If you know me or read up on my ‘about’ page, you know when I got pregnant with my first babies-it was a bit of shock. The pregnancy and then, the twins. We were living in a one-bedroom apartment and had just starting the process of moving on up into a real adult house. Childcare? For twins? Well, thank God I had spent the last four years working for an au pair agency and knew a little bit about what the childcare options were and what could potentially work for us.
I knew I didn’t want to go the daycare route. The thought of having to schlep my little babies out in the bone chilling, New York cold, even on days I got to work from home, seemed awful to me. Also, on days I was commuting, I’d leave in the dark and return home in the dark and my hubs wasn’t in a position to do drop offs or pickups either. Lastly, with my first babies, how do I put this? I was slightly germophobic. Feels good to type that out loud. I don’t know if any other mamas can relate, but the idea of someone not Purell-ing their entire body before they touched my child made me want to vomit. I’m not saying daycares are dirty or daycare providers don’t take hand washing seriously. I’m sure this isn’t the case. I just felt keeping those babies in my own home was the direction I wanted to go, so daycare didn’t feel like the right solution for us.
I also thought about a nanny share. Had we only had one baby coming, it probably could have been a good solution for us. But nannies typically charge per child and when you multiply everything you need for a baby by two (diapers, wipes, formula, cribs, bouncy chairs, etc. etc. ETC.), if we could avoid being charged double for childcare, that might slightly soften the financial blow. Also, how would a nanny be able to handle any more babies other than my two? How was I going to even handle my two?! But, that's another story ;)
So, I did what was slightly familiar, even from my non-parent self, and went with an au pair. Working for this agency, I knew enough about the program as an employee. I interacted with au pairs daily. My job at the time was designing their training programs, so I knew where the learning gaps were, the areas of knowledge, the areas of apprehension. It felt comfortable in that sense. I knew where I needed to focus on getting someone up to speed and where I could lay low and let this girl do her thang.
But with all the positives and straight up reasons why this type of childcare made a lot of sense for us (the in-home, the cost-being an employee had its perks, the familiarity), there was still the one overarching area we were a little concerned about, an area most people think twice about before opting in for this kind of live-in childcare: the privacy! I mean, did we really want another adult living with us? We didn’t even have a home yet and now we were house hunting with intention to fit not one, not two, but three more people in it.
It seemed weird.
Fast forward 6 months later, we found a house where we could make this au pair thing work and decided to give it a shot. And I am so glad we did. Let me give you a little run down of how our experience has been since we started the au pair childcare journey in 2013 and how much more we got from having an au pair that we weren’t even expecting.
Rafaela from Brazil: Rafaela (Rafa) was our first au pair. She got here when our twins were just shy of 4 months old and I was heading back to work. She was nothing short of amazing. She organized baby clothes perfectly in the dresser drawers. She meticulously cut out crafts and other fun things to include in our monthly growth photos. She was the perfect combination of stern and organized and loving and laid back. She became my sister from another mister, going to work-out classes together to lose my baby weight and her au pair ten (the au pair equivalent to the freshman fifteen), giving me an honest opinion on dresses to wear to the babies’ christening, and being a friend to chat with during my work-from-home lunches. When she left, our whole family cried, and I mean sobbed-including my husband, my mom and my dad. She had helped us through the hardest year of our lives, our first year as new parents. Last year, we were invited to her wedding, but sadly couldn’t make it with a newly added infant and work schedules. We’re patiently waiting to see Rafa again, either in Brazil or in the US. We’re friends with her whole family on Facebook and talk to her frequently on Skype. The extended family we’ve gained through her is invaluable.
Angelica from Brazil: Angelica (Angie) followed Rafa and proved to fill big shoes, especially when placed with the added upheaval of moving cross country half-way through her stay. When we chose Angie, we thought to ourselves, we wanted another Rafa. And Angie was so similar. She was also Brazilian, also had a long-term boyfriend in Brazil, also had graduated college, was 24 years old, and also appeared extremely organized and diligent. Besides that, Angie had the most positive attitude I’ve ever witnessed in a human being. She arrived during the very challenging toddler years and naturally got off to a rocky start. Coming off a year and a half of a well-oiled machine with Rafa and only having had one prior (and great) au pair experience, our expectations were off. We worried early on if Angie could handle the gig. But, Angie’s unbelievably determined self told me she was not only worth the learning curve time, but also that she was going to be awesome. And the biggest factor that made Angie so damn amazing was her unconditional love for our family, which she consistently displayed in thoughtful gestures like arriving with a suitcase full of handmade gifts for everyone (including Rafa), crafting birthday celebrations that were beyond expected, and making me feel like the most important person in the world on Mother’s Day. Angie reminded me a lot of me, but so much better. She made me want to be a better version of myself. She’s now living a dream, married to that long-term boyfriend and exploring life in New Zealand. She’s already visited us once, and I know we’ll be visiting her in New Zealand one of these days, just as soon as we can all withstand a 14-hour flight with kids. Angie brought us a ton of joy, playfulness, and reminded us that everyday might not be good, but there’s always something good in every day.
Doreen from Germany: Doreen is our current au pair and, my God, I ask myself daily how I’d survive without her. Doreen is a 20-year-old prodigy. She’s more proactive, organized, creative, and intelligent than most people twice her age. If I think of something to ask of her, her response is usually, “Already done”. She came to our family shortly after graduating high school and I was skeptical of having an au pair so young. I mean, I think of myself at 19 and would I have been able to spend a year (or more) away from everything familiar to me? My family? My friends? My food? My culture? Although I’m sure Doreen’s had her days where she questions going home early, she has NEVER let it affect caring for our kids or helping us as a family. In a world where there’s a ton of entitlement with the millennial generation, Doreen is so the opposite. She’s grateful daily and tells us too. She even gave US a 'thank you' card for agreeing to extend with her. I mean, really, what more would a family want than to keep a fantastic au pair for a second year and ours thanked us for it?! I’d like to think we set that example in our house, but I know this isn’t my doing. She’s been raised by humble and appreciative parents who've done a tremendous job creating this incredible woman. And WE are lucky to have ‘borrowed’ her for 2 years to help us instill the same qualities in our own kids now.
So, you see, when we decided on au pair childcare 5 years ago, we did it for practical reasons: location, cost, familiarity. What we got out of it though, has exceeded all of that. Amazing childcare for the time being-yes, but also extended family, life lessons, and impactful people in our lives forever.