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With two small clay hedgehogs in the playground

With two small clay hedgehogs in the playground

Photographer:Fotograaf: Loraine Bodewes

(Wo)man at work: babysitter

Bella van Langen/ 22/ fourth-year student of Medicine/ works 2-3 afternoons per week/ earning 11 euros per hour

Bella van Langen is standing in the playground of Sint Pieter primary school with two small clay hedgehogs in her hands. The hedgehogs were made in class by one of the children she babysits, Sophia (6), and Sophia’s friend Jolijne, and now it’s time to take them home. “Shall I put them in my backpack?” asks van Langen. No, the girls don’t want that – what if something happens to the hedgehogs? But then, walking around holding them isn’t an option either. In the backpack they go.

As her brother Olivier (8) is preoccupied with walking through the fallen leaves, Sophia talks and talks. She talks about the time she was in a very large forest (“with at least a hundred trees!”), about her older sister Anna’s birthday party – Anna has drawing class today and a play date afterwards – when they had no water because of a burst pipe (“but we did have squash”) and about Spiekpiet, Sinterklaas’s eavesdropping aide who stays in the Netherlands all year round to find out whether children are being naughty or nice.

“That’s my favourite part of this job, the stories”, van Langen says later. “Hearing what goes on in their minds. Sometimes I notice that Sophia has learnt a new word; she’ll be using it over and over, though not always in the right context. Anna is also quite talkative, but Olivier has to be prompted with questions.”

At home, Olivier grabs the newly arrived issue of Donald Duck and takes it to the sofa to read it as the girls run through the house. Van Langen goes to the kitchen to prepare their fruit snacks. “They have to finish their fruit before they get their sweets. Anna doesn’t like fruit, but she immediately told me her mum and dad want her to finish her fruit the first time I was here. They’re very honest when it comes to rules.”

In the afternoons when she works (2-3 times per week), van Langen picks up the children from school, spends some time playing with them, buys groceries, cooks and has dinner with the family. “That’s what their previous babysitters did. I asked them if it wouldn’t feel too much like I was intruding on their privacy, but they immediately went, ‘No, of course not, we’d enjoy it’. I recently babysat the children in the evening. The money is easily earned when they’re in bed, but I prefer to work for it.”

“Do you want to play superball?” Olivier asks the girls. Unfortunately, they have other plans: they’re going to go see the neighbours’ dog “and then we’ll write a book”, says Sophia. Van Langen is up for a game, though. They play donkey: the players alternately kick the ball against the wall. If you miss the wall or touch the ball twice in a row, you lose the round and receive a letter. The first one to receive all the letters D-O-N-K-E-Y loses. It seems simple, but it’s quite difficult to reach the ball in time and kick it back hard enough on the sloping road.

Sophia and Jolijne come back from the neighbours’ house with sweets, for Olivier and Anna as well. “They split everything equally. The first time I was here, I’d brought collectable cards from a supermarket”, says van Langen. “Olivier was on a play date, but the girls made a pile of cards for him as well. I don’t know if I did that when I was their age.”

As the children go back inside, van Langen prepares for her grocery run. She hasn’t yet decided what’s on the menu for tonight. “I was thinking pasta, but they’ve already had pasta this week. Sometimes it’s difficult to predict what they will or won’t like; there isn’t always logic to it. For example, Sophia can easily eat half a pack of cherry tomatoes, but she doesn’t like fresh tomato soup.”




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