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“Noooooo," my little 5-year-old charge screams as
his mother tries to get him into the car. "I don't WANT to go anywhere. I
hate going on errands."
It's 4 p.m., and I'm about to go off duty as a full time nanny.
The mom who hired me is home early to run a few errands, and she's taking her
son with her. I watch with pity — in my mid-twenties, no children of my own — as
she bargains and pleads for him to just get in the car.
Full of my superior knowledge, I pull him aside as she heads
in to grab her purse and whisper that it makes me sad when he doesn't obey his
mama. I ask if he can do it for me. He nods, slides into the car and
gives me a thumbs up. She comes out and shoots me a mixed look of gratitude and
I was hired in the summer to work another family. I made a
rule that while I was on duty, television would be limited if not completely
off altogether. Although the kids, 7 and 9, almost hyperventilated the
first few weeks, we ended up playing for hours in their backyard, opening up
the garage to all the neighborhood kids, getting out board games to play
together. As soon as the parents walked in the door, exhausted from work, the
kids pounced on them about TV. They would spend the next few hours until bedtime zoned
A little girl I watched part time would cry when her mother
came home. Sobbing, she'd fall on the floor and tell her, "I just wanted
to play more with Diana, we were having so much fun together." The mom pried
her off me as I left thinking how this poor child was probably never played
I came home one day to find her and our nanny playing together, and, when my darling daughter saw me, she fell over sobbing.
I carried a first-aid kit, toys, books and tons of snacks in
my car. I took child development classes online. I juggled laundry, shopping,
managing other household staff, organizing and clothes sorting — all with the
kids alongside. I cooked, cleaned and made appointments for the kids' doctor and
dentist. I volunteered in classrooms, helped with homework and sent snacks for
At some point as a nanny, I did it all.
Then I had a baby. Since I knew everything, I breezed
through her first few years without many incidents. Then my daughter turned 4. I was
working nearly full time as a freelance writer and blogger. We hired a part-time nanny.
I came home one day to find her and our nanny playing
together, and, when my darling daughter saw me, she fell over sobbing. "I
don't want you," she screamed. "I was playing!"
I was dumbfounded. I'd played with her all the time, we'd do
crafts together, went on walks. Suddenly, I became the mom that was helpless to
figure this out. I heard our nanny say words like, "Remember we talked
about being kind to mama when she came home?" I looked around for a
hole big enough to curl up in, a place where I could write apology letters to my employers.
As time goes on, the phases I thought I had a complete
handle on with any child are given to me as I stare back
with uncertainty. You hate putting on your clothes? But what about the fun song
I sing? You won't eat anything but plain noodles with Parmesan cheese? I made
you all organic food for two years to make certain we would skip this stage. Every
night is a full-blown tantrum to get into bed? What about that routine of
reading to you for nearly five years that is supposed to calm you down?
Here I am: the mom looking from the inside out, and I have
no tricks of the trade. I often stand and look at my daughter, whom I love more
than life itself, and wonder how on earth I used to manage multiple children
for hours on end, years at a time, with only my own limited knowledge.
I remind myself that my job as a nanny was important, just like ours that we loved so much. But it was also temporary.
Motherhood has completely blown all of that out the window.
We struggle to find a way to raise our daughter and not
constantly feel like we're failing — yet there are little moments when
something clicks. A clever way to do something, a singsong voice. It changes
the pattern in our day. I remind myself that my job as a nanny was important, just like ours that we loved so much. But it was also temporary. This knowledge
alters the dynamic of a relationship. I cut myself some slack and wonder if my
employers used to do the same. I hope so.