Stay safe in Spain

All au pairs who have stayed with us are adults, but they are young adults (and getting younger each year, ah, no, that’s just me getting older).

Seriously, though. For some, it is their first time living away from home. For others, their first time living in a large city. For most, their first time in Spain.

I don’t want to worry but I can’t help it, so I’ve come up with 3 rules for safety:

  1. Children. This one is simple, when out with the children, 0 distractions. No phone calls except those related to the children. No surprises (we should always know where you are). Holding hands when crossing the road. Important emergency numbers. Things like that.
  2. Things. Things do not matter that much, but some things (passports, credit cards, etc.) are a pain to replace. And, while Madrid is not a particularly unsafe city, it is rife with pickpockets, particularly in the city center. So, some basic awareness and precautions go a long way. Things like, where to carry your belongings (ie. not in an open backpack on your back). Where not to put your phone when you’re eating out (ie. on the table where anybody can run in and grab it). Add in a Chipolo or similar device for the keys, and you minimize the risk a bit further.
  3. Night-time. Madrid is famous for its nightlife, and au pairs (obviously) want to enjoy it. Which makes a lot of sense. But, better safe than sorry, so I ask where you are planning on going, and around when you expect to be coming back (definitely if planning on sleeping out). This, combined with frequent reminders that you can call us anytime, day or night, and we’ll come find you, no questions asked.

So far, so good. Toquemos madera.



If you have a mason jar…

If you have a mason or some kind of glass jar, you have a treasure.

Today I wanted to share an activity designed as an ice breaker, perfect for those first few days with a new au pair or nanny, when the child and the au pair are still feeling shy around each other.

The example is shown in English, but it’s quick to update to other languages with very little effort on the part of the au pair, and the activity can also be calibrated to take into account age and language level.

There’s just something about the physicality of the Q&A jar that really helps loosen kids’ tongues and gets them practicing English!

Please click here for the printable PDF version of this activity.



Why go the bilingual route?

Is it really worth it,
going the bilingual route,
in today’s day and age?

In much of the world, children now learn one or two foreign languages in school. In non-English speaking countries, English is by far the most common foreign language taught. As a result, most children speak English pretty well by the time they leave school. So, in this context, is it still worth making an additional effort to go the bilingual or trilingual route?

I think the answer is a resounding yes.

I work in a global team within a very international company, and so interact in my day to day with people from multiple countries. Most of them speak English very competently, and get along just fine in a professional setting. But, when you encounter someone who is truly bilingual, it shows. These are the people who are free to do their best work, because they are not constantly translating between one language and another in their minds. We could think of this as one of those practical advantages that come from being bilingual.

If you talk to a man in
a language he understands,
that goes to his head. If
you talk to him in his language,
that goes to his heart.”
— Nelson Mandela

But there are also less tangible (though not less important, in my mind), advantages: bilingual people are often able to empathize, or connect with others, in ways monolingual people have trouble doing. This is because you cannot really become bilingual without exposure to another culture, and that exposure allows you to see the world in new and different ways.

These are the cultural or emotional advantages of growing up bilingual, which I think are only going to grow in importance over the coming generations.

Early days… and success!

What is the equivalent
of “love at first sight”
when applied to a new
person in your child’s

The early days with a new aupair are always interesting, in that both parties have so much to learn about one another.

You both presumably have a good feeling about each other, from prior conversations and exchanges. You might have a contract, outlining tasks and responsibilities on both sides. You probably have high hopes that the experience is going to be a success.

But none of those actually prepares you for living together, and so those first days are a bit of a dance. You ask questions, you try to gauge what the other person really likes and when they are simply being polite. You tiptoe a bit to get a feeling for each other’s personal space.

And then, there is that first meeting between the aupair and the child(ren), which can, to tell the truth, be a little nerve-wracking.

Why? Because children are, let’s face it, small bubbles of sincerity. They feel what they feel, in whatever language they feel it in, so anything can happen in that meeting, and, like it or not, that first impression can go a long way to foreshadowing the next few months.

And then it comes, that moment when the au pair smiles, crouches beside your child and says something quietly to them, and you see your young child beam at them and run to their room to bring back some toy to show them. As parents, we release a bit of that breath we’d been holding.

There are still a lot of things to learn about each other, but you suddenly have the feeling it’s all going to work out great.

Book of the month (Jan ’18): The Pout Pout Fish


If you were to start a sentence with the words “Deep in the water where the fish hang out…” in a room full of post-2008 parents, you’ll probably hear back an excited chorus of “...lives a glum gloomy swimmer with an ever-present pout“.

The fact that The Pout Pout Fish, by Deborah Diesen, has become a New York Time’s Bestseller, is totally unsurprising. The book tells the deceptively simple story of a gloomy fish and of his adventures with his friends, to whom he tries to explain why he is so gloomy, until… I’ll stop here, I don’t want to spoil the ending, after all, for anyone who hasn’t read it yet.

This is a great book for very young children. There is a lot of repetition, and the rhythm rules the story from the very start.

You can read it one, two, ten times, and complement the reading with some fun activities for children:

 – Imagine his friends. The Pout Pout fish has a lot of friends: a clam, an octopus, a jellyfish… what other sea creatures could he be friends with? A starfish? A lobster? A dolphin? A mermaid? A whale? Start from the smallest and move to the biggest, for example. Or, if the kids are a bit older, categorize them by type of marine organism: Plankton, Algae, Marine Invertebrates, Fish, Reptiles, Marine Mammals…

Can you draw them? Fish and sea creatures are fun to draw, even for the most challenged artists out there. In the past, I’ve used the following tutorials for inspiration, and it doesn’t really bother me that my end products don’t quite end up looking the same: How to Draw a Fish for Kids Drawing Ocean Animals 12 Ocean Animals to Draw Step by Step

Make an origami ocean backdrop, using a blue cardboard and lots of origami fish, such as:

Easy Peasy and Fun’s Easy Origami Fish (warning for origami purists, it uses googly eyes)

The Origami Resource Center’s beautiful (but more involved!) Small Sea Creatures and Large Sea Creatures

Ocean life. Oceans cover 70% of the Earth’s surface, and are home to a significant proportion of all life on Eearth. Take a few minutes to explore some of the secrets of marine environments with your charges.

  • What is salt water? Water that has 35g of salt for every kilogram of water.
  • What are the features that allow fish to live in the oceans? Gills for extracting oxygen for water, a swim bladder to rise or sink to different depths, scales for protection, fins for steering…
  • How do marine mammals differ from land-based mammals? Streamlined bodies and fins for swimming, fat, kidneys that excrete salt…

Explore the concept of happiness. The Pout Pout Fish spends a large chunk of the book explaining to his friends why he is unhappy. In today’s world, where happiness has become such a cultural obsession and characters in kids’ books and shows seem to sport huge smiles all the time, it is useful for kids to be exposed to characters who are not happy all the time, or not happy by default.

  • Is the Pout Pout Fish happy? 
  • Is it okay for him not to be happy?
  • What does it mean to be happy? Can you think of a time when you were happy?
  • What happens, and how do we feel, when we are not happy? Can you think of a time when you were not happy?
  • Do the Pout Pout Fish’s friends accept him as he is?
  • What could the Pout Pout Fish do to help his friends better understand him? 

Anything else? The official Pout Pout Fish website features an activity kit to print out, including a memory game, a spot the differences game, and a Pout Pout Fish mask that are fun for younger children.

Note: There are other books in the series, as well, of which we’ve read two or three, though I have to admit we did not enjoy them half as much as the original.

Key English/Spanish vocabulary

Pout Pout fish – el pez Pucheros

clam – la almeja

deep – profundo

fish – el pez

gloomy – triste/ melancólico

to pout – hacer pucheros

squid – el calamar

swimmer – el nadador

New Year… and New Au Pair Search

Happy New Year! Now that the holidays are over (even in Spain, where we celebrated 3 Kings -that last bit of holiday magic – this weekend), it is time to plan for 2018.

I admit (and it is a bit of a dirty little secret), that I’m a big fan of New Year’s Resolutions. I have been since my teens. Doesn’t mean I always stick to them (where did I read the other day that 86% of New Year’s Resolutions fail?), but the process of thinking through the resolutions is in itself cathartic: it allows me to remember and say goodbye to the year that’s just finished, and gives me reason to look forward to the coming year.

I won’t go into the detail of my resolutions for this year, except perhaps to mention I’ve been out to the park for a morning jog 5 days in a row now – depending on who I ask, I’ve got 13 or 61 days left until I can call it a habit.

I am also actively looking for a new au pair to join our family for the next few months. By actively, I mean I’ve activated all channels to find a new au pair (including old au pairs, friends, Aupairworld, etc.), and have spent a good chunk of the past week interviewing.

Ah, the interview. Although they are becoming more and more common, and have a lot of advantages in terms of agility and ease of scheduling, Skype (or remote) interviews can be tricky, for all parties involved.

You don’t have the advantages of face-to-face interviews, where non-verbal communication plays such an important role. And, despite huge improvements in technology, there is sometimes still a small lag which makes the communication less spontaneous.

A few tips to make aupairing Skype interviews a success:

Tip #1: prep your environment

I aim to do the interviews in a quiet room of the house, with a door. And by “a door”, I do mean “a closed door”. But, sometimes, life gets in the way, like a couple days ago, when my daughter started bellowing “mamá, mamá” and pounding on the door in the middle of the interview. Probably scared the bejesus out of the au pair – I’m not sure we passed that round.

I also recommend looking behind you before the interview – what you see is what the webcam (and your interlocutor) will catch as well. If you’re trying to present yourself as an organized, efficient person, a super cluttered background will not help you.

Tip #2: smile

You’re trying to get as close to an in-person first impression as possible, so smile like you would in real life. Not much more (that could look awkward), but not much less, either, or you’ll look like a robot.

Basically, try to ignore the little red dot of your webcam, and act as you would if you were really standing in front of the other person.

Tip #3: ask the right questions

This goes for both parties: don’t let the interview finish without getting a real feeling as to whether or not this au pair/ host family could be a good fit for you.

I always start with easy questions first, a “tell me a little about yourself” moment, to get a feeling for how easy it is to speak to this person, gauge potential language barriers between us, and really just see how they present themselves to the world.

Next, I make sure we discuss the questions and topics important to both of us, and on my end provide all the relevant information I feel the candidate would need to be able to understand our family and determine whether we might be a fit.

Tip #4: ask the most important question

In my experience, there really is a single most important question for host families to ask: Do you like (spending time with) children?

It sounds obvious, and some of my friends who have never hosted au pairs laugh at me when I tell them about it, but the truth is, there are multiple reasons why one might choose to be an au pair. It might be about the excitement of traveling the world, it might be about involving yourself in a new culture, or a way to leave home for the first time. These are all very valid reasons to become an au pair, but I think they must be combined with an interest in and a desire to spend time with children.

This is, for me, sine qua non for success as an au pair, because au pairing is work, and it does require spending significant amounts of time with children and, most importantly, building a relationship with them. If the candidate has too little experience with children to know how she feels about them, seems unsure about her interest, or does not really know what it means to spend time with children, I can think of ten or twenty alternative roles that might suit her more than au pairing.

Which I guess leads me to wonder… Is there a most important question for au pairs, when interviewing for a position? Or does it vary too much from one au pair to the next?

Tip #5: know when to end it
I aim to keep the interview to 20 minutes, out of respect for each other’s time. I’ve found that is generally enough time for us to get a feel for each other, if we’ve spoken online first and done some prior due diligence.
If the outcome is positive on my end, I like to end the interview on an open note, to make sure I give the au pair time to think through the interview and discuss with her family. This seems important to me, as I don’t want to force a positive response that hasn’t been well thought through on her end. So, I usually suggest we pick up the following day, to give ourselves time for any additional questions that come up, and only then discuss next steps.




¿Quién se acuerda de Parque Jurásico?

Me pregunto si otras personas recuerdan su decimoséptimo año con la misma intensidad que yo. Otros años se entremezclan en mi memoria, algunos reducidos a uno o dos grandes eventos. De este año en concreto, sin embargo, me da la impresión de que recuerdo todo…

Lo inapropiado de leer Un aviador irlandés prevé su muerte, de WB Yeats, tumbada en la playa durante aquel verano interminable después del colegio, cuando mi único trabajo era esperar a que empezase la universidad, y con ella una nueva fase.

Un primer amor, tan fuerte, que era difícil creer que venía con fecha de caducidad.

Los nervios, el miedo, la tremenda sensación de oportunidad durante aquellas primeras semanas en la universidad.

Las au pairs que se quedan con nosotros son adultas, y nos aseguramos de tratarlas así, involucrándolas en las decisiones que les afectan a ellas (así como a nuestros hij@s). Pero, de vez en cuando, una de ellas hace o dice algo que me recuerda lo jóvenes que son. No tienen diecisiete años, pero están relativamente cerca.

Un ejemplo:

Hace un par de años, expresé un cierto entusiasmo (vale, mucho entusiasmo) ante el estreno de Jurassic World. Me di cuenta de repente de que la persona con la que hablaba me miraba como si estuviera loca.

Lo empeoré al explicarle que Parque Jurásico, la original, fue la primera película que vi sola en el cine con amigos. Frunció el ceño, claramente haciendo el cálculo mental.


“Pero, pero… yo no había nacido todavía,” murmuró.

Estupendo, justo lo que necesitaba oír. [Fin de esa conversación].

No es difícil empatizar con las au pairs que se quedan con nosotros. La intensidad de sentimiento cuando su pareja viene de visita un fin de semana y se marcha después, la tristeza cuando un amigo o amiga acaba su estancia de au pair y regresa a su casa.

Es una relación peculiar, la de las familias anfitrionas con las au pairs que se quedan con nosotros. Por una parte, están trabajando, cuidando de aquello que más nos importa. Esto es una gran responsabilidad, y hay que tratarla como tal. Pero, también son personas jóvenes, que están descubriendo el mundo (a menudo por primera vez), y necesitan nuestro apoyo para ayudar a que su experiencia sea un éxito.

Me gusta pensar que, de vuelta en su país de origen, el recuerdo de su estancia con nosotros será positivo, y sobre todo basado en el respeto mutuo y la confianza.