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Au Pair Host Family Story: Amy & Luke
by Amy (and Luke and Mavis), EurAupair Host Family
A little four year old girl knew immediately.
As our jobs became more chaotic, always having someone to watch our daughter Mavis was getting to be a challenge. We had worn grandma and the neighbors thin, and we needed something more stable and reliable. I knew we needed someone that would be a constant, and love Mavis as we did.
Luke, my husband, was at first was resistant. He didn’t want a live-in servant, he couldn’t imagine how it could work where it felt that we were all an important part of the family and household.
I began searching the au pair websites, Mavis peering over my shoulder at the videos each hopeful au pair had made of driving, holding children, waving from blooming gardens.
But the videos were unimpressive to 4 year old Mavis, she consistently, day after day, wanted to see the profile of Karina, with just pictures and no videos, a well-educated woman from Germany currently working in a child care center in Paris. Her credentials were impressive and Mavis had me convinced. Luke put away his fears as he learned that this is also an exchange program: she’s here to learn as much as we are looking for good child care.
And we all leaped, and Karina landed in Minnesota in cold snap. Formal, maybe a bit stiff, and very, very professional. Perfect.
I did worry that my big personality, and my husband’s endless extroversion and our very social child would overwhelm this quiet woman with our Big American Life. But that is exactly part of this experiment.
The first few weeks were part awkward and part blissful excitement, with all of us figuring out bathroom schedules and other roommate plans, and the joy of Mavis anticipating her time with Karina, and my husband and I anticipating time we could actually be together without chasing a toddler.
A month later we would test our togetherness as we spent a couple weeks driving a minivan through the Yucatan jungle, seeing pyramids, itching bug bites, swimming and buying spicy gas station candy. Karina was thrown into a huge adventure in Mexico, in tiny towns and sprawling cities, awed by Chichen Itza’s magical pyramids, and swimming in underground caverns and overcoming her fear and learning to snorkel the reef.
Karina relaxed, and Mavis grew comfortable with the stability in place of the pre-Karina chaos. Karina brought things we just didn’t have time for with our schedules – paint, bug homes, and long narratives involving every doll and stuffed toy in the house. Mavis has a special playmate that has helped her develop into a smarter, more creative, more empathetic girl.
We told Karina we expected her to really live in Minnesota, to develop friends and her own community.
She soon was the au pair the others called in times of stress. Before long her network of friends grew beyond just other au pairs. She spends all of her time off camping, doing every Harry Potter event she can find, and of course finding all of the other fun that the city offers. Her St Paul pride shows often, and her cold tolerance has grown to Minnesota-native worthy.
My husband and I have watched Karina blossom, from someone a little bit timid into someone that’s quite fearlessly devouring this culture, seeing and learning as much as she can with the time she has here. We are very, very proud that we could nurture and encourage her in her early adulthood. I think our Big American Life has helped her see there are no limits on anything she wants to do with the rest of her life.
On Thanksgiving, ten months into this experiment, what that little 4 year old knew when she picked Karina’s photos finally became clear. After a huge, raucous, silly, full Thanksgiving day, we drove home from grandma’s through the countryside in the dark, and we all recounted what we were thankful for.
Karina told us that in Germany her family was just her and her mom, but now she realized that this large, laughing, loud American family had really become her family. And it really was something to be thankful for.
At that moment, we all realized Karina had become an irreplaceable member of our family. It hit hard, how much we have become a true family in such a short time, and I might have cried a little bit during that dark car ride (please don’t tell Karina her unflappable host mom cried!).
In less than one year, Karina will leave our home. Each day each of us tucks the dread of that upcoming day away.
There’s been three of us loving this little 4 year old as she turned 5, growing and becoming a bigger and better person, but the other part of this story is there is an incredible woman that bloomed into her beautiful self at the same time, under the same roof.