FLASHBACK FRIDAY: Wallace Shawn, Are You My Nanny?
Disclaimer: This post is from four years ago, when I was much more of a parental train-wreck than I am today.
Observe the American suburban nanny, smiling pleasantly for type-A helicopter parents as she tutors Mandarin and calculus to their entitled children and prepares locally sourced, nut-free organic meals before driving them to fencing lessons.
Full Disclosure: I am not a type-A parent, and am more plastic-bag-in-a-parking-lot-wind-eddy than helicopter. I’m the kind of mom who’s expected at 6, calls at 6:41 and then shows up at 7:13 without dinner plans or your check. And my house is full of nuts. But I do have a nanny.
Nanny woes have been chronicled in books and movies (The Nanny Diaries), blogs and magazine articles (Ex-Nanny for Brad and Angelina Tells ALL!) and we working (non-celebrity, non-rich) parents suffer guilt and anxiety (yes, more please) over each new horror exposed. Then there are the caregivers who accidentally shake and possibly murder the children in their care, but this isn’t about them because we have enough to worry about just finding someone who will work when your kid has Coxsackie virus. If you don’t know what that is, this article is probably not for you.
For parents (and let’s be honest, I mean moms), there is no Hell quite so fresh as the long and lonely slog of searching for, interviewing and keeping someone who can make a hot dog, play Sorry! for hours, and drive.
For many parents, a nanny isn’t a full time employee with health benefits and a German-like commitment to her craft. Those exist, and deserve great respect (who but Fraulein Maria or a professional nanny could imagine parenting full time?). It's true some people have real, certified nannies or au pairs. Maybe you have a governess. This article is not for you..
We usually employ more of a Gal-Friday-Mother's Helper-petsitter-Mac-n-Cheese-maker part time. Usually this someone is female, under 25 and between graduate school plans, and has been a camp lifeguard or endured a brief, unfulfilling career in retail. She probably has a boyfriend you'll discover in a few months in an awkward but not totally surprising way.
We hire them because they seem cheerful and energetic and “love kids!” This is probably because they are not parents. They agree to the schedule, the driving, the helping with laundry and dinner prep, and sign off on the very specific list other stuff, which basically involves helping us be parents when we are working. Then the Trumpian communication blunders begin.
We have had nannies “forget” to show up. I have had babysitters leave dirty, cheese-encrusted pans in my sink and cigarettes in my yard (neither of which were used by my children). I have had nannies decline to come to work because their own parents suddenly insisted they attend family game night or not drive in snow flurries. I have had babysitters cry because their car wouldn’t start, or because I caught them having a date in our house during our date night. I had a nanny agree to help with laundry and fold all our clothes inside out. Which, if you’ve never experienced this, is actually worse than not folding them at all.
I had a babysitter tactfully suggest I help buy her a new car (again, I feel it’s important to note she was working for us three afternoons a week). I even had a nanny quit on me to go work for the daycare where she picked my kids up. Awkward. Especially after I keyed her car in the daycare parking lot. I had a babysitter confront me about my husband routinely asking her to put the kettle on if she were in the kitchen and he was working downstairs, and how that wasn’t her job. And my kids cheerfully tattled on the babysitters who texted while driving to Music Together or supervising pool time.
One summer sitter texted me 12 times a day with queries like, ‘What is 'grassfed’ beef? Could not find in store. Is it a brand? :) ’ and “What kind of cheese for kids burgers?” I REALLY appreciate that she went grocery shopping, but my children are 8 and 9 and have strong opinions about cheese options and would happily share this information if asked. They also, God bless them, know what grass fed beef is.
I wallow in unearned self-pity because I have just lost the perfect nanny, whom I respectfully and worshipfully referred to as my wife, to a doctorate program in the career field she wants to pursue (not nannying). She was my everything, our everything, and life is hell without her.
She was from a different time, when young people thought a job was something you were committed to and had to show up for and take seriously. (Okay, Boomer.) She was honest, hardworking, morally sound, no nonsense and ridiculously reliable. She was good to my kids but didn’t take any crap from them. She was immune (unlike me and my husband) to their wicked, manipulative charm. She overcame my unreliable attention span and shaky sense of time. She was nice. She passed the lifeboat test.
But she’s gone, and we’re back at square one, hostage to Sitter City, Care.com and God help me, Craig’s list.
I know for a fact I am no picnic, and the people who worked for us probably have their own hilarious stories about our household (She lets them eat Little Bites at four o’clock! She dresses like she’s my age! I feel sorry for her husband! What’s up with her hair – LOL WTF!).
They can write their own articles, if they haven’t already.
I try to be honest and funny in the interview. “When you’re here, you’re basically me,” I say. This is my way setting expectations that they do everything I do, with the exceptions of having sex with my husband or cleaning the toilet.
Sometimes I say this, hoping they will understand where I’m coming from and that we’ll have something hilarious and conspiratorial to share. They don’t and we won’t.
I haven’t yet found anyone to be my new wife three afternoons a week. I interviewed a woman who claimed to charge (and receive) a flat fee of $80 per car ride. Instantly I imagined charging my own kids that rate to soccer, playdates, piano lessons, the library, store where you can buy a jock strap last minute, etc.) I’d make so much money I could quit my job and… not need a nanny.
She also expected to be paid in full for any time we didn't need her (school vacations, holiday.). “But it’s a part time job, 12 hours a week,” I offered meekly. “I’ve found that system works best for me,” she volleyed crisply, definitively. I was afraid of her after that. She belonged in a corporate boardroom, not my festival of neuroses..
One woman offered endless sordid details of her last family, the dad’s yelling and the mom’s denial about the children’s behavioral issues, and the terrible parenting they were doing on the few occasions they were clothed and home. They let the kids circle the dinner table while wearing shoes with wheels, among other things.
“Wow,” I said.
One woman seemed promising until I checked her references (“She will do what you ask but won’t go the extra mile” was the stellar review). Desperate, I emailed her anyway to ask for a resume. I got this response, punctuation hers:
Hell,no. I do not have a resume. I am sure. I can put one together.. If you like? Sorry, cannot meet the next two days. I am at the beach. I will be back Friday. Sorry, for the inconvenience. Thank you. :)
One woman I hired on the spot, because she was mature, reliable, experienced and serious. She quit without starting because she got another nannying job “too good to pass up” one week before my kids’ first day of school.
Which brings us to Wallace Shawn. On the phone, he was a young man who’d worked for Apple (wow!) but was now pursuing a Master’s in Education and cleaned one family’s entire kitchen one day while the kids were watching TV, even moving the refrigerator to get the “disgusting junk behind there.” I asked about his background, which consisted vaguely of consulting and substitute teaching. I figured he had to be in his twenties, between school, career decisions and parental subsidies. But it seemed wrong to come right out and ask how old he was. Plus isn’t that illegal? Even when you’re hiring someone part time off the books? Who knows.
Upon further prompting, he revealed that he’d worked at an Apple... Store. I sat at the café waiting for him, thinking maybe he'd been the manager, and therefore had some experience supervising other beings,
Just then a squat, mostly bald man in his late forties ambled in with a few looseleaf pieces of paper (resume and references) and an irascible yet perplexed expression. He smiled a mouthful of whimsically placed teeth and held out a stumpy hand. Oh my God, Wallace Shawn is going to be my nanny!
To be clear: I love Wallace Shawn. Wallace Shawn is awesome. He’s smart, funny and imperfect. Like most short men, he’s probably surprisingly skilled in bed. But this man wasn’t Wallace Shawn, he was the guy who gets the neighborhood watch fired up. His “resume” was on notebook paper, written in pen. A pen that had run out of ink halfway through its task. He was clearly, as my father would have pointed out had he been a suitor… floundering. The idea of him being our caregiver was…inconceivable.
You may be thinking, Just take care of your kids your damn self. And you would have a point, I would, but if I spent that much time with them, they wouldn't love me, and I might run away. Besides, I need my job. To pay for a nanny.
Plus… I like working. I like getting out of my yoga pants, going to the bathroom alone and finishing sentences a few days a week.
But more than anything, I like having a wife. It’s too late for me to be a man and get a real one, so I’ll keep looking for her, my second wife, our new nanny.
Interested parties can apply here. Wallace Shawn, are you listening?