As soon as Suelen arrived to take care of our 2 children (ages 2 years old and 4 months), her warmth and infectious personality brightened our home. Suelen had one week of me showing her "the ropes" before I returned to work after maternity leave. She was such a quick study. I couldn't believe how quickly she grasped how my household ran--how laundry was folded, bottles washed, 2-year-olds disciplined. She observed, remembered, and followed through. But her first real test came on her very first solo day, as I headed back to work. My two year old woke up sick. Her crib was a mess. The baby wasn't well either. Another mess, and I didn't have time to tend to any of it. I apologized and ran out the door, feeling so guilty. Suelen reassured me all would be fine. I dreaded walking in the door that night, but was shocked by what I found. All toys and books put away. Kids' bedding was washed and all their laundry done, folded, put in drawers. Children were sleeping. Medicine dosages and times given written out. Bottles were washed. I breathed a huge sign of relief and was so grateful for this wonderful young woman who tended to my sick babies just as I would have.
Suelen is the Ultimate Au Pair not because of any one grand gesture, but rather because of the 1000 small yet very significant things she does
Suelen's best traits lie in her ability to think three steps ahead of every scenario. There are a lot of steps to think through with two under two--do you have the diaper bag packed, extra clothes, snacks, water cups, milk ready? Do you have the right stroller in the car and did the 2-year-old use the potty before the trip? What time should you leave if the baby needs to go down at 11 and the 2-year-old at 1? Suelen is always on top of these things and plans her days to fit my kids. She disciplines when necessary, redirects when appropriate, gives out stern looks and hugs when each is called for. She is calm, in charge, clear, and direct. She does not raise her voice or lose her temper. She speaks quietly and says what she means, and means what she says. She is also playful, fun-loving, silly, and laughs easily--both at herself and the funny things kids do all the time. She has learned where the best library storytimes are, has memorized all of the songs, and knows where to find the best indoor spots for bad weather days and the best playgrounds for warm sunny days. She starts each day with a plan and likes to get my kids up and out of the house, make friends, try new craft and art projects. She lets them be little, get dirty, explore, experiment, and have fun. She realizes she is the driver of their days and is constantly coming up with new things to try. We come home to brightly food-colored rice projects, freshly-created fingerprints masterpieces, and new hairstyles. We pull in the driveway to see picnics on the lawn, bubble dance parties, and water table splashing. We walk in the door hearing happy kids excited about their days. All of this is wonderful for a parent to see. But in all honesty, it would be less magical without all of the "behind the scenes" work that Suelen also does day in and day out. Selfishly, I am grateful for what she does to make my life easier, to make my household run more smoothly--I get hours of my time back. I get to BE with my kids. To play with them, listen to them, crawl around on the floor with them. I don't have to think about or do their laundry, clean up their toys each night, or wash their bottles for the next day. Suelen has done this all, and it is a beautiful gift each and every day that I do not take for granted. Because of her, I get more time with my kids. And to a mom who works outside the home who has two little ones, nothing is more precious.
Suelen has shared the Brazilian cultural tendency of creating a community--right in our own home. Our home has become such a fun gathering place for wonderful Brazilian au pairs currently in the area. The girls gather often and share experiences, laugh, listen to music, cook traditional meals, prep to go out on the town, have sleepovers, and relax. These guests are engaged and friendly towards us, adorable and helpful and loving with our girls, neat and tidy, and respectfully quiet after our little ones are in bed. We have hosted sleepovers, birthday parties, and special lunches for Suelen's au pair friends. In return, they have volunteered at our children's birthday parties, brought them Christmas gifts, and encouraged them to take their first steps. We have helped Suelen check in on the new au pairs who have just arrived in the country, have matched with new families, or just may feel a little homesick. As for the au pairs, we have connected with their host families and have made new friends--and our children have become friends. They say it take a village to raise children, and Suelen has played a major role in building that village for our family. In the 10 months she has been here, Suelen has fostered a culture of inclusion, community, and vibrancy. This culture is enjoyable and exciting. It is also another way Suelen models exemplary behavior for my young girls. From her, they see how to be a friend, how to treat friends, and how to appreciate friends--and the families of these friends! They see that sometimes you have to act selflessly for those you care about and that friendship brings fun and trust, but that also sometimes you go above and beyond for good friends. They see how sometimes friends can serve as family, especially in times when family isn't close by. I love this model and want my girls to understand and value the gift of friendship---Suelen demonstrates this just by being herself!
Suelen is the Ultimate Au Pair not because of any one grand gesture, but rather because of the 1000 small yet very significant things she does (and traits she exemplifies) that continuously make our lives better and our kids' lives better. She is wonderful. For example:
Generosity: Six weeks into her time with us, Suelen had plans with a friend one Saturday night when we had to rush our two-year-old to the Emergency Room for stitches. We didn't want to have the 4-month-old hang out in the hospital during the event, and both Mike and I wanted to wait with our older daughter because she was so scared. Suelen canceled her plans and insisted that we drop off the baby at home with her. Such a sweetheart!
Enthusiasm: Laura's extended family is crazy and boisterous and for her family reunion, insisted that everyone dress up as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles for a scavenger hunt in Florida. Suelen not only donned the lovely outfit, but fit in so well with the family, that everyone can't wait to have her back--her willingness to go along with the wacky plan, and to have a great attitude about it, was noted!
Thoughtfulness: Laura, pregnant with her 3rd child, had a few days in which she came home from work early due to morning sickness. She'd text Suelen that she was on her way, and Suelen would make sure that the girls' doors were closed and music was playing. This was such a simple yet profound gesture, in that it gave Laura a chance to sneak upstairs quietly to rest in her room, unnoticed by curious tiny people who otherwise would have thwarted this plan.
Giving Nature: For our baby's first birthday, Suelen rounded up her other Brazilian au pair friends to help with the party. The group made brigadeiros in advance and then during the party, set up stations for face painting and balloon animal making for the tiny guests. It was so sweet and thoughtful!
Friendship Building Skills: I love how Suelen models great friendships for my girls. She has a few close friends and I love this example for my girls that to have great friends, you have to be a great friend. Friendship takes good listening, having fun together, deep empathy, and concern for others. Suelen is a great example of walking that walk, and my girls get a front-row seat to this every day. Suelen also encourages them to be good friends--sharing on the playground, including others, thinking about feelings. One day she set out on a mission specifically to find friends for our baby--the two-year-old couldn't be the only one with friends!
Loving Nature: Suelen was the very first person we told when we found out we were expecting Baby #3. We asked her if she wanted to stay with us for another year and she started to yell "YES!" I stopped her and said not to answer too quickly, because we had news...she knew instantly that we were pregnant and started crying and said "of course yes!!" It was adorable and heartwarming.
The Spead Family