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Nanny Chronicles

On a frigid January afternoon just after the New Year in 2011, my two best friends (M and B) and I walked into a local café for coffee. I had just returned from teaching in Australia and it seemed like years since we’d grabbed a cup and chatted about our lives. This was the norm. Since high school, the three of us would cram ourselves around a table in a crowded coffee shop, usually much too small for the three of us, and talk about all of the sudden changes taking place in our lives, all the while acknowledging that when you step back and look hard enough, not much actually changes at all.

I had 300 dollars in my bank account, so I could barely afford a cup of coffee. You can forget about a scone or a muffin. That would have been a total luxury. Five months in Australia including rent, transportation expenses, and grocery shopping, had completely stripped my savings. I was lucky enough that M was able to get me a job at a restaurant down the street from the coffee shop a few weeks earlier, but I was only working three days a week to start out. It seemed that bills piled up quicker than paychecks came.

If you’re lucky, the breakfast bar at the café has open seats. It tends to be the most popular place to sit because it faces outside and people love to people watch. It was lucky enough that the three of us were able to find a day that we were all available for an hour to catch up, so we couldn’t believe our luck when we noticed that three seats at the breakfast bar were all vacant. Quicker than we could agree on the idea, we rushed to the seats and threw down our jackets claiming our territory for the next hour. Drinks always come second to finding a good place to sit.

After settling down with our coffee, we began catching up. The real emotion emerged when I began discussing how stressed out I was about not having a steady job. Working three days a week as a hostess at a restaurant for nine dollars an hour wasn’t exactly steady money at the time as a twenty two year old college graduate. The troublesome thoughts spilling out of my mouth like a running bath faucet were put on hold as I looked up to see a woman walking into the coffee shop with two captivating, beautiful little girls.

The blonde little girl eagerly pulled her mother toward a high top table in the coffee shop, while a red headed youngster sat on the mother’s hip looking curiously around. The woman put the youngest child on the ground and she ran to the table with her sister. The three of them peeled off their jackets, found their seats, and for the next ten minutes my distress and frustration subsided.

“HI!” The little redhead shouted enthusiastically in our direction! Instantly, a child no taller than mid thigh melted three twenty two year olds. We all waved and talked about how perfect this little family looked. The mother seemed so calm and peaceful, and the close connection she had with her children was obvious. Her body language toward her girls showed so much respect and harmony, that we were just as fascinated by the way she interacted with her children as we were with the children themselves.

“That’s G!” The little blonde piped up with more personality than any adult I’ve ever met. “I’m Q!”

“It’s very nice to meet you!” I responded. We introduced ourselves to the girls and the mother, who we came to know as N.

“Your children are beautiful! Let me know if you ever need a nanny!” I exclaimed. N’s eyes lit up like a flame and a huge smile spread across her friendly face.

“Really? We’re actually looking for new childcare!”

It happened just like that. We exchanged emails and communicated back and forth for the next week. I was looking for a new job and N’s family was looking for a new nanny. Little did I know that this family would become my second family, and we would share laughter, tears, and everything between for the next year and a half.

Having the honor of watching Q and Little G for the last year and a half has brought me so much joy. I have been able to be a part of things that have not only changed their lives, but changed the way I view the world. Nothing will level you like watching a child learn how to read, and nothing will make you laugh harder than helping to potty train a toddler. I have recently signed an offer letter and accepted a full time position with an amazing company in New York City. After an wonderful year and a half with this family, we all knew that someday I would be starting a new chapter, and I thought preparing myself to say goodbye in the months leading up to finding my career path would help. Unfortunately, when you have met and formed a bond with people, especially children, saying goodbye is never as easy as you hope it will be. I have said goodbye to many people in my life, and I know in two weeks time, this will undoubtedly be one of the hardest ones I have to make. I take comfort every day in knowing that it’s not really goodbye, because we will always keep in touch and every time I come home, visiting them will be a top priority.

I try to stay away from list posts. Sometimes I know they can come off pretentious. The only times I really do listing is when it relates to an experience that I think others will be able to relate to and maybe even take something away from. I’ve been reflecting lately on the things I’ve learned in the last year and a half, about life, my family, my friends, and myself. I’d like to take this post to share some of the things I’ve learned from being a nanny. Sharing the things that this family has taught me seems like one of the best gifts that I can give back

1. Butter sticks, chocolate pudding, and the sugar bowl are not your basic food groups – I’ve only been out of college for two years, but I remember all too well Easy Mac and Ramen Noodle meals. That being said, I am completely familiar with scrambling to find something to eat, but Little G brings a whole new light to this concept. Little G likes to adventure into the fridge. It would be great if she pulled out English muffins and Jam, which are usually located on the bottom shelf and the side of the refrigerator door. Instead she reaches for sticks of butter or the chocolate pudding. Once she even pushed the stool to the counter and found her way to the sugar bowl with a spoon. The food pyramid would not be pleased.

2. Food, water, and sleep are always the answer – This never changes. Whether you’re a child or an adult, if you’re demonstrating extreme and irrational levels of grouchiness, chances are you’re hungry, dehydrated, or sleep deprived.

3. Be flexible – We are constantly expecting children to understand the concept of flexibility (in terms of attitude and mentality) yet it surprises me how as adults, we can be extremely unyielding sometimes. Once in a while things get crazy, and you just have to go with the flow and be okay with the fact that it’s not always going to go according to plan. Actually, in my experience, it usually NEVER goes according to plan. Children look to the adults in their lives to show them how it’s done. I’ve found that demonstrating flexibility shows children that as long as everybody is safe, it’s okay bend sometimes. In other words, if camping didn’t pan out because somebody caught the flu, perhaps bungee jumping with your toddlers isn’t a safe way to show flexibility. However, an impromptu camp out in the living room with a tent, some sleeping bags, and flashlights is a great way to show that even if things don’t work out as planned, they can still work out just fine.

4. Communicate to find the root of the problem – This one came to me today as I was having a conversation with Q. Yesterday, after a long day in the sun, Q and Little G’s Dad came home from work. Melt down city commenced and Q was the mayor. Everything seemed to frustrate her. The fact that their dad wanted to take a shower, the fact that she took a nap, the fact that Little G took a nap, and the fact that ice cream before dinner was a no-go. It was a full blown temper tantrum.

This morning, I came to work and Q was in high spirits. Q and I had a conversation about the melt down and I asked her why she was so frustrated. Her answer really shocked me, because not only was it concise and honest, but it was a very adult perspective. She said, “I didn’t get to see Daddy all day, and I was angry because he wanted to shower and I just wanted to spend time with him.”

5. Have empathy – This goes hand in hand with number 4. After Q said that I stepped back and said, “You know Q, sometimes Blake and I get mad at each other too after long days. I’ve been away from him all day and he just wants to cook dinner, and that frustrates me. I understand, and I’m sorry that you were sad.” She gave me a high five and we all went outside to the pool. We think sometimes that because we’re adults, that we need different things than children need. At the end of the day it really comes down to basics: Empathy, kindness, love, food, sleep, and water!

6. Take advantage of your surroundings – Teaching children that nature is a gift and that there are adventures to be had in their own back yards is so important. These days, I grow sad when I see kids playing on iPads or iPhones. The earth has so much to offer! This week Q and G cleared out an entire section of brush in their back yard. They now have a “secret hideout.” Watching them create it brought me back to the days where I played in the back yard and built my own “tree forts” out of tree branches. To an adult, they would have looked like poorly constructed tipis, but to me, they were safe havens.

7. Silly is good. Laugh at yourself! – Dance parties, making up silly songs, and face painting are regular activities with the girls, but once in a while they throw something outrageous at me, and I always go along with it (again, as long as it is a safe choice). This morning when I arrived at work, Q and G met me at the door with hair brushes. “We made a beauty salon!” Q exclaimed. I turned the corner to see a hair dryer, squirt bottles, make up brushes, bows, banana clips, and paddle brushes. Q and G brought me to their “salon” and for the next hour I was the victim of a three year old and a six year old brushing my hair in the wrong direction, my hair sitting Cindy Lou Who style on top of my head, and bright pink lip gloss covering the entire area surrounding my mouth. When I asked little G how I looked, she cheerfully said, “Not good!” Their mother and I were dying laughing, because I looked ridiculous, but it was so much fun! Seeing how happy it made them that I was playing along with them was more important than looking nice or taking myself too seriously at that moment.



8. Cherish the little moments – Children grow up so quickly, and will never be this little again. N (the girls’ mother) is so vivacious and fun, and it’s totally energizing to see a mom step outside of her busy life to immerse herself in her children’s youth, even if it means bringing boring tasks to life. It is truly inspiring. I’ll never forget the time she told me that she had to go grocery shopping but it was already 7:00 at night. She piled the kids in the car, brought their play shopping cart from home to the super market, and let them each bring a baby doll to push in their cart alongside her. She even let them pick out food to put in their little cart. It gave a new meaning to “family trip to the grocery store.” I’ve watched N (mom) and A (dad) interact with Q and Little G for the last year, and whether it means creating an ice cream stand out of scrap wood or keeping the hundreds, if not THOUSANDS of water color paintings their children make for them, they are so good at cherishing the little moments and savoring the youth of their children.

9. Always have options ready – If humans are fickle creatures by nature, children can be downright erratic. One minute they are excited to go to the playground, and the next minute, they want to do something else. Having options means you’re ready for pretty much anything. Options don’t just apply to fun activities, but in negative situations as well. If one of the girls is doing something “naughty” I always offer safe options, and let them make a different choice on their own. It has taught me to be a more patient adult, and it fosters situational understanding and teaches children to make choices for themselves.

10. Matching is SO last season– Interestingly, mixed prints are totally in, and Little G is the main culprit. I am confident that fashion week should give credit where credit is due, and issue thanks to Little G for inspiring their biggest in seasonal trend. Little G has mixed prints mastered. Sometime she’ll come down stairs in pink camo tights, a green plaid skirt, a striped shirt, and sparkly red shoes. She always looks fabulous, and she knows it.

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11 Comments

  1. Carley, I’m a nanny too and these are so awesome! Thanks for sharing the lessons!

    I’m off to work camps for the summer and I thought saying ‘goodbye’ to my littles for just a few months was going to be impossible – good luck with your ‘see you later’s in the coming weeks 🙂

  2. Love the insight you’ve obtained from being a nanny. I was Pre-K camp counselor for several years as well as a Pre-K teacher and I fully back you on your thoughts about parenting, flexibility, and stepping away from iPad. Great, great list.

    • Glad you were able to relate! I certainly have a lot to learn as far as my own parenting (being that I’m not yet a parent myself) but N is a fantastic mother to her beautiful girls and I’m very lucky to have met them!

  3. So wait… You said you just accepted a position in NYC? Does that mean you’re moving here? *looks hopeful*

  4. What a wonderful blog full of heart! It sounds like you have gained so much! Children are a joy. I’ve worked for two years as a substitute teacher. I hope to become a full-time certified teacher in the next two years if I’m accepted for my Masters. Children are the ones who inspire me most when I write.

    How exciting about your job offer in New York! I wish you the best!

  5. marialla says

    Fantastic stuff!! I like your humour and it is so important to have when working with children – well, with any people, really – and I sure hope that you learn oodles and poodles and when you have your own you apply all you learn and always act as though you were a nanny. I remember – I don’t remember someone said it or I saw it in a movie or I read it but nonetheless – how one man said how he always thought of and treated his wife like his mistress because it always kept his relationship exciting – not to mention his sex life?! Keep up the good work!!!

  6. Hi!

    I’m glad you left you a comment on my blog because I have THE worst insomnia tonight and I was able to distract myself by reading some of your funny posts. I’m a nanny too and I could so relate to this post. The kids I watch have added so much to my life & I love to be around them just because they’re so honest – it’s refreshing.

    I’m looking forward to following along 🙂

    xo

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