Wednesday, July 9, 2014

A soul reignited: A tribute to the city, the people, and the year that forever changed my life

I had to take a break from my fun and light-hearted posts and take some time to write about how I'm really feeling. With the end of my time here quickly approaching, I can't write honestly and to my full potential, without first expressing how truly broken I am about having to say goodbye.

You see, it's no surprise that leaving people and a place you so desperately love is heart-wrenching. We all know that. We "get it". Even worse though, is when it is completely out of your control. Thank you Australian government for that dagger. I reallllly appreciate it.

It feels a little like a break up with your first love, multiplied by 10, and followed by a bash of your head to a slab of concrete. Except worse. So much worse.

I've done a pretty good job at ignoring the inevitable, and have been in a constant state of denial until I hit the 'less than 30 day mark'. But now I have to desperately fight back tears every time the girls hug me tight and beg me not to go. Lately, it's become an everyday battle of "Why do you have to leave your little girls?" sort of phrases, and me not having a very good explanation. Thanks again government for being virtually unexplainable to 3 and 5 year olds.

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Incase you're a newbie to the blog, you might not be aware of the back story here. So let me a shed a little light on how drastic things have changed in just one short year.

Before I moved to Perth, Australia, I was living in good 'ol Wisconsin, USA. I used to be happy there, but it had been a hard couple of years after college. My friends had all moved away, my 5 year relationship was failing, and the only thing that made me happy anymore was spending all of my time at work, which is sad in and of itself. Don't get me wrong. I loved my (3) jobs. Working with my kids (especially the beloved twins I nannied for) was literally the only reason I got up in the morning. But, I was battling bouts of a depression, even if I didn't truly recognize it at the time. And other than a good (and busy) work schedule, I couldn't help but feel that the rest of my little world was quickly falling apart around me.

It's fair to say that I was having a full-fledged, and very real, quarter-life crisis.

So there I was, living with my boyfriend, but almost always completely alone. Not just alone. Depressed and alone. A somewhat lethal and undesirable combination. It was work schedules, it was different personalities, but it was mostly that our futures didn't align anymore. We were falling out of love, and without the distraction of my friends, I finally had the chance to notice it. And because I was so undeniably sad, lonely, and tired, I felt I had no choice but to work and sleep my life away. It was all I could do to stop myself from desperately wondering where we went wrong and why things had to be this way. After all, a half a decade of dating, only to have it fail in the end, tends to leave a person understandably distraught.

And even though I knew that letting go would be the hardest thing I've ever had to do (and it was), I wasn't about to let my life end up this way. So while I was becoming somewhat emotionally prepared, I still needed a real plan to leave. Really leave. Something big, something drastic, and something I could (and would) not want to back out of.

And that's when I found Au Pairing.

It was a perfect blend of taking care of kids and traveling the world, which just happen to be my two greatest passions. I wasn't cut out for 65 hour work weeks, paying for nothing but bills and student debt, and living in a virtually loveless relationship anymore. I was cut out for making 'being happy' a priority, and a reality. And so, I did.

I was clueless about what the process, the move, and the job entailed initially. But after my very first conversation with the family from behind my computer in Wisconsin, I just knew that this was the 'something' I was looking for. It caught me and a lot of people by surprise (my boyfriend included), but this was the most decisive I had ever felt about anything, in my entire life. And that says a lot coming from a person who can barely decide what to eat for lunch on a daily basis. I had to trust my instincts, be brave, let go, and move forward. It was time to stop wasting life, and time to start living it.

And so, I paid off the last of my debt, sold my belongings, took a one-way flight across pacific, and never looked back.

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It's been nearly a year now since I took that flight as a terrified and alone girl in the midst of a life crisis. It's been one year since this city and the perfect blend of a French/Australian family stole my heart. One year since I was saved from my own disastrous path of undesired conventionality. And one year since I discovered the difference between simply being awake and truly feeling alive.

And I feel that I owe it all to them:

Ben: One of the smartest and hardest working people I've ever met. Hopelessly dedicated to his family and making sure everyone is happy. The first to offer a place to stay to a friend in need, and is quickly there with a beer to follow :)! We bonded over our mutual love of chicken wings, pale ale's, and sarcasm. He has taught me SO much about the world and traveling, and I'm so grateful for that.

Julie: The most selfless woman I've ever known. A superwoman of sorts, who puts everyone's wants and needs before her own. The mom who never stops moving and almost never takes time for herself. A dedicated career woman, wife, and mother who is so lovingly invested in her family. She is so easy-going, so easy to talk to, and someone that I so humbly admire. 

Lola: The most creative, artsy, and talented little girl I know. She has the most selfless and beautiful soul, and made it truly effortless to fall in love with her. She is a perfect example of what is right in the world. I will miss all of your beautiful drawings, your thoughtfulness, and you putting a smile on my face every single day. 

Emilie: A spunky and modern day punky brewster (90's television show, for anyone confused). A lover of the color orange, tigers, spiderman, and pushing limits. She dances to the beat of her own drum, tells it like it is, and is also one of the sweetest kids I know. I will miss our special one-on-one dates, your eskimo kisses, and our mutual love of mac n cheese. You have my heart little girl, and you don't even know it.

Now, not every au pair has a similar situation. In fact, I would say that many keep their emotions to a minimum, and look at it simply as a job providing means for future travel. They build no real attachment, say meaningless goodbyes, and move forward quite easily. Some have a bit more of a connection, but perhaps not to the same degree. And for the rest of you fortunate souls like me? I'm sorry. While it makes living abroad one of the best experiences of your life, it also makes the goodbye that much more devastating. And as desperately as I'd like to be able to get through the next few weeks emotionally unscathed, viewing this opportunity as a job whatsoever was far from my experience. They were family from day one, and that bond is irreplaceable. And I'm so incredibly lucky. 

To put this whole thing simply? 

I love them. And I'm really going to miss when this isn't my life anymore. 

I'm going to miss our Friday night taco nights, my King's Park dates with the girls, the cuddles, the kisses, and the 'I love you's'. I'm going to miss our vacations (holidays), our lunch dates, and having to order dessert every single time! I'm going to miss the 90 degrees in December, the most beautiful beaches on the planet, and the occasional times I was rescued when alcohol got the best of me, even if it was kind of your fault in the first place :) (thanks Ben). I'm going to miss our lame (and awesome) 8 pm bedtimes, our japanese mayo obsession, and our brutally honest conversations about life and love.

And I'm even going to miss not sleeping in, potty training, and the occasional cleaning puke out of someone's hair. Even those pesky dinner time meltdowns, too. Because even the hard days were good days. And the good days, some of my absolute best. A million thanks would never be enough to show my gratitude, but it's certainly worth a try. I owe it all to this job, this city, and this family. My travel soul is reignited, and my life forever changed. And I am eternally grateful.

Thank you all for your continuous love and support, and for faithfully reading what a little girl from the midwest has to say. Any guesses on how many times I'll emotionally fall apart through airport security this year? I wasn't sure I could be more of a mess than I was last August, but who knows, I'm constantly surprising myself. I see lots stares and consoling from strangers in the very near future.

I'll be honest, I'm not sure I'm quite ready for you yet New Zealand. Then again, I don't know that I ever really will be. But here's to looking up, moving forward, and pushing towards another big (and exciting) life change. Ready or not life, here I come.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

8 weeks of Oz. Part four: Au Pair life. Tips, tricks, pros and cons.

I wrote a how to on becoming an Au Pair back in September, but have fortunately learned a lot since then! I continue to get emails about the process, so I thought I'd update specifically based on my experiences and my time working in the beautiful Australia.

My favorite websites:

www.greataupair.com 
www.aupair-world.net 

Both are easy to use, and are free to you as the au pair. The filtering capabilities allow you to choose the country (or countries) you're interested in, your available start date, and your required pay, among other things. You can search for families and families can search for you. You can then message one another and move forward if you so choose. A face-to-face conversation (skype or otherwise) should then be had, to determine how well you mesh. And hopefully the end result is a job in a foreign land :).

Tips:

- Don't go through an agency. The middle man is so unnecessary and is expensive for both you AND the family. You'll have a lot more options if you just conduct the search yourself. And best yet? It's FREE.
- Post a picture and look professional. Remember you get one chance to impress people as they scroll through the thousands of other profiles. Not posting one at all will not allow you to make any impression, and you will just be another faceless profile. And posting anything less than professional will turn you off from a whole slew of great families. Your call, but I'd recommend keeping your seductive selfies off of au pair websites (all websites actually), and go for a "nice, normal girl" look. You'd think this was a given, but you would not believe the stuff I've seen on my searches...
- Write about yourself, but don't forget to mention your love of kids. You can like traveling, writing, and music all you want, but if somebody is going to pay you to watch their children, you might want to mention that you like and/or have experience in dealing with them.
- Mention what it's like to live with you. Are you clean? Happy? Easy-going? Like to cook? The more you can contribute to a great family life, the better.
- Ask LOTS of questions and make sure you're on the same page. Will you have time to travel? Will you be treated like family? What kind of discipline do they use with their kids? What is the daily routine? Make sure you have mutual expectations of the arrangement before moving forward.
- Always, ALWAYS, trust your gut. Like with love, you'll know when it's right, and you'll know when it's wrong. You don't want to spend an extended period of time with the 'wrong' family, especially given that the experience should be so much more than just a job. Look for a family with shared interests and who genuinely feels welcoming.

Benefits: 

- Working with kids. This may not be a benefit in everyone's eyes, and if it's not, then this wouldn't be the job for you. It's kids. All day, everyday. And I wouldn't have it any other way.
- You are essentially a stay at home mom, but one who gets paid in more than just kisses. For someone who is admittedly not ready for kids, this was the perfect choice for me. I get to play mom, without actually being a mom. And to top it off? Somebody gives me money for it. What could be better?
- Fun and easy routines. Dropping kids off at school, packing lunches, playing legos, and going to the beach. And lots of 'I love you's' and cuddles to make the days even better!
- Australia has the highest paid Au Pairs in the world. Triple to quadruple the pay of most European countries, in fact. Thus, it becomes more than just 'pocket money' and more like a decent way to live, travel, AND even save.
- Additionally, room and board is paid for. This usually means a separate living space, meals, wifi, tv, etc. If you have no remaining bills at home, this essentially means that you pocket every single dollar you make. Trust me, it is as great as it sounds.
- A family environment. It really helps with homesickness to have people looking out for you and helping you through things. Nice dinners, a place to stay, and friendly conversations can mean everything as a first time expat.
- Cultural immersion. You go from a clueless foreigner to a decently knowledgeable resident real quick when you tag along with people who already know the area. It quickly becomes your home instead of just a beautiful place to visit.
- Easy work schedules. Most au pairs work around 30 hours a week. Some more, some less. It gives you a lot of time to make new friends, explore, and travel, travel, travel!!
- The chance to live AND work abroad with very minimal risk. Set it up before you go, and the transition should be easy! No job searching or apartment hunting upon arrival. It's a simple matter of showing up, moving in, and starting work on Monday.
- And best of all? When the time comes for you to leave (and it so dreadfully will), you'll always have a great place (and hopefully great people) to visit in the future.

The not-so benefits: 

- Early wake ups. Say goodbye to your days of sleeping in, because it's a rarity as a live-in. I've found that ear plugs and white noise apps drown out kids laughing at 6 am though, which is helpful! Plus, it's sort of nice being a real productive person before the sun is up!
- Kids are sometimes HARD work. If you don't believe me, you either aren't a parent or have never worked in childcare before. Just trust me on this one. They're worth it, but they're not always easy.
- Less privacy. For me, this means no naked netflix watching in the living room. It was a hard battle to overcome, but I've simply trained myself to wear clothes again. It's not too awful, I guess :).

But truthfully, I don't dislike anything about being an au pair. It took me 30 minutes to come up with the 3 I did list, because I simply love my job and my life THAT much. I lucked out with quite possibly the best host family in the entire world, which made the transition painless and relatively easy. I know I sound like a walking cliche when I say this, but becoming an au pair actually changed my life. It made me view traveling and living in a completely different way, and has changed my future indefinitely. So, come on my au pair dreamers, who's with me?