Congratulations to our Au Pair of the Year 2nd runner-up, Melanie Ruse! Melanie arrived in the United States from Australia in February of 2020, spending the past 2 years with her host family in Hawaii. Over the past couple of years, Melanie has gained many titles including “teacher”, “best friend”, “third parent”, and most importantly, “family.” Although Melanie recently returned home, the memories she formed during her exchange in the United States will stay with her for a lifetime. Read all about her match story below!
Melanie’s Nomination Essay – Submitted by the Adams Family
Melanie came to live with us on Maui in late February 2020, just as Hawaii entered Covid lockdown. My husband John and I, our two boys (3-year-old Ryan and 1-year-old Dylan) and Melanie were suddenly alone together on a deserted island. A third of residents lost their jobs as all hotels shut down, Ryan’s preschool closed, and even beaches were off limits with frequent police patrols. Melanie could have been despondent at this turn of events, but instead, she made these two Covid years into a magical experience for our family, becoming our children’s teacher, best friend, third parent, and a true member of our family (a relationship that will live on long after she goes back home).
As a former preschool teacher in Australia, Melanie turned our home into a preschool. While Dylan napped, Melanie did school work with 3-year-old Ryan every day. He loved it, begging us to continue on weekends. By the time he was 4, he could read and write a kindergarten level, and by the time he started kindergarten, he was reading at second grade level and writing complex sentences. Ryan’s self-esteem grew tremendously as he saw how much he could learn and understand about the world, and it made the transition to kindergarten a breeze. Melanie bought Ryan books on all sorts of subjects, teaching him about history, social studies, nature, and science. Now that Dylan is 3, she is doing the same with him, and he too couldn’t be more proud to show us his school work progress. Melanie also plays the Ukulele and has been taking Ryan to lessons and practicing with him at home. Finally, she helped the boys become fish in the water by working with them on swim lessons (Dylan was swimming before he turned 3). Throughout the day too, Melanie takes the time to explain things and make games into teaching moments.
Melanie is a child at heart – she loves to play and explore – and found a way to make every day for two very rambunctious boys a grand adventure. Ryan and Dylan tell me often that she is their best friend. When Ryan started kindergarten this past fall, he wrote Melanie a love letter every day for months and brought it home. Melanie is fully present, finding a great balance between indoor and outdoor play. We could fill a room with all the crafts they’ve done, and there isn’t a single kid-friendly activity on the island that they haven’t tried multiple times (beaches, pools, playgrounds, farms, activity centers, aquariums, mini golf, arcades, trampolines, hikes, scootering, zip lines, cultural events – you name it). Even when the available activities were limited due to Covid, Melanie found creative ways to have fun, such as flying kites outside and searching for crabs in tide pools.
Our kids are not easy. They can’t sit still and can be relentless to a fault when they want something. Ryan also has severe food allergies to eggs, wheat, and nuts. Melanie was able to balance being firm and caring, setting boundaries but also showing them that they are loved. She taught Ryan to always ask about food and made special lunches for him. She also pushed Dylan, a very picky eater, to try new foods. She potty trained Dylan before he turned two, and helped him become independent with dressing and undressing at age 3. She had the boys make a “respect wall” with a visual display of kind and unkind behaviors, so they internalized it and always had a reminder when conflicts arose. She scheduled safe playdates when the boys couldn’t be in school to socialize, by making friends with other caregivers and neighbors. When school started again, she was indispensable, helping us stay on top of communication and activities at the school, in addition to doing all pickup and drop off. Melanie truly cares for Ryan and Dylan as she would her own children, and feels a strong responsibility for the people they become. As two working parents with stressful jobs, her dedication to our boys has helped us immensely.
Through the isolation of lockdown, Melanie truly became one of the family. Melanie, my husband and I did game nights regularly after the kids went to bed, which was a great way to get to know each other and unwind. She was always available when we needed help on evenings and weekends, and she went out of her way to set up for parties, family events, and the holidays. Melanies loves holidays and made each of them warmer and more magical, decorating our house to the nines for Halloween and Christmas, putting together wonderful birthday and Easter parties for the boys, and buying them way too many presents. For Thanksgiving, she and the boys wrote what they were thankful for. For Christmas, she helped them write and mail letters to Santa. When she does activities on the weekend that Ryan also likes, she takes him with her. She suggests fun activities we can do as a family. There is never a sense with Melanie that this is “work”. When I ask her if she can take the kids while we do a night out, she says, “Of course, they are my favorite people to hang out with!”
Through these crazy and unpredictable times, Melanie brought reliable joy and care. Her worth ethic, competence as a teacher, and love for our family make her the perfect candidate for Au Pair of the Year. Thank you for your consideration.
The Adams Family