I missed last week but I promise it was for a very good reason. I flew out of Norfolk, Virginia at 6 in the morning on Wednesday, December 1st, and flew back in time 3 hours to arrive in Ridgecrest, California. I slept through most of my two flights and had no flight issues (which is a rarity for me). I endured a week of laryngitis while getting acclimated to a new (but old) home complete with 2 adorable, rambunctious, toddling nieces. Then last Sunday my sister felt the first contractions of labour. (I have to add - I hope I can be as glowingly composed as my sister was throughout her labouring that brought my newest niece into the world.) So, there it is, I have a new niece who’s adorable and I’m fully in the throes of #auntylife.
It won’t surprise you to know that I love children. I actually used to prefer their company to adults. For a time, I even wanted to run an orphanage in Odisha, India. (I don't remember why I chose Odisha.) Also, throughout my late teens to early twenties, I wanted to become an Au Pair.
What’s an “Au pair”?
Au Pair, from the French, “an equal”, is a young, single (and often female) helper of a family who is usually from a foreign country. An au pair is usually hired for an extended period to help to take care of the children and often takes a share of household duties (at least those related to the children). The distinction between an au pair and a domestic worker is that an au pair is considered a member of the family rather than simply an employee.
I don’t remember the storyline from “Au Pair” - a 1999 film about a young woman who becomes an au pair to a family with a father and two children - but because of it, I became enamored with the lifestyle. As an au pair I would revel in the opportunity to go to another country for an extended period and be immersed in that culture.
My dream included being in France or Switzerland with a family that had 2 to 4 children. I would figure out the likes and dislikes of each child and win each one over. We would play all sorts of games outside or board games and video games inside. I would make up bedtime stories to read to them and comfort them when they were sad, afraid or angry. I would cook with their mother in the kitchen and we would chat over a glass of wine. I would secretly pray if I sensed any signs of marital or family strife. After I left, we would continue to exchange Christmas cards and exchange family updates. My dream continued to expand and expand as I imagined all the families I would meet.
Then the dream hit a roadblock when I started researching how to become an au pair. It would cost more money than I could spare (at the time) to join an Au Pair programme, I had already reached the upper age limit of 25, and I still hadn’t finished my bachelor’s degree. So I locked that dream away in a box in my heart called, “Far-fetched Dreams.”
But the thing about having dreams is that they don’t necessarily die, but often, mutate, morph, adapt. I got my childcare fix from babysitting and private tutoring. Whether for pay or not I was always happy to give parents a break to go on date nights or simply get some rest while I watched their children. It was a win-win situation all around and I found that I didn’t mind not becoming an au pair anymore.
Then on December 6, 2021, with the birth of my newest niece, it finally clicked fully into place that I’ve been an unofficial au pair since last year! (Even though the US hardly counts as a foreign country to a Jamaican.) On October 8, 2020, in the middle of a global pandemic, my dream had picked the lock on the “Far-fetched Dreams” box and snuck out to become a reality.
I’m already an extended member of both of my sisters’ families and I’ve been doing all the traditional au pair duties even though that’s not what any of us set out to do for my sabbatical. There’s even a cultural exchange happening. My American nieces and nephews have been learning more about their half Jamaican heritage. You should hear them trying to speak Patois (the Jamaican dialect) - not that I’m remotely fluent. My 2-year-old nephew can even contextually exclaim, “Coo pon yu!” (which translates to “Look at you!”)
So here’s to God fulfilling dreams in unique ways!