The school bell has officially rung for the last time in the season and a kick-off to the fastest two months of the year is underway.
It has been two years since we’ve been able to fully recognize the potential of summer and it’s feeling as though this year may actually be different. Witnessing crowds of strangers gathered outside for the Canada Day pancake breakfast, families strolling the streets with no particular destination in mind and, of course, kids enjoying the ability to play freely and interact as they should, are all welcome signs of traditional human interaction and behaviour. It’s a breath of fresh air and has got me thinking back to the last ‘normal’ summer we had; and that, in turn, reminded me of the amazing year we hosted Elena: an au pair from Spain, who’s presence and spirit continues to inspire the girls to this very day.
Deciding to host an au pair for the summer is a decision I would recommend in an instant to anyone. The cultural opportunities it offers are endless, as our whole family was not only introduced to a variety of traditions and language, but we also had the opportunity to share our own special traditions and cultural nuances. The fact that the first weekend she arrived was Canada Day, seemed a fitting introduction to how we do things here, and for us to learn the contrast to how things are done there. In Elora, you can imagine the festivities to match just about any other small town in our great country. Pancakes drowning in maple syrup, a soap box derby race, a sea of red and white clothes and an evening of barbecue capped of with the booming, glistening joy of fireworks at sundown. In between it all, of course, is the Canada Day parade, an event that, when seen through the eyes of a foreigner for the first time, is admittedly a little confusing.
From bag pipes and clowns, to cheerleaders and dogs dressed up in ballerina gear, I was unsure how to answer her questions of why these things were marching down the street to the tunes of Rush, The Tragically Hip and a senior brass band playing Neil Diamond’s classic: Sweet Caroline. Perhaps most confounding, however, was that I found myself completely stumped at the question: “Why are there so many firetrucks involved?” Canadians are a confusing bunch I suppose. When you contrast these features to a Las Fallas in Valencia, for example, and suddenly the hay bale flatbed full of residents from Inverhaugh wearing Molson shirts and fascinators being pulled by a man in a strange fur coat on a tractor does seem a little odd. Nevertheless, this parade is a proud tradition, one of the many welcome signs of summer, and something we were very proud to share with the newest, albeit temporary member of our household.
The months that followed her arrival were nothing short of wonderful for our entire family and it was an experience that we want to revisit now that the easing travel restrictions seem to be suggesting that possibility again. She not only cared for our children day to day, she also inspired them greatly and brought forth a curiosity in them that may not have bloomed the same otherwise. Though she was only three years old at the time, Nora speaks confidently to this day about how she desires to travel the world, become an au pari herself, and experience different cultures. It’s impossible to say if she would feel exactly this way if Elena hadn’t come live with us, but Alison and I truly believe it didn’t hurt to drive that ambition further. In fact, just the other day Nora mentioned to me how she has her ‘post-high school’ plans all figured out: for twelve months right after she graduates, she will spend one month at a time in a different location for different reasons; Hawaii for the surfing, Costa Rica to live in the trees, Disney to say hi to her favourite characters (and out of curiosity to see if the Paw Patrol will be there for a visit at the same time), Home a couple of times so mom and dad don’t get too lonely, a travelling fair somewhere so she can meet lots of people while having fun, and, the last place on her list so far, of course: Spain. How could I possibly be more proud?
From the perspective of our children, the experience meant that, for the summer months they had someone special, unique and attentive caring for them every day. She would take them to the park, tell them stories and show pictures from her home, play in all of their games and get truly immersed into their imaginative world. I like to think of the experience through their eyes as being something along the lines of: “Here I am, young and full of wonder, and in walks this girl from another part of the Earth that I didn’t know existed. She is just entering college, is independent, confident, kind, speaks multiple languages and gets to spend her summer exploring the world. That’s going to be me one day.”
From the perspective of a parent (that’s Alison and I), we not only got to experience everything I’ve mentioned in regards to culture, food and language, but we had someone teaching all of these wonderful things to our children. On top of that, the logistics of it all were astounding. No packing lunches in the morning for them to carry off to day care, as well as no need to rush after work to make it to their on time for pickup. Bath time was always covered, we always had crafts and artwork to come home to and, once or twice a week, Alison and I even got to have a date night! We had many lovely conversations in the evenings, and were privileged to host a couple of her friends that came to visit during her vacation week. One really cool impact of her being with us and her obvious desire for adventure, was that we found ourselves engaged in exploring things we take for granted simply because their local. Whether it was the African Lion Safari, the butterfly conservatory, the CN tower, walking along the river bed down the street, or stopping in at the chip truck on the side of the highway, we started seeing the experiences through a different lens and they are things we quite likely wouldn’t have naturally gravitated towards, yet the kids loved every minute of those experiences, and we did too.
It was our every intention to go through the process again the following year, but then that whole pandemic thing happened and those intentions were shut down. We still keep in touch, however, and we hope and plan she will be able to come visit us in the near future; perhaps not as an au pair, but as someone we made a connection with and someone the girls miss, looked up to and just want to spend time with again. I recommend the experience to anyone. It opens up your home in a way that not only shows the kids, but reminds the adults, that we live in a world full or perspective, possibility and kindness. The more we can share and embrace that: the better off we all will be.
Elena, we miss you and can’t wait to cross paths again.
-The Beandricks Family.