Marva arrived from Germany with one suitcase. Amazingly, packed in that one suitcase was everything our family could ever want. Marva is our family's first au pair. As a first-time host family, our hopes were simple: she would be a part of our family, provide nurturing child care for our 8 year old daughter (Claire) and 7 year old son (Ty), teach us about the traditions and culture of her country. All of this is happening, as we expected. This essay, however, is prompted by what is happening that was not expected: Marva brings Ty to his reading tutor and has become his biggest reading cheerleader. It is because of Marva's self-motivated dedication of having Ty read to her daily that he is winning his battle against dyslexia. She demonstrates infinite patience when he is frustrated and feeling defeated. Marva hugs him at all the right times and reminds him that he's not in this alone. She is his reading rock - there for him when he needs to lean on something strong for extra support. Her gift to Ty has been teaching him resilience and how to work hard and fight for something important. Marva curls up on the bed with Claire for girl time. Walking past the door you see long limbs entangled and hear silly laughter. Friendship bracelets have officially been exchanged. Claire is at the age where learning to navigate friendships and 'girl groups' weighs heavily on her mind. Marva is a great role model for Claire: full of confidence, assertive, and always true to herself. Her gift to Claire has been teaching her to hold her head high, believe in herself, and to cherish the things that make her unique.
It is important to us that our family learned how the culture and traditions of Germany differ from our own. For the past year and likely several more to come, we are living in a country fixated on divisiveness. Many are focused on pointing out what makes us different from one another. Claire and Ty are old enough to hear those sentiments, ponder them, experience them on the playground, and absorb the tension. Marva has given us the unexpected gift of reminding us that where it matters most - despite geography, traditions, or culture - we are all more alike than we are different. Living a life that is true to a value system, making time to laugh, and putting your whole self into relationships and experiences. It is in these ways that Marva and our family share a culture.