I`m learning that the language barrier as a Swiss au pair tends to be a blessing rather than a hindrance. Forced to rely on expression, touch and emotion to understand and be understood, I`m struggling to absorb their needs from the perspective of a tainted American mind. I`ve become obsessed with preserving the freshness that is hatched at birth and often diminished by adulthood. I`m leaving my roots behind. Perhaps this means reading a fairy tale rather than watching cartoons or playing hide-and-seek instead of cops and robbers, or even attempting to sing broken German rather than listening to the radio.
Whatever be the case, I made a point to savour their innocence weeks after I arrived and it was a single moment I will never forget. Mesmerised by the simple pitch of a giggle, I heard the sound of uncontrollable laughter we all seem to lose somewhere between the monkey bars and that first grown-up three-ring binder. I find myself running to the sound as if I can tickle it and make it last forever. Just yesterday I sprinted towards the sight of innocence echoing in the garden. Happy-screams, grass-stained knees and sweaty bangs pressed against shinny foreheads proved language is solely a handicap of the tongue and not the body.
The two girls I had been "baby-sitting" for just three weeks were running around in circles pretending to be circus ringleaders while the three Scottish Terriers took on the role as dancing horses and the drooling bloodhounds stood proud as ferrous lions. The circus performers paraded their massive beasts in the yard, snapping cracking whips to keep them from leaping towards the vast crowd of spectators. As they pranced in their make-believe world, their two older brothers locked themselves in the playroom to watch Pamela Anderson bounce on the sandy beaches of Malibu. I knocked with one knuckle to peer inside the Baywatch dome. "Kuck mal! Das ist dein Heim, ja?" they said pointing at the screen. I was ashamed to admit Baywatch was in fact the location of my home, a place I once bragged about to friends who lived elsewhere. As I stared at the cluster of silicone blondes, I explained that California was more than just a land of bikini-clad babes splashing in the surf. My translation ended in a hush from the transfixed viewers coupled with a roll of their annoyed Swiss eyes.
I left the room with the intention of memorising German vocabulary but procrastination led me to the kitchen where I flipped through my file of prized American recipes. There`s just something about children that makes me want to bake with sugar. Banana bread, pretzels, caramel corn and chocolate chip cookies were put aside for a rich toffee covered with a dark chocolate spread. I was sure the children had never tasted such a creation and would beg for more after every bite. From the first clang of the saucepan, the girls put Ringling Brothers aside to become the next Betty Crockers, or Swiss Misses in their case. Pulling out the kitchen drawers, the 5-year-old climbed them like steps to the counter top. I nearly scolded her but found myself applauding her cleverness, an act I had attempted once to reach the fridge-top-cookie-jar. While I grabbed the plastic spatulas and hanging oven mitts, the 8-year-old dragged a heavy wooden chair from the dining room table and pressed the back against the warm stove so that we could see eye to eye.
Immediately my helpers fought over who stirred the mixture before the ingredients were even poured. I handed each a wooden spoon and the screaming was silenced. They exchanged German words which I failed to understand and then left as I measured the sugar and butter alone. The burner was red and the butter was splashing within seconds. They heard the sizzling sounds of cooking and returned to their stations with oversized aprons draped over their skinny necks. "Zucker! Zucker!" I yelled, begging the girls to add the sugar while I poured the dripping syrup. With German dictionary in hand, I flipped through the pages searching for the correct pronunciation of "sugar". They kept fiddling with the apron strings as I belted out my pleas for help. "Zucker! Zucker!" I cried, as my precisely timed masterpiece fell apart in front of my face.
I pointed, jumped and spun in the smoking kitchen while the boiling butter burnt the white sugar. The girls turned their backs and pointed at their waistlines as if to say, "Will you tie my apron strings?" In God speed I threw my oven mitts and tied their belts, knowing that by the time their aprons were fastened and the bows knotted the recipe would be ruined. I brushed the loose wisps of hair away from my face to avoid singeing and turned towards my smoky creation. Hot butter and sugar slapped my naked arms and bounced from the pan like fireworks on the forth of July. Oblivious to my disaster they raced to the bathroom where they pulled their hair back with Hello Kitty hair bands as if kitchen beauty were of utmost importance.
I attempted to save the toffee on my own but it was destined to be a failure. The beaming chefs were there to pour the bubbling mixture into a pizza pan and sprinkle on bits of broken Swiss candy bar. Somehow they managed to get more chocolate on their sweet faces than the toffee itself. While I wiped powdered counter-tops and scrubbed sticky walls, they left the sugary mess to play slip and slide with their father`s treadmill. Leaping onto the speeding belt, they landed into a bed of feather pillows before pulling out the ice packs from the freezer to nurse their bruised legs, strawberried toes, and rug-burned elbows.
With their spindly legs propped on the couch, the dynamic duo watched Tom chase Jerry upside down as the flat of their heads laid pressed on the Egyptian rug. I attempted to study my German yet couldn`t ignore the giggles breeding with their red tomato faces. I grabbed two ice packs nestled in the freezer door before beaming the cold jelly bags at their exposed tummies. They tumbled down with their legs intertwined like a messy braid. The older one kicked the younger with her battered legs and both charged on me like midget circus clowns. Our chase turned into a game of keep-away-the-ice-pack, but while throwing and catching lost its luster. We batted the chilled bags with our arms like baseball players in the World Series. "It`s outta here," I screamed as the drea