. The little one was not yet awake from his afternoon nap. Mum and I chatted in the kitchen and decided that later, when I had unpacked, the three of us would go for a walk around the neighbourhood and visit one of the nearby playgrounds.

While I was unpacking my suitcase in my room, I heard a child’s voice from next door. Suddenly my door opened and a little blond boy with blue eyes looked in curiously. We greeted each other. He wasn’t a shy one. After a few minutes of standing in the doorway and watching me unpack, he invited me into his playroom and showed me his library. He took one of the picture books, sat down on the couch and gestured for me to take a seat next to him. He then opened the book and pointed to the text with the comment „Read that!“ I was to hear this sentence many times during my stay. His bright voice and the sentence still ring in my ears. I have to smile every time the phrase comes to mind. Oh yes, he was a careful and strict listener! If I allowed myself to insert a word or omit a sentence, I was immediately told to „Read that!“ I didn’t understand that at first, as I was reading anyway. His mum later explained to me that he knew every book by heart and that, if something wasn’t what he was used to, he would immediately say „Read there!“, which meant: „Read what it says and nothing else!“

The next morning, mum and I took the little blond boy to kindergarten. I was introduced and it was noted that I would be allowed to pick up and drop off Erik over the next few weeks. Mum and I agreed that we would meet back at the kindergarten at 2.30 pm and pick Erik up together. From the third day onwards, most of the days I brought him alone in the morning and picked him up alone in the afternoon.

Between the fixed times at the kindergarten, I explored the city, the individual neighbourhoods, the museums and the parks. I quickly found my favourite coffee house, where I liked to have breakfast and read the newspaper. I felt at home in the city. I thought it was a city worth living in. The people I met were (in contrast to my hometown) almost without exception very friendly, helpful and considerate. I never experienced any aggressive behaviour from drivers, pedestrians or cyclists.

Erik and I spent the afternoon exploring the neighbourhood in the „Erik-Taxi“, as I called his pram. Erik was a bit lazy on his feet. Walking was not his thing. He preferred to be driven around the neighbourhood and looked at everything interesting from the Erik-Taxi. He made a point of visiting building sites and road junctions every day. Construction vehicles such as excavators, steamrollers, tipper lorries, concrete mixers and cranes were at least as interesting as trams, articulated buses, motorbikes, convertibles and lorries. It was a great experience for him to observe this closely and it could take us at least half an hour, even if it was raining. I now know the difference between a shovel, bucket and suction excavator. One day, the rubbish collection was particularly interesting. His grandma had given him an orange rubbish collection vehicle toy. Mum ordered the matching rubbish bins on the internet and from then on we played rubbish collection at home every day. And when we saw the real rubbish truck in action on the street, that was the highlight of the day.

Of course, the playgrounds in the neighbourhood were also a destination on our afternoons. When I first arrived, playing in the sand was the only thing that interested him. After a few weeks, he became interested in sliding and swinging. Towards the end of my stay, he was already eagerly climbing. There wasn’t much motivation to play ball games. Every now and then we played football or basketball in the flat, with the door frame as the goal and an empty shelf serving as a basketball hoop. Jumping, especially from the wide windowsill in my room onto my big bed, was much more fun for Erik. That was the exercise programme he practised a lot on bad weather days.

At home, there were also at least 150 plastic animals of all kinds in various sizes. These were happily placed on the floor in the playroom according to various criteria: Which animals live on the farm? Which animals live in the forest? Which animals live in the zoo? Which animals live on land? Which ones live in water? Which animals can fly? Which animals are dangerous? Mum and Erik built a nice big giraffe house out of Lego bricks, which one day was converted into a car park for the numerous toy cars.

And then one day a wooden toy car park arrived with his aunt and uncle. It even had a lift for the cars! Now the toy cars were diligently driven into the car park – usually they were all parked very close together on the top level. From this point on, along the way during our explorations, we carefully studied the car park and parking garage entrances for long periods. It was a special experience when we saw a car drive in or out and the barrier rise and fall.

On fair weather days, the first sentence I heard when I picked Erik up from nursery was „We want to go feeding the fish.“ So, the afternoon programme was already clear. We made our way to a nearby park where there was a small pond with fish. There we eagerly cut up or crumbled the bread roll from the previous day into small pieces and then threw them into the water. We also spotted two small water turtles, and every now and then a heron flew in to sit on a small stone statue in the centre of the pond and preen its feathers.  Towards the end of my stay, the fish were so fat that I rationed the bread rolls, as I was afraid that the fish would soon burst if we continued to feed them so intensively. One day, however, nature provided a fasting period for the fish. A pair of ducks turned up with three tiny little chicks. Duck dad in particular was very greedy to get the bread. He snatched some of the pieces of bread from the open mouths of the fish. The fish retreated, kept their distance and left the bread to the ducks from then on.

Erik was an extremely “hip-friendly” child – as his mother characterised him one day. By that she meant, it is not necessary to sit and move a lot on the ground. True, kneeling and sitting on the floor to play together was not the main part of my job. Instead, the little blond boy and I spent many hours reading and looking at books on the couch. The selection of his own books was already very large, but was constantly being expanded with books from the library.

Dr Zoo, as I liked to call him because of his great interest and knowledge of animals, soon found out that there were photos of cats and a dog in my photo gallery on my phone. He especially loved the video of the little cats hiding under the blanket and then getting tangled up in the fringes and having to fight for a long time to free themselves again. Emma, a friend’s dog, was also on the programme almost every day: „Want to see Emma!“ I can still hear his wish today. Or the short videos of a friend showing a cat drinking from the shower head. After just a few days, these photos and videos proved to be a motivational tool for the little blond boy to walk the stairs in the stairwell quickly on his own. The prospect of being allowed to look at the photos upstairs in his room didn’t always work. On some days, it took up to 30 minutes to get from the ground floor to the first floor.  I shortened the waiting time by sitting on the steps and reading a book.

Erik could already walk well, but he really wanted to be carried. He tried everything he could. But I knew my back had its pitfalls. Carrying Erik up the steps would have been too much for my spine. The prospect of being able to look at the animal photos upstairs in the living room was more or less convincing for Erik, although sometimes it took a long time, and he sometimes got to the first floor on two legs, sometimes on all fours.

I was impressed by Erik’s memory. After seeing a photo just once and hearing the name of the person in the photo, he would say the name himself the next time he looked at the photo or he would say „Emma with Susi at dog school.“ So not only is Emma, my friend’s dog, a household name for Erik, he also knows the names and faces of Emma’s owner. And I’m sure that when I go to visit Erik and his mum in a few months‘ time, or when they come to visit me, one of his first sentences will be: „Want to see Emma!“

There was deliberately no TV set in the flat. Erik was only rarely allowed to use a computer or a mobile phone to watch videos. And when, the films were mostly just animal documentaries or short videos of the rubbish collection. The aim was to avoid passive entertainment for Erik.

What else comes to mind when I think about the past few weeks? What else have Erik and I done? Many a rainy day was shortened by hours of sitting at the window sill (Erik) and standing at the window (me) to watch the numerous cars driving past, with every articulated bus, police car, ambulance and lorry of every kind being enthusiastically announced by Erik. In this way, we practised the types and colours of cars. Dogs being walked in the green zone between the lanes in front of our house were a welcome change from the cars.

Although the weather was beautiful during my stay, there were one or two rainy days, sometimes in succession. So, we had to keep ourselves busy at home. Reading and looking at picture books for hours on end was too much for both of us at some point. So, nevertheless Granny Aupair tried her hand at floor gymnastics or floor exercises to play Lego and Duplo together, set up a large zoo landscape with plastic animals or move cars back and forth on the road-patterned carpet. Many a pillow fight shortened the hours at home, too.

I would like to pay Erik’s mum a big compliment. She is a single mother and has a very demanding job. In my opinion, her interaction with the child is very appreciative, respectful, humorous, uncomplicated and, above all, loving. I was also very impressed by her creativity and her ingenuity in guiding, encouraging and challenging her son.

The „Granny Aupair“ experience was interesting and enriching in many ways. It wasn’t an experiment. It was a life experience that I will gladly repeat again. Granny hopes that the contact with Erik and his mum will not be lost despite the great physical distance.

Translated with the help of DeepL (free version)