Nanny Diaries


Thursday should have been my last day with Baby H. I had planned to spend the day at the park or possibly the pool — one last hurrah. Instead, I never made it to work, and I spent the day in the ER.

JP and I generally carpool to work, and we were rushing through our morning routine as usual. Just I as I was coming in from walking the dogs, JP ran down the stairs…and slipped. You may recall that this spiral staircase has been a source of concern in the past. But as many times as we had joked that “one day someone is going to break their neck on that thing”, I don’t think we ever took ourselves seriously. We should have.

Luckily, it was her ankle, not her neck. And, after multiple x-rays, it was determined that the bones were intact. (I’m still incredulous — if you had seen the unnatural angle of her foot, you would be too.) It was “just” a severe sprain. Further consultations with an orthopedic surgeon and a physical therapist have revealed the tearing of all three ligaments on the outside of her right ankle. But the best part? That would be the fact that she also managed to hyperextend her left knee, making crutches impossible and treating us to a crash course in the tribulations of the wheelchair-bound. In all seriousness, I’ve never been so frustrated or angry with establishments. Going out to eat was basically impossible, and maneuvering our local Barnes and Noble was hazardous. Narrow aisles and oblivious patrons are bad enough, but I swear to god I will murder the person who invented those cardboard endcaps rickety roadblocks.

Today, for the first time in a week, JP was able to get around on her crutches. She’s sore and exhausted, but so thankful not to be confined to a wheelchair.

Baby H’s parents were utterly unsympathetic and unconcerned. Despite the fact that neither of them was working outside the home that day, they acted as if my calling out was a crisis and gave me a major guilt trip about it — as if I pushed JP down the stairs just to avoid my last day of work. Then, when I called later that day to arrange a time to meet with them to return the extra car seat and a few other things, they informed me that I would not be allowed to use any of my three remaining sick days to cover the day, and that they would be docking my final paycheck. Apparently this is the the thanks I get for 18 months of devoted service to them, including four months in which I turned down multiple job offers as I waited week by week, not knowing when my job would suddenly disappear because they refused to communicate with me about their childcare plans.

Meanwhile, my new employers have inquired daily about JP’s well-being and progress, including physical therapy recommendations. As promised, I won’t say much about them or the children. But I can say that after my first week, I am sure that I made the right decision and chose the right family. Now it’s just a matter of settling in and rolling with the punches. Not literally, I hope — we don’t need any more injuries in this house.

When my phone rang this morning, my stomach clenched in anticipation. I had a final meeting with a family last night, the last step in our extensive interview process. They were the very clear frontrunner, and I knew this call would  change everything. I took a deep breath to steady myself before answering and awaiting the verdict.

I start my new position July 7.

This new family is amazing. Not only do we complete each other’s sentences when it comes to issues of childcare/parenting philosophy, but I genuinely enjoy them as individuals.

I’m head-over-heels for the children. There are three of them, ages 4-7, and I’m thrilled to be spending the rest of my summer with older children who can really enjoy outings to the zoo, the water park, museums, etc. There is also a new baby, due in seven weeks, so I’m lucky enough that I’ll get to be there from day one for this baby. Already my new boss is waxing poetic about how wonderful it will be to have me bond with the baby from the beginning, meeting her for the first time in the hospital.

Of course, It doesn’t hurt that I’ll be making more money AND working a normal schedule where I’m home by seven every night.

I’m over the moon really. So thrilled to be starting this new adventure that I find myself chomping at the bit and willing time to fly. But this emotional high brings back memories of a time not that long ago, when I was over the moon because I’d just accepted a position with a family in Atlanta who was expecting their first baby. I remember the joy I felt when Baby H. was born, and I held him for the first time, and the pride I felt as he reached each milestone.

I’ve grown weary of the long hours and the increasing demands of this position. I’m very ready to leave now, and so excited to have found this new family. But I am reminded that this new beginning is the end of something, as well.

One week. That’s all I have left in this stage of my life. I’ll try not to wish it away.

I hate searching for a new job. It’s usually fun for the first day or so, as the seemingly endless possibilities begin to stream in. But after a week or so, it becomes tedious. And after a month, the search itself seems endless.

In my ads and profiles, I try to be as specific as possible, in an effort to weed out the families who won’t be a fit for logistical reasons. I make it clear that I am interested only in full-time, live-out, long-term positions. I specify the areas I’m willing to work in (based on commute). I make it clear that my primary area of experience and interest is infant, toddler and preschooler development. And I describe the types of outings I plan on a regular basis, attempting to scare off parents who plan to keep their nanny on house arrest.

And yet, for reasons that are still unclear to me, this does little to filter the emails that flood my inbox. If I had a dollar for every email that asked me to consider a two-hour commute for a part-time position with two preteens…well, I might not have enough money to quit working altogether, but I could certainly take JP out for a nice dinner. I really don’t understand why parents waste their time emailing someone who so clearly is not a likely candidate for their position.

So I spend an hour or so per day reading and responding to these emails with something that begins, “Thank you for your interest. Unfortunately…”

For those emails that actually do fall within my basic parameters, I then send the parents my resume and online portfolio, which contains more extensive information about my education, experience and childcare philosophies. In exchange, I ask them to answer a list of questions about their family and the position they are offering. This eliminates half the potential families. They are disqualified for reasons ranging from refusing to pay employment taxes to expecting their nanny to be a housekeeper as well as a nanny.

Then comes the phone interviews, in which I repeat the same information about my background and experience a thousand times, even though most of the questions I’m asked could be answered by reading the materials I provided (resume and portfolio). Although the phone interviews are a crucial step — they help me narrow the field even further, to the families I’m willing to meet in person — they are also time consuming and tedious.

Apparently, I’m not the only one who thinks so.

Last weekend, during one of my countless phone interviews, I was standing on the balcony outlining my discipline style, when the ball of fluff who had been laying at my feet, stood up, crouched, and then rocketed out across the porch, cannonballing into a makeshift pool. The pool was actually a canvas chair filled with rainwater, but watching the beastlet, you’d have thought it was a five-star water park. She swam, she rolled, she flipped, she leapt. I’ve never seen anything like the acrobatics she put on display. And when she’d had her fill of swimming, she ran laps around the balcony, her wet feet failing to find purchase on the tile. It took every ounce of discipline I had to refrain from laughing as I watched her careen into the wall, only to get up, shake it off, and take off again.

I think her performance may be the best part of this job search so far.

Actual phone conversation with JP today.

Me: Baby H. threw up all over my shirt and I don’t have anything to change into.

JP: Ew. What are you going to do?

Me: Well, I washed it in the sink with hand soap. So now I’m clean, but I smell like melon vomit.

I was nine when I started babysitting. His name was John, and he was roughly a year old. He lived in the apartment complex next to the duplex where I lived with my mother and sister. Both of his parents were in the military (as were most people in the community where we lived, right outside a major base) and they needed someone for an evening or two per week. My mom offered to it, but within no time, it was clear that I was the one doing the actual babysitting. While my mom was busy doing…whatever it was she was doing, I pushed him in the swing out back, changed his diaper and gave him his bottle. Soon he preferred me, and eventually his parents started referring to me as the babysitter. A couple of times, I even watched him without supervision because my mom was unavailable. In retrospect, I am HORRIFIED by this. What sort of parent leaves their infant in the sole care of a nine year old?

But at the time, it seemed normal. And soon, it was not just little John. By the time I was in seventh grade (and living on the other side of the country) I was the neighborhood babysitter. I was thirteen when the family across the street welcomed their first baby. They were new in town, having arrived when she was eight months pregnant. My mom mentioned that I loved babies and would be happy to help out if they needed it. I don’t think she anticipated them leaving me alone with their two week old. And I know she didn’t expect me to wind up as their part-time nanny, babysitting three afternoons a week for two years, until Luke’s mom quit her job to be a stay at home mother to Luke and his new little sister.

So for nearly two decades, I’ve been caring for other people’s children. In a few cases, as a nanny, that’s meant a deep, steady relationship with a family. But most of the time, it’s meant an occasionally evening here and a long Saturday afternoon there.

Since moving to Atlanta a year ago, I’ve cut back dramatically on the amount of babysitting I do. I used to routinely spend an extra 10-20 hours a week babysitting on top of my 50-hour work week as a nanny. But since I moved here, my priorities have shifted. I have a family now and a home that I love. I no longer need to fill the every waking moment. I LIKE sitting at home on the couch with JP and the beasts. And, because I have someone to share the bills and expenses that come with living life, I no longer need the extra income. Lately, it seems that babysitting is more hassle than it’s worth. Even though I get paid top dollar, it’s still not usually enough to tempt me. And the few times lately I’ve decided it was worth it, I wound up disappointed. Because the problem with agreeing to babysit, is that there is no contract and no penalty for a late cancellation. And in the last three months, I’ve accepted two babysitting jobs. Both times, I took time out of my schedule to go to their house and sit with them for awhile so they could get to know me. I gave them references and played with the baby for awhile so they could get to know me a little before leaving me along with their child. And both times, the parents canceled on me within six hours of the time I was scheduled to arrive. Luckily, I wasn’t counting on the money. But it’s a hassle to jump through the hoops of being hired without seeing a return on my investment. I hate turning down other invitations, only to have my plans changed at the last minute. And although I don’t NEED the money, it’s irritating to anticipate an extra $100 that never materializes. (In this case, I had planned to use it for a Valentine’s Day surprise. I suppose it’s a good thing that JP isn’t materialistic and genuinely believes it’s the thought that counts.)

So, I’m done. It’s time to hand over the title of “Everyone’s Favorite Babysitter”. I thought I would be sad — after all, babysitting has been a major part of my life for as long as I can remember. But instead it feels like a weight is lifted. As much as I love children, I would rather interact with them on my own terms and within the constraints of my own schedule. If I find that I really miss it, maybe I’ll look into some volunteer opportunities. But in the meantime…I feel like I should throw a retirement party!

One of the dogs is sick.

Not one of my dogs — one of Baby H’s dogs. She’s elderly and frequently sick, though when I was hired I was told both dogs were “low maintenance” and “never a problem”. In actuality, both dogs are … challenging. They are large (80-100lbs) and do not listen to a word I say. They are sweet, but not exactly well behaved. They frequently get into things and make messes, and if I am not careful, they will steal the food right off Henry’s plate.

I was also told at that point that they planned to continue the services of the dog walker, who came daily to feed and exercise them. That lasted about a month before they quietly let her go and I assumed her responsibilities. I don’t walk them, but I am in charge of feeding them and letting them out. I don’t mind this, but I do mind that these duties were added in direct opposition to what I was told before my hiring and without any discussion or acknowledgment of my added duties. Also, I’d wager that there is a link between their lack of regular exercise and their destructive behavior.

Anyway, as I was saying, one of the dogs is sick. And not in the laying-around-not-feeling-well sort of way. In the diarrhea-all-over-the-carpet way. And, as much as I might have liked to ignore it and leave it for my employers to deal with when they got home (because cleaning up doggie diarrhea is DEFINITELY not in my job description), I couldn’t just leave it festering for hours. It took me over an hour, down on my hands and knees scrubbing with carpet cleaner and disinfectant, to get reach the point where it was passable.

When my boss got home, I told him what had happened so that he could watch the dog and make sure she didn’t get sicker. His reaction, “Ugh, gross. I hope she doesn’t do it again.” No apology that I had to deal with it. No thanks for cleaning up the mess. No acknowledgment that this was not — by any stretch of the imagination — my responsibility.

When I arrived this morning, my other boss informed me that it had in fact happened again later that night. In fact, he has spent the entire morning banging around, griping and complaining about having to clean it up.

If I hear one more martyred sigh, my head might explode.

Thank god it’s Friday.

* Thanks to everyone who has shared their pet stories. I REALLY appreciate it. We’re still not ready to rush into anything, but I’m feeling better and better about the prospect of finding Winston a sibling. It seems like the consensus is that it may take a little while, but he WILL adjust and probably will be happier for it.

*My body has finally succumbed to the millions of germs surrounding me. For the past two weeks, every single person I come into regular contact with has been sick with the cold from hell. I was holding up pretty well at first, but eventually it was too much to bear and now I sound like a dying freight train: wheezing, hacking and sniffing incessantly. I am zapped of all energy and spend my days fantasizing about sleep and my nights — unfortunately — wheezing and hacking. It is only Wednesday, and I am dying for the weekend.

* Yesterday I actually opened up the dusty old file on my hard drive containing my novel. It’s almost exactly half done, and I haven’t touched it in at least six months because I had edited and edited and edited the first half so much that it was all a blur. I was at the point where everything seemed wrong and it seemed impossible to fix. Amazingly, when I read it yesterday, I loved it. There were a few structural issues that were easy enough to fix, and a few snippets of dialog or narration that needed tweaking. But overall, it was fine. Apparently I just needed a little perspective. Now that all of that is handled, I’m ready to get to work on the second half. I know what is going to happen. I just need to buckle down and write it.

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