Meet Isabel: Cultural Care Au Pair of the Year finalist

Isabel Hermnau, 20 from Germany

Au pair with the Levine Hacking family in NY
Host children: Aliza, 10 and Liliana,6

We believe as a family that we are hosting the 2012 Au Pair of the Year: Isabel Hermenau. We want to share with you in this essay why we feel she deserves consideration for this award.

Isabel, who goes by Isi, was the first candidate that Cultural Au Pair recommended to us and from our initial skype session, it became apparent why she was just the person we needed to join our family. Isi, a 20 year old from the town of Oppenheim Germany, is an incredibly mature, highly competent, and sensitive young woman. Her genuine interest in experiencing another culture and her love of children came through immediately.

Our girls Aliza (10) and Lili (6) took to her immediately and Isi entered their world quickly learning what each of them enjoyed doing most, connecting with their friends, and cooking their favorite meals. She cooks, bakes and does creative art projects with Lili. She brushes her dolls’ hair and immerses herself in pretend play. With Aliza, she sings and dances and joins her in her love of gymnastics and of all things Harry Potter.

Isi has shared with us some of her holiday traditions, such as on the eve of St. Nicklaus Day, she had the girls clean one of their boots and leave it outside our door. The following morning they awoke to boots filled with little treats and toys. She has baked German Christmas cookies and made gingerbread houses with the girls. And she has been equally immersed in and curious about the ways we celebrate Christmas and Hanukkah. We have already enjoyed so many fun times together which Isi has begun capturing in scrap books she is making for each of us.

In addition to many joyous moments for our family, there have also been some challenges for our family this year. Early in the interview process, I shared with Isi that I had been undergoing treatment for breast cancer all year and that we were looking for someone who would be especially sensitive to the ways in which my cancer has affected our two girls. This might have frightened away many prospective au pairs, but fortunately for our family, Isi does not scare easily. We have learned that she embraces challenges with courage and competence. She has been a truly wonderful support for our daughters and able to help them speak about the last months. She has also been very sensitive to our needs as we begin the process of emerging from the months of treatment. We feel very fortunate to have Isi in our family as we establish our “new normal” from what has been a very challenging time for our family. With her terrific sense of humor, she helped bring laughter back into our home.

Within the first month of her arrival, Isi also had to contend with a devastating event that shook up our entire community. Two children in our neighborhood were stabbed and killed by their nanny. Isi was understandably quite concerned about how our children would react to such an unimaginable crime. She showed such professionalism and sought out my guidance when my older daughter asked her directly whether she would ever hurt her like this, and then the three of us sat down together and talked in a way that helped everyone feel more at ease and connected. Isi, spoke warmly to Aliza and reassured her that they could talk about anything and that she would keep her safe always.

Later that same week came another challenge for our community as we learned we were going to be hit by a potentially devastating hurricane. Isi was encouraged by her family to return to Germany, but instead she joined us in securing our home with the necessary supplies and safety precautions to ensure that we would weather the storm. She did this with the same mature poise and warmth with which she met the other challenges. When Hurricane Sandy hit, thousands of people lost power and had to be evacuated from their homes. We invited one of those families to come and stay with us until they were allowed access to their home. Despite the crowded quarters, Isi welcomed this family into our home and went above and beyond to make everyone comfortable. We were so impressed with her empathy and resiliency.

My husband, Tony, travels internationally for work and during these periods when he has been away, Isi has been sensitive to the girls’ sadness about his absence and without my even having to ask, has intuited ways that she could be helpful to me as well. With her support, our family life has remained warm and steady through all of these challenging times.

Our family has been blessed to have such a lovely, kind and mature young woman spend the year with us. We feel she has made the happy moments of our lives even more joyous and has helped us manage the challenging times in ways that transformed them into positive memories and lessons for our daughters.