As promised, we want to feature some of the amazing Au Pair of the Year essays we received in 2012. Although Anita won the 2012 Au Pair of the Year, there are some amazing stories out there! Today, we will feature Claire Z., from South Africa, who was an au pair with the Carvlaho-Powers family in Maryland. Both essays really exemplify this year's theme of "Outside the Comfort Zone." Enjoy and keep a look out
for more featured essays!
The Carvalho-Powers' Essay
Our family was introduced to the concept of "Ubuntu" this year. Ubuntu is a South African humanist philosophy focusing on the interconnectedness of us all. Archbishop Desmond Tutu described it as "A person with Ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened that others are able and good, for he or she has a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that he or she belongs in a greater whole and is diminished when others are humiliated or diminished."
Our au pair, Claire, has Ubuntu.
This past February, I went from being a stay at home mom, caring for our two kids - a girl, four and a boy, two - to working full-time outside the home. The job offer and start date came quickly and we knew we wanted to go with InterExchange Au Pair USA, but were anxious about whether we would find someone as quickly as we needed. In addition, we knew it would be a challenging transition for all of us, so we knew we needed someone who could handle the mess of tears we would all be for a while. Someone who could handle being outside her comfort zone while we were outside of ours.
Claire was the very first dossier we were shown and we knew almost immediately that she would be a great match for our family. What we didn't know was just how much she would go above and beyond what was expected of her and how quickly she would integrate herself so seamlessly into our family.
Claire's Ubuntu showed from the first day she was with us. She was incredibly understanding and mature - supporting two tearful kids as I went to work each day, giving them just the right combination of room to feel what they were feeling and distraction to help them focus on other things.
During her time with us, Claire has introduced us to parts of her own South African culture that will be with us long after she returns home. She encouraged us to try Rooibos tea - a red herbal tea from South Africa that my kids now love and drink every day. She made us malva pudding, an afrikaans specialty that melted in our mouths, and a South African custard made from powder that we can't get enough of.
She has loved teaching the kids words in Afrikaans, playing South African music for them and telling them stories of growing up in South Africa - like the time a giraffe poked his head through the kitchen window at breakfast and helped himself to her cereal. My kids in turn have loved learning about life in South Africa.
When she heard us complaining that we needed a flag for the flagpole in front of our house Claire used her amazing artistic skills to make a flag for us. It is a beautiful creation with a rainbow of bright happy colors, outlines of the kids hands and words like Peace, Love, Laughter and, yes, Ubuntu.
Claire has been a shining representative of her country and of Ubuntu and a wonderful addition to our family. She shares family meals with us regularly, joins us on weekend outings to just "hang out with us" and accompanied us on the kids' first day of school, even though it was her morning off.
We are so grateful that we were matched by InterExchange Au Pair USA with Claire at exactly the time that we needed her, and so grateful for Claire for all she has brought to our family. She will leave a bit of her Ubuntu with us when she leaves.
Being an au pair is not just being a full-time nanny. It's about becoming completely selfless and giving your all for the children. Being able to play games and sing songs aloud in public with them without caring what people may think. It's about looking at that chocolate hand print stain on your shirt going, "man we have to bake again!"
It is not easy as an adult to come out of your comfort zone of ''order'' and ''cleanliness,'' especially a young adult, and allow yourself to give 110% to the children you are looking after! It's about becoming comfortable with a different culture and being mature enough to live in another household, and respect the rules and respect the elders in the house. Signing up to be an au pair is signing up saying - "PICK ME! I want to be immersed in a different culture and place, and I will allow myself to grow out of my comfort zone that my family and friends provide back home in South Africa." I personally have grown more than I can say, and am even more grateful for the experience InterExchange Au Pair USA has granted me.
I have learnt, patience, kindness beyond just being kind, how to be the brain for three people and not just one, how to love the children without any doubt as they just give and give love. There is never a moment where I don't look back and think how glad I am I decided to become an au pair. And allowing myself to be open and honest with my host family has made it even more of a special experience. Coming out of a working environment and becoming an au pair was hard initially, but it is great to realise that nothing should be as serious as we make it out to be, and there is always a solution, no matter what the problem. No matter the day, I am always grateful to my host kids for bringing out the best in me.
My comfort zone was books and friends and family. The same faces and the same places. And now my comfort zone is the space that I create for myself everyday. I enjoy exploring the area every weekend! Catching the metro to a different place each time, and all the while learning something new everyday! Like asking how a parking meter works - without feeling silly for asking, and laughing at being teased about my accent because of how I say tomato and potato, and the fact that I say tomato sauce and not Ketchup!
Becoming an au pair is choosing to put yourself completely out of your comfort zone!! Just whether or not it is a successful year is whether or not you have accepted the room for change and the opportunity to learn about the culture and allow yourself to busy your day with children's activities and not worry about anything besides what the next fun activity should be. I feel I should be au pair of the year because the Carvalho-Powers family and myself made the perfect match! I have a successful relationship with my host parents. We trust each other as one would trust their parents, and I get told everyday by the kids "I love you Claire, you must never go back to South Africa!' And I have grown to love these kids so much! I have learnt the colloquial slang, know how to catch the metro and call Maryland home. I have made this year a success and will not change a thing!