Each year, we ask our host families to nominate extraordinary au pairs for the Au Pair of the Year Award sponsored by the International Au Pair Association (IAPA). In addition to selecting three finalists to submit to IAPA for this prestigious award, Cultural Care Au Pair selects one outstanding au pair from each state to honor as the Au Pair of the Year. Stefania Gomez Luna of Colombia is recognized as the Au Pair of the Year from Georgia for 2013. Stefania lives with the Smythe family and cares for their three year old daughter, Mallory.
The Smythes first decided on au pair childcare for several reasons. The first was the individualized childcare approach as both parents travel frequently. “It has always been comforting to know that Mallory would be well taken care of at home, especially as a newborn,” says host father, Nicholas. Secondly, they loved the idea of cultural exchange. “Before we had children, we lived in England for two years and gained so much from the experience. Having an au pair is another way to pass that experience onto others as well as raise a child that can appreciate a world without borders and an international marketplace.” Finally, the language component of the au pair program played a role in their child care decision. Nicholas says, “To date, the au pair program has exceeded our wildest expectations as our daughter now knows all about Colombia, Spanish, and our au pair is thoroughly ingrained in American Culture. Similarly, my wife and I are sold on our first visit to Colombia in the coming years!”
Following is their nomination essay:
“Stefania Gomez Luna is known to my wife and me as Steffie and to our daughter as ‘Fluffy.’ Steffie came to our family in July of 2011 as a shy, nineteen year old girl from Colombia that knew a fair amount about kids but not a lot about our family. To watch what has happened over the past eighteen months with Steffie has been nothing short of amazing.
She has integrated so well into our family that we can’t imagine our family without her. Some au pairs live in the basement or somewhat further away from the hustle and bustle of the household. Our au pair didn’t have that option as her room was across from the master bedroom and just down the hall from our daughter. We plan most evening meals as family meals, so for Steffie there wasn’t much of a place to hide. The good thing is that she took to our family like a duck takes to water. We taught her about our traditions like eating red beans and rice on Mondays (a salute to my New Orleans heritage) or the way we all decorate the house depending on the seasons. Steffie in turn taught us about Colombian cuisine and taught us to cook arepas for breakfast (a new tradition that will endure well after she leaves). I almost laugh as I write that Steffie didn’t really know how to cook when she first got here but learned some Colombian recipes over Skype chats with her mother in Bogota. Lastly, Steffie and my wife are baking so many cakes, cupcakes, and cookies together now that it’s an absolute wonder that I can still fit into my clothes.
If you were to meet Steffie, you’d notice how small she is, which is made ironic by how big her heart is. She is kind and considerate to a fault always remembering to give birthday cards and write thank you notes for gifts she’s received. I remember on my wife and my wedding anniversary how I woke up that morning and found small note outside my bedroom door wishing us a happy day. Another aspect that we love about Steffie is her nurturing and developmental attitude she takes to taking care of our daughter. Mallory just turned three and wouldn’t be the same without Steffie. Not only is Mallory bilingual because of Steffie but she’s far better off in terms of academic and emotional development. Steffie finds so many wonderful activities for Mallory. For instance, one day I came home from work to find Mallory and Steffie just getting home from the public library where they had gone to Spanish story time. English story time is also a common occurrence. Crafts from Michael’s and various art projects just appear on the refrigerator door. Once, I walked downstairs and found Steffie and Mallory practicing the art of sharing by passing a teddy bear back and forth. My words don’t do it justice but it was the loving and tender way that she interacted in this game that made it so memorable. Flashcards, reading, singing, and dancing are all just some of the examples that highlight the fun environment she creates for Mallory.
We’ll be sad to see Steffie go back to Colombia in July of next year. We also know that her time with us has been but a stepping stone in her life’s journey as she goes home to finish her degree and become an industrial engineer. Our hope is that we have given her experiences and lessons in being part of our family that will ultimately better prepare her to start her own family and become the great mother that we know she will be. In the end we are confident in saying that Steffie’s place in our family and in our hearts will endure for many years to come. We now know that Mallory has a big sister in Colombia and I know we have another daughter who will be in Colombia.”