Before I became a flight attendant I worked as an au-pair in Italy. And let me tell you, it was one of the best experiences of my life and one that I take such fond memories from. There were massive highs, and some lows of course, but it was one year of my life that shaped me so much. I learnt a new language, learnt how to travel alone, learnt how to cook Italian food PROPERLY(!!), learnt that happiness really comes from within, and I learnt a hell of a lot about how to look after and raise children! Come along and discover the real diary of an au pair: here is my au-pair story. Uncensored.
My au-pair story. 5 different families, all very different experiences – ranging from incredible to hideous, but they all taught me something invaluable.
I didn’t even plan to become an au-pair, it just kind of happened! I had moved to Rome with no job or anything, booked an Airbnb place to stay in for a week, and in that week I needed to find myself some permanent accommodation and a teaching English job. That was my plan: to work in Italy as an English teacher as I had just recently completed my Teaching English as a Foreign Language diploma (TEFL).
I got so many offers for teaching English in schools (I just went in and enquired at both regular schools and language schools and they were all desperate to take me on as they really wanted native English speakers) but all of them could only offer me a couple of hours work each day, and I quickly realised that the money I would be making wouldn’t be enough to pay for my accommodation and cost of living.
Family number 1
On my third evening in Rome I looked on the local website for teaching English jobs, and I came across a post for a live-in tutor/ au-pair. The words ‘live-in’ had me sold! That would solve my problem of paying for accommodation! I didn’t even know what an au-pair was, but I applied and arranged an interview for the following morning with the mother.
When I went to their home to meet her, she seemed fairly cold – like she was sussing me out the whole time and judging me. I thought she was just being formal because she was interviewing me and that she wouldn’t be like that all the time. I met the children and they seemed withdrawn and also displayed this snobbish attitude, and I could tell instantly there was no immediate connection with them, which I felt so sad about as I love children. Surely it will come with time I thought, they’ll loosen up, they’re just being shy.
Anyway, the mother offered me the job and I accepted it. I guess we were just as desperate as each other: she had had no other applicants and really needed help with the children in the evenings and weekends, despite already having a maid, and well, I needed a place to stay. Besides, the location was pretty decent: it was in a VERY affluent and well-off part of town but equally very close to all the historic sites of Rome – you could walk into town or take a short bus ride. Perfect!
It seemed like the best and most convenient option for me as it solved my accommodation and job problems all in one: I would live there rent-free and get a small salary in exchange for working 5 hours each evening and 3 hours on a Saturday morning taking the children to their extra-curricular activities, helping them with their homework and playing games with them, all whilst helping them improve their English. This meant I would still have spare time in the day to pick up some extra cash by doing some of the part-time teaching jobs I had been offered.
We decided I would move in at the end of the week (conveniently just as my Airbnb was up so I didn’t have to spend any more money on accommodation). I secured a job as a Business English teacher for Berlitz working 8 hours a week, just a 5 minute walk down the road, and 4 hours a week working as a Callan English tutor in town. Not bad going: in just a few days I had got everything sorted for my new life in Rome.
The day I was due to move in with the family I joined a Facebook group dedicated to Au-Pairs in Rome in the hope of meeting other girls who had moved to Rome. One girl had literally just written in the page that a few of them would be meeting up in a couple of hours and going for a wander round the city if anyone wanted to join. I thought why not, so I told them I was coming and off I went into town to meet them. It would be good to meet other girls who had moved there I thought, and perhaps one would even live very near me, or I might even meet someone I could become good friends with. Equally though, I was worried that these girls would all be immature 18-21 year olds, and seeing as I was 27, that’s quite an age gap.
When I met them, sure enough they were all quite young compared to me, but despite this, we got on really well and ended up having such a lovely day in Rome between eating pizza and sightseeing and getting to know each other! When we discussed how much money everyone was on, to my delight I discovered I would actually be getting the most money (only €30 a week more than the other girls, but it all adds up!). We all said goodbye in the early evening, exchanged numbers and made plans for the following weekend already, and by this point I was so excited to move in with my host family as all the girls had said how much they love the families they live with and that I’m going to really love it.
However when I moved in the family were pretty quiet and barely got off the sofa or took their eyes off the television to welcome me into the apartment. I sat with the family for a little while, trying to make conversation, but after half an hour or so I just felt like I was interrupting their TV program so I excused myself so I could start unpacking my suitcase. Because I was their first au-pair and it was a new experience for them too, I guess they felt like there was an invasion of privacy in their house and it would take getting used to. Nevertheless I remained positive and told myself things would get better as time went on.
Even though I didn’t connect very well with the family, I was enjoying the lifestyle and routine of an au-pair. I had a lot of free time, I loved not having to commute to work or pay bills, and the job was not so demanding (at least not like my previous job as an xray nurse!). During my second week there the family told me that they would be going skiing for 10 days in Cortina d’Ampezza (a VERY fancy skiing area in The Dolomites, about 90 minutes drive from Venice) the following month, and that I could come if I wanted to, free of course. I’m not a fan of skiing but I googled Cortina and it looked amazing, so I agreed to come, but instead of skiing I would explore alone during the day.
I preferred it that way as I would have my time alone to unwind and discover the gorgeous skiing town. I even made an overnight break in Venice on my days off, which was cool, I was really getting to explore Italy! We actually had a nice time away and the children were a lot more upbeat than they were back home, however on the last day skiing the mum broke her arm which kind of put a downer on things.
When we returned back to Rome, the mother would be lying on the sofa all day with her broken arm and was quite miserable and pessimistic, which after a while I found quite draining. Plus, certain things started to bug me a little, for example the parents would leave their bedroom door open every night because the 6 year old boy would often have nightmares in the middle of the night. This meant I was never really allowed to stay out late with my friends as the parent’s room was right next to the front door of the apartment and so I would wake them up if I came in late as the front door and the floorboards were really loud.
The apartment was also pretty small, the mother was at home all day and the maid was always in, so I felt like I could never be alone and just sit and watch the TV in the living room. Plus my room was tiny (and still decorated as a child’s nursery) so I often felt a bit claustrophobic in the apartment. Luckily I was out teaching most days and at the weekends I would always meet up with the girls and we would hang out and do little day trips so I spent as little time at the apartment as possible when I wasn’t working for the family.
After a while I started to feel that I was always interacting with the children and giving them all my attention but they were giving me nothing back which was draining me of energy too. The 10 year old girl claimed her English was already perfect and so she didn’t need me to help her, and well, the 8 year old boy started to develop some kind of infatuation with me. He would wait outside the bathroom when I was taking a shower and would have his phone ready in his hand, hoping to get a picture of me coming out in a towel. And the odd night when I was lying in bed trying to sleep he would open my bedroom door and watch me ‘sleeping’ for a few seconds. Yeh it was weird and I knew I needed to get out of there!
The family were just too serious for me, the mum was always watching everything I was doing, and there were video cameras in the living room for goodness sake! All my friends were so happy with their host families and I longed to feel that with a family here! Even though I knew this was a great job and a great way to live abroad, I knew it could be much better than what I was currently experiencing.
But before I would leave I would need to find another family first. So I asked the girls how did they find their host families, and they all replied that they found them on the aupairworld website. So I enrolled and started looking for alternative families, only one month into my time living in Italy – not the ideal situation, but I knew I just needed to crack on with it. I wanted to look for a family who also lived central, who lived in a bigger home and a family I would connect with and relate to more. And of course who were ready to have me as soon as possible.
I found one family, well it was just a mother and her 4 year old child, the house was perfect with plenty of space and a big terrace and I had my own en suite. The house was even closer to town and to my friends’ houses, which was great. The mother seemed really lovely and the maid was also so sweet too. The child was having a temper tantrum when I came round to visit them but the mother told me he isn’t always like that. Sometime, but not always. I thought ok, it was surely a step up from the current situation I was in. The house was lovely, the location, I had more privacy, more space, the mother seemed cool, plus one child would be easier than two.
I felt so awkward telling my current host family that I would be leaving them in 2 weeks (the notice period in our contract that the mum drew up and made me sign was 2 weeks) and yeh, things got a hell of a lot more awkward until by the end I was literally SO glad to leave after just 6 weeks being there. It was certainly the shortest time I had ever stayed with one employer, but I just knew it wasn’t the family for me. I couldn’t live somewhere where I constantly felt like a guest in the house and that it wasn’t my home.
Family number 2
So I arrived at my new home with fresh hopes and the mum was so happy and welcoming to me, which really made me feel at home. Her son was being very sweet and cute, giving her lots of cuddles and then, because she was talking to me and not focusing all her attention on him, he started shouting and crying and screaming. The mother tried to calm him down but he just became more hysterical, and so the maid took him to his room to play with him.
The mum then started to explain to me that her son had behavioural issues and he is very clingy to her. That he has problems interacting with other people and sharing things, trusting people, and that it may take him a little while to get used to me. That sometimes she even has to leave work early because the kindergarten is calling her to collect her son because he won’t stop crying for her.
I understood and totally respected the situation, and told her whatever she expects from me I will do my best. She told me that she had already had a few au-pairs and all of them had walked out after a few weeks because her child just didn’t take to them and would refuse to do anything with the au-pair. I actually felt so much empathy for the mother as I could see she was chronically stressed and I really wanted to help her and hoped her son would grow to like and trust me, but equally I was starting to think have I bit off more than I can chew here?
Sometimes the child would have good days and would be giving me cuddles all the time, whereas other times he would have really bad days and would hit me, try to bit me, or just not want to interact at all and would be very withdrawn and moody. Even trying to get him to walk the 5 minute walk to school was a mammoth task and you felt like you deserved a medal once you had achieved it. I was beginning to think I was really lousy with kids, even though deep down I knew I wasn’t, but I just felt bad that the two families I had been with I hadn’t had the greatest connection with the children.
The mother only required me 3 days a week (as the child wanted to spend time with the mother as much as possible), which was good for me as it meant I had a lot of free time! This meant I was able to pick up a bit of extra work and I also started to do weekend trips away within Italy with the money I was saving. A friend from home came and stayed with me for a few days (the mother was kind enough to let her stay with us) and she would go off sightseeing herself when I had to work, and then we would explore more of Rome together when I was off.
A stroke of luck
Through the Facebook group (where I had found my friends), a woman found me and contacted me saying she didn’t need a live-in au-pair as her children had had one for several years, but that would I be able to come around a couple evenings a week and just have conversation practice with her 2 teenagers. She asked me to come around one Sunday just to meet the children and see if I would like to do it, so I agreed to go to their house, even though it was on the complete other side of Rome so it took 1.5 hours to get there!
When I got there, I was so happy to find a completely dare I say it, ‘normal’ family. The parents were so lovely, the teenagers were so polite and chatty that I even started to wish they WOULD need a live-in au-pair! They invited me to join them for dinner at their dinner table, along with the father’s sister and her husband who were visiting from Sicily.
Over the dinner table the family were all interacting and asking me about my experiences in Rome so far, and I mentioned how I liked Rome but it didn’t feel like home, and I briefly mentioned my experiences so far as an au-pair there. They could sense I wasn’t entirely settled, and then the father’s sister said ‘Well, how do you feel about coming down to Sicily?’. Well I was certainly intrigued by the idea of Sicily! But to do what there, I mean I couldn’t see signs of any child! She then said ‘My baby is in the bedroom sleeping, would you like to have a look at him?’.
Baby I though. Hell yeh! Babies and toddlers were my favourite! She showed me this beautiful little boy sleeping and my heart melted. She told me he was 15 months old and that even though it is very early for him to have an au-pair, she really wanted him to speak with a British accent, to learn from a native British, and not have an Italian accent when he spoke English, so she wanted to get him in the habit of listening to native speakers early so his brain will start to understand and mimic the sounds. I told her I definitely wanted to come and stay with them, but I had only been with this new family (family number 2) for 2 weeks, I couldn’t possibly leave them so early on I would feel terrible. We exchanged numbers and kept in touch anyway.
I would go and visit the teenagers every week and I really enjoyed spending this time with this family: I would always leave them feeling so happy, and then I would be coming back home to a stressful house and the mum would often shout at the boy and hit him as his behaviour was really challenging. Waking up every day not knowing which mood the boy will be in, feeling like you’re constantly walking on eggshells with him as if you say the wrong thing he will have a full-on tantrum, it was just getting too much. I came to Italy to enjoy myself, not to feel stressed, which was how I was starting to feel.
I started thinking more and more about the family in Sicily and how stress-free and happy the life would be down there. Each time I visited the teenagers in Rome for conversation classes I would ask them about Sicily, and they talked about it like it was the best place on the planet. My mind started to wander and I came so fixed on moving down to Sicily to experience this place for myself. I knew Rome, nor this current host family I was living with were where I belonged. I mean, I liked Rome, but something was missing, and I just had a feeling I would find it in Sicily.
So after surviving about 10 weeks with family number 2 I decided I needed to get out of this stressful environment, told the family in Sicily I was coming to stay with them, and I booked a one-way flight to Palermo. Giving the current host mother the news that I would be leaving the following weekend was awful. It was absolutely awful.
She kept asking me why I was leaving and I just couldn’t say the truth. I couldn’t say her son was too much for me to handle, so I cowardly said I had to leave for personal reasons. She got angry and upset at me, which is totally understandable, after all, this was becoming a pattern with au-pairs in her house, and having them up and leave after a few weeks was really detrimental for the child, especially as he suffered from separation anxiety due to his father walking out when he was younger. I felt so guilty, but I just had to get out of that environment for my own sanity.
Family number 3
And so then I flew to Palermo. Stepping out of the plane I knew things would be different here. The mother picked me up from the airport, which was the first sign that things would be different and this family actually cared about me: the other families just waited for me to turn up to their homes! The baby was already asleep at home as I had landed past his bedtime, but I couldn’t wait to see him the next day.
As we drove into the driveway of the house, even though it was dark at this time I could see that it was HUGE. The entrance was so grand, the garden was so huge, but as it was a little late the mother said she would show me everything tomorrow, including the pool (!!!). The parents cooked me a special welcome dinner and then showed me my apartment. Wait, what?! My own apartment?! I could actually feel like an adult again with my own apartment, cool!
Their house was divided into 3 floors: the ground floor for the mother, father and baby, the middle floor for the mothers’ parents, and the third floor all for me. I had my own kitchen, my own living room, my own dining room, and the perfect views looking out onto the hills (we were staying near Palermo’s beach: Mondello, we weren’t right in the centre of Palermo) and of course, a pool just for me!
Sure my apartment was a little dated as it hadn’t been decorated in years, but it didn’t bother me, I was just so happy to have so much space – I could lie on the sofa watching the TV in my pyjamas, I could make food without bothering anyone, I could lie-in and nobody would know, it was just perfect! I even had my own entrance, I didn’t need to go through the main house to get to my apartment, so I was free to come and go as I pleased, it wasn’t a problem. I guess when you’ve had these things taken away from you (like I did with the first family I stayed with, you really learn to appreciate them!).
When I came down the following morning, I honestly don’t think I had ever met a happier toddler! You could see how much happiness he brought to the parents and they truly adored him. He was so well behaved and yet had such a loving cheeky character! I felt much more comfortable here and I just loved how laid-back the family were: they were literally never stressing about anything (well, that’s Sicilians for you!).
As the baby was still very small but his mother was back at work full-time as herself and the husband owned a business, there was a full-time nanny with the baby at home in the daytime. This meant they would only need me from 4pm until about 9pm Monday-Thursday. I had a lot of free time so I taught English to some children in Palermo twice a week during the daytime (there were far fewer opportunities for teaching English down here than compared to Rome). The rest of the time I was free to explore Sicily (having a 3 day weekend was great as I got to explore literally every corner of Sicily!) and really focus on learning my Italian. I joined a language exchange group and met up with local university students in my spare time to practice speaking Italian (read my article Top tips for learning a foreign language to see how doing this, along with some other tips I share with you, got me fluent in Italian in just one year)!
What was also a blessing in disguise was that the father actually spoke no English! Whilst at first was a little overwhelming as my Italian was still pretty basic at this stage, it was a real plus point for me as it meant I had to practice my Italian just so that we could communicate! It really helped me confidence and it wasn’t long until I was speaking like a true Sicilian!
As I mentioned, the parents had their own business, much like the first family I stayed with in Rome, and so they worked long hours. However, what I found remarkable with this family was that even after a long 10 hour day, they would come home and have so much energy to give to their little boy. Every waking moment they weren’t working, they were playing with their baby boy, making him so happy and giving him so many memories. Seeing the father playing on the floor with the baby, constantly making the baby laugh, wow that filled my heart with joy and inspired me. Inspired me to one day be like that and find a man who would also have so much happiness from his children.
I couldn’t help but compare them to the families in Rome I had lived with: I really felt that whilst of course the families in Rome loved their children, they didn’t surround the children with constant feelings of love and happiness or give them attention, which all children crave so much, more than anything material!
The parents in Rome would work all day, then come home and want to just relax and watch TV, they wouldn’t do anything to simulate the children’s minds, play games with them etc. And I guess that’s why they got an au-pair, but when you live with families and see the relationships between parents and children, it sure makes you analyse and compare them. I would even sometimes say this to the Sicilian mother, and she later told me they had tried IVF a few times, so they felt so blessed with their baby boy, and so this was why they cherished him so much because he was literally a miracle to them.
The baby boy took to me instantly and we were stuck by each others side. I adored him and he adored me. The parents could see how much I loved him and they trusted me with him 100% – even to drive him round the streets of Palermo, now that is saying something! I would take him to the beach, teach him how to swim in our pool, run around the garden all day with him and talk to him non-stop.
We spent so much time together, had cute conversations together and had such a special bond that he even sometimes called me mama (of course I would correct him when he said this!), I guess because I showed him so much love. Bear in mind he was only 1 year old so he probably just thought he had 2 mamas! I was so happy in Sicily and loved Palermo so much, it really felt like home and the people were so warm. I felt so unbelievably grateful I had found this family and Sicily, I loved them both!
Pretty early on the family told me that before I had decided to come down and be their au-pair, that they had arranged for an au-pair to come and stay with them for 3 months over the summer. They told me they were having cold feet about this au-pair they had already arranged, especially because me and the baby bonded so well, however they couldn’t let the girl down and back out as she had bought plane tickets already. They said I could totally stay as well, and actually encouraged me to, but it didn’t feel right, I didn’t want to step on the girl’s toes, or feel bad that the family were paying for both of us, so I told them I would look for a temporary family for 3 months and that I would be back in September.
I wasn’t upset or anything, infact I thought it was good as it would actually give me a chance to discover a different part of Italy (and not be exposed to the scorching Sicilan temperatures in the summer months)! The time would go quick anyway, and after the summer I would be coming back, back to my beloved Palermo and my private apartment :).
Family number 4
I went back on the trusted aupairworld website and searched for families who only required an au-pair for 3 months over the summer holidays (Italian schools have a 3 month summer holiday, not like the 6 week holiday British schools have), from June to August. I thought finding a short-term family might be hard but there were actually a couple of families I found that needed someone just for this time, and so I narrowed it down to one family based in Turin, in the north of Italy. They needed someone for 11 weeks and the itinerary seemed amazing: 2 weeks in their central apartment in Turin, 6 weeks in Sardinia in 2 different locations, 2 weeks up in the Italian Alps at their grandparents’ place, and one week in the countryside at the others grandparent’s summer house. There were three children this time to look after: a 1 year old, a 3 year old and a 5 year old. They looked super cute in the pictures and the parents seemed so nice and normal, so we arranged a Skype date to meet, everything went great and so we agreed I would come in June!
I was sad to leave Sicily at the beginning of June, but I knew I would be back, and I was excited about my upcoming new adventures! The family in Turin were so so welcoming: they had a small apartment but it was right in the centre of town and it was lovely and modern. The children were so gorgeous and were all over me all the time! They were so sweet and even though the three of them were handful, I loved them and how crazy and full of energy they were! They rarely argued between themselves, and often the grandparents came round to help so I didn’t have to handle all 3 of them all the time!
We stayed for 2 weeks in Turin and during that time I met some lovely au-pairs living there (again through a Facebook group) and hung out with them a few times. I found so many differences between the north and the south of Italy: the people seemed so French here – more posh, certainly very different from the relaxed Arab-infused Sicilian culture I had got used to! I spent the days exploring Turin and the local area and looked after my three little monkeys (as I would call them) in the evenings. By the way they weren’t monkeys, they were totally adorable.
We then drove to Genoa after 2 weeks in Turin and got the overnight ferry to Sardinia. I could not believe I was going to Sardinia, such a luxurious and expensive island, and not having to pay a penny! We stayed there in the family’s holiday home on the beautiful Costa Smeralda for 3 weeks – it was such an amazing place! We were in a remote and quiet area and the house was right on the beach, it was lovely.
I would relax on the beach in the day, some days I would be lying there with my head stuck in my Italian book: I was worried I would forget everything I had picked up in Sicily as I wasn’t speaking Italian as much (because obviously I needed to speak in English in front of the family and the place was full of families so I didn’t have anyone to hang round with), or some days I would go off exploring other beaches and nearby areas.
The parents would be with the children on the beach in the day, and then I would look after them from 4-8pm Monday-Saturday whilst the parents relaxed a little and prepared dinner/sorted laundry/ went food shopping etc. The children were always so full of energy and never bored or miserable: we were always playing games and having fun. Again I felt so lucky to find this family and have such a nice bond with the children.
One of my au-pair friends in Rome even came and stayed with us for a couple of days and the family loved her too! The kids loved having 2 of us to play with, and the 2 of us even went exploring, actually met some people our own age at the one time of the year the beach club opens (we were so lucky it was open that one night we went!) and we also did an amazing boat trip to some incredible beaches only accessible by boat (CLICK HERE to see more of the pictures from our boat trip and some of the amazing beaches I visited in Sardinia)! Whilst I really loved the family, it was so nice to spend time just me and my friend, it definitely recharged my batteries as working 6 days a week with them was sometimes tiring, even though I loved it! My friend was also so happy to see me with a family I loved, after how she remembered my experiences in Rome were!
After three weeks in Costa Smeralda we headed down to the south of Sardinia to Villasimius and this time all of us stayed in a big house for 3 weeks with the grandparents too! We stayed in a holiday park and it was a lot more lively here! The beach was packed all day, there were a lot more opportunities for me to meet people (but to be honest I never made the effort to meet new people as I would only be there for a short while, and well meeting new people all the time gets tiring)!
Again, during the day I would study Italian on the beach and explore nearby areas and beaches – I was actually really enjoying the alone time because back at the house was always hectic! I really started to feel like part of the family here, it was such a nice feeling. The mother was more like a friend and I could chat to her about girly stuff, which was so nice sometimes, and I think she enjoyed having that extra female company in her male dominated family!
After 3 glorious weeks in Villasimius we headed back to mainland Italy and travelled north of Turin to stay with the other set of grandparents in their log cabin in the beautiful town of Gressoney in the Italian Alps in Aosta valley, very near to the border with Switzerland. In the winter this town is a popular ski resort, and in the summer you can take lovely hikes with the most stunning views, in fact I did many hikes with the children and grandparents as the grandparents were avid hikers, which I loved.
I got on so well with the grandparents and I loved this little town, and was feeling so fortunate for how my life was: I could not have imagined one year ago that this would be my life now – travelling around Italy all expenses paid, it was a dream come true! The family were really flexible with my working hours, and the family were so kind to let me work more on one of the weeks so that I could take 2 days off and go to Geneva, Switzerland to see some old friends.
I was getting so sad that my time with this family was drawing to a close, and I spent my last week with them in the countryside in another one of the grandparent’s houses (I soon came to realise that well-off Italian families have a LOT of properties in Italy, which is always a plus if you are an au-pair! One of my best friends who was an au-pair in Rome lived with a family who owned a castle in the countryside and so often she would go away for a week with the family and stay in their CASTLE! How cool!). Again, we had a lovely time at the grandparent’s house, even if the children did always totally wear me out!
When the time came for me to leave the family, we were all so sad! I had been their first au-pair and we were all so happy with the experience that they even asked me back the next summer! I thought that was so sweet, but told them I had no idea where I would be this time next year! The mother kept saying she felt so lucky they had found me, as she had heard so many horror stories about au-pairs (her best friend had to fire their au-pair only the week before as she was such a disaster!). Equally we had both heard some stories about au-pair families too!! However, I just felt so lucky to be with a family who cared for me and were happy to have me around!
One week off to enjoy with friends!
I had one week until I was due back in Sicily, and the timing worked out perfectly as I would travel by train from Turin down to Florence, where I had planned to meet one of my best friends from school: we had organised a girly few days together in Florence and in Rome. It was so nice to spend time together and she was so impressed whenever she heard me speaking Italian: “I have no idea what you’re saying, but it sounds bloody awesome!” she kept telling me. Having time away from a family and being back with one of my best friends in the world was amazing.
After my friend left, I made my way to one of Rome’s seaside towns for the wedding of one of my old colleagues (of course I had this all planned before). I was staying in a one bedroom apartment with 4 old work colleagues for a few days for our friend’s wedding. We had the best time ever, they loved hearing about my stories and I loved hearing about everyone back home. The whole trip we had so much fun, far too much wine and far too much sun that one of the lads got sunstroke. It was such an amazing time and we did not stop laughing the whole trip! You know that empty feeling when at the end of the trip you have to leave and go your own way, I was certainly starting to feel that, although Sicily was calling me to come home.
Back home in Sicily
When I arrived back to Sicily I was a little anxious that the baby could have forgotten who I was! He was only little after all (perhaps about 20 months old at this stage now). I needn’t have worried, for when he saw me he came running towards me with the biggest smile on his face! I really felt like I had come home: the parents, grandparents, even the cleaners and the dogs were so happy to see me! The father however was shocked at how my Sicilian accent had almost disappeared, so I made sure to get back out there and speak Italian as much as possible and sure enough, my accent came back within the next few days!
I would often spend weekends with the family too (of course not for any extra money, but because they were doing cool things and I wanted to join!). We went to the cousin’s castle nearby for a dinner event one day, we went to the aunt’s house on Mount Etna one weekend, and often we would go out on the family boat and sail around, it was so nice spending so much time with them!
Three times they let my friends from home and my au-pair friends from Rome came and stay with me in my apartment, which was very nice! They even super kindly gave me an extra day off when I said my family were going on holiday to Spain, so I was able to go away for a few days and surprise my family at the villa in Spain, as being surrounded by children all the time made me miss my niece and nephew terribly!
Then one evening I was out with some friends from Palermo University, having some drinks downtown at La Vucciria, a pedestrianised street in Palermo full of bars. Things always get messy down there, what do you expect when a glass of wine is €1! Anyway, after the night out I was walking to get a taxi and somehow got involved in a freak accident where a car hit me and I went flying in the air. I blacked out and don’t remember a thing, until I’m being pushed through the ambulance doors and I feel the most excruciating pain of my life in my left collarbone area.
Even though I had never broken a bone before, I was a radiographer in my old job remember! I dealt with broken bones all day and so of course I knew my collarbone was broken. I explained this to the doctor, in a rather hysterical way as I was in so much pain, but he discharged me from the hospital with a sling and no xrays, even though I was demanding them. It turns out Sicily is still very male dominated, and my host father told me that the doctor would certainly have not appreciated me as a young woman, telling him how to do his job and so therefore didn’t take my case very seriously.
I felt so bad I wasn’t able to pick up the baby properly as I had my arm in a sling to protect my collarbone, and I was still suffering from incredible pain. Infact over the next couple of days the pain was not easing, and I could actually feel my collarbone literally about to poke through my skin. Of course it was broken, I could feel the edges of the broken bone through my skin for goodness sake! I couldn’t sit up without having to roll on my side first, I had to sleep with 3 pillows to keep me upright, and I felt like the other broken part of the bone was starting to pierce my lungs as deep breathing became difficult.
The family could see my stress and discomfort and took me to another hospital for xrays. And surprise surprise, my collarbone was completely broken. I had surgery the following week and had a metal plate and 6 rods inserted (I still have them to this day, you can feel them through my skin!).
After the surgery I suffered a mini-stroke and my left arm and chest area was numb for a few weeks. My recovery felt so slow, I felt so useless and like a disabled person. It made me develop so much empathy for people with physical disabilities, it felt so frustrating that I was no longer able to do such a simple task like getting dressed.
My mum flew out and stayed with me to look after me, she was such an angel and I really needed her, so as not to be a burden to the family. It took my mum half an hour just to get me in and out of bed as I was in so much pain, my head was so heavy, and I suddenly realised just how much we take our health for granted. Something so small as one collarbone is so vital to the functioning and movement of our body.
The family of course let me still stay with them but I worked less hours as they wanted me to rest and get better. I was no longer able to pick up the baby: I was heartbroken but we agreed my health and recovery was my priority.
I felt so bad that I wasn’t able to fulfill all my au-pair duties with the family. I couldn’t drive, couldn’t run around and play games with him, couldn’t go swimming with him, couldn’t prepare his meals, all I could do was literally sit and talk to him. The parents and I sat down several times and discussed what was the best thing to do. None of us wanted me to leave, but I didn’t want to be a burden for them, and they just wanted me to get better and knew this wasn’t the ideal place. Even when I shouldn’t have lifted the baby, I sometimes would as I missed cuddling him, and the parents could see I was pushing it and were always worried I would do more damage.
They tried to find a replacement family for me in Palermo as they knew how much I loved that place. At least if I was placed with a slightly older and more independent child that I didn’t need to lift up, I could possibly still continue the job. However at this stage it was late October and no families were looking for an au-pair.
Family number 5
Back on aupairworld.com I found a family on the beautiful Amalfi coast in Sorrento (just south of Naples) that had a 4 year old girl. I told them about my situation with the accident and they were so supportive. They loved how much experience I had had as an au-pair, and after they got references from my last 2 host families they were really keen for me to join them. After the experience I had with the second family where I hadn’t been honest with the mum, I knew that honesty was really the best policy when dealing with au-pair families, and so I told them that I was thinking of leaving Italy in the next few months and applying for a job as a flight attendant, but that it would probably be a few months before I started the job (if I got it, that is!). The parents accepted that and still wanted me to come and stay with them and look after their daughter.
I told my family in Sicily I had found a family in Sorrento and so I would be leaving Sicily in the next couple of weeks. Of course they were sad but they knew it was for the best. Leaving them was heartbreaking. The baby understood I was going away because I needed to get better, and he was really sad to see me go. The parents were teary-eyed when I left, and I was so sad to leave my beautiful life here but I knew I would come back and visit them and that this place would always be my home.
The family in Sorrento could feel how much I loved Sicily and my family there. But they were a pretty good consellation prize! The parents were only a few years older than me and were so cool, more like friends to me than host parents, and the little girl was super sweet and loving, if not sometimes a little bossy. But I didn’t mind, I was definitely well experienced in how to handle kids by this stage! The parents even said to me a few times that they hoped I would turn down the flight attendant job and stay with them for longer and that they would pay me more money if that would happen as they loved having me there!
Whilst that was such a nice offer, towards the end of the year I was starting to feel like I had come to the end of my au-pair days in Italy and was searching for a new adventure, looking to learn something new (I felt like my brain had turned to mush just conversing with children for the best part of the day), and desperately in need of a job that paid better.
Whilst au-pairing is great for girls who have just come out of college and haven’t had a proper full-time job, for me coming from a skilled job in London where I was earning £3000 a month, to earning €70 a week (of course not having to pay for food and accomodation out of this), I felt like I really had to watch my money whilst I was an au-pair. I couldn’t just go out and socialise with my friends all the time or buy new things, I really had to watch my money, especially because I would spend a large chunk of it on travelling around or sightseeing on my days off.
The assessment day for the cabin crew job came at the end of November. I was successful and they gave me a joining date just 2 months later for the end of January which was way quicker than I had anticipated, but they were desperate for crew at the time so needed people to start as soon as possible. This meant again I would be leaving a family prematurely, but I didn’t want to turn down this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. The family totally understood and supported my decision, even though they were very sad to see me go.
I had already planned to go back to London to spend the Christmas holidays with my family, and so because I would be starting my new job in January it made sense to stay at home after Christmas to sort out all my things and spend time with family and friends before I would move to the Middle East at the end of January. So I left my Sorrento family and my life in Italy on Christmas Eve and headed back to London, full of fond memories.
And that’s my year in Italy and my au-pair story! Not your standard au-pair experience that’s for sure! Whilst most au-pairs just stay with one family for the year, I felt so fortunate to stay with several families and live in and discover so many parts of Italy! Even now I still talk a lot with my last 3 host families, they follow my adventures on my social media and are always asking for me to come back and stay with them! I miss them a lot and I have met up with all of them since I left Italy which has been so lovely!
If you are toying with the idea of becoming an au-pair, go for it! It was honestly one of the most amazing experiences of my life! I met some AMAZING people, was able to travel all the time, live in a fancy house AND became fluent in a foreign language! (See my post on top tips for learning a foreign language HERE).
* Whilst I have so many photos of me with my host families and I would love to share them with you, for privacy and confidentiality reasons I have not included any pictures of the family and the children. 🙂
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