It’s been said that, in today’s world, the village that parents once relied upon to help raise their children no longer exists, or has greatly diminished. Not only do we no longer live with our extended families, in many cases we no longer live anywhere near them. Couples and, by extension, children feel the burden of bearing the parenting load alone.
When we invited our au pair Alex into our home in January, it felt like expanding our family, if only for a short time. For us, it was also a cultural exchange. We wanted someone to speak French to our daughter, and Alex was from France. Alex was already working as an au pair in Montreal and she and her boyfriend, Oscar, were looking to move on, searching for the “true Canadian experience.” I warned them that, living in small-town northern British Columbia, we were remote. They said they were game.
It didn’t take long for my daughter to overcome her shyness and claim Alex as her best friend. They were together four mornings a week, most of that time at home, and while I sometimes regretted that she wasn’t attending play groups with other kids her age, the lack of travel removed a layer of chaos from her day: they weren’t rushing to swimming lessons or gymnastics or to grab groceries on the way home. Her time with Alex was hers alone, and I would come home to the evidence of their fun: half-finished puzzles, painting projects and cardboard-box lemonade stands. Alex dedicated herself to my daughter in a way that I don’t — fully and completely, not trying to squeeze in shopping or unload the dishwasher or start dinner. She was just there to play.
Oscar was an added bonus. We have a separate suite on the property that we planned to offer our au pair and when Alex asked if her boyfriend could live with us, it was the perfect arrangement (obviously, this wouldn’t work for everyone). On days Oscar was off work, the trio would head into town for cookies at the local coffee shop, trips to the playground and swimming at the pool. I would sometimes see them drive past, my little two-year-old out on the town with her friends. They created a bond. She would talk about Alex and Oscar incessantly. When she woke up from naps, it was Alex she would call out for.
Alex and Oscar left a week ago, their six-month stay with us just a stopover on their continued adventures. As I type this, it’s hard to believe they are no longer over in their suite, Alex getting ready to come and start her day.
Would we do it again? We’d consider it, but likely not. Alex would be hard to beat and, in the fall, our daughter starts pre-school. Our au pair adventure felt like just that: a window of opportunity to bring someone into our home, into our lives, and experience the youthful energy and adventurous spirit they contributed to our family. We wouldn’t change it for the world.
Amanda is a part-time writer. In her blog Straw Bale Tales she informs about her experiences as a mother and gives some useful family tips!