Rochelle, the Au Pair from Heaven

photo by Paige Lehmann


At this moment we’re seated outside at a cast-iron table in the secret garden-like backyard of a little restaurant that serves only brunch and champagne. We’re the husband, the baby, myself, and Rochelle. Yes, Rochelle. Dear, amazing, sweet, kind-hearted, Rochelle. How do you get a punk name like that these days? You’re French, that’s how. And she is. She’s from Southern France, from the little seaside town of Marseilles, and she’s lovely.

She’s around 25, and she speaks with a slight French accent. Her chestnut brown hair is cut short, and always looks slightly mussed, and she wears big, silver glasses. Her nail polish is coral and gently chipped, and her clothes are comfortably worn and stylish. She has freckles on a face that’s always full of mischief, like she’s analyzing the punchline. She’s a writer and a creative person, with a silly side.  She likes to make things with her hands, and is always sewing something, glueing something, drawing something. I love this because I love it, and I love it because she shares this love with our babe.

She’s our au pair/ nanny, and she travels with us, and lived with us for awhile, and we pay for her apartments, hotel, lodging, wherever we are, there she can be. And she likes it. I’m not sure what her grand, grand, grand scheme of life is. I think she wants to be married someday. She says she wants to work with children. She makes things. And she gives all her extra love, right now, to us.

What’s it like to open your family to another member, a hired member? Can you count on them actually loving your family? On taking care of the children like you would? On treasuring them, their hearts and heartaches? I think you can. I’ve had sitters before who’ve kissed my babe, who’ve said, “I love him,” on a whim and, I think therefore, they meant it. Who’ve tried to comfort him when he cried. And I think that Rochelle does.

The air is cold. We’re bundled up and she’s telling us a funny story about a cat that she saw earlier that day who was hunting a chicken! Yes, a chicken in downtown London. That’s the hilarious part, too. How did a chicken get here? What was it doing here, loose in the city? She thinks it was gypsies. I tell her about the time I convinced a homeless gentleman in San Francisco, to give me his chicken. I was on a field trip in high-school and carried the bird home with me on the bus, before giving it to a friend who lived in San Rafael, and had a few in her backyard.

Anyhoo, the babes is laughing. We’re eating a delicious assortment of eggs, baked goods, coffee, mimosas.

Rochelle and babes are going to the zoo today, and it “warms my heart,” which really means that my heart bleeds in such a way that my eyes prick with these silly tears when I think how happy the baby will be. Just for an instant I feel this sharp, eye-prickling tearing love at his happiness.

Do you ever stop and listen, just listen, to the lilting sound your baby makes, and try to record that sound forever? So you can keep it in your mind, listen, have it in your memories, imagination, always? My mother taught me to do that once, when I was young, and we were at a very small waterfall. She said, “listen and remember, remember this always,” and I listened and paid attention and now I can be there, with her, anytime, however strong or faint.

I try to do that now. To listen and remember:

Rochelle, pulling a cloth napkin from her pocket and wiping her nose. The baby laughing at the chicken. Is he a baby in this game? Or is he now two or three? The husband acting silly for the baby, wearing a leather hat and eating bacon, drinking strong coffee. I have adorable black boots on, ones I just bought, and a skirt, and a tailored grey jacket and a scarf. And I’m happy, and happy he’s happy.

Rochelle takes the babe on regular adventures, but he spends a huge part of the day with me. Because, in all honesty, I want to raise him. To hold and cherish and be the mama that he relies on. She’s my village for sanity, and helps me with making zines, doing the other chores and work for the day. She’s like personal-assistant-cum-nanny. And we love it all, for however long she chooses to be.


As I write this, the baby is sitting in my enamelware palette, which he’s pulled out of my Ikea cubby. He’s also broken a wooden box that held antique tubes of watercolor, each about an inch long and still good, Ithink. Each also now laying around my studio like spent confetti. He’s upending everything, taking down all of my art supplies and trying to use the palette like it’s a sled or skateboard and mini-chair. I’m in my pj’s trying to write — oh, now he’s got my other watercolor set–daily-ish. For my one reader, Rochelle.



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