In the last year and a half there are two dates our family will never forget:
- July 25th, 2018 when our one-year-old daughter, Blythe, was diagnosed with cerebral palsy; and
- July 1st, 2019 when Sonja Englebrecht joined our family as our au pair.
When Blythe was diagnosed, we were a family of four living in a small, remote Alaskan town. We had jobs that we loved, a wonderful community, and a childcare center our kids enjoyed. However, with Blythe’s diagnosis Tessa immediately went on family leave from her job so that she could take Blythe to her appointments and travel with Blythe to see specialists. With Blythe’s therapy and travel schedule we knew she could no longer stay in a childcare center and that we both could not continue to work full-time and manage all of Blythe’s needs. We also knew our small town did not have the resources Blythe needed. We ultimately decided to move to a larger city was going to be the best option for Blythe to be able to receive the therapy she needed.
At this point, Blythe was a year and a half old and unable to roll over, crawl, walk or talk. We both shifted our work schedules to part-time so that we could keep up with Blythe’s therapy schedule and also continue to work the jobs we loved. However, we were both feeling completely worn out and ultimately felt that the two of us trying to do it all was not working.
In mid-June, 2019 we decided either one of us needed to quit our job to care for Blythe or we needed to get an au pair. We decided to look for an au pair. Two weeks later, Sonja was on a plane to Alaska.
Joining the Linderman family we knew was not going to be an easy placement. We have a wonderfully curious and energetic 4-year-old son, Walker, our sweet and sassy Blythe, and then another due in October. Sonja jumped right in and we could tell she immediately loved our children (even when they weren’t so loveable). She researched science experiments and art projects to do with Walker, she bought outfits for and created gifts for our new baby to be, and she jumped right in to all our family activities.
But what Sonja did immediately and continues to do for our family the most is the way she has completely devoted herself to Blythe, her therapy, and her progress. Sonja has become an integral part of Blythe’s care. She attends most of her therapy and appointments, even when we are there as well. She integrates what she learns at therapy into games and activities with Blythe at home. She works with Blythe daily on her therapy “homework”, creating projects that incorporate things Blythe is working on.
Sonja is learning sign language, even attending a sign language class in our community on her own time, so that she is better able to communicate with Blythe. But it’s clear that Sonja wants Blythe’s life to be more than just therapy. She takes Blythe to storytime at the library and open gyms so Blythe can interact and play just like other kids her age. We often come home to find Sonja working with Blythe on an art project or teaching Blythe new dance moves. Their love and connection is apparent to all who see them together – and we couldn’t be more grateful.
Blythe is unable to communicate with words, but the expression on her face, when she’s with Sonja, says it all – “I love you, Sonja” and so do we!
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“After years of stress and frustration, and many different nannies, we decided to look for an au pair. When Veronika arrived on January 2, 2016 our lives were forever changed. We had no idea that a real life Mary Poppins had just arrived!”
“I can honestly say that bringing her to live with us as our au pair has been the best decision we could possibly have made. She has afforded us so many priceless “intangibles” during her time here that I can’t begin to quantify her contributions to our family.”