Tip: Insist on the Second-To-Last bus

by cv harquail on June 16, 2010

One of our guidelines is:

Take the second to last bus or train home. Never count on being able to get the very last bus. Always make sure you have a backup.”

You might look at that and think we are controlling– but underneath that guideline (like so many others) is a real story of disappointment.

The story

About 4 months after my second daughter was born, my colleague and I won an incredibly prestigious research award, which was to be presented at a conference in Toronto. (We lived in Virginia at the time.) I hadn’t planned to attend the conference, since it would be such a production with an toddler and an infant, but my colleague insisted that I come. “You get something like this once in a lifetime,” she said. “And you simply can’t miss it.

201006091159.jpgMy DH was also pretty excited to be invited to the schmancy reception, so we made plans to go as a family. And, we planned to take our au pair. I wanted to be able to enjoy myself at the reception, and not worry about wearing my babygirl and sneaking into a corner to nurse her to keep her contented. Our au pair could watch the girls during the reception, and my husband would come with me and take a few photos for my scrapbook. During the day, our au pair could explore Toronto.

The reception was at 6, and our au pair was due back at 5 so that I could shower and get all glamorous in the way that professors get glamorous (which takes a bit of time, as you might imagine). But at 5 o’clock, our au pair had not returned. At 5:30, she still wasn’t back. At 5:45 I’d started to feel sick, and then she called from the first pay phone she could figure out how to use. (This was before cell phones were common).

Our au pair was at Niagara Falls. She’d missed the bus that she needed to take to get back to Toronto by 5. The next bus would get her back by 7:30.

My DH changed out of his suit, and settled in to watch the girls. I went to the awards ceremony alone.

The moral of the story

After this experience, we came up with the guideline of “Second to last bus”. If the last bus you could take would leave at 3:30 to get you home by 5:00, you were to take the 2:30 bus to get back by 4:00. That way, if you missed the 2:30 bus (or if the bus itself was late), there would still be a good chance that you’d be back in time.

See also:

Are “crazy” Au Pair guidelines really all that crazy?

It’s YOUR vacation, not hers. Okay?


PA AP mom June 16, 2010 at 2:19 pm

This is great advice, and not just for au pairs.

Planning ahead helps to eliminate the “unknown” factor and having a back up plan (i.e. the very last train to fall back on) can help as well.

I have missed the last train home and had to pay $217 for a taxi to my destination.

Amelie June 16, 2010 at 3:53 pm

Great tip specially for au pair who travels a lot to NYC like I used to do. I used to ride those “china buses” and they were always late! So if I meant to be in DC, where I lived, at 9pm, I would take the bus originally scheduled to arrive at 8, and I would be in peace, would be able to relax and take a nap, instead of being worried about getting home in time.

Aupairgal June 16, 2010 at 4:40 pm

I think that is a general good rule of thumb no matter what you do or where you live.

Aupairgal June 16, 2010 at 4:41 pm

I have had to make that long 7 kilometer walk back home just because my train was a bit late and I missed my bus.

Taking a Computer Lunch June 16, 2010 at 10:17 pm

I haven’t had any APs miss a connection that left me stranded for an important event (boy would I have been mad), but I had one AP who miscalculated a departure and ended up not making it home on a Sunday night. If only she had asked us how hard it would be to get from Fire Island in New York to Washington DC on a Sunday night, we would have told her that she would be traveling with millions of her closest friends (HD and I met in grad school on Long Island). She ended up having to crash in a motel and earned herself an unanticipated half-day off as HD prepared the kids for school and camp. HD would have been happier if she had called us in the middle of the night, rather than having to call her cell when she didn’t show up!

A little preparation goes a long way in ensuring a good relationship (and a telephone call the moment you know it isn’t going to work the way you intended goes a long way, too).

SotaGal June 16, 2010 at 11:49 pm

That is great advice. We don’t have much in the way of public transportation in the suburbs of Austin – our metro is really only for commuters and stops running in the early evening and we have no bus lines near by. Our problem has been with air travel. Each time an au pair plans a trip we try to get her flight information to help and her friends with planning trips through the airports. Many of the girls underestimate the time it takes to get to the airport, through check in and security. One au pair missed 3 flights (and used 3 additional vacation days as a result) before she finally started to listen to our advice, leaving for the airport earlier to allow herself the time she needed.

NoVA Host Mom June 20, 2010 at 2:21 pm

This was actually a big part of the problem with our first AP. She always bolted from the house as soon as her shift was done and I would not see her until literally 2 minutes before the start of her next shift. She had figured out the timing that well. Of course, the number of times this backfired on her, and thus on me and my own job, kept increasing. Trying to get ready for work and have to get the sleeping baby into a car seat and drive 20 minutes in traffic both ways to the Metro station to retrieve her became a too frequent event. And no, it did not matter how many times she was admonished or reminded that she needed to be there and ready to work in a timely manner. And that is one of the fun events that lead to the early conclusion of our relationship with AP #1.

Now, it is in the rule book and the curfew thing is enforced (of course it has never been an issue with our current AP, who is super responsible about working, so I keep it there for the next AP to come through).

Pa host mom of two au-pairs June 22, 2010 at 12:08 am

NoVa Host Mom: In my au-pair manual we note that they should arrive on shift 10 -15 min. prior to work. This gives them time to have breakfast, and gives the HP the opportunity to talk about anything that is related to the children that day. It has worked out so far for us. With prior AP’s they would just start the shift on time without eating. They when on duty in the AM five min. after they started to care for the children they were preparing something to eat for themself. I think it’s fair to say, they can have lunch and dinner on duty, but the most important aspect of the day is in the AM and I want to be able to speak to them about the children.

Calif Mom June 22, 2010 at 10:30 am

PA host mom x2

This is absolutely true for us during the school year, but now that school is out, I don’t mind if she shows up a little late and eats breakfast after HPs have left for the day. We need those extra minutes if we can get them!

Calif Mom June 22, 2010 at 11:28 am

Just curious if you count those “report for your shift 10 minutes early” as work time?

If I don’t see our AP either before bed or in the morning–or if I forget to tell her something that’s relevant to her planning of the day, which is likely!–I use email (or a text if it’s urgent). But I fully recognize this may not work for everyone, since 1) we’re in a groove, at the end of a second year, and 2) my youngest is now 6, so communication with all of them is just plain easier and it seems as though fewer things can go utterly wrong. Either that or I’m just worn down and my threshold is higher! :-)

Jane June 22, 2010 at 11:22 am

I put in every family handbook that they should eat breakfast before starting work in the morning, and not a single au pair we had ever followed that request. This last year it didn’t matter as much, as the kids now eat breakfast somewhat at the same time the au pair would start and she could eat with them. If we were doing it over again, I would make their start time 15 minutes early so they get downstairs and attend to their toast, bagel and coffee making before their shift starts and my husband has to run out the door. Even with frequent, gentle reminders that they should eat before working (as you have no time to feed yourself while bottle feeding twins) they never listened. As a consequence, they often had to wait to eat for a break, or they drove us nuts with not giving the kids their full attention while they ate.

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