Archive for Monday, June 21, 2010


The au pair experience: Two Lawrence families open homes to international help

Au pair Jasmin Weimer, from Germany, far right, plays with Luke Pape, 2, at the home of Gina Spade, Lawrence. Luke and his caretaker were visiting the home of Spade, who also has an au pair.

Au pair Jasmin Weimer, from Germany, far right, plays with Luke Pape, 2, at the home of Gina Spade, Lawrence. Luke and his caretaker were visiting the home of Spade, who also has an au pair.

June 21, 2010


Au pair Jessica Zachmann, from Germany, takes care of Ryan Mastrosimone, 1, at the home of his mother, Gina Spade. In the background at left, Jasmin Weimer, also an au pair from Germany, plays with Luke Pape, 2.

Au pair Jessica Zachmann, from Germany, takes care of Ryan Mastrosimone, 1, at the home of his mother, Gina Spade. In the background at left, Jasmin Weimer, also an au pair from Germany, plays with Luke Pape, 2.

Family requirements

Au pair host family requirements include, but are not limited to:

• Provide an appropriate private room and three meals a day for the au pair

• Be U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents fluent in spoken English.

• Give the au pair at least one complete weekend off each month.

• Facilitate care provider to fulfill her educational requirements, including payment of up to $500, fees and tuition.

• Never leave an au pair in sole charge of a child under three months of age.

For complete information and links to approved sponsoring agencies:

Foreign students nanny for free rent

Au pairs, who double as nannies and foreign exchange students, take advantage of opportunities to learn and earn free room and board. A local couple has hired a German student who helps look after the family's children while they work. Enlarge video

Attorney and mom Gina Spade believes she hit the mother lode of child care when she discovered au pairs.

“An au pair is like a nanny, but from another country and more affordable,” Spade says. “It’s an option that not many people in Lawrence have heard of.”

Spade, her husband, Joe Mastrosimone (also an attorney), and their three children are one of only two families in Lawrence who has an au pair.

“We lived in D.C. before we moved back to Kansas, and they were a lot more popular there,” she says.

The family’s second and current au pair, Jessica Zachmann, hails from Germany and has lived in Spade/Mastrosimone’s west Lawrence home since October. She receives room, board, use of a family car, and a modest salary in exchange for providing child care for Zack, 5, Katie, 2, and Greta, 1.

“Jessie has a degree in early childhood education — it’s like a two-year community college degree — and she had worked full-time for a year in a preschool in Germany,” Spade says. “We decided that would work best for our family since we have three very little kids.”

Spade connected to Zachmann through Au Pair in America, one of several legal agencies matching foreign nationals with U.S. families.

“The agencies have to be approved by the State Department because there are very formal rules related to how things have to happen and how they have to be paid, that kind of thing. Because (au pairs) have to get a visa to work, the State Department governs all that,” Spade says.

Au pairs must be between 18 and 26 years of age, proficient in spoken English and a secondary school graduate or the equivalent. They are required to return home after two years.

Twenty-two-year-old Zachmann became an au pair in order to travel and experience American family life. She was undaunted by the challenge of looking after Spade’s young and demanding brood. In fact, she says the biggest adjustment was downsizing her responsibilities.

“It was strange going down from 17 kids to three kids, because I worked in a day care center before this,” Zachmann explains. “It’s different having just three kids. I had one family from D.C. who wanted to hire me and I told them ‘no’ because they only had one child, and I thought I would be bored to death.”

Zachmann has traveled with Spade’s family to other parts of the country, like Oklahoma and Washington, D.C., and was able to join her own family at DisneyWorld in Orlando, Fla., during her U.S. stay.

Au pairs are not permitted to work more than 10 hours a day, 45 hours a week, leaving Zachmann free to attend English classes at Johnson County Community College. She spends her free time hanging out with her fellow au pairs in the Kansas City area.

Jasmin Weimer, also from Germany, is Jessica’s friend and the only other au pair in Lawrence.

“We met online in the au pair forum, and I was like, ‘Is there anybody in Kansas?’ She said she had just extended after her first year and would be here another year,” Zachmann says. “She was the person who introduced me to the other au pairs.”

“I finished school in 2008, and I didn’t know what I wanted to study,” Weimer recalls. “So, I decided to go abroad. I watched kids the whole time I was in school and taught swimming lessons, so I became an au pair.”

“With Jessie and my other friends, I go shopping and to the movies all the time. I really like it.”

The program is mutually beneficial for parents and au pairs, and the kids reap multicultural rewards, as well.

“When there are things in the news about other countries, we have a map in Zack’s room and we can show them where people are from,” Spade points out. “We watch ‘Amazing Race’ as a family, with Jessie, and this year they went to Germany, and that was fun. They also get a bit of language because she teaches them words in German. That was part of the appeal for us — the cultural piece as well as the child care piece.”


ruette 7 years, 11 months ago

“It’s an option that not many people in Lawrence have heard of.” And just how out-of-it country bumpkinish does she think Lawrencians are, anyway? Not heard of au pairs? And I do not believe there are only two of them in Lawrence! There have been au pairs in Lawrence for decades. Yuppies who think they invented sophistication make me really, really tired. Sincerely, A Lawrencian currently out of the country, imagine!

9070811 7 years, 11 months ago

You make yourself sound pretty elitist. The two Au Pairs are the only two who have connected. Perhaps there are more but they haven't come forward yet. Furthermore, these two are from a registered agency.

Steve Jacob 7 years, 11 months ago

Just seems odd these jobs can be filled by Americans. But it's fine to let people from another country take jobs at lower pay then Americans, unless they are from Mexico.

corduroypants 7 years, 11 months ago

So, it's OK that they're from Germany, but not from Mexico? Got it.

somedude20 7 years, 11 months ago

Anyone remember the Louise Woodward case back in 97'? I know the saying is don't let one bad apple spoil the bunch, however, Louise was one bad apple

think_about_it 7 years, 11 months ago

I sure hope the money they save makes up for the increase in the grocery bill.........wowzer!!

BigPrune 7 years, 11 months ago

This comment was removed by the site staff for violation of the usage agreement.

ontheroadfitness 7 years, 11 months ago

There's a great local nanny named Colleen... no need to go to Germany or Mexico or any other foreign country for awesome child care! Visit her website at or catch her on Twitter @lawrencenanny

KansasPerson 7 years, 11 months ago

I caught this on the news last night and was rather surprised to hear that they "are not permitted to work more than 10 hours a day, 45 hours a week" and also that they are "required" to have one weekend off per month. Wow, those are some serious work hours, and I wonder how some au pairs find the time to attend school and do homework?

kernal 7 years, 11 months ago

One reason some hire European nannies is that in Europe, they are actually trained. Here, baby sitters refer to themselves as a Nanny and have no credentials or training, much less a concept of what the term really means.

deec 7 years, 11 months ago

Here's an idea. One of the 2 lawyers quits their job and raises his/her own kids. I imagine they could make do on one salary.

9070811 7 years, 11 months ago

Several studies support parents that work because they have been proven to be happier, healthier parents. I suppose you didn't think of all the money it cost for them to attend law school. Or consider the loans they may have now. So unless you ask for their private finances, don't suggest that they can make it on one salary. Chances are each parent has their own separate, private loans that they each pay for. To suggest that aren't raising their own kids is stupid. Part of raising children is finding a suitable extra caregiver when they work to provide a living and saving accounts (ie college) for their children. Would you say this to someone who has their parents take care of their children during the day? And what makes you think that you know their schedule. Perhaps the parents stay home a couple times a week and use the Au Pair when they have date nights and business events to attend to.

Clovis Sangrail 7 years, 11 months ago

What a nice story about how the upper one-half percent live. It gives us plebeians something to which to aspire.

Aupair 7 years, 11 months ago

Every Aupair that wants to enter the programm has to have at least 200 hours of childcare. Therefore, we have the knowledge to care for kids and the parents know that they are in good hands. Furthermore, the Aupair programm is not mainly a working programm but a cultural exchange. We are not just considered employees of the family we are working for but rather part of the family. This gives everybody the option to get to know the other persons culture even better! We work for the minimum hourly wage which is currently 7,25$ per hour and we have a 45-hour job! I don't think any local nanny would work for this rate. But since we are not only here to earn money but mainly to get to know the life/culture of the United States and to improve our English, we do. I am really glad to be part of this programm and to experience part of the American way of life.

AnnaUndercover 7 years, 11 months ago

Don't worry about the cranky grouches above. :) Not everyone shares their perspective.

I had a nanny as a child and it was great. I definitely plan to hire an au pair if I ever have kids.

If I don't marry someone fluent in French, an au pair is my best bet to make sure my children learn the language of their mother's side!

deec 7 years, 11 months ago

So 90.. etc, unless you are one of the lawyers in question, you have no more info about this particular family's finances than I do. I stand by my comment. How many and what year cars do they own? Are they buying a Mcmansion or a starter house? How about they skip the date nights until their student loans are paid off? Plenty of working class and middle class people have to have 2 working parents to keep a roof over theiir head and food in the kids' bellies. This is different than working to support a lifestyle.

Clovis Sangrail 7 years, 11 months ago

The particulars about this family are not that hard to find out if you want to put forth a little effort.

For one thing, they are in the phone book, although they probably won't be anymore if they read this. They live out in those nice, new big houses west of Wakarusa, in the Fox Chase addition near Langston Hughes Elementary.

Want to see a picture of it? Go to, plug that address in, and check out the street view. These are pretty nice digs.

And once you have their address, you can go to the Douglas Country Appraiser to see what it's worth. In this case -- $462,110. Nice digs indeed.

I'm not inclined to drive out there to see what kind of cars pull out of the garage in the morning, but in that part of town, you don't see a lot of five-year-old Detroit iron.

These are hardly struggling young law graduates scrimping and saving and eating beans and rice to pay for their starter home, au pair and student loans.

I stand by my original assertion about this article: A nice little story about how the upper one-half percent of the population live. Inspiration for us little people.

LawrenceAttorney 7 years, 11 months ago

I have never been more apalled in my life. And, here I thought that judgmental and rude people were limited to the eastern seaboard - apparently there is a thriving colony here in the midwest.

The article was designed to feature a different child care arrangement that offers both cultural exchange and affordability for families. In fact, this program offers child care that is more affordable than having three children in day care and allows them to be at home. Had I know that it would be a rallying cry for every crazy in town we never would have opened our home up.

That my wife and I both choose to work in public serve for salaries far below what we could earn in the private sector is the business of neither you nor the other anonymous posters here. You know nothing about either of us, our background, our family, etc. Yet, you feel entitled to comment on others in the darkness of your basement in an on-line forum. As if that were not enough, you felt it necessary to include personal information on my family. Well done sir, madam, whatever. Well done.

Clovis Sangrail 7 years, 11 months ago

First, I don't believe anyone here commented on where you work (I certainly didn't), and I doubt anyone cares whether you are in public service or highly paid corporate positions.

Second, there was no personal information posted that is not readily available in the public record to anyone with a modicum of iniative to look it up. (Since I'm not in the phone book for you to look up, I will tell you that my house appraises at just a tad north of $116,000 and is nearly paid for.)

Third, if you want privacy, don't parade your family through the local media flouting your expensive live-in domestic staff under the guise of cultural exchange. And yes, since you chose to display your conspicuous consumption in this very same forum, I do feel entitled to comment upon it.

Fourth, as for affordability, I would ask for whom is it affordable. Your au pair costs 7.25 an hour * 45 hours a week * 52 weeks a year. Add in an additional 7.65 percent for the employer's share OASDI and Medicare (You are paying that, aren't you?), and you have a total of over $18,000 a year. That's about half of the median family income in Lawrence, so I doubt that there are many families among the Journal World's readership for whom an au pair is a viable child care option. For you buddies out there in Fox Chase, maybe, but not for us common folk.

("Fox Chase" -- I love that name. It just smacks of privilege.)

And finally, you might as well get used to the fact that no one much likes lawyers, especially those lawyers who conspicuously consume. As my granddaddy used to say, "Son," although I was really not his son, "never, ever, ever let a lawyer smile."

Clovis Sangrail 7 years, 11 months ago

Oops -- a grammatical mea culpa. That "flouting" in paragraph three should read "flaunting." My apologies to the copy desk for setting a bad example.

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