Hiring an au pair is a little like dating -- you do it online, everyone puts his or her best foot forward, and a lot of it boils down to chemistry. It's a little like hiring someone at work, of course, because a person's experience and references must be checked and considered, and there are a lot of paperwork and rules. It's a little like selling your house, because you necessarily describe your life, your family, and indeed your house, including her future bedroom-and-bath, in the sunniest way possible without pretending there are no flaws. And you post pictures.
And hiring an au pair is a little bit like conceiving a kid just so you can harvest cells to save your other kid (you've heard of this, right?). It's like that because when she arrives, an au pair is like another daughter, someone who solves many of your problems, creates some emotional ripples of her own, someone your family ends up caring about very much -- yet everyone is aware she wouldn't be there at all if it weren't for the precious child who came before. She is de facto a second-class citizen.
For a mom like me who works at home most of the time, the au pair takes on an added dimension: we hang out together. I am here, she is here -- at least, a lot of the time. We will be like mom/daughter, friend/friend, employer/employee. What could go wrong?
Right now we're floating through the best part of the whole process: the time after we and the au pair have made a match, but before the au pair has been with us for more than 3 months or so, when the newness wears off. Our new au pair, S., will join us in June, arriving from Germany to New York, spending three days in training and then hopping on a plane to her new bed-and-bath in Clarksburg. We are all in love right now. We chat on the email, we gush a bit on Skype - we are all legitimately very excited (except maybe Little One*, who remains fairly sure that the arrival of someone to help watch her for a year means that Mommy and Daddy are leaving for a year-long trip without her). It is fun.
It will stay fun -- in fact, if our experience this time is as positive as last time (and my gut says it will be), we will really benefit from S.'s part in our lives, beyond more date nights and fewer panicky rush-hours home to get the girl before school lets out. She will be a young woman who learns from us, who makes us feel like we have wisdom to offer; she will teach us about what our daughters will be like when they are 23, and about how Europeans think differently from Americans. We will eat and laugh and travel together. We will learn so much about ourselves and our lives as we translate them for her. Most rewarding of all, we will find in S., I can already tell, another person who deeply loves our kids. That creates a bond that transcends almost anything. Love my kids, I love you.
*I know "Little One" is somewhat annoying. I don't like using the kids' names in posts. She is the littlest, so Little One is her name for now.