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Ultimate Au Pair 2018 Finalist: Karam from South Korea

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Karam has been such a gift to our family over the last five months. She personifies all the best qualities of an au pair and what the program can mean to a family and that is why she is the ultimate au pair without a doubt!

We have two active boys; a four-year-old and a twenty-month-old who rarely stop moving. Karam greeted the boys with Korean character toy and taught them the songs that go along with them. She also brought small Korean gifts to share her culture with our family. The path that lead us to Au Pair Care is a journey. Almost two years ago, our older son began struggling immensely with meltdowns even after a good night sleep and a healthy breakfast. He had always been sensitive but this was different. He was also getting sick constantly at his center daycare - numerous ear infections and two sets of tubes later - we knew there had to be a better way and that our son's future depended on thinking outside the box. After a long journey, we found he has sensory processing disorder and anxiety. A traditional day care setting was not working for him, and it meant we needed a different paradigm.

When Karam arrived from South Korea, my husband had just transitioned out of working nights after six years. Owen had been going to occupational therapy (OT) twice a week for eight months but was still struggling. We were struggling too, with a toddler added to the mix, and an exhausted Mom who had done continuous night duty without much sleep. It was hard to figure out how to balance the care needs of a special needs preschooler and young toddler AND keep everything organized (like their laundry!). They had been with a part time nanny but weren't on a set schedule, which is what we had found our older boy needed to thrive.

Karam has undergraduate and graduate degrees in OT and special education and immediately brought structure and order to their days. She was patient, firm and skillful in handling Owen's rigidity and somewhat rocky adjustment to having in-home care. He's not easy, and struggles with transitions, but she assured us she had worked with more challenging situations. (Cue an enormous sigh of relief). She remembered what interested him from our conversations prior to her arrival and won him over with origami trucks, Mickey Mouse and playing enthusiastically with his little brother. We watched with awe as their relationship formed.

It didn't take long for them to begin adoring "KaTa" (our toddler's rendition of her name) and look forward to Legos, blocks, drawing Shopkins, and singing Sesame Street and Moana together. Sometimes our four-year-old reminds me that I'm not doing something like Karam does and it reinforces how lucky we feel to have such a wonderful extension of our family, someone they love - with them each day. In October, Karam shared Chuseok (Korean Thanksgiving) with us, both of our parents and my younger brother by making a traditional Korean dinner. I had fun shopping at the Korean grocery with her. On the night of the dinner, we all had so much fun exploring the food she had prepared, seeing the traditional Korean dress, and learning about the holiday. For Christmas, she made hand made gifts for our entire family including a beautiful hand painted card and helped me make a clay hand print craft with the boys to give to the Grandmas in the family.

So many people undervalue the knowledge and skill it requires to work with children. It is truly an art when you see it in action. I am amazed at how Karam provides clear and reasonable boundaries with the kids in every activity and how they respond! One example is getting the boys to eat eggs every morning. We try to feed them a healthy diet but kids can be picky and Owen's sensory challenges haven't helped. Karam knew they do best with protein and once they eat eggs, they know they can have fruit and cereal with milk or yogurt. She also has "food challenges" with our four-year-old, drawing from the fact that a lot of the foods she eats at our house are all new to her, and inspires him to be adventurous too. It works amazingly well, and we follow her template because that's what they have come to expect! Another great example of this is her adherence to routine. Once a regular napper, our older boy stopped napping one day when his anxiety was at its height. She started out by having him lay on the couch every day for 5-10-minute intervals, and over the last month, she has slowly but surely gotten him to nap in his bed for 45-60 minutes at least a few times a week. He is very active and needs this down time, especially because he is still waking up in the middle of the night a few nights a week due to his anxiety. When I'm with him, he asks "is it rest time now, Mama"?

When we have a challenging situation with one of the boys, we can draw from her knowledge to learn how to tweak our approach to get a more positive result. I've learned by watching her with our 20- month old that we anticipated our 4-year-old's needs too much when he was a young toddler, and that it's better for both boys to learn how to ask for what they want, and advocate for themselves. Karam has shown us that even Lochlan is capable of this skill while he is learning how to talk. He needs to be given the time to think about what he wants and be prompted to speak up for himself. She's also taught him colors and how to count to three. Karam also expertly reinforces the work our four-year-old is doing in preschool and OT by helping him with his pencil grip, letter recognition, scissor/utensil work, emotional regulation and empathy.

Beyond being excellent with our children, Karam is very easy to live with and a joy when she accompanies us on outings to see local events like the State Fair, apple orchard or on family trips like camping. She intuitively adjusted her schedule outside her working hours to fit our family's routine, doing laundry while we put the kids to bed or taking a shower when we were engaged in another activity (we have one bathroom, which she should receive the ultimate au pair award for alone). We've never had to revisit the house rules and she offers the utmost respect to our home and us. She freely helps with dishes without prompting and has even taught both boys how to clear their dishes from the table. We allocate 1-2 hours each week for "kids chores" and during that time she does all the kid's laundry. One day, our boys' grandparents took them for most of the day, so instead of providing care to them, Karam helped me systematically sort through every single toy in the play room so we could donate, throw or sell any toys that were no longer being used or were broken.

Honestly, I could go on, but it should be clear by now that Karam is the ultimate au pair in every way. She has made our lives easier and more interesting every day because of her knowledge of children, household assistance, and positive presence. Each day when I need to leave my boys, I have such a sense of calm and gratitude that they are at home and with someone who is so patient, caring and knowledgeable. I only hope that she has a similarly wonderful experience with us as her Host Family, and that we can accomplish the Minnesota "bucket list" we've prepared for her.

 

The Ball Family

Richfield, MN

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