Posted by: laughs4dads | February 24, 2010

France’s Biggest Contribution to Parenthood

There was a time, back in the days when the rich were rich and everyone else just sort of waited around for movies to be invented, when wealthy women would give birth and then turn the actual care and feeding of the child over to the servants.  This was necessary, as these women didn’t have time to raise their children because it took them five hours just to get dressed.

The people who raised these rich children were called nannies or governesses, and usually they were former nuns or ladies who flew through the air dangling from their umbrellas.  The rich children would follow their nanny or governess around all day, singing songs, dancing with animated birds, and escaping from the Nazis.  It was a whimsical, care-free childhood, and all the kids grew up to be well-adjusted adults in lederhosen.

But in our modern society, everybody, rich and poor, is too busy to be the kind of parents we had.  I’m not sure whether this is good or bad, but I do know there are many fewer plastic slipcovers on furniture these days.  Now, the rich still have their governesses, and even the poor have day care centers, but both of those alternatives are too passe for the middle class, who stay au courant by taking on an au pair.

Leave it to the French, who are constantly coming up with essential items like the croissant, to invent the au pair, which means, in French, “parent-like only without stretch marks.”

Au pairs are usually young women from faraway, exotic places like Ireland, Paraguay or Idaho, who come to live with you.  You pay them a paltry sum each week, plus room and board, and, in exchange for this, they teach your child to speak in a language you don’t understand, like Spanish or Idahoese.

One couple we know had an Irish au pair who taught their daughter to speak Gaelic.  This is an extremely useful language to know if you happen to live in the sixteenth century, but, these days, it’s not exactly one of the necessities of international commerce.

Obtaining an au pair is somewhat of a harrowing experience. Here you are, entrusting your child and your pay-per-view cable to a teenaged girl you have never seen.  Maybe the agency has sent you some documents and you may even have spoken to the girl on the phone, but you really don’t know anything about her, except that she has a strange accent.

Additionally, you and the au pair don’t have the same purpose in mind.  You want a baby sitter and a maid, and she wants to come to America to shop at Bloomingdales.  You reluctantly accept each other’s terms and form a symbiotic relationship.

Another thing: mothers and fathers have very different ideas of what makes a good au pair.  The mother wants a plain, peasant girl who bakes Shepherd’s Pie and tells her child quaint fairy tales from her homeland.  The father wants a Swedish girl with large breasts who says “Ya” a lot.

Not that I want to burst your bubble, but most of the au pairs I’ve seen are…well, let’s just say there is facial hair involved.

I don’t think that’s exactly what the French had in mind.  But, as they say in France, “C’est la vie,” which, loosely translated, means, “Where’s Julie Andrews when you really need her?”

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