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Americans Accepting Male Au Pairs

June 28, 1999

RESTON, Va. (AP) _ Johan Hjertquist is an au pair, but it might be more appropriate to call him a big brother for hire.

When 9-year-old Drew gets home from school, Hjertquist takes him out to play soccer or to swim at the local pool. Sometimes, Hjertquist even gives Drew advice on girls.

As Americans become more comfortable with male child care providers, an increasing number of parents are hiring male rather than female au pairs.

``It’s definitely growing,″ said Kathy McLernon, who oversees au pairs in northern Virginia for EF Au Pair in Cambridge, Mass., the company that made headlines when its English au pair Louise Woodward was convicted of second-degree murder in the death of an infant boy.

McLernon, who checks in on Hjertquist and three other male au pairs, said young men comprise about 5 percent of EF’s au pairs in the United States, but that percentage is growing.

``A lot of these families have school-aged boys who don’t need someone to do the lovable, snuggly, pumpkinish stuff,″ Ms. McLernon said.

Drew’s parents, who did not want their son’s last name used, have used male au pairs since 1994, making them trailblazers in the region, Ms. McLernon said.

``Drew didn’t need mothering,″ said Drew’s father. ``He wants a soccer player, a golfer, someone who will wrestle in the basement with him,″ Drew’s mother chipped in.

But it’s more than fun and games. Hjertquist occasionally must give a stern lecture if Drew falls behind in his chores.

``He likes to eat popcorn on the couch, and sometimes he makes a mess,″ said Hjertquist, a blond, blue-eyed Swedish youth.

Au pairs differ from nannies in that they live in the home. They also usually are foreign students or young adults seeking to live in the United States for a year.

Au pairs are generally paid $139 per week by the hosting family, which also pay up to $500 for an accredited college course of the au pair’s choosing. Au pairs work no more than 45 hours per week.

The annual cost to a host family is about $13,000, once room and board and other costs are added, according to the United States Information Agency, which oversees au pair programs.

On a recent, sweltering June afternoon, Hjertquist and Drew teased one another as they played an auto racing video game in the family room.

``Drew can be very annoying sometimes,″ said Hjertquist, glancing over at Drew for a reaction.

``He’s right,″ Drew said, adding, ``You Swedes are weird.″

The area’s other male au pairs said they also love their jobs, which they said are easier than their female counterparts’ assignments. Families with toddlers _ which means dirty diapers _ seem to want female au pairs, they said.

Tomasz Zukowski, 22, of Poland, cares for two boys, ages 7 and 9, for a single father.

``I don’t think of this as work,″ said Zukowski. ``For me, it’s more of an adventure.″

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