We’re starting to think…

We're starting to think about our future childcare options; Jarmila, whom we adore, will be finishing her master's degree soon, and will hopefully find a job in her chosen field. (IT-related) We're not quite sure how long we'll have her -- possibly just 'til the end of May, possibly the end of the summer. We probably want to start Kavi in part-time pre-school by the fall, if not sooner, just so she'll get to play more with other kids -- Anand is a little dull for her, and will be for a while. But that still leaves us needing quite a bit of child care.

Jarmila is pushing for us to get an au pair -- she came here originally as an au pair, and thinks we'd make a great host family for someone. I'm leaning towards that too, though Kev is more hesitant to have someone living in our house. But I think there's a chance we'll try it, especially if we can get what I really want -- a Sri Lankan Tamil au pair, someone with some English, but who will also be willing to spend part of her work time speaking Tamil with the children and with us. It was so hard, trying to learn Tamil from a course when I did it a few years ago; I think having a native speaker to practice with daily would be a huge help.

So, of course, if we're going to do that, we need to provide a private bedroom for her. In the new house, there'll be a guest room on the second floor (the same floor Kev and I will be on), but I wonder whether she'd prefer to be further away from us, for more privacy. It gets a bit complicated, though, because we could add some drywall on the third floor, dividing the kids' playroom and making a small bedroom there. But then she's on the same floor with the kids, plus the roof in that room will be super-sloping; she'd only be able to stand up straight in the middle of the room. Probably fine as long as she isn't too tall, but maybe she'd rather be further away from the children at night, especially as they'll likely still be waking up sometimes and calling for us.

Another option is to put her in the basement (and I should note that I'm saying her, but it might be a him instead). The plus is that she'd essentially have a private exit (since the mudroom is down half a flight from the main floor) and we wouldn't even notice her comings and goings. Good for having boyfriends over, going out drinking with her friends, etc. I think a lot of au pairs would like that; Jarmila certainly thinks that's the best plan. The problems with the basement are that a) the ceilings are a little low (around six and a half feet), b) there isn't a bathroom down there, so she'd have to go up one floor to use the toilet, and up two floors to shower/bathe in the guest bath, which seems very inconvenient for her. We could add a bathroom in the basement, of course, but that's a lot of added expense, and the budget is already at its limit.

It seems sort of silly to talk about spending $5,000 - $25,000 to put in a bathroom in order to have an au pair well situated. But on the other hand, maybe it's a good investment in the house overall, to have a bathroom and an extra small bedroom in the basement? Or maybe she'd be perfectly happy in either the 2nd floor guest bedroom or an attic bedroom? Any thoughts?

14 thoughts on “We’re starting to think…”

  1. Don’t go all crazy over it. Put her bedroom on the second floor where it is convenient, but make up the basement so it can be a den/entertainment space and make it clear that she is welcome to have friends over etc and hang out down there or just give her the option to make the basement into her own living quarters but that she will have to come upstairs for the bathroom and two flights for the shower. I don’t think it is unreasonable.

  2. My strong opinion (and I don’t have any other kind) is to build a bathroom downstairs.

    You’re not really doing it for the au pair — you’ll want a bathroom downstairs and it will definitely add to the value of the house. (Bathroom by the entertainment room where people drink and carouse is definitely a bonus!) We avoided it for 8 years in our old but not classic house in Seattle and can’t believe we did without for so long.

    BTW, I don’t know how I found your blog (I don’t fall into any of your categories) but I’m completely hooked and a total fan.

    If I’d had any teachers like you, I would probably have lasted a lot longer in the University of Iowa Writers Workshop (undergrad) a thousand years ago. 🙂

  3. How much time do you have between engaging an au pair and having them move in? Can you find someone you like, and then ask them what they’d prefer?

  4. Mary Anne Mohanraj

    I’m not sure what the timetable would be; still researching this. And should note that Kevin really would prefer not to do this, and I’d strongly prefer *to* do this, so am not sure which of us will win out on this one. 🙂 Probably depends on who has to compromise more on something else…

    Charla, that’s so sweet — I love that you’re liking the blog. Especially since when I applied to the MFA at Iowa, I didn’t get in. 🙂

    Still pondering worth of basement bathroom. For added info, the main other things that will be down there: small tv/den area, tiny craft/sewing room, and utility sink / storage / workroom area (where Kevin will be brewing beer, often very late at night, so maybe not as private as most basement apartments are).

  5. My uncle has had a mixed bag with au pairs for his son over the years. The first, from Australia, was amazing. The second and third ones? Not so much. One used to sit on the couch and watch soaps all day. Clayton got no education from that one…

    I’d, honestly, do the guest bedroom thing. Make the downstairs a den area…

  6. If the marginal costs of putting in the extra drywall are low, perhaps consider adding the rooms to the attic and/or basement and then let the individual in question have their choice of the available spaces, letting them balance their own preferences regarding privacy/bathroom facilities? Seems good if you’d have uses for those small rooms anyway, but inefficient if you’d rather keep those areas as part of larger rooms if you could.

  7. Mary Anne Mohanraj

    I think the drywall costs are relatively low, so I wasn’t worrying about that — it’s definitely more of a space allocation issue. The attic, for example, has the two kids’ rooms and then this large L-shaped room with the super-sloping ceilings; we were going to just let that all be kids’ playroom, but we could in theory drywall off half of it for a small bedroom.

    The basement, if we weren’t putting a bedroom down there, would probably be about one-third den, open to the kithchenette/utility sink/possible bath/beer-brewing area, which would take maybe another third? Leaving one-sixth for the utility room, and one-sixth for my craft room. So if we tried to squeeze a bedroom down there, we’d either need to give up my craft room (sad) or cut the kitchenette/bath/beer area in half (might not be possible to squeeze everything in). Or really cut the den in half.

    It’s definitely more about space than drywall. The house has many rooms, but it’s actually not that big.

  8. Catherine Shaffer

    The low ceiling in the basement may be more of an impediment than you realize. You can check with a contractor, but I was told that 7 feet is code around here. Our basement ceiling is technically 7 feet, but then some venting and plumbing comes lower than that, so we don’t really have enough ceiling height to finish it as a living space. Also, in my area, code requires you to have a doorway at basement level. I’m not sure what the layout of your house is. It sounds like you have to go up some stairs to reach the door. That would not pass inspection in my town. You would be required to install a walk-out exit door. There are other headaches such as dampness, mold, and radon to deal with in basements. Instead of finishing ours as a living space, we did some improvements and made it a much nicer work/laundry/craft space. We like it.

  9. Mary Anne Mohanraj

    Catherine, I think we’re in the same situation — 7 ft actual ceiling, but a few pipes. (Not so many, now that we’re switching from radiator to forced air — maybe we can find a big enough section without pipes? 🙂 So yes, have to check with the architect to see whether the basement option is even feasible. We don’t want to put someone down there illegally, even if they’d prefer it for privacy reasons.

    We’re tentatively planning to add an egress window to the basement, even if we don’t have legal living space down there, just because our kids (and other people’s kids, etc.) will be down there sometimes, and we want to be sure there’s safe ways out in case of fire. Apparently basement fires are fairly common. Scary!

    The actual door out is up a few steps. (I’m not really sure how you’d make a walk-out exit door — dig out just outside it? Wouldn’t you then still need a few steps to go up once you’re outside?)

  10. Hey Mary Anne! It is so exciting to add a comment in your blog!
    About your last posting. I just wanted to tell you to do not worry. I won’t be leaving before the end of July. But, I’m willing to work out hours with you until we find a suitable lady for Kavy and Anand 🙂
    With regards of the aupair. I still think that the best solution is the basement. Not only for her privacy, but your own. Imaging your aupair comming back from a party at 4am, waking you and the kids up with those high heels, hehe.
    If is not possible to do so, we can find another childcare alternatives. Don’t worry 🙂

  11. I agree with Kevin here. The only factor that might sway me is the possibility of finding someone who could speak Tamil to your children.

  12. I agree with the commenter who said this is not worth spending too much thought on and certainly not worth construction. Put the au pair in the guest bedroom (away from the children, she will appreciate that) or give her the option of the bathroom. You may find you don’t like having someone live in your house after all. I know au pairs who live on the same floors as the kids and share bathrooms. As long as you are respectful of her time off, it will be fine, wherever she is. Just ask her to take her shoes off before coming into the house.

  13. If you can find the space and make it legal I would suggest going for the basement option. Even though you guys plan on being there forever, it will give you lots of options in the long run…It is good as a future selling point for the house (i.e. “mother-in-law suite” that’s the term, I am not suggesting anything!) If you stay forever, you can imagine one of the kids using it as a young adult living at home, but not wanting the parents knowing every coming and going.

  14. Based on the updated basement plans, sounds like you nixed the bedroom in the basement idea for an au pair.

    You and Kevin are definitely the type of people who could easily have someone live with you and it not be an issue so I whole-heartedly agree with Jarmila on the au pair idea. I think it would work really well with you, actually.

    I have a Chicago friend who has had several au pairs over the last 7-8 years and they have had great experiences. I imagine it depends on the au pair. The girls I’ve met were Colombian because the family wanted Spanish speakers.

    I wouldn’t worry too much about the au pair’s accommodations. It’s just a room she will sleep in unless you mount a TV in there for her/him. Keep in mind, American standards for bedrooms and bathrooms are often higher than most other countries so the fact she might be on the same floor as the kids or have to share a bathroom with the kids is not big deal.

    Also, when I was living at my soon-to-be in-law’s, I slept on a sofa bed in the family room and either had to go up the main stairs through Jason’s bedroom to use the Jack and Jill bathroom he shared with his sister, or go through the main floor laundry room to use the shower/toilet then go up the back stairs to use the vanity attached to his brother’s bathroom. I didn’t think twice about it. What you are providing is much simpler on every level.

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