The End of an EraBy Emma Pearson
September 22, 2023
This afternoon we said goodbye to Iryna from the Czech Republic. Iryna has been our au pair for most of the past school year. With her departure closes an enormously important and very long chapter in our family’s life: that of having live-in au pairs. We have had au pairs for 16 years! Ever since Ben turned three and started full time Kindergarten. The youngest is now 14, and just a couple of years back I confidently asserted that we would have an au pair until Julia was 18 (heck – with Mike away in Zurich all week, and me working all hours, plus dog plus cat, I knew I needed all the driving cleaning clothes washing shopping food making dog walking poo picking up help I could get). But Mike died, and some of the very immediate consequences are that shortly I will have no more kids at home.
So, the children no longer need an au pair. They will all be out of the house in a few weeks. But I do! And the dog does! Black most definitely needs a dog au pair. (As you can imagine, I have already crafted a solution for that particular challenge – the “child” that never actually becomes self-sufficient).
It feels momentous. It also feels sad. Yet another page closing. So many amazing young women (and a couple of men) who joined our family, lived with us, helped us become the family we are today. All but the most recent have strong memories of Mike, him being the more present parent for 10 of the past 16 years.
As one of five kids, with a full-time working mum (and dad) we had au pairs for years, so the idea of having an au pair felt very natural to me as I became a mum. And goddammit was I going to keep on working professionally. (Thank goodness, the way the cookie crumbled).
I did have to convince Mike that it was a “good idea”. Let’s face it, most people don’t like the idea of having someone else living in their house (it’s the most common objection I hear from people, assuming they actually have the space which not everyone does). I forget what Mike’s initial concern was – it was along the lines of, “But we won’t just be able to have sex in the kitchen when we want to!” To which I most certainly replied something very unsexy like, “Can you tell me the last time we had sex in the kitchen?” Though for sure, we did curtail how much we walked around the house naked, which anyway, we would have had do to over the years because otherwise the kids would have objected.
I also had to overcome others’ objections (projections?) of “the risks” of there being a rather younger woman living in the house (“… And you trust Mike with the au pair when you’re travelling for work?!” Well, yes, actually. I always trusted Mike). And of course, most people have heard horror stories related to au pairs upping and offing in the middle of the working day, leaving kids unattended.
But we had no horror stories. It wasn’t always plain sailing, but no-one would expect 16 years of being boss for someone who lives with you in your home always being easy.
No – au pairs have been a massively important influence in our kids’ lives, on my life, on my career, and of course on my sanity.
I am doing some of the maths and can count 16 au pairs over those 16 years. Two from Bulgaria, one from Russia, two from New Zealand, one from the USA, two from Slovakia, one from Hungary, one from Slovenia, three from the Czech Republic, one from Colombia, and two from Spain. The personalities, cooking, ideas, languages and more that they brought with them have been enormous gifts.
Some stayed well over the typical year an au pair would stay. Quite a few have become mothers themselves. Even now, many are closely connected with the family, inviting the kids out for short or even long trips to other countries. One has had my own daughters babysit her kids. With my ex-au pairs, I get outings to the cinema, have meals, see shows, and have a guest watch my kids perform in end of year shows. Particularly now, this support is more than welcome. Another comes by every February with her family when they come to ski in the Alps. Some have become friends with previous au pairs, or indeed my friends. I see some connected with my friends on Facebook!
While only two attended Mike’s ceremony of life last July (with four babies in tow), all of the eight we remain in touch with were profoundly affected by his death, and regularly check in on me, or come to stay.
But 12th July 2018 is the end of our Au Pair Era, and so I bow out tonight of being an “au pair mum”, and happily take on the “big sister” mantle which a few of them have called me over the years as I moved through my 30s, 40s, and into my 50s.
But not before I bow deeply to each one of these warm-hearted, tolerant, patient, friendly, creative, artistic, sporty, hellishly funny young women (because the two men didn’t work out). You each brought buckets of love, tolerance, new angles on parenting, new skills and interests to our family, helping create three kids who are increasingly well-equipped to face the world. And last but not least, you’ve helped me be a better mum than I would otherwise have been without all your help and support.
I thank each of you deeply – you know who you are. I remember you all with fondness and with love. You’ve touched our hearts and lives deeply in the most positive of ways.
It’s been quite a ride. Thank you my beautiful and many little sisters. Thank you my friends.