geneva conventions

1/11/09

Today’s guest blog is written by none other than our resident brilliant doctor Neva. If you’ve been reading this for a while, you know that Neva and I met about nineteen years ago in a deliciously bizarre way. ANYWHOODLE, it’s my pleasure to turn the reins over to the woman who has salved my sicknesses long-distance (and turned us onto Umcka)…

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If you want this choice position

Have a cheery disposition

Rosy cheeks, no warts

Play games, all sorts

After I coveted his lovely babysitter, Ian offered me a chance to write a guest blog about the ideal nanny for my family. What an honor it is to have this space to expound on such a loaded topic! Although I think we’d all love to have Mary Poppins as our nanny, my experience as a working Mom of two girls, now age 5 and 8, has led me to realize there is no one out there “practically perfect in every way”, including me. So, I have adjusted my original unrealistic expectations of a nanny and whittled it down to a few key elements but perhaps they are still unrealistic. You tell me.

Why do I need a nanny now? Over the last 8 years I have struggled to find an ideal work/life balance. I put career advancement, insurance benefits, retirement savings, and extra income aside for awhile in order to be with my kids more. Recently I decided to leave my private practice where I was working “part time” and receiving no benefits (and not much money) to take a state job, working more hours, but finally receiving benefits of my own. This is important because my husband, who is thankfully currently well, has lymphoma, and my youngest daughter is developmentally disabled. We expect she will require lifelong care. We now need someone to pick her up at her special preschool and care for her before we get home as well as help with her older sister at times.

Here’s what I would tell a nanny candidate if I was totally honest:

First, and foremost, don’t make my children love you more than me. This sounds silly and selfish but is just the darn truth. I may have a few graduate degrees, but if my kid isn’t glad to see me when I come home I feel worthless. I can’t speak for others but I think this is the great fear of all working women. I think we had children because that mother/child relationship is gratifying and important to us but we worry that without “quantity time” those bonds won’t form strongly enough or could break.

For men, working outside the home and supporting their family makes them a good Dad. For women, as much as we give “quality time” lip service, there is still a deep cultural sense that mothering requires large amounts of hands on time. Good Moms are there to wipe noses and bandage boo boos. A good nanny has to play a tricky role of “almost Mom” but clearly not Mom. She must be a safe and loving person to come to but never step into the Mommy zone. I am okay with giving up some of the nose wiping and bandaging, but I still want the biggest hugs and kisses.

Second, be reliable and honest. If you have a significant psychiatric problem, be upfront about it. Sound like a strange request? Well, unfortunately, we discovered our very first nanny staring into space while our toddler crawled around on the floor unwatched for who knows how long. She was disassociating, as was not unusual for her when faced with significant stressors, and she promptly went back to the psych ward. Also, please note, partying too much the night before is not a good excuse for not showing up to work the next morning. Can you tell I live in a college town?

Third, help me to remember to take care of myself too. Don’t be standing by the door with your bag when I arrive. Stay an extra thirty minutes once in a while and encourage me to go exercise or read the paper. With my new schedule, both of these now seem impossible.

Fourth, look for little ways to be helpful if there is down time. Everyone deserves a break but reading an entire magazine or playing for ages on Facebook is not okay. Although I wouldn’t expect it every day, please occasionally wipe up the countertops, run the dishwasher, fold the clothes or straighten up the playroom. Those small things make me so happy and can make the difference between feeling like life is doable and not totally overwhelming.

Finally, please see the good in my children and remind me of it too. This can be a tough one. My youngest doesn’t give you much in rewards. She makes huge stinky diapers, drools a lot, is loud and destroys things much like a very large 2 year old. She doesn’t understand “no”. She cannot talk but walks quickly to places that usually aren’t safe for her. It takes loads of patience and a special person to deal with this.

People occasionally, with the best intentions, tell me how special we are to have had her. “Special parents have special children”. I know they mean well with this, but it is bullshit. There is nothing special about me, except my genes didn’t merge together right with my husband’s that one time. To be totally honest, I could not care for her alone without help for any extended periods of time without going totally batty.

A nanny for us really does have to be a special person. Unlike me, she will know what she’s getting into when she takes the job. The right nanny will see the sweet disposition under the non-verbal grunts, appreciate the hugs, the attempts at dancing, and the first words at age five and she’ll remind me to celebrate them all.

Thinking about this request led me to realize that what I need in a nanny says an awful lot about what I need as a person, too – from not just childcare folks but from most people in my life. Oh, damn you Ian, as usual, you forced me into self-exploration!