Conquering American Streets and the Most Challenging Situation of Being a Nanny
After the first challenging days of adjusting to my new life, I started to get into the swing of things. But before my host family totally let go off the reins and let me fully take care of the kids, I had to pass the driving test, and with driving test I don’t mean the ten minute drive around the block you do with the DMV.
No, my first personal driving test in the United States included my host dad, myself, and a gigantic GMC Yukon XL Denali truck. I knew that everything in the U.S. was supposed to be bigger, but this car exceeded my expectations. “I am supposed to drive this?!” I started thinking to myself while getting behind the wheel of the gigantic driving machine. But there was no way of getting out of this since I had to drive this car in order to get the kids from A to Z and fulfill my job duties. My host dad definitely seemed to have more faith in me than I had in myself. He was pretty relaxed when he sat down on the passenger seat next to me, ready to give me my first official introduction into driving cars on the busy streets of Walnut Creek and the surrounding areas. What came to my advantage was the fact that most of the cars in the United States are automatic cars, so at least I didn’t have to be concerned about changing gears and so could keep my main focus on the street.
After Tom, my host dad, explained to me important details just as how to adjust the mirrors and how to turn the signal etc. he directed me to start the car and go on the road. I got adjusted pretty quickly to hovering the giant vehicle around, and I have to say that it felt really great since I was so high up and had a great overview of the streets. The first five minutes we drove around the quiet neighborhood, but then I had to make a right turn onto the busy main road, a three-lane street with a speed limit of 55 mph. Inside of me I was freaking out a bit, but I didn’t want my host dad to notice, so I played it cool and maneuvered the truck onto the street, which eventually led us to my host family’s kids school. After this was mastered, I was being directed further along the road until Tom advised me to turn left. I had no idea what was coming now until I noticed the sign leading to the local freeway. This time, I couldn’t hide my panic: “Are you sure you want me to go on there? I have never driven on a freeway, not to mention with a truck this big. “But Tom continued staying very relaxed, acknowledging me that I would be fine. Alright then, I thought, stepping onto the gas pedal and merging onto the first of six lanes onto the freeway. One must understand that from where I am from, freeways mainly consist of only three lanes, therefore I got a bit frantic when I had to move over all the lanes towards the most outer one on the left. But even though my pulse was probably as high as never before, I mastered this task bravely and was more than relieved when we exited.
Believing that this was the most challenging part of the driving test, I started to relax unaware that the worst was yet to come: parallel parking. My host dad directed me to a neat little street in downtown Walnut Creek with absolutely no traffic, which was definitely a plus. We found a decent sized parking spot, and with decent I mean gigantic since the truck required a little more space than the average car. I put the gear into R and started the procedure using the windows of the building on the sidewalk for help to see how much space I had left before hitting the car behind me. After regulating the car back and forth a couple of times, I finally managed to properly park the car. Inside of me I yelled, “Yes, I did it!” but on the outside I played it cool. Tom seemed to be satisfied, and as we finally drove home I sighed with relief.
The Challenges of a Nanny
The driving test turned out to be the lesser challenge compared to what I was facing in the days to come: Getting the kids used to having a nanny instead of their mom taking care of them became one of the most difficult tasks in the beginning of my stay with the family. While both girls Mary and baby Carol adjusted to me pretty quickly, even though the baby was always crying badly when her mommy had to leave the house for work, Johnny was the one who first did not want to accept the fact that this foreign person from a strange country was supposed to entertain him from now on. He was not having it with me at all! While I was trying to be patient since I understood that it wasn’t easy for him, there were moments when I just wanted to give up. Being yelled and screamed at while taking care of two other kids, one of them a little baby that had to be carried around, really took a toll on me. When he threw a shoe after me and I had to duck down under the kitchen counter, I got so upset that I had to lock myself, baby in my arms, into the laundry room for a quick second just to take a breather. That night, I sat together with the parents to discuss how we could improve the situation for everybody so that both Johnny and I wouldn’t end up having meltdowns every so often.
I have worked with kids since I was 16 years old, and I can tell you, I have seen it all. One of the most important things with children is to be patient and act as a role model, even though you sometimes just want to give up. In my situation, it all worked out well for Johnny and me in the end. We bonded over play times in the park, good German chocolate, and a vacation to Disneyland over my first Thanksgiving holiday in the United States. He has become a sweet, young gentleman and I don’t regret anything we had to go through together to finally accept and love each other.
To be continued…
(Next Wednesday: Read about Kathrin’s new life in California and her search for friends.)
Image: I-80 Eastshore Freeway -by User Minesweeper on en.wikipedia (Minesweeper) via Wikimedia Commons
Disclaimer: Names in the story have been changed to protect people’s privacy.
Anne-Kathrin Schulte, is a contributor for CaliforniaGermans.com. She writes on her personal experience of the American Dream as well as on working as an au pair in CA. She was born and grew up in Düsseldorf, Germany, where she completed her degree as a state-approved Kindergarten teacher. After her au pair engagement in the US and a quick return to Germany she decided to attend university in California and moved back to the United States. She lives in Southern California since 2011.
If you would like to contact Anne-Kathrin, please send an email to californiagermans(at)gmail.com and place her name in the subject line.