"Momma, I'm going to throw up! Momma, do you have a bag?" exclaimed Greta, our three-year-old daughter. Maggie immediately clamored to the rescue, climbing over the van seat to pass a bag to Greta who immediately vomited in the bag. Thus, captured the classic chaos of an epic family road trip from Minnesota to Montana, but overall, Maggie's willingness to step in, step up and blend right into the our family.
Being an au pair in any normal circumstances is challenging, but this year, the challenges surpassed anyone's imagination. We had grand visions and plans for what Maggie could do with the kids, places she could visit, young adult friends she could meet and activities she could enjoy. But the pandemic put a pause on it all. Still, despite numerous staples of community life being closed this year, and everyone living, working and studying from home, Maggie's ingenuity, flexibility and maturity prevailed.
Maggie is the Pied Piper of the neighborhood, with a following of a dozen neighborhood kids wherever she goes. As the COVID lockdown lifted in June 2020, Maggie wanted to help the kids celebrate the end of a unique school year and kick off summer. So, with just two weeks on the job, she planned an entire neighborhood Olympics ceremony for the children, complete with multiple event stations, signage, music, medals, and a photo stop! Neighbors brought lawn chairs and watched from a distance. As we were all starved for community time, this event brought people of all ages together for good, old-fashioned fun.
With summer activities cancelled, we took advantage of the opportunity to work from "home" and determined our new home for the summer would be Montana. Six weeks after she arrived, Maggie joined us on our annual 18-hour trek across the Midwest where we made our new home at grandma's house in the small town of Big Sandy, Montana, population 500. Sitting at the base of the Bears Paw Mountains, Big Sandy is in the heart of ranch and farm country, home to one paved road, two bars, five churches and a community pool. It was a far cry from Monterrey, Mexico! Maggie dove right in and fully embraced rural life. She spent hours at the community pool and taught our four- and six-year-old girls to swim. On weekends, she joined us on camping adventures and flexed her (former) Girl Scout muscles. She taught the kids how to make a campfire and cook over a fire, hiked mountains, learned to paddle board and raft the rivers through Glacier Park.
She was a seamless addition to our family.
When school began, Maggie assumed the role of "teacher." With three children learning from home or preschool, she created structure, organized schedules and helped them each find joy and success amidst remarkable challenges. Zoom kindergarten is not for the faint of heart. Yet, with Maggie's help and encouragement, Annika is excelling. She improved from understanding 40% of the sight words to 80% with Maggie's help within three months.
While learning from home, Maggie also incorporates Spanish lessons throughout the day, using teachable moments at meals or during chores to integrate words and phrases. Our four-year-old seamlessly requests "leche," or "rosquilla, por favor" into breakfast conversation. As our son exclaimed, "The best part of having Maggie with us is her cooking!" We've always loved Mexican food and culture, so making and eating authentic sopes, flautas, chilaquiles and pico de gallo is second to none. We now prepare Mexican or vegetarian meals with Maggie at least once per week for the benefit of all. For Annika's sixth birthday, Maggie planned an entire fiesta celebration, maximizing the children's art time to make all of the decorations from scratch with the neighborhood children. We all celebrated in the backyard, at a respectable distance, and enjoyed a homemade pinata, decorations, music, and authentic food. For Maggie, this was her opportunity to channel her familial roots and the spirits of her grandmothers as she managed our kitchen. Food has a way of connecting the generations and as one grows up and moves away, one finds comfort in the family recipes and traditions. Maggie shared these traditions with our family and neighborhood through the fiesta, cooking up more than 100 flautas with creamy guacamole sauce, pico de gallo, Mexican corn, margaritas, and a homemade four tier cake â€¦. because in Mexico, "We like to party!" It was the COVID birthday party to remember!
Watching Maggie grow into herself engenders such pride in us, her host parents. We see her appreciation for family and culture blossom the longer she is away, while she simultaneously embraces adventure and new beginnings. She brought this together through our Dia de Los Muertos celebration this past November. While our Protestant/Lutheran traditions honor our relatives on All Saints Day, we embraced this new cultural tradition. Maggie, again, leveraged the moment to do art projects with the neighborhood kids, and created a dynamic "ofrenda" for our beloved relatives (and dogs!). She even gave a 30-minute lesson to the Kindergarten class via Zoom, incorporating a virtual art project and sharing our home's ofrenda with the students. Now, Maggie is settling into a Minnesota winter and embracing the new opportunities. Together with the children, she's learning figure skating and cross-country skiing though, the children may well be teaching her this time! Her tenacity and sportsmanship is commendable.
We feel ever-so-fortunate to have met and welcomed Maggie into our home. Maggie is our first au pair, and we were very nervous about finding a good match when we started this process. As others told us, "You will know when you know [that you've found the right match]." And we did. From the first interview, we knew Maggie was an amazing fit for our family and within 24 hours we hired her.
It was a perfect match, and she has been the most ultimate au pair. We can hardly imagine our lives without her.
The Richter Family, Greater Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minnesota