Illinois LCC Shannon Summers had the privilege of delivering very happy news to Colombian au pair Natalia Gomez Cadavid last Friday night. Nati, an au pair for the Cook family in Illinois, has been chosen as Cultural Care Au Pair’s 2016 Au Pair of the Year award winner. Says Shannon, “Nati and all of the other au pairs were at a restaurant going over the Household Poisoning Safety Unit as part of our monthly meeting. I sent a quick text message to the host family to let them know when we were done, and they arrived at the restaurant to surprice Natalia. When they walked up to the table and the kids embraced Nati with warm hugs, kisses and flowers, she was surprised and confused to see them. I believe she was even more shocked to hear that she had won and would be receiving an airline voucher so she could return to the U.S. and reunite with her host family sometime in the future. She was smiling so big and all she could do was thank the family over and over. It was truly a very happy moment. Nati is truly a lovely woman that I am proud to call my friend.”
It is our honor to share part of the Cook family’s essay nominating Nati for this award!
We have a very busy home with three young children, an unusually needy dog, a mom in school, and a dad mostly working 200 miles away. It has been a year filled with many changes and challenges, and Nati has been integral in holding things together so our family can thrive. When Nati first arrived in late spring, our children were 4, 2, and 5 months. In the fall, our oldest started kindergarten, and mom returned to school after taking a year away for the birth of our youngest. At the same time, over the summer, a change in dad’s job meant he needed to be in Chicago (200 miles north) four days per week. Nati remained unbelievably loving, supportive, and flexible as we did our best to adjust to a new routine.
Among other things, she has been an invaluable rock for our middle child, now 3-years-old, as she adjusted to her older brother, her closest playmate, heading to school each day. She was also adjusting to mom being away from home after being home for the past year, and to dad being away from home for days at a time each week. Nati seemed to intuitively recognize the potential for our middle child to have a difficult time and carefully created a structured day, filled with school-like activities. On Nati’s initiative, each day was structured with time for singing, art, reading, games, coloring, snacks, and time for short videos once all was done.
She managed to pull all this off while still providing a loving, safe, and stimulating environment for our youngest. As an infant, that means regular diaper changes, feeding, handling bottles, and naps. She has remained attentive to his gross motor skills development and provided tummy time and helped him first use a walker. And she has been his biggest cheerleader as he has reached each major milestone: eating, crawling, standing, soon walking, and so on.
In addition, she took our oldest to and from kindergarten, not an easy task with two younger children in tow! She remained attentive to our oldest’s concerns as he began school and faithfully walked him all the way into his classroom each day when he was anxious about walking in himself. Upon picking him up from school, she always made sure his homework was started and kept track of all his school notes and belongings. Many times, she would take all three children on trips to the park, to the ice cream shop, to our neighborhood recreation center. Moreover, she planned many intricate and engaging arts and crafts projects for all three kids to do together! In addition, she has helped us countless times with preparing meals, keeping the house clean, laundry, home maintenance. Simply put: she is amazing!
Nati has generously shared her traditions around holidays and birthdays. We have also learned about Colombian cuisine. Our family all made arepas and empanadas together from scratch. We have also learned to share her passion for Colombian futbol (soccer). Everyone in the family now has at least one jersey of the Colombian national team so we can properly cheer them on in big games, and we are learning some of the big players of Atletico Nacional, Nati’s favorite club from her hometown. We absolutely love what we have learned of Colombia and Colombian culture and look forward to a visit there after our children are a bit older to visit Nati and experience Colombia firsthand. She has also been genuinely excited to be a part of our traditions. She is eager to try new foods, join in on celebrations and activities, as well as travel with us to meet our extended family. Nati and our family have truly enjoyed our mutual cultural exchange.
Nati is an exemplar of being: open-minded, non-judgmental, patient, loving, caring, smart, artistic, creative, organized, responsible, dedicated, hardworking, friendly, curious, and thoughtful. She has been more than an amazing au pair, she has become a beloved family member and role model that we want our children to learn from and strive to be like. We have been absolutely blown away by her genuine love for our children, and we feel incredibly fortunate to have her in our family.
Thank you to Nati for giving so much of herself to her host family and to this program and to the Cook family for sharing this story. Stay tuned for more au pair and host family nomination stories in the coming weeks and months!