Franziska "Franzi" Pritzner is only 20 years old, but the Frankfort, Germany, native is already changing lives.
And her work is being noticed.
Franzi has been nominated Au Pair of the Year by her host family, the Neuburgers of Queen Anne. Franzi, who came to the United States via the Cultural Au Pair agency - in operation 15 years and counting - is the Neuburgers' fifth au pair. They have a range of judgment when evaluating the young women, and sometimes men, who come from a foreign country (and different culture) and move into their home and begin caring for their children.
Amy Neuburger is the mother of three children: Alaina, 5; James, 2; and Truman, who is but four months old. She also runs her own Web development business. But all (or none) of those duties were enough to stop her from nominating Franzi as au pair of the year.
In her essay nominating Franzi, Amy wrote: "When I came across the invitation to nominate Franzi ... I frankly felt a flash of anxiety, because I KNEW I must wedge writing an 800-word essay into my busy schedule. Franzi is so outstanding that I felt it would be unethical NOT to pursue this award for her."
The Neuburgers and Franzi might not have connected, but two other American families the then-19-year-old Franzi talked to were a little too impatient.
"I talked to one family on the phone. They wanted me to come right away. I wanted to go on holiday first. And the other family had six-month old twins and that sounded like it would be pretty hard. And one of these families sounded... well, they said no chocolates in their house, no candies, no television. I thought, an American family with no television..."
Oddly enough, Amy's third pregnancy, which might not seem like a selling point, tipped Franzi.
"She said she was pregnant. I really like babies. I said, 'OK, that's it.'"
Amy noted Franzi's "help" with her third pregnancy in her nomination essay.
"Franzi anxiously awaited the birth of our third child. This benevolence truly baffled us, as clearly more labor would be required. However, Franzi believed that what was good for our family was good for herand she immediately loved that baby as she did the others [children]."
But the love and respect the Neuburgers feel for Franzi is not a one-way street. The young German woman is happy she moved to Seattle.
"I really enjoyed it every day," she said. "I am really glad I made this decision. They are a great family. We talk a lot, and I feel like I am a part of their family. Sometimes the children want me, not their parents, to take them to bed. And whenever they come back from somewhere, they [the kids] are so happy to see me. I really feel I am part of a family. We went to Whistler a few weeks ago, and I was able to have a friend [go along]. We went to Phoenix together [to see Amy's family], and I didnt have to pay anything. It was great."
There are more than 200 au pairs in Seattle. From everywhere. Sweden, Germany, Africa, Asia and Latin America. And Franzi knows many of them. Their talk often confirms her lucky decision to reside with the Neuburgers. "I have other [au pair] friends who dont get along with the parents, or the kids. Or their schedule is such that they can't get out. They have to stay at home even on their day off. I get to take the car. All my friends can come over to the house."
The lovefest between Franzi and the Neuburgers is probably at the high end of the au pair scale, which may be why both sides of the equation seem so happy. It is not always thus. Even the Neuburgers have had their troubles.
"We had one that didnt work out. Once in a while you get a girl [who becomes an au pair] to get out of her home situation. We had one who did not really love children. It didnt work out [after only a few months]."
Au pairs are regulated by federal and state law.
Shanon Kearney, a local coordinator for Cultural AuPair, one of the bigger national agencies recruiting and placing au pairs, explained that au pairs, by law, aren't supposed to work more than 45 hours per week and are supposed to have a day-and-a-half off each week as well. The contract for au pairs coming to this country to work through her agency run for one year, according to Kearney, although au pairs can extend for a second year. Under current regulations, au pairs must be between the ages of 18 and 26.
Franzi said she isnt sure yet if she is going to stay a second year with Jim and Amy Neuburger and their growing family. She has a boyfriend back in Germany and other pulls. But she denies being homesick, and says she is enjoying Seattle - a place she says is very different from her native Frankfort.
"Our houses in Frankfort are all made of stone. People are politer here, and there is more small talk here. Everyone is talking to you here wherever you are, even on the bus. That is not that common in German," Franzi noted.
If Franzi doesn't stay a second year with the Neuburgers, it won't be only Amy and Jim who are disappointed.
Five-year-old Alaina Neuburger is a fan, too. "I get to play with her when Mommy's working ... I don't like going to work with Mommy because it is hard and boring," Alaina said.
Anyone wishing to know more about au pairs and how to get one for their family may call Cultural AuPair at 1-800-333-6056 or visit www.culturalcare.com