Do you know that feeling when you bump into a childhood friend after years and years of not seeing each other, and all you can think is: “Man, time really does fly!”? Now multiply that feeling times three and add a good doses of nostalgia-sprinkles on top, and you can roughly imagine what Clare felt like, when she recently attended the wedding of one of her three host kids! Brace yourself for an utterly heart-warming story – the kind that we all need more of in our lives.
As expected the invitation arrived on the doormat of my small terraced house in the North East of England. It had been a long time since I’d had a wedding invitation. The wedding was to take place in Washington DC this November. Strangely enough I had never met the bride to be. As for the groom that was a completely different story.
THE YEAR WAS 1993
Our first meeting took place in an airport on a dark, cold, snowy February evening in a city I had never been. I was there to meet my host family. I would spend the next year living with the family as part of the Au Pair in America program. Daniel, the groom, was the eldest of three boys. He was seven years old, his brother Sam four and the baby brother Paul was only four months old. Their parents both had busy jobs and felt joining the APiA program would provide a great experience for the whole family, while helping out with the great demands of childcare.
At that time I was twenty-two years old, working in a bar and restaurant with no real qualifications. I had always dreamed of going to America and in particular New York City. When I read the advert in the local newspaper for Au Pair in America it seemed like the perfect opportunity. I had always enjoyed being with children and this was my chance to see America. The year was 1993. The music playing was Whitney Houston’s ‘I will always love you’, Billy Joel ‘The River of Dreams’, UB40 ‘I can’t help falling in love with you’ and Meatloaf ‘I will do anything for love (but I won’t do that)’. The movies showing were Sleepless in Seattle, Jurassic Park, Mrs Doubtfire and The Pelican Brief. The City that would be my home for the next year was Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania. I’d never heard of the place!
I settled into family life quickly and was made to feel very welcome. Daniel was a bright boy who was inquisitive and had notions of becoming an astronaut. Sam was a firecracker who had a passion for dinosaurs. And Paul was a happy, content baby that took great comfort in my hair! As for their parents I couldn’t have asked for anything more. They were kind, generous, patient and supported me in all aspects of life.
I very soon become involved in the au pair community. My local community counselor encouraged contact with other au pairs living in my cluster. We became a merry band of adventurers exploring the city and further afield. We were there to support one another and became close friends.
My days were busy. There was the general care of the boys helping dress, feed, clean, take to clubs and play dates. Other trips included going out to the park, museums, science centre, movies, swimming pool and bike rides. Every now and then, the boys enjoyed playing on their Nintendo as well. Super Mario Brother’s music still plays in my head! Many times were spent finding the missing Power Ranger before a game could begin. Tip toeing through Lego was always a challenge. Trucks, cars, action figures and board games needed to be kept in some kind of order, not to mention the numerous amount of books that adorned the bookshelves.
YOU KNOW YOU’VE SETTLED IN WHEN…
Over time I began to learn each boys likes and dislikes. Their personalities began to shine through. I knew I was going to have to ask Daniel at least five times to get dressed for school before he did. I also knew he could be very sensible, caring and considerate towards his brothers and friends. And I also knew which way Sam liked his sandwiches cut and that he didn’t like to wear socks. He would argue black was white and he was always certain he was right. Paul liked to stop to look at the trucks, diggers and tractors. He had his favourite songs and is the only baby I know that loved pickled gherkins!
FOUR SEASONS, 365 DAYS, A YEARS COMES TO AN END
Living in Pennsylvania I got to enjoy all four seasons. The spring was beautiful as I watched the trees turn green, flowers pop up everywhere, the squirrels and chipmunks run through the park. I began to feel the warmth of the sun. Later that year, the heat really began to increase allowing us to enjoy an outdoor swimming pool and movies in the park. Autumn was stunning. I had the opportunity to go pumpkin picking, make apple juice and to celebrate Halloween American style! Winter brought the snow and more fun ice skating and sledging. A white Christmas was a real treat.
When the year came to a close it was hard to believe I would be leaving this family that had become so important to me. It truly was a year abroad and an experience of a lifetime. We all felt the separation deeply. We also knew our friendship would continue.
TAKING ON EUROPE
I was fortunate enough to visit the family several times over the next decade. They also made the trip to visit me in England. It was wonderful to watch the boys grow and witness parts of their personality changing and other parts staying exactly the same!
During one trip I went to visit Daniel at college. He introduced me to his friends as his ‘old au pair’. I had to take him to one side and suggest he refer to me as his friend from England. When given the opportunity Daniel spent six months studying at Edinburgh University in Scotland. Due to the fact I was only a two hour train journey away he came to visit. Sam studied for a year at Galway University in Ireland. He came to stay with me for a week over the Christmas holidays. The following spring I went to Ireland and met up with the family. It was here an Irish lady mistook Daniel and me for husband and wife! Things had changed.
The last to arrive on my doorstep was Paul. He had been offered a place to study at Oxford University for a year. He stayed with me for a week before I drove him to Oxford. In order to get Paul ready for his year ahead he needed the essentials such as kettle, crockery, lamp, towels etc. As we were standing in Tesco supermarket disagreeing about towels I had the thought: “This is the longest au pair year in the world!” When it was time to leave Paul in Oxford we gave each other a hug, him engulfing me in his six foot frame.
ONCE A PART OF THE FAMILY, ALWAYS A PART OF THE FAMILY
In the years following my return from America I began to study. The result was a Masters degree in Counselling from Durham University. I’ve had a successful career in the NHS (The National Health Service) and had the fortune to travel the world for fun. Daniel, Sam and Paul are affectionately known among my family and friends as ‘my boys’. Even their mother, who has the grace to share her sons with me say they are a credit to me.
I return to my seat feeling as proud as I’ve ever been. I’ve just finished a reading at Daniel’s wedding ceremony. My boys have become men and all have a smile on their face. What a fantastic way to also celebrate twenty-five years of friendship. What I couldn’t have known on that dark cold February night was how much the year ahead would impact on my future decisions and how much the family would enrich my life for years to come. That was unexpected.
None of this would have been possible without Au Pair in America. Thank you very much.