How to Taiwan with Kids

Upon hearing that I took four kids 7 years old and under (including an 8 month old) by myself for a month, most people immediately say, “You’re so brave!” This is usually immediately followed by, “How do you do it?”

Well, the short answer is, “With a lot of yelling.”

The long answer takes a lot of time (and a lot of swears) but because I’m a giver, here is how I personally get through it (and without any alcohol, too!).

1) Ask for help.

I cannot reiterate this enough.

Do not be a jerk. Do not let pride get in your way. Either ask for help or accept help when people who love you offer.

I will be honest. I was offended and pissed off at my mother when she told me she didn’t want to go to Taiwan in the summer but was only going to help me on the plane (even though I did not expect her to come – NOR DID I ASK). She just could not fathom how my children would go to the bathroom.

I tried to explain that Cookie Monster (7.5) and Gamera (5.75) could go by themselves. I really would only have to help Glow Worm (~4) and as for myself, I have gone to the bathroom plenty of times with Sasquatch (8 months) strapped to my body.

I was a little less offended that my cousin rearranged his travel schedule to the US in order to accompany us on the trip back.

Either way, I felt as if they were saying I was not a capable person. After all, don’t I take care of my four kids every day?

But you know what? FUCK MY PRIDE. My mother and cousin were helpful. And I accepted their help (despite internal grumbling).

Even though my mom ended up not sitting next to us on the plane (and only checking in once for about a minute), she was still helpful at the airport, going through customs, and when we moved into the apartment. She helped me at bedtime for the ten days she was there.

THAT IS NO SMALL MATTER.

Plus, my kids got to spend extra time with her – and she is so wonderful with them. They got to hear stories and just laughed and laughed and laughed.

And on the way back, I forgot that since we did not have a direct flight, we would have to go through customs with all our luggage then recheck them in for our domestic flight.

I could not have gotten it done without my cousin there. It was hard. SO HARD. (I was still recovering from the flu and I just could not manage all our luggage along with all my children.) I am SO GRATEFUL he was there. Even a minor thing such as him being there allowed me to go to the bathroom without worrying about my kids being alone.

As for during our stay, several times, my cousins would bring food over (both in terms of dinner and in terms of fruit and snacks). They also lent me supplies that I needed for the kids’ school so I didn’t have to buy them. Super helpful!

2) Make a packing list at least a month (or two) in advance.

That way, you have enough time to order stuff on Amazon or go to a physical store and buy. And of course, anything you forget to purchase, you can most likely buy in Taiwan. It is, after all, a developed country. The only problem is that everything is in Chinese.

THAT IS A REALLY BIG PROBLEM. (If you are mediocre like me.)

Here’s a pic of my packing list. Obviously, YMMV.

3) Know your limits.

If you are going to be single parenting it in a foreign country (or really, anywhere – and quite frankly, even if you have a partner in the picture), you really need to know your limits.

You have to be brutally honest with yourself about your capacity and ability to handle shit. BECAUSE SHIT WILL HAPPEN.

So, I know that I have a really low tolerance for sightseeing stuff – especially with so many wiggly and crappy kids. I also hate eating out with my kids. Or really, doing ANYTHING with my kids.

As a result, we saw nothing. We ate out at ONE restaurant. We avoided anything that I hated doing. If I knew something would piss me off if the kids were with me, I would either not do it or only do it when they were in school.

I also made sure I got enough sleep because I know that when I’m sleep deprived, I am even meaner. And because I have a low noise tolerance level, I was okay with the kids having a lot of screen time. Like, A LOT of screen time. Because that is the only time they are guaranteed to be silent. Because their brains are rotting.

4) Be OK with feeling stupid. ALL THE TIME.

I am not kidding.

I spent 99.9% of the time in Taiwan feeling like an idiot.

It’s sad, really. I always forget and think that I’m fluent in Chinese when I’m in the US because really, my Chinese is pretty good. When I am in the US.

When I’m in Taiwan? MY CHINESE IS SAD AND JUST ENOUGH TO KNOW THAT I AM MISSING SOMETHING IMPORTANT.

I cannot wait until my children’s Chinese is better than mine so they understand what people are saying to us. Better yet. When they can read the Chinese so that we don’t have to speak to anyone.

I don’t know how to explain to people who have not experienced this, but ultimately, it’s not that we don’t understand Chinese. It’s just that everyone speaks so quickly. Or they use obscure terms. Or super polite terms. Or super official sounding terms. Or normal terms that our parents never saw the need to teach us. Or terms our parents didn’t know to teach us. Or terms they might have taught us but we never retained.

Couple that with my functional illiteracy, I end up asking questions that are obviously labeled and answered IF ONLY I COULD READ ALL THE WORDS. OR IF ONLY I COULD COMPREHEND WHAT THESE WORDS I CAN READ MEAN TOGETHER IN A SENTENCE.

5) Have a routine.

This seems silly but routines saved me.

They ensured that I remembered to do things like pack lunches, refill water bottles, had clean clothes, sunblocked and bug sprayed my children, and washed the dishes.

I mean, would these things have gotten done WITHOUT the routine? Yes. Of course. How could they not?

But my life was much less stressful because these routines became muscle memory and I didn’t have to expend as much brain power trying to make sure everything got done.

6) Appropriate footwear is key.

I am a big fan of kids having covered toes and sneaker like shoes because Taipei is an urban city and the last thing I want is for their flip flops or crocs to get caught in an escalator or snag on uneven sidewalks and then end up at the hospital to replace a toe.

So, I made sure we had shoes that were breathable, had sneaker like tread, but could dry quickly if they got wet in the rain or water. I chose to buy (affiliate link) Stride Rite Phibians. They’re boring and sturdy and get the job done.

7) Take out is your friend.

I don’t understand how some of my friends would physically bring their children to restaurants and then eat dinner during prime people eating time. That sounds like my personal version of hell.

Maybe it’s because I have never trained my children to behave in public. Or that there are too many of them. But by the end of the day, I can’t think of anything my children want to do less than sit still and quietly while waiting for their food (that they might not eat) and then eating it. (And also hoping there are forks because only one of my kids can use chopsticks.)

No, thanks.

Instead, I found a place by my kids’ camp and bought off their menu almost every week night (before even picking them up) and then we would eat it at home while they zombied out on iPads.

8) Indoor play spaces are also your friend. (But they are expensive.)

Look, maybe my feral children are unique, but they are used to a lot more space in the States and being at parks and running around to let out their boundless energy.

It’s not that there aren’t parks (and great parks) in Taiwan. It’s just that it’s hot and there are a lot of mosquitoes. Nothing makes a park less fun than a blazing sun that is trying to melt you and incinerate your body with fire. And when you’re hiding from the sun, eating you alive with evil, tiny black mosquitoes.

Nope. No thanks.

So, indoor play spaces are great.

9) Make sure your kids understand how to navigate a city.

Since my kids are born and bred in the sprawl of an American suburb, they are not used to the density of people, the pace of the movement, and the rules of city life.

So most of my stress was making sure my kids weren’t impeding the flow of traffic by coming to a dead stop in front of an elevator, turnstile, stairwell, escalator, MRT door, middle of a crosswalk – YOU NAME IT, THEY’VE JUST STOOD THERE LIKE IDIOTS WITH MOUTHS AGAPE.

Oh, I was also worried about them plummeting to their deaths from the 3-4 story high escalators.

Also? My kids are not quiet. Or well-behaved.

Taiwanese children apparently know that they’re supposed to be quiet and well-behaved in public and on public transportation.

So, other than trying to civilize my children, I also had to make sure I didn’t lose them among the crush of people on escalators, MRT trains, buses, and THE SIDEWALK.

10) Remember, your children get culture shock, too. And jetlag. My God, the jetlag.

You know how everything is hard and foreign and overwhelming to you? It’s the same (and perhaps moreso) for your children.

Be kind. And gracious.

If you can remember. (I often did not.)

11) Get internet access for your phone.

You can buy a SIM card with a Taiwanese phone number at the airport and/or at local telecom stores. Or, you can rent a hotspot. Either way, YOU NEED INTERNET ACCESS.

In Taiwan, you buy two separate services: talking minutes and data. You need to buy both, but data is VITAL.

How else will you find what foods, attractions, activities, and addresses are by you?

12) Google Maps and Pleco are your best friends. 

This is, of course, predicated on having internet access.

Google Maps has improved so much since I started going back to Taiwan three years ago. (Has it really only been three years?)

As long as you know your destination, Google Maps will tell you how to get there. Of course, you can always take a taxi – and Google Maps will tell you how long that will take.

But, it will also tell you how to get there (and how long it will take) via public transportation (MRT, bus, train, etc.) or walking.

Plus, now if you click on the bus numbers, Google Maps will show you all the other buses you could take, how many minutes until they arrive, how many stops there will be until your destination, and how much it will cost!

Just keep in mind that there is sometimes more than one bus stop in a given location. It took awhile for me to realize that the buses are grouped by each stop (logical) versus just listing all the possible buses you can take near you. You need to click on the separate bus listings to see all the other possible buses that are available to you.

Also, you can also change the date and time when you’re searching. This is important because if you search directions in the middle of the night, you might think there are zero to no options when in reality, during the day, there will be lots of options. Or, if you search during commuting hours but then travel on a weekend or during non-commuting hours, you will think you have more options when really, you have few.

Ask me how I know.

For the MRT, Google Maps will tell you which exit you take (there are many exits per MRT station) and trust me when I say, the longer you can stay within the air-conditioned confines of an MRT station and avoid the fiery ball of gas outside the better.

As for Pleco, unless you are native fluent and also functionally literate, YOU WILL NEED A GOOD TRANSLATION APP.

Some people prefer Google Translate. I prefer Pleco.

Plus, Pleco has OCR where you can just scan characters and it will tell you (for free) how to pronounce the characters (but not their definitions). That is useful if you understand Chinese but just can’t read. Not so useful if you don’t.

13) Don’t bother with car seats. 

If you are super worried, just take public transportation or walk. For the rides to and from the airport, you can call ahead and book a taxi that will rent you up to two carseats. (In this same vein, there are companies where you can rent pack ‘n plays and other baby things.)

Just keep in mind that no taxi will wait for you to install/uninstall a car seat – and even supposing you do find a taxi that will, are you really going to be walking around Taipei carrying a car seat along with your children?

Get over it. Kids here ride ON MOTOR SCOOTERS.

Anyhow, I hope this was helpful.

If you have a lot of time on your hands or just want more of me, here’s my Facebook Live video that discusses a lot of these same things (but unedited and with perhaps some more swears).

I Didn’t Believe My Own Advice

*This post contains Amazon Affiliate links. 

I have a major confession to make.

Even though I have written a book about teaching your kid Chinese and have written extensively on how to get your kids bilingual and bi-literate, I secretly was afraid it wasn’t true.

That I was full of crap.

That maybe, what I was advocating was fine in theory but kinda sketchy in the application.

I mean, I had seen examples of people ahead of me on the Chinese journey and it’s what they did (and did successfully), but I had yet to really see my kids get to a level where I could semi-breathe a sigh of relief.

Yes, yes.

They’re not bad, but where was this miraculous “just make them read and they will start becoming more literate” thing going to kick in for me?

Cookie Monster is almost eight. WHEN IS THIS GOING TO HAPPEN?

In fact, right before we left for Taiwan, we were going through a rough patch of reading. We had been going through a daily reading workbook as well as the 小書包 (xiao3 shu bao)/Little Back Pack series, and Cookie Monster was getting better at reading comprehension.

However, for some reason, he started having trouble with his tones. I was getting super mad at him and yelling and he would be in tears.

And even though he went on a trip to DC with my mother to visit my brother and she said Cookie Monster did really well with reading in Chinese that trip and that both she and my brother were really impressed, I wasn’t reassured. (Although, Cookie Monster did text me a lot in Chinese and he was handwriting the texts and it was hilarious and awesome.)

Then, we went to Taiwan for a month and I did not bother making him read at all.

When we got back, we started back up with the reading again and he was again, super horrible with his tones. I couldn’t understand how he could go from having no problem with tones to having HUGE difficulty with discerning and saying the second and third tones.

Needless to say, I was not patient or kind and my poor child shriveled before my eyes.

I had to super chill out and remind myself that I was not a failure and neither was Cookie Monster.

But mostly, I was pissed off that I had wasted so many dollars on zhuyin teachers and Chinese tutoring because clearly, he was not improving – and not only that, he was regressing.

And then, this week, it happened.

IT HAPPENED.

I think it was the eclipse.

On a whim, I decided to issue myself a two week challenge to try and have Cookie Monster finally attack a chapter book after a year long break. (We had tried the Little Bear series and though he read them, he wasn’t that interested and it seemed a little hard for him.)

I made him read the Frog and Toad series by Arnold Lobel (I will be reviewing this next week) and halfway through the second book, IT HAPPENED.

Something clicked and he refused to stop.

Cookie Monster started to pick up the book without me asking him to and would read a chapter or two. Then he moved on to reading a whole five chapter book in one sitting.

He even started reading silently to himself.

And when he was done with the series? He asked for more.

He said that he liked longer books because they were more interesting.

And then, Cookie Monster went looking on our bookshelf and took out a Mr. Men and Little Miss book. Even though these books are harder to read than to listen to on CD, I think because he had heard them so often in the car, it wasn’t so bad for him.

And read he did.

For years, I would hear of my friends complaining that their kids would just read and not do anything else and how it seemed ridiculous to complain about it, but FFS, the kids wouldn’t do homework, eat, bathe, or sleep.

I would laugh and say, “Too bad I don’t have this problem!”

But now, I do. (Or at least, I have had this problem for the last few days.)

I AM BOTH SO HAPPY AND RELIEVED AND ALSO ANNOYED THAT I NOW HAVE THIS PROBLEM.

He has now started following me around to pester – I mean, ASK – me about zhuyin pronunciations. EVEN WHEN I AM TRYING TO LOAD KIDS INTO THE CAR FOR CLASS OR PUT SASQUATCH DOWN FOR A NAP OR WHEN I AM GOING TO THE BATHROOM.

This just goes to show you that I will never be happy.

Cookie Monster has now attempted to read while I was trying to teach him the different types of matter (solid, liquid, and gas), while cleaning up (and as a result, walking into things), and while eating lunch.

He has refused to play with his siblings because he wants to read – and Gamera and Glow Worm were baffled.

And annoyed. They were really annoyed.

Gamera kept asking me why Cookie Monster wanted to read so much. (Literally word for word the same thing Cookie Monster would ask Fleur’s eldest daughter, Bebe, when she was reading Magic Treehouse and Harry Potter.)

He even told me today that he really wanted to read a lot and to get better at reading Chinese.

Seriously. I almost checked the sky to see if there were pigs flying.

So, is there a point to this post other than my shameless bragging about my firstborn FINALLY showing an interest in reading (which is one of my favorite pastimes)?

I’m so glad you asked.

Other than another totally legitimate way to plug my book and my excellent advice that though I doubted, CAME THROUGH AFTER ALL, I thought I would give some unsolicited advice about the process of literacy (Chinese or otherwise).

Incidentally, the process in general is: Front load as many characters as possible (usually via Sagebooks). Teach zhuyin. Read, read, read.

And of course, all of this is useless without comprehension so obviously, increase that. (Just buy my book already.)

Alright. On with my unsolicited advice.

1) It’s okay to doubt the process. Do it (the process) anyway.

I mean, again. I wrote a book about it. I still worried and felt like a fraud. But I put in the work (although somewhat inconsistently) and eventually, it paid off.

2) Consistency is key.

I’m pretty sure if I had just consistently persisted with helping Cookie Monster read daily, he would have made the leap to chapter books and considering reading as pleasure much earlier.

I am trying to learn from my mistakes and be MUCH more consistent with Gamera (5.75) who, though she loves to hear stories in Chinese, is really resistant to reading in Chinese. Because it’s hard. And takes effort.

I have to remind myself that I did not demand as much from Cookie Monster when he was her age and that though she is really good at reading with zhuyin (and honestly, better than Cookie Monster), she is still two years younger and has a much different tolerance level for hard work.

3) Having a library is important.

You know, Guavarama constantly blogs about building a Chinese library and often told me that I needed more books at certain levels and though I bought them, part of me was really resistant.

I mean, HOW MANY BOOKS DO WE REALLY NEED, AMIRITE?

Even the ever patient Hapa Papa was annoyed at all our Chinese books. He kept saying, “Why are we spending all our money on books no one is ever going to read?”

I wanted to smack him because he doesn’t read books in general, but also because he voiced a small, terrible fear that would whisper in the back of my mind as I threw down hundreds and thousands of dollars on boxes of books.

Anyway, I finally stopped buying so many picture books and early beginning reader books because COME ON!!!

But now, I’m worried that I do not have enough because Cookie Monster is tearing through the books. He read 4-5 Mr. Men books JUST THIS MORNING. (Thank goodness there are 96 in the set.)

This brings me to the real reason why you need a library in your home (or spread across the homes of your friends). If you are willing to put in the work and drive, your local libraries may also be useful.

You need a LOT of books available because your child may not read all of them.

This pains me to say, but though I have been methodically working my way through all the books we own with the children, they sometimes just aren’t interested (or don’t have the comprehension). So, some books just might never get read.

You also need at least two levels ahead of your kid’s current reading level. Why? Because kids jump levels or sometimes blast through levels very quickly.

And if you do not have those books at your home or readily available and you order books from Taiwan or China, for Pete’s sake, don’t be a cheapass. Pay for shipping by AIR.

What is the point of waiting two months for the books to ship by sea? HAVE YOU NEVER MET A CHILD BEFORE?

First of all, that’s two months your child could be reading.

Second, in two months, your kid might not care or regress or any number of things because children are assholes and live to thwart our will.

This way when lightning strikes, (and boy, did it strike), and your kid all of a sudden wants to read as many books as they can get their hands on, it’s fortuitous and expeditious to have the appropriate leveled books in your house.

All Cookie Monster had to do was go to our bookshelves and pick out the books he wanted to read. And he did.

Otherwise, he might have been interested and willing, but by the time I got books from a friend or the library or from a very slow boat, he might not have been interested and willing anymore.

You know how kids are. They suck.

Capricious bastards.

4) Competency and comprehension are vital.

It is belaboring the obvious, but that’s what I’m here for: to point out the obvious!

Look, it’s not fun to read if you’re not good at it.

Case in point: I can read Chinese books just fine if there is zhuyin. If there is not, it is a painful, laborious process and it doesn’t matter how awesome the story is or how great the illustrations, we are not reading the book because I associate it with pain.

The corollary is, it’s not fun to read if you don’t understand what you are reading.

Ever read the fine print in a contract (like when you sign away your life to Apple when you update your iOS or download an app) or the contraindications of a medication? Those are all words and you can read them, but are they comprehensible?

No. They are not.

No one reads these things for fun. If you do, YOU ARE A MONSTER.

If we as adults hate to read things we can’t read or understand, how much more so with children?

5) Age, maturity, development, and interest matter. 

As much as we would like to push our kids to be super readers, sometimes, it just depends on where they are developmentally and interest-wise.

It’s kind of like making your kids less picky eaters.

You just have to present a bunch of foods (or books) to your kid and make them try as many as you can and eventually, your kid either gives up and just eats crap they might not like, or they discover foods they didn’t realize they would like. But ultimately, it takes time – and sometimes, you just have to wait a phase out.

Hmmm. This metaphor may have devolved and not be as useful as I initially thought.

Whatever. You get the idea. You can’t expect your newborn to crawl, run, or be toilet trained. Same thing with literacy. Your kid just might not be there yet. The best you can do is to plug away, slowly but surely so that when the stars align, you’re ready.

See? I can be useful and non-braggarty!

I know I am nowhere near the finish line, but this week has given me hope and a very necessary boost. It helps me know that I’m on the right track and if I stay consistent, most likely the next leveling up will happen, too. (That would be reading books without zhuyin.)

Also? You’re not alone.

It’s totally normal to think that it’s taking forever and maybe it’s not worth it and OMG YOU HAVE WASTED ALL YOUR MONEY ON BOOKS AND CHINESE TUTORS.

Just keep at it and before you know it, another celestial event will happen and your child will be reading Chinese books. (Now, I just have to time it for GameraGlow Worm, and Sasquatch.)

For those of you who are ahead of us on this journey, any other advice? Let me know in the comments.

Final Money Tally For Taiwan Trip 2017

Alright, friends. Here’s the annual nitty gritty of how much my trip cost for my family of 2 adults and 4 children. Now, obviously, YMMV and your costs will certainly be different, but this is just to give you an idea. 

I will have notes below my handy dandy chart so without further ado, here’s how I spent my money this summer in Taiwan.

If you have a good memory, you’ll notice that it’s at least $3,000 less than I spent last year. And honestly, if you took out the money I spent on gifts to family (new babies and weddings all require red envelopes!), discounted my face lasering (a post for another day), the total would be $10,432.54.

Oh, and for those of you who asked, this broke down to about $372/day.

However, I just realized that since we used points instead of paying actual money for flights, it’s a wash (and actually, more expensive than my current costs).

Anyhow, why was the cost so much less this year? Mainly because we used points for plane tickets, Gamara (5.75) switched to a local camp, and we stayed for a shorter time.

Whatever the reasons, it was STILL a lot of money. Hapa Papa actually winced when I told him the total.

Alright, on to the breakdown.

Books & DVDs – $458.64

This year, I had my cousin buy a set of books for me before we even arrived. Then, the only other books and DVDs I bought were from Costco and the used book store, YA Books. I purposefully did not go to Eslite, or any other bookstores.

Why?

Because my trip to YA Books solidified in my mind that I really hate buying books. I panic. I see a wall of Chinese and freak out. And since my level is about the level of simple chapter books or picture books, those are the only books I am attracted to and buy.

I DON’T NEED ANY MORE OF THESE BOOKS!

The books I need are beyond my level and quite frankly, I am not qualified nor inclined to buy these books. I am not going to magically browse and find them in a used book store. So, I stopped going.

How will I then buy books? Like I have said on many an occasion, everyone needs a Guavarama. She will tell me what to buy. I will throw money at her. It all works out.

Camp – $2,215.48

Author’s Note: Please do not ask me (or my friends) what camps my children attended. Internet security is important to me. I will ignore all requests. 

The camps this year were the following:

1) Glow Worm (~4) – 4 weeks at an International School from 8am-4pm, including meals, field trips, and arts and crafts.

This camp alone was $34,000NT/$1030.30USD and I even got the early registration discount. Otherwise, the camp would have been $37,000NT/$1,121USD.

2) Gamera and Cookie Monster (7.5) – 4 different week long camps at a local camp from 8:30am-5pm, including meals, games, and materials (like the Chinese yoyo, ripsticks, and protective gear).

Their COMBINED camp fees was $31,316NT/$949USD. As you can see, much less expensive than Glow Worm’s International school. We also got an early registration discount of 20%.

Incidentally, I had to buy 3 of everything – not because all three were in the same camps – but because I did not want to hear Glow Worm complain and cry about not having a matching Chinese yoyo or ripstick.

Cosmetic – $404.55

Folks, I GOT MY FACE LASERED. Because I succumb easily to peer pressure and FOMO. I removed sun spots and some moles. Again, I promise I will have a more in depth post about this later – but obviously, this is a purely OPTIONAL cost.

Entertainment – $453.65

I did fewer play spaces and crafts this year. Mostly because I was lazy. Also, I took advantage of discounts and sold some of my extra tickets to friends. That’s really the only reason the cost is so low. But ultimately, we didn’t go out nearly as much this year as we did last year. I think my kids were really bummed about it.

Food – $1,028.45

Fun fact: I spent $100USD on shaved ice. That’s about 10% of my food expenditures and in line with what I call a fantastic summer. After all, it was my goal to eat at least 1-2 shaved ice a day.

AND I DID. AND IT WAS GOOD.

I also found a local place that I purchased 70% of our dinners and bentos for the boys (they have food allergies so I pack all their lunches instead of eating at the schools). This place was much cheaper than eating at nicer restaurants that I bought takeout from last year.

Groceries – $152.06

This year, I took my advice from last year and went to Costco right away to buy the books and foods my kids would want right away. I shopped more at the Wellcome Mart instead of the fancy City Super (a market geared to ex-pats) and generally accepted the fact that I would NOT attempt ANY cooking whatsoever.

My kids were also more accepting of different foods than last year so I didn’t have to buy as many $10 cereal boxes. That definitely cut down the cost!!

Lodging – $3,603

Our costs for AirBnB were less than last year because we cut short our trip by about ten days. And also, I did not end up going to Kaohsiung to visit my family due to a typhoon that weekend so that was also a money saver.

Keep in mind, your costs will depend on the location and neighborhood and size of your apartment.

We had a 2 bedroom, 1 bath, kitchenette, washing machine, and approximately 800 sqft apartment. The entire place was newly remodeled and clean. Plus, there was housekeeping twice a week where they would do dishes, change sheets and towels, and take out the garbage.

The best part of this place was that I did not have to chase down the garbage truck every night and there was a garbage place in the actual building. We had to do some sorting (the BANE of my existence), but this is better than buying the specific Taipei garbage bags you need to use.

Also, we were literally above the MRT station and next to lots of convenient department stores and food places. It was super convenient and next to a lot of easy bus stops, grocery stores, and most importantly: shaved ice.

We ended up staying 33 days and 32 nights and including the $200 AirBnB fee, it ended up being $113/night for two adults and four children. That’s a pretty good rate for the area we lived.

Misc. – $403.03

Not sure exactly what this was, hence the miscellany. But it still added up.

Phone – $66.67

This probably could have been cheaper if I just rented a hotspot or did not Facebook Live away all my data so that I had to buy more. Ah well. Live and learn.

Gifts -$242.42

If you don’t have family in the area or don’t do gifts in general, you wouldn’t likely have this expense. However, if you were also buying gifts for people back at home, this may or may not be in line with what you would spend.

I have a lot of family in Taiwan and they experienced expensive life events so normally, I would not have shelled out as much in gifts. But you know, it all evens out because they also gave us gifts (both this year and in years past).

Transportation – $2,051.56

Regarding plane tickets, we bought Hapa Papa’s ticket out right. (He was a last minute addition to the trip.) And we used points for 1 adult, 1 lap child, and 3 children. We paid a bit to buy additional points and pay for taxes and fees, but overall, $1,772 to transport 6 humans across the ocean and back is a pretty good deal.

We predominantly used the MRT and buses this trip and since I only had to pay for Cookie Monster and me, the costs were low. Next year, Gamera will be six so we’ll also have to pay for her.

Ohohohoh, and I finally figured out the bus routes so I saved a lot on cabs this year. I knew I could take the bus last year but for some reason, it seemed much more intimidating and I was hugely pregnant so my brain was like FUCK ALL NEW INFORMATION WE WILL CAB IT.

Regards to taxis, $96 of the cab fares were the trips to and from the airport.

DO YOU KNOW WHAT THIS MEANS?

That means I spent only $54 on cabs for my entire trip. With an 8-9 month old and three children 7 and under.

YOU WILL BOW DOWN BEFORE ME AND MY AWESOMENESS.

And on that note, I think I will end this post because really. How can I top that? I CANNOT.

Have a great weekend, folks!

Taiwan Trip 2017 Post Mortem

Now that we’re back from our Taiwan Trip, it’s time for the post mortem. (Note, I did not call it a vacation because let’s face it. No trip with small children is a vacation.)

I totally thought I would have written more on this trip. I mean, last year, I seemed to be writing a lot! But then, I remembered that I had Sasquatch strapped to me and that I was out almost all day and by the time the kids were in bed, my brain was mush.

I did a lot of FB Live videos, though!

But honestly, I felt silly blogging about my trip this year because quite frankly, it was remarkably similar to last year. I mean, the kids were in pretty much the same camps and schools, the routes I took were the same. I ate, hung out with friends, and took care of kids at night.

Oh, don’t worry. I will probably do at least one more Taiwan related post unless I really get off my ass and turn some of my FB Live videos into blog posts. I will do a financial write up of the trip and maybe a Chinese update/summary/camp thingy. But otherwise, my brain has moved onto the new homeschooling school year.

Sorry, folks.

I see no need for guilt about posts I should have written to hang over me.

HOWEVER. Here are some random, disparate thoughts/mental flotsam nougats to hold you over until the more substantial posts. (Just thinking about writing those is exhausting.)

1) Being in Taiwan with three young kids and a nine month old baby strapped to me is SO MUCH BETTER THAN being in Taiwan with three young kids and pregnant.

OMG I CANNOT ADEQUATELY EXPRESS HOW MUCH BETTER IT IS.

Most of you long time readers know this, but last year was just one long, 40 week shitty mood. As soon as the baby was born though, it was great!

I totally thought that Taiwan with four kids would be worse than Taiwan with three kids. IT WAS NOT. Apparently babies are easy. Pregnancies are NOT.

2) It also helped that my kids are older this year. Plus, I already knew what I was doing – everything was familiar. The apartment was the same. The driver was the same. Our schools and camps were the same. And not only that, I built on last year’s knowledge and added NEW knowledge of bus routes, etc.

My mother was there for the first 10 days and I was so sorry she left. She didn’t sit with us on the plane, but she was super helpful in the apartment at bedtime! A lot of my friends were in Taiwan at the same time with their kids (some of them at the same camps) and my cousin’s kid was also at the same camp.

3) This year, I realized early on that though I liked food, what I really wanted to eat was shaved ice. So really, I just spent most of every day eating shaved ice. Food was consumed, but not nearly with as much fervor as Taiwanese shaved ice.

4) I am more than pretty sure that there will be a Taiwan Trip 2018 because I am a glutton for punishment and I am incredibly stupid – but it will be even better because it will be the THIRD year at the same schools and camps and hopefully, apartments.

5) I don’t really think my kids’ Chinese improved that much this time around. I think because this year, despite being in the Chinese environment, Cookie Monster (7.5) resisted speaking Chinese and thus, so did Gamera (5.5). Glow Worm (~4) was in school though, so his Chinese improved a lot. Their vocabulary still expanded so I guess that is still a good thing.

This is a lot of the reason I want to go back again next year. I worry if I skip even one year, the chance to catch Cookie Monster up or stem the inevitable English slide will not be in time.

Actually, come to think of it, Cookie Monster and Gamera’s Chinese did improve, but it was in super specific areas pertaining to their camps. I really would NEVER encounter these new words because I am never going to talk about science, water rockets, ripsticks, or even the random games they played.

So, I guess the only way to know whether their Chinese improved is if they all of a sudden start speaking incomprehensible Chinese words to me.

Incidentally, I never knew 營 (ying2/camp) was a word you could use by itself. Like, “This week, we are doing blah blah blah 營.”

Looks like Cookie Monster learned something after all!

6) Back in 2014, Cookie Monster only ate white rice the first four weeks and didn’t venture to try beef noodle soup until the last week we were there. Gamera was a tiny bit more adventurous, but still mostly ate white rice. Only Glow Worm ate everything set in front of him, but since he was 11 months old, I didn’t think it would last.

Terrible.

Last year, they expanded their food repertoire and ate a lot of fried rice, a variety of noodles, potstickers, and 小籠包 (xiao3 long2 bao/soup dumplings). Glow Worm again ate everything set in front of him – including a bunch of fruit.

This year, they were even more improved! (I firmly believe it’s because I have been so good about cooking with the Instant Pot and making them eat things they don’t necessary like.)

In fact, we managed to NOT eat at McDonald’s the entire trip except for the last weekend – and even then, it was only because I had the flu and Hapa Papa needed to take them somewhere easy for him to order.

You guys. DO YOU EVEN KNOW HOW AMAZING THAT IS?

I consider it a WIN.

Oh. AND THEY EVEN ATE ON THE PLANE.

7) Kids were much better about going to their camps this time around. Glow Worm only cried the second day when he realized that school was a permanent situation. But then we had a conversation, he no longer cried and RAN to his teachers and barely glanced at me when I dropped him off. He was such a big boy.

Oh, and THIS year, he actually participated (and with great enthusiasm) in all the session end performances. HE WAS ADORABLE.

Gamera was much happier this year because she was with Cookie Monster and not bored out of her mind learning characters she already knew. They took Chinese yo-yo, Ripstick, and games sessions. Gamera also took a sewing class and Cookie Monster took a science class.

They LOVED the courses. Surprisingly, Cookie Monster liked the science class the most! Gamera liked the sewing class the best. They both complained that they wanted to take a cooking class – so I told them I would try to sign them up for it next year.

8) If we go next year, (which we probably will), I will likely keep it at the 4.5 week mark. Both the kids and I are sick of Taiwan by then – and I think it’s better to leave wanting more vs. staying until you are sick of a place.

I might stay a few extra days at the end because the kids complained that we didn’t play enough, but truthfully, by the end of each stay, they are so sick of the heat that they never want to leave the apartment.

9) Because I had the flu, Hapa Papa took Gamera to buy breakfast and she did all the ordering and paid. I think she was a little shy about it, but she did a good job.

10) Of course, my kids loved all the DIY crafts. I resisted though and we managed not to go completely bankrupt. I suppose I should just consider it one on one paid Chinese arts and crafts instruction.

11) Oh, and people wanted to know how it was traveling around Taipei with a fat 8-9 month old baby on my person. Just like 2014, it was hot and my entire front would be dripping wet. Sasquatch would also be dripping wet from my sweat. But ultimately, it was pretty easy.

Because I am his food and tend to nurse him in the Ergo, it was such a gross mix of fluids. There was my boob sweat, my hand sweat, his head sweat, his saliva, and my milk. Mmmmm… slippery.

But mostly, since he only just started cruising and is otherwise, non-mobile, it was very easy. Just slippery with sweat. People are endlessly kind and always offering seats on MRTs and buses (which I refused because like all my babies, Sasquatch insisted on me standing).

Since I hate strollers, I really didn’t have to make much of an accommodation to Sasquatch’s presence. And once I realized I needed to be home for part of the day to allow him a nice long, uninterrupted nap, he was much happier. It was easy peasy.

Alright. I think that’s it for now. Hopefully, I will not burn out on the Taiwan Trip topic and you will not be bored too terribly to have to read more about it. And again, if I am feeling really on top of things, I will turn my FB lives into posts.

Thanks for reading! I’m so happy to be back home.

Don’t Believe What You Read on the Internet

I have a confession to make.

I know I’m all RAH RAH about making my kids speak Chinese all their applicable waking hours. Shoot, I even wrote a book on the subject (affiliate link). And after the thousands of words I’ve written about my kids and our learning Chinese endeavors, etc. ad nauseammy children still prefer to speak English.

In fact, they would speak English all day if I let them.

The constant refrains at my house are, “說中文!” (shuo zhong wen2/Speak Chinese!) or “聽不懂!” (ting bu2 dong3/I don’t understand!)

And then, sometimes in moments of exasperation, I threaten ridiculous things such as taking away all their toys, forcing them to only watch Chinese YouTube, or taking away all English screen time.

I have even threatened them to not be able to play with each other (since all they speak is English – EVEN TO THE BABY).

It drives me up the wall.

I am exasperated and frustrated and feel like a failure and a hypocrite.

In my moments of angst, I see all the thousands of dollars I’ve spent on Chinese swirling to the bottom of the toilet as it flushes into the sewage system.
And then, if I happen to be on Facebook, I will catch glimpses of other bilingual mothers posting pics or videos or posts about their awesome kids reading super hard/advanced Chinese books and I’m like, CRAP ON A STICK.

Now, keep in mind, I LIVE on Facebook. I understand that what happens on Facebook is heavily curated, capturing only the best (or most comically horrible) moments in a life. After all, I am a Master Facebooker (though a bit more TMI than most).

So I GET IT. Facebook is not Reality.

But sometimes, just sometimes, I see these flashes of other brilliantly bilingual kids and instead of seeing them as inspiration or future possible versions of my children in some ideal world, I instead see judgment, failure, and an impossible obstacle.

After all, I am sooooooo lazy. And my Chinese, though pretty good, is going to be tapping out. Soon. Like, REALLY SOON.

WHAT AM I GOING TO DO WITH ALL THESE HIGHER LEVEL CHINESE BOOKS IN MY HOUSE???

Here’s the thing.

It doesn’t matter how good the other kids’ Chinese are. 

In fact, short of having actual conversations with these children (assuming your Chinese is good and advanced enough to do this), you really will never know their “true” level – which, incidentally, is meaningless and likely fluctuates on a given day and subject matter.

What you are seeing on the internet is just a slice of time. A teeny, tiny, fractional instant of a REALLY REALLY REALLY long day.

Chinese is not mastered in a day. Or even a week.

So don’t worry. Chill out.

Get off of Facebook. Get off my blog (although, do buy my book) and be happy with what you’ve managed to accomplish.

Whatever you are doing (or not doing) will not doom your child forever to a life of sad monolingualism (is that even a word?). Life is long and unexpected; the time to learn Chinese is both too short and a lifetime’s worth.

You are NOT a failure.

Your children are perfect.

It will be ok.

So… I Made a Thing

So, remember how I’ve been talking about finishing my ebook and how I have been afraid and all sorts of stuff?

Well… I finally finished.

And it’s on Amazon (affiliate link).

Here’s my new book, So You Want Your Kid to Learn Chinese. I collected and updated my popular series by the same name, added a few exclusive new chapters (23 chapters in total) and included an all new Action Plan cowritten with Guavarama

I crammed it full of practical advice, detailed applications, and heavy amounts of snark (although minus the swears) on how you can help supplement your child’s Chinese language acquisition.

Thanks to all my wonderful friends for already starting to share.  

Spread the word and if you do buy, please review on Amazon. That would help out tremendously! Thanks, everyone!

Hiring an Au Pair for Chinese Fluency

One of the many great suggestions for helping our kids with Chinese fluency is to hire an au pair. Since I have never hired one, our guest poster, Hapalicious, offered up a fantastic write up of her experiences and advice for those of us who have thought about hiring an au pair to help with Chinese fluency.

Please to enjoy!

It was a goal of mine to meet Mandarin Mama during our summer trip to Taiwan last year – I read her blog obsessively, and she (along with fellow ladyboss Guavarama) is my bilingual mom idol.  So after some light cyberstalking, I convinced her that I am not a crazy person—heh heh—and being shameless foodsluts, we met up to chat over some TPE noms.

Fast forward to a few weeks ago, when we got involved in a somewhat contentious online debate with another parent about Chinese au pairs (and racism, but that’s a story for another time).  After the melee, Mandarin Mama generously offered to share a piece I wrote for some friends who were considering au pairs and wondering what issues to think about.

Some background info about me and my family:  I am ABC and hapa, my dad is a monolingual English speaker from Kansas and my mother is from China by way of Taiwan (she immigrated to the US for grad school in her 20s).  I was born and raised in the midwestern US, and my monolingual Mandarin-speaking maternal grandmother lived with us starting when I was about age 7.

My only formal Chinese language education growing up was Saturday school, which I hated.  However, I came back to my Chinese studies during college, and I spent a semester in Taipei interning at a bank and taking language classes at National Taiwan Normal University (my mom’s alma mater).  As an adult, my spoken Chinese is fairly proficient but lacking in sophisticated vocabulary, and I have the literacy level of maybe a 2nd or 3rd grader in Taiwan – I’ve always wished my language abilities were better.

Ten years ago, I married a non-Chinese, non-Mandarin-speaking American and we have two kids, currently ages 6.5 (DD Peaches) and 3 (DS Blueberry).  We call them our “quapas”, and to look at them one would think that they have no Asian heritage whatsoever.  Their non-Chinese physical appearance has definitely fed into my crazy tiger mom obsession with raising our children bilingually, so that they will feel some meaningful connection to their ancestry.

Luckily, my spouse is onboard with this, so I have been free to create our Chinese Language Ecosystem (h/t Oliver Tu) as I see fit.  A huge part of that ecosystem, of course, is surrounding the kids with Chinese-speaking caregivers.

To that end, we have had two au pairs from mainland China, each of whom was with our family for the maximum 2-year term.  We welcomed our first au pair when Peaches was just under 3 months old, and our second au pair arrived when Blueberry was 3 months old.  There was a gap of about 1.5 years between the two au pairs, when Peaches (then an only child) had started preschool and I needed less help.

CHINESE LANGUAGE ACQUISITION

My strategy toward achieving multilingualism for my kids has been to establish Chinese as the dominant language in the early years (0-4).  When Peaches was an infant, I was usually around the house since I wasn’t working at the time, so I decided to utilize my au pair more like a mother’s helper. I just wanted an extra pair of hands to help out with everything – and, most importantly, a true native Mandarin speaker to help create a richer Chinese language environment in the home.

So my au pair and I would only speak Mandarin to Peaches and to each other, giving Peaches the benefit of both participating in direct language interaction and hearing adult conversation. With the help of my au pair, I bought a bunch of Chinese board books, CDs, and toys, downloaded songs and nursery rhymes from the internet, and generally acquired tons of materials to help surround Peaches with the written and spoken Chinese language.

As she got older, my au pair and I continued to speak to her only in Mandarin, even when she started a Spanish/English bilingual school (I’ll leave the trilingual element for another post).

Once Blueberry was born and our second au pair arrived, we took the same approach. An unexpected bonus of using this strategy was that since both kids started out strongly dominant in Mandarin, Blueberry wasn’t able to play with Peaches in English at all (which she had inevitably picked up from my spouse and our outside community by age 4.5).

So Peaches has very willingly continued to speak primarily Mandarin at home since that was her younger brother’s only real mode of verbal communication. Even now, when they are almost 3.5 and 7, their preferred common language is Mandarin. I attribute that to always having a “jiejie” around playing with them, modeling Mandarin and tipping our at-home language environment heavily toward Chinese.

Along the way, both au pairs continued to help me find age-appropriate books, games, apps, audiobooks, DVDs and other materials (many thanks to Mandarin Mama and Guavarama) –this has been a huge bonus since I am quite illiterate, and many of the Chinese and Taiwanese websites are difficult to navigate.

AU PAIR BASICS

Now, a few quick au pair facts:

  • The au pair program is actually regulated by the State Department as a cultural exchange program (the au pairs enter the country on a specific au pair / cultural exchange J-1 visa, not a work visa).  As a government-regulated program, there are a number of rules, including…
  • The rate you must pay to the au pair is a stipend of just under $200 per week.  Any agency fees are over and above that, and they are mostly around $3000-4000 for a year — for us, it ended up working out to a total of less than $400 / week (including all fees) for each au pair.
  • Au pairs can work up to 45 hours per week, and no more than 10 hours per day.
  • Au pairs must be between the ages of 18-26 when they begin the program.
  • The initial commitment is for 1 year, and the host family and au pair have the mutual option (i.e. both have to agree) to renew for up to another additional year (i.e. two years total).  Au pairs can also transition to a different family after the first year if they prefer.

There are many au pair agencies, and their websites have a ton of other info about the program, including the process of finding, interviewing, and selecting an au pair, transitioning to a new au pair if you find that your first choice is a bad match, etc – so I won’t talk too much about all of that here.  Many of these websites also list the benefits of having an au pair, versus a nanny or other options.

There are pros and cons to everything, of course, which will depend on your specific needs and your family / home situation.  Here is my own personal overview on some things to think about in general – again, every family is different, so I’ve just laid out some pertinent issues and you can relate them to your own personal situation.  YMMV.

OTHER THINGS TO CONSIDER

1)  Cost.

Au pairs are generally less expensive than a full-time nanny.

Total monetary cost for an au pair is around $350 / week for 45 hours of childcare.  That number is made up of two things — first, you have to pay an annual agency fee (a lump sum of a few thousand dollars, which usually averages out to about $150/week), and second, you have to provide a stipend to the au pair of about $200/week.

In addition to those two costs, you have to provide room and board (i.e. food), and pay $500 per year toward their educational requirement – they basically have to take one or two classes at a local college during the year, it’s up to them to choose what/where.  They also get 2 weeks per year of paid vacation – that is, you still pay them $200/week, but they can travel or do whatever they like.

Even with all that, it’s still a lot cheaper than a nanny. Full-time nanny costs vary pretty widely, but in urban areas most of them are between $15-20 / hour plus paid sick days and vacation.

2)  Space and privacy.

You have to provide a private bedroom for the au pair, as well as a bathroom (the bathroom can be shared).  You would probably need to provide this for a live-in nanny as well.

There is definitely less privacy with live-in help – with another (non-spouse) adult in the house, you can’t exactly walk around naked, and you have to be more conscious of who might be around if you plan to have a romantic interlude.  You might also feel like you have to keep the house cleaner / in better shape – of course, the au pair can and should pitch in to make this a reality.

Since you’re all under the same roof, if you have an argument or misunderstanding it is more important to resolve it quickly since you can’t just ask her to leave.  On the plus side, I actually like to have another young adult around even if she’s not officially working – it makes me feel less like I’m in a “mommy bubble”.  In any case, there is an initial adjustment period of getting used to having a stranger living in the house, driving the car, etc.

3)  Flexibility.

I happen to love the “live-in” situation, because we have the space and it gives me and my spouse flexibility – for example, if we want to go out to dinner at night, we don’t have to rush home to relieve the babysitter, because she lives with us and doesn’t have to get home to her own family.

Or if I suddenly need to change my schedule one day because I need to go to a last-minute appointment, I can almost always work it out with the au pair (it’s VERY hard to find a babysitter on short notice where we live).

Au pairs have quite flexible hours – you just give them a schedule every week based on your needs, though of course you should take into account their other obligations (like the monthly au pair meetings or their class schedule).  You can have them work a split shift, like a few hours in the morning, then a few hours in the afternoon.  Or not work at all for a couple of days, then work 10 hours per day for a few days (10 hours / day is the maximum they can work, which may or may not be a problem for you).

You could possibly do this with a live-in nanny as well, but probably not with a live-out nanny.  This aspect has been particularly helpful since our kids started school, and we don’t need childcare during the day – I can have the au pair work in the morning to help everyone get ready, and then again in the afternoon / evening after school.

4)  Emergencies.  

This is related to the flexibility issue – if I wake up sick at 6 am, I can just knock on her door and she will help me with the kids even if she’s not yet scheduled to work.  Or if my spouse and/or I have to go to the hospital or have a work emergency, I know that she’ll be there for childcare.  Basically, we can depend on her to be there for us, and we’re happy to make it up to her later (adjust her schedule accordingly).

5)  Driving and transportation. 

You do not have to provide access to a car, but depending on the proximity of your home to mass transit, as well as your kids’ transportation needs, it may be wise to do so.  You are responsible for making sure the au pairs have a way to get to and from their other obligations (monthly au pair meetings and classes).

There is a huge variation in the driving ability of au pairs.  Ours have all been from big cities in China and had licenses but not much driving experience, so we paid for additional lessons.  Our house is not really accessible by public transportation, so it was important for the au pair to be able to drive herself by car (we have an extra car shared with a neighbor).

Depending on where you live, this may not be an issue, especially if there are bus or subway stops nearby.  Also, many au pairs from other countries do have solid driving skills and experience, so that may not be an issue either.

6)  Quality of childcare.

All au pairs have some level of childcare experience and receive a week of additional training upon arriving in the US.  However, as with any caregivers, their levels of experience, childcare philosophies, and personalities vary widely.

It’s really hard to generalize about the overall quality of care, except to say that I have seen the same range of positive and negative experiences among my friends with au pairs as with those who have nannies.  I think you just have to interview them really thoroughly and get to know them (as much as possible via Skype), and talk to their references to get a sense of how well they will meet your needs, take your direction, and vibe with you and your kids.

For me, I love that I have gotten to see our au pairs interact with the kids nearly every day whether they were on or off the clock.  I feel like I really got to know them in a way I wouldn’t if I was dropping my baby off somewhere every day, or leaving the house when a caregiver arrives and coming home as she leaves.

I also like that I’ve been able to shape their ideas about childrearing, “discipline”, communicating with kids, etc.  The definition of childcare is also broad – au pairs generally do laundry for the kids, help keep their rooms & play areas tidy, and prepare meals for them.

7)  Language. 

Au pairs and nannies vary widely in their language ability, and their English fluency may be a higher or lower priority to you depending on other factors.  If they have a different native tongue, it can be a huge bonus for your kids to learn a new language.

Again, for us, I specifically wanted a native Chinese speaker and English ability was less important because I knew I’d be around most of the time to translate for my spouse or other non-Chinese speakers.  For me, it’s been wonderful to help me improve my own language ability and be more disciplined about speaking Chinese with the kids.

It is important to discuss language expectations with potential au pairs, since many of them really want to improve their English (or whatever the majority language is in your country) during their au pair term and may be less willing to speak in their native tongue so they can “practice” English with your kids. We required consistent Mandarin interaction with the kids and myself but offered up my spouse as an English-language model. We also provided plenty of opportunities (classes, activities) outside of the house for the au pairs to learn and practice English.

8)  Cultural differences.

I haven’t experienced any major problems in this area, but I chose au pairs with whom I share a cultural background.  I actually have some Chinese friends who tried to have older Chinese “auntie” or “grandma” nannies, and they found it very difficult to be their boss.  I think because it’s so ingrained in Chinese culture to respect your elders, sometimes it can be a problem for older Chinese women to take directions from younger women (especially about parenting issues).

I think this would be less the case with nannies of other cultural backgrounds.  As for au pairs/nannies from other countries – obviously each culture has its norms, and there can be some bumpiness as you get used to negotiating those differences.

On the other hand, there is also a great deal to be learned about how things might be done differently in other families / parts of the world (holidays, games, food, parenting practices, etc), and the idea of cultural exchange is definitely a core mission of the au pair program.

9)  Age.

I personally love having younger caregivers because they generally have a lot of energy to play with and carry the kids all day!  Our au pairs have actually spent some of their off-time joining us for our kids’ other activities, like special outings or friends’ birthday parties, just because they love being around kids so much.

Unlike most of my friends’ older nannies that I mentioned earlier, they have listened and taken direction really well.  They have also treated me, my husband, and all of our friends and relatives with greater respect than I would have even expected – this may be the Chinese culture at play again.  The flip side of the age factor, of course, is that some younger adults may be more into partying / meeting boys / etc than maybe a middle-aged nanny (but not necessarily!).

This is where your own due diligence, personal judgment and values come into play.  We realized pretty quickly during our first interview that we had found a lovely, slightly dorky au pair who was more interested in visiting museums and libraries than nightclubs – and that was just fine with us.  For our second au pair, we sought out someone with a similar personality because it really suited our family.

10)  Sense of entitlement.

I haven’t experienced this personally, but some au pairs come from wealthy families who have a lot of luxuries, or from a family where it is expected to have a full time, live-in maid (more common in developing countries).  And some au pairs do live with VERY wealthy families while in the US, so it could be hard for a host family of lesser means to feel that they are giving their au pair “enough”, especially when the au pair starts talking about the foreign holidays or expensive gifts other families give their au pairs.  Again, I haven’t really seen this happen in my circles, but I wanted to mention it.

11)  Continuity.

Each of our au pairs stayed with us for the maximum two years.  On one hand, I worried a little bit about the transition at the end of the term, but on the other hand, I have heard many horror stories about nannies or babysitters who just quit with no notice.

Not that this cannot happen with an au pair, but it is much less likely.  In any case, when each of au pairs returned to China, the kids adjusted quickly and without incident, and we continue to communicate regularly with our former au pairs via Skype – bonus language practice!

12)  Meals & food. 

For meals, we pretty much only eat dinner all together on a regular basis since everyone in the family is on different daytime schedules.  Our au pairs have generally eaten breakfast and/or lunch with me and/or the kids, depending on work schedules.

There is an open invitation to join us for family meals if everyone is at home, and if she makes plans to go out with friends she is on her own financially.  She does not expect to be brought along if we are going out for a meal, unless it’s a special occasion or if she is working that day (like if we bring her to help with the kids on an outing) – but we do invite her if we feel it’s appropriate and not super expensive.

She pitches in on all the cooking, food prep and shopping (we reimburse her if she shops for us) as well as helping do the dishes.  It’s definitely nice having someone else help with the shopping, though she sometimes gets a bit of what I consider junk food (e.g. processed snacks or cookies) for herself that I personally wouldn’t eat, and she knows the kids aren’t allowed to have it.

13)  Vacations / travel / inclusion as “part of the family.”

Au pairs are expected to be treated as members of the family – it is closer than most employer/employee relationships. This can be hard for folks to understand.

I remember one host family asking about whether it would be okay to not invite their au pair for Christmas – and someone else asked her, “Well, where is she meant to spend it then, if not with you?” The host mother hadn’t thought about the fact that her au pair would be essentially alone at the holidays if she didn’t bring her along.

On the other hand, the first holiday break we had with our au pair, we asked if she would mind taking her paid vacation during that time (we were just going to be nesting at home with our then 4-month-old) since my husband had time off from work and could help me. She had no problem with that, she joined up with a few other au pairs to organize a really fun group vacation.

On other holiday breaks, we’ve brought our au pair along on trips so we could have some childcare and get proper R&R – in these cases the au pair would technically be working but had a lot of downtime both with and without us. On other occasions, our au pair has taken a “staycation” at our house when we traveled and we had a housesitter we trusted. So you can have some flexibility, I think it just requires solid and ongoing communication.

14)  Other misc thoughts.

There is more initial legwork with au pair than with a caregiver you find locally – for example, going to the social security office, helping her set up a new bank account, teaching her how to use mass transit and/or helping get a drivers’ license, showing her how to use appliances (some come from countries where washers, dryers, dishwashers, etc. are not the norm).

There is also more social/psychological support required, as well as uncertainty/nervousness before they arrive, than with someone who is from the area.

Finally, whether you decide on an au pair or a nanny, I highly recommend creating a “Family Handbook”, a detailed manual of instructions that covers family rules / regulations, all the nitty-gritty on your lifestyle and how you’d like your caregiver to care for your child.  It’s very handy to have something in writing to clarify and reference when there are any questions.  If you can create a bilingual version, even better!