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The Manny Diaries

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Brazilian au pair Audrey Daniel Caldas Jales in Berwyn with the Reid broodAt Jen and Charles Reid’s spacious home on a Berwyn cul-de-sac, 1-year-old A.J. pounds on the screen door, 6-year-old twin sisters Marta and Grace wrestle on a couch and 9-year-old Michael is figuring out his math homework. Older siblings Lizzie, 10, and Charlie, 11, are at lacrosse practice and a baseball game.

The Reids are an affluent family—and busy enough to be featured in a 2007 Time magazine story on childcare. So it’s hardly unusual that they’ve summoned help from an au pair. Audrey Daniel Caldas Jales is the family’s fourth, and the first who isn’t female.

A 21-year-old from Brazil, Jales represents a mini-trend of sorts on the Main Line—that of male nannies, or mannies. Of the 175 au pairs currently assigned to Main Line homes through the national placement agency Cultural Care Au Pair, 34 are male, a figure that’s up 130 percent.

When Jales signed on, there were only five kids, though Jen was pregnant with A.J. “It was a little bit easier when there were just five,” he admits.

As for the “manny” moniker, Jales says it doesn’t bother him, even though he hails from such a “macho country as Brazil.” “My friends say, ‘I can’t believe you’re taking care of kids—that’s for girls,’” he says. “But I don’t see what’s so girly about it.”

Back when Jen had three kids under 3, the household was manageable. But when she found out she was pregnant with twins, out came the white flag. Her husband is a King of Prussia lawyer—and while she’s home full time, she volunteers at the kids’ schools and is forever running errands.

Of Jen’s eight brothers and sisters, four have used au pairs. She had three consecutive au pairs, took a year off, then opted for Jales. His application met their requirements: He doesn’t smoke, he drives well, he can swim, and he taught English in a daycare center in Brazil. “We looked at many applications, and it seemed like all the girls fell short,” Jen says. “It’s so important that I understand that he’s here to help me, not replace me—and so there’s mutual respect. I know families who treat their au pairs unjustly, where it’s been a disaster.”

With the Reids for a year and a half, Jales gets a day and a half off per week and one weekend a month, during which au pairs are encouraged to travel. Through Cultural Care Au Pair, he’s guaranteed two weeks paid vacation, though the Reids have allowed him a third week. He must take a minimum of six credits or 72 hours of classes, toward which the host family commits $500 a year. Before Cultural Care au pairs are placed, they must have 200 hours of childcare experience and at least 200 hours of infant-care experience (if looking after a child under 2).

There’s a certain cultural curve for every au pair. In his first week, Jales was cited for running a stop sign on the way to the King of Prussia Mall. “In Brazil, you don’t have to stop if there isn’t another car coming,” Jales says. “All the way home, I was thinking, ‘How am I going to tell the Reids. I didn’t even get paid yet, and I owed $150. I told Jen, and she said, ‘It’s OK. I get some [tickets], too.’”

Many times, the Reids simply need a second driver. On a Saturday, there may be a birthday party and a game. “It’s tough to be in two places at once,” Jen says. “Sometimes, he’ll go grocery shopping, but Daniel always spends more than me. So I have to give him a $200 limit.”

Diapers, says Jales, are really the only dirty business. “I mainly hate it when the diaper comes with chocolate,” he says. “But A.J. only peed on me twice.”
 

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Headquartered in Cambridge, Mass., Cultural Care Au Pair calls itself the leading provider of intercultural childcare in the United States. A division of the study-abroad group EF Education First and a U.S. Department of State-regulated program, it has placed more than 75,000 au pairs in American homes since 1989 and employs more than 600 part- and full-time local childcare coordinators.

The agency offers highly scrutinized and trained 18- to 26-year-olds from 48 countries for employment and study in the United States, in exchange for 45 hours of childcare weekly. Its au pairs make $195 a week regardless of the number of children in the host family. It’s estimated that families pay $320 a week for an au pair when you factor in the program fee and live-in costs.

“Male au pairs have a ‘big brother’ appeal,” says Rebecca Cronin, local childcare coordinator for Cultural Care Au Pair.Unless the family forges a relationship with its au pair, it’s like “going on a blind date, and then bringing that person home to live with you,” says childcare coordinator Rebecca Cronin, who handles Penn Valley, Haverford, Rosemont, Villanova and Narberth.

These days, families use Skype software to virtually connect with prospective au pairs. “Now, when an au pair arrives, the kids say, ‘Oh, that’s the guy on the computer,’” says Cronin.

Last summer, Cronin had seven male au pairs in her territory, which averages 40 families a year. Guys, she says, have a “big brother” appeal to families.

Another male au pair, 24-year-old Bastian Goess, was here from Germany. He became thoroughly Americanized—as evidenced by his designer Phillies hat, Adidas sweatshirt and an ability to dream “in English”—before returning home in June to pursue a career in social work. His first-year assignment matched him with elementary-school-aged triplets in Newtown Square. Later, Goess extended his visa nine months to work with a 16-year-old boy and 10-year-old girl in Narberth.

Back home in Germany, boys most definitely do not babysit, he says—not unless it’s a family favor. But he doesn’t view himself as a babysitter, and especially not a manny. “I don’t like it,” Goess says of the term. “People think, ‘Oh, you’re a man nanny, you must be gay.’ But it’s not like that. I’m an au pair. I also don’t tell people when I first meet them—say at a club—because it’s not really what men do. Even when the five or six male au pairs that I know get together, we don’t talk about what we did today with the kids.”

Haverford’s Sue Downey is an independently employed nanny extraordinaire. Along with Seattle’s Lora Brawley, she’s begun addressing the lack of across-the-board standards in the profession. Through their 5-year-old National Association for Nanny Care, they hope to activate a three-tier progressive credential program within two years.

“There have to be minimum standards,” Downey says. “Now, anyone can say, ‘I’m a nanny.’ We hope to create a system where a nanny can say, ‘I’m a Level III. We have to have something in place that says who we are—something that says, ‘I’m a safe, capable person.’”

They’ve also launched the annual Nannypalooza convention and celebration, the fourth of which will be held Oct. 3-4 in Chevy Chase, Md. (It was in Philadelphia the first three years.) There, nannies attend sessions and workshops that address contract negotiations, working with families, and specialty areas—like staying overnight the first six months to help restore a family’s sleeping schedule. Networking abounds.

“We’re battling to be considered professional,” says Downey. “If you watch how we’re portrayed on national television, we’re husband-stealing baby killers. Instead, we have important jobs. In many cases, we work for high-powered executives who wouldn’t have their existence if their nanny didn’t exist.”
 

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Downey has been with the same three-child Haverford family for seven years. Most nannies stay an average of a year or two (like au pairs). Of course, the longer a placement, the better it is for everyone. “The thing with being a nanny is that it’s solitary,” she says. “You’re with the kids 12 hours a day. There’s no great support system. What we hope is to give support and to make every nanny feel connected.”

Only one manny attended Nannypalooza last year. But they are becoming more popular nationwide, since there are more single moms. They are but one facet of an increasingly specialized field that encompasses divorced and special-needs families. Among the other trends: granny-nannies (popularized by Michelle Obama’s mother) and nanny sharing between families.

“Mannies are just one good example,” Downey says. “Now there’s less of a stigma. Mannies are rarely for want of a job, because they offer specialization. When there’s a demand, they get gobbled up.”

Downey says the Main Line is a perfect place to be a nanny. “Every other person I meet around here is a nanny,” she says. “There have been nannies on the Main Line for 100 years. The face of the nanny has changed—from black to white, old to young, female to male—and, culturally, this area is increasingly a melting pot. Still, nannies are more accepted and respected here.”

Net salaries on the Main Line average about $500 a week for full-time, live-in nannies, and from $12 to $15 an hour for live-outs. Live-ins may also have a car to use, and even a gym membership or frequent-flyer miles.

Increasingly, families are following a do-it-yourself online model. The industry has also become affordable and essential to parents who work long hours. Daycare centers don’t provide 12-hour care. Plus, kids may get sick less often at home, and a nanny can help stabilize things by shopping for groceries, running errands and handling the kids’ transport.

“Nanny need” reached an all-time high in the mid-’90s, says Downey. But it has since taken a hit in this soft economy. “There’s still a demand, though,” she says, “especially for the high-powered, career-minded women who are working even harder now and seeking even more creative solutions to keep pace at home.”

Nationally, those in the nanny business are either divesting their interests or diversifying to keep pace. Bob Marks owns America’s Nannies, a Paramus, N.J.-based service that has placed thousands of live-in nannies. At 63, he’s looking to retire—and he isn’t willing to wait out the economy. Right now, he’s finishing a book about how to hire and keep a nanny.

In his 25 years, Marks has studied the trends, and he contends they’re not good at present. “In the interview, the people can seem so nice, then the nanny starts and it’s a living hell,” Marks says. “All people who hire nannies think they know it all. They say, ‘I have 75 people working under me at Chase Bank, I know how to hire a nanny.’ The psychiatrists and psychologists are the worst—all their kids are nuts. Sometimes, they ask for clones of themselves, but that’s exactly what you don’t want.”

Families who work through agencies could pay up to $8,000 in fees. Candi Wingate started her Nebraska-based online placement service, Nannies 4 Hire, in response to those skyrocketing costs. On her site, a zip code search yields available nannies in the area. Rather than charging for placement, she collects a subscription fee that ranges from $129 (for 30 days) to $299 (for 99 days). That covers contact information on available nannies, plus tools and forms to help with the hiring.

Years ago, Wingate placed one manny a year. Now, men make up 10 percent of the 500,000 childcare providers enrolled in her North American network. Still, Marks says mannies don’t get the respect they deserve. “It’s unfortunate, because guys can be great caregivers,” he says.

And these days, families want to hire cheap. “It’s not a good scene for the better nannies,” says Marks. “People don’t want to pay the money, even if they have it. It’s amazing because they’re putting trust in nannies to care for their children, but then they put a [hidden] video camera in the house.”

That said, Marks believes Downey and Brawley’s crusade for nanny standards could save the industry. “If [Downey] was a man, she would be king of the nanny business,” he says. “If those two put it all together, it’ll be amazing. They’re the best thing to happen to the nanny business in the past 10 years.”
 

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German au pair Stefan Döring with Mason and Trillium BentleyStefan Döring is Natalie Bentley’s second au pair—and he’s a godsend for the single mother of two, who lives in Paoli and owns a film and video production company.

“He’s not here to do a laundry list, nor am I standing over him saying, ‘This better get done,’” she says of the arrangement that has Döring supervising Trillium, 8, and Mason, 7. “You set yourself up for failure if you do that.”

For the 22-year-old German, it’s important to feel like he’s part of the family. “My parents divorced when I was a teenager,” he says. “I was also an only child. I always wished I had a brother and sister.”

Döring knows he’s an anomaly. In the Cultural Care system, there are about four guys to every 80 girls. Still, on the Main Line, he knows five other male au pairs. “I never thought it was so special,” Döring says. “Guys can do the same things [girls can]. It’s not a question of what you can add, because it’s not something you add. You do the same work.”

Penn Valley’s Johns family spent a few weeks indoctrinating Fabian Lipski, a 25-year-old second-year Swedish au pair. He’d already proven his worth, caring for premature triplets in Indiana.

His placement with Colleen, Mike, 2-year-old Stephanie and 3-month-old Harrison was off to a seemingly great start. In the first week alone, Lipski had fixed the family computer, clipped coupons for diapers, and rearranged Stephanie’s clothes. “He folded them so neatly it looked like a Gap store,” Colleen says.

He’d also potty-trained Stephanie, who even took naps for him, a rarity until his arrival. “He was a better parent than we are,” Mike jests. “There are some people who are going to think that’s weird—but those same people already think we’re weird.”

But then the Johns grew concerned about Lipski’s English proficiency. Their daughter has a speech delay deficiency, and she was struggling to understand him. Lipski was transferred to a family in Queens, N.Y., and 21-year-old Colombian Ana Maria Llano Olano became the Johns’ third au pair in nearly as many months.

“It’s not typical that a family would have three au pairs,” Cultural Care’s Cronin says. “They were happy with his care. They just couldn’t risk having their daughter regress since they’ve been working so hard with the speech therapist.”

Back in Berwyn, Jen Reid is surprised her family hasn’t scared their male nanny away—or soured him on the prospect of starting his own family. On the contrary, Jales plans to marry and have kids. He’s wary, though, of revealing too much of his childcare past to a future spouse. “She might say, ‘I’ll work, and you stay home with the kids,’” he says.

The au pair experience has helped Jales better understand and appreciate his own parents. His father, with whom he was estranged, financially supported his move to America, and the act has reunited them. Next up, Jales thinks he’ll work in public relations. He’s registered for a PR class at Delaware County Community College, paid for by the Reids.

For now, though, it’s back to the pressing concerns of the present. When a pre-dinner strawberry milk request is denied, the Reid twins mount couch cushions and Jales prompts them: “Girls, do you want to sing me my favorite song?”

In unison, Grace and Marta sing, “You are my Daniel, my only Daniel. You make me happy when skies are gray. You’ll never know, dear, how much I love you. Please don’t take my Daniel away.”

“Thank you, girls,” he says.
 

Looking for a Nanny (or Manny)?

Here’s how to contact the childcare resources in this story.

America’s Nannies: (888) 626-6437, americasnannies.com

Cultural Care Au Pair: (800) 333-6056, culturalcare.com
      Rebecca Cronin, (484) 416-3600, rcronin.aupairnews.com
      -Suki Wellen, (610) 495-5278, swellen.aupairnews.com

Nannies 4 Hire: nannies4hire.com, care4hire.com, babysitters4hire.com
 

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