Wake up. Huddle under the covers as long as possible. Hear the DeBruijn family downstairs getting ready for the day. Senseo coffee is brewing and dull light stretches through the windows. Throw on jeans and black sweater from the day before.
Mr. and Mrs. DeBruijn depart for work, leaving me and their two kids, Lotje (7) and Meno (4), to get ready for the school day. A ritual commences: snack pack, lemonade, shoes, scarves, jackets, gloves, hats. We each get our own bikes out of the garage.
Drop off Lotje and Meno at preschool and primary school. Greet neighbors with “Goedemorgen!” Make my breakfast of bread and eggs. Catch up on e-mail to friends and family back in North Carolina. Shower and straighten the kitchen, living room, and kids’ rooms.
Practice piano. Today: scales, Schumann’s “Aufschwung” from Fantasiestücke, Bach “Prelude and Fugue in C# Minor”, from Well-Tempered Clavier, Book I.
Possession of a piano was an important criterion in selecting an au pair family. When I return to the US I will resume my piano performance degree. Mrs. DeMaat, the next door neighbor, waves through the window; she’s told me she loves hearing Bach.
Pick the kids up from school for their lunch break. Prepare fresh bread, butter, and hagelslag (chocolate sprinkles), a typical lunch. We eat and converse in mangled Dutch and English.
Lotje, Meno, and I ride our bikes back to school. I head to the market to buy groceries for dinner. Tonight I’ll cook shoarma (shawarma). I buy meat, pita bread, lettuce, cucumber, and toum (garlic sauce). The cashier, an older woman, smiles silently as we load my cloth bag. She knows my Dutch ends after “I’m doing well, thanks.”
I drop off the groceries and pedal ten minutes north to see Magda. She makes more money working as an au pair than she would back in Poland with her Masters in psychology. We drink tea and discuss philosophy and boyfriends.
Pick the kids up from school. Take them to swimming lessons or back home. In the warmer months we take snacks and blankets to the backyard. More often the coldness keeps us inside and we draw or play games. The kids aren’t allowed to watch tv. I help Lotje with her piano practice and think it would be so much easier to help if I spoke better Dutch.
Mrs. DeBruijn returns home and I return to my attic bedroom to catch the latter half of Oprah, a connection to the US. The sun sets and the darkness inspires reflection.
I cook shoarma for the family, although Mr. DeBruijn is rarely home in time for dinner. I converse with the mom in English about her day. The kids talk to the mother in rapid Dutch.
Salad plates from dinner are left for Mr. DeBruijn to clean. I bundle up and head to teach a voice lesson to a teenage girl nearby. She speaks fluent English and wants to learn songs from American Idol. We talk about more than voice as she confides the career dreams her mother disapproves of.
After our lesson I stop by the village pub to meet Magda and other au pairs. We drink a Dommelsch pilsener, commiserating about our days. I am the only American, the only au pair choosing to work in the Netherlands for enrichment versus necessity. This makes me feel guilty and grateful.
Bike home. The night is mysterious and soft. Burning firewood scents the air. I reflect on tomorrow as the wind cuffs my face. I wonder if the kids are asleep and how parents do what they do. Even my part-time parenting demands energy and patience.
I wave goodnight to Mr. and Mrs. DeBruijn downstairs. The attic feels comfortable, almost like home. Elliott Smith plays on my ipod and I journal in my moleskine. The day is done.