Mellissa, a former au pair from South Africa, is one of several au pairs that stayed with the Davis family in Chicago over the past two decades. These wonderful ladies, along with the Davis family, have agreed to periodically share their thoughts and experiences related to Au Pair in America as part of an ongoing series, Keeping Up with the Davis Family. Through firsthand experiences about what it’s like to participate in our cultural exchange program, this international family is providing everyone a chance to learn more about au pair child care.
It has been almost four years now that I am back in South Africa, and I have not regretted one moment of my time spent with the Davis family. The Davis children, every one of them, are special in their own way. I remember our morning rides to school and pickups. I am sure if I could mention every treasured moment I spent with each of them, I could write a book that would consist of endless chapters.
I arrived in the USA in 2012 as an au pair to a family with two children. After the first month, I entered into rematch, and the first family that contacted me was the Davis family.
My first phone call memory is slightly vague, but I do remember my host mom, Jennifer, telling me that she has 6 children. It came as shock and the first question I asked was, “will they all listen to me?”
With a giggle, Jennifer said “is that the only question that you have? I would think you would ask more questions.” Thinking back about it now brings a giggle to myself.
Over the next few days we continued with a few more calls, and then I received a call from a stranger with a familiar accent to mine, named Megan. She was telling me that she is an employee of Jennifer and also a helper to the family au pair. I got to learn more about the Davis family by speaking to Megan. One thing I remember clearly during that call was Megan mentioning one reason for her calling was that my accent was too strong for Jennifer to understand over the telephone. It got us both to laugh, and we continued chatting again. It was not long before we agreed that I was a good match to join the Davis family.
I remember I was picked up early in the morning, bags and all, and I was off on my first road trip with Jennifer and the children to a cross country race. What a first day experience!
I remember every road trip we have taken together in the “Big Red Bus,” and the places that I have gotten to experience and enjoy with my family. I signed for a year stay but ended up extending for another year. I had the option of moving on to another family, but I decided to stay with the Davis family. They have become a part of my own family.
I have gotten to learn so much about the American culture and family lifestyle that I will never forget. I remember our Christmas that we spent together putting up the tree and all the decorations in and around the house, meeting the extended family and friends.
The Davis family made me feel as a family member and not as an outsider.
During the au pair program you are entitled to take a credited course. I choose to take modules that would relate to my B. Ed. degree at the community college. I would sit at the kitchen table and do my assignments. There were times that Jennifer and the children would assist me with my projects.
I am currently studying towards my B. Ed. degree to become a foundation phase teacher (grade r-3), and I hope to return back to the USA to visit my family again. They are very much involved in sports, and I was not much of a sports person. But, since I am back in South Africa, they have inspired me to take up running as a hobby, and I have registered to run my first marathon race in about a month.
During my stay, I got to meet some of the other Davis au pairs and speak with them, to hear their stories and experience. My experience is everlasting, and I would say to everyone that wants to be an au pair, you should go for it. It is a journey that will not be forgotten.
I would like to say thank you to the Davis family for the lifelong experience that I got to have with them. They inspired me to become the person that I am today. I have learnt so much and will always treasure it all.
I often tell people about my experience and my family of 6 children who I wasn’t sure would listen to me. I giggle about it, and they look at me with that shock and ask the question, “how did you manage?” My answer will always be the same. I just did, and I enjoyed it all.