While in college, I was a nanny for a small family with two babies, about 1 year apart in age (ages 1 and 2), and it was one of the hardest things I have ever done. It prepared me for life as a mom, and also for life as a mom with a nanny.
I learned some very important lessons. Although it was not my first nanny job, it would be my last, and I still think of the experience every day. But what I think of most is the line the mother told me when she fired me… “You would be best at a desk job, in an office by yourself.”
Now this woman was incredibly incorrect, as I went on to be a very successful dance director, working each day with kids of all ages (especially toddlers) and constantly in the spotlight, often in front of hundreds of people at once. I have not had one desk job, ever, (and I quite think I’d go nuts sitting at a desk and not interacting with people).
But for so many years I have tried to understand, analyze, and reconcile her words to me. For some reason, I took them very seriously. I thought she had merit because she worked in Human Resources for a large company, and that meant something to me at the young age of 23. It seemed like a big deal. Years went by, and nearly everyday I thought of her careless words, trying to decode them. I have come to the conclusion that not only did she misunderstand me, but she also failed to respect me as a person. See, to her, a nanny was a servant. She did not respect me or my health. She often failed to mention when her children were contagious, and then expected me to work while sick.
As she fired me, she explained to me that I was in fact very responsible, kept her children safe, punctual, and she could tell that I loved her children greatly… but I took a nap that day while her children napped because we had all caught a dreadful cold, and I wanted to be my best for them when they woke up. So I napped next to the one year old’s playpen in case she woke up, as I was invited to do so by the mother when I was first hired…but that was just a trick. She was setting me up for failure. She probably felt immense guilt about not being able to stay at home, and needed an excuse to fire me. She set up her nanny cam that morning to keep an eye on things, and through the coughing and sneezing she heard in the playroom, she watched me snooze for about 30 minutes while her children were safe in their beds. When the one year old woke up, I sat her down in front of me to play as I miserably lay sideways watching her. That was all she needed to swoop in and seize control over her household again, as the hero that day.
Later, as she gave me a lecture on my correct occupation and complained about having to pay a more experienced nanny more money, I sat silently thinking about what else I could have possibly done wrong. As she then demanded I say “goodbye” to her sobbing two year old, and her husband removed the car seats from my car, I stood there without arguing or making any protest. I was tired, sick (from the nasty bug her kids had given me), and I was broke (in more ways than one).
It was not until many years later that I realized, she was the reason she fired me. While maybe I was not the most energetic or perfect nanny I could possibly be (working long hours and trying to go to school in between often left me feeling too tired to walk five blocks to the park), but I was dedicated to her children, and I did not do anything wrong. I did not deserve to be fired, without warning, and I certainly did not deserve to be insulted.
But for many years now I have thought about her, and I have been wanting to thank her. Yes, THANK HER. Here is why…
One time I told her husband that I love their children, but I think for me personally I would put more space between my own children’s births because having to look after two so close in age was really difficult. He laughed a wise-father owl laugh, and I will never forget those famous words I said.
As time ticked on for me, and I watched each year pass as a business woman, I kept thinking about what the mother said to me…. And what I said about having more space between my kids. I was getting older, and time was running out to have kids. I was scared to think that I might not have the option to space them out!
By the time I was married, I was 33. I got pregnant right away, and the clues began to surface.
One by one, a clue came to me– Insight into why the mother told me I should have a desk job, and why it was so incorrect.
It turns out, motherhood is actually really damn hard. Pregnancy is hard, birth is harder, being a mom is hardest of all… shocking actually, how hard it is. I know the mother was struggling when she hired me, and she was frustrated when I couldn’t replace her. She still had to be mom. She still had to be the one to ensure her children received the best in life. She wanted to escape, and she couldn’t.
I learned that being a mother and working is not for me. I chose to hand over my business and stay at home with my baby so that she could have the best care, from me. My daughter was a screamer, and I feared handing her over to a caretaker who wouldn’t love her like I do. I was afraid that someone would hurt her if she screamed all day with them, so I stayed home and rocked it out as a picture perfect Mommy. It was my new job. I felt proud that I overcame all the obstacles, and my daughter was turning out to be a nice little human being.
Then I found myself pregnant again when my daughter was only 18 months old! OOPS (but I was so excited to give my daughter a sibling that I embraced the pregnancy). It was also really difficult, and we had to employ a nanny. I was in bed for the first trimester with H, in the 2nd trimester my hips spread too wide and I couldn’t walk, and I finished off the pregnancy in bed with Preeclampsia. I delivered with Eclampsia and an emergency cesarean, and life DID NOT GET EASIER. Newsflash! Life only gets more interesting…
And more clues came in— the struggles of having two children under three, and what that actually demands of a mother in not just every day, but in every moment. YOU SOMETIMES FORGET TO BREATHE.
Every moment of life, you have these babies demanding your resources. You have only two arms, and you have two children that fill your arms at nearly every moment—going to the bathroom, cooking dinner, eating a meal, grocery shopping, banking, meetings, phone calls, emails, events… they come with you. They demand your attention, and your sense of self goes right out the window. There is no “you” anymore. There is only “us”. And while that is quite beautiful and loving in many ways, it can be very difficult at times too. Some women do not adjust to the drastic change in lifestyle, and would prefer to go back to work. Others might not have a choice and need to work for their families. Whatever the reason, many women choose to hire a daycare or a nanny to watch their little ones. But for those that do not…
I know you. I know what you are feeling. I know your daily struggle with trying to just go to the bathroom without interruption, or answer the phone when it rings. I know you also feel really worn out sometimes. It’s hard chasing after two cherubs all day. It’s physically draining. I know you look in the mirror, and you wonder why your eyes are sagging and you can’t feel normal because you are still breastfeeding your baby, or your whole body looks scary and unrecognizable now. I know you sometimes wish you had kept your career, and you think about what you could have accomplished if you had, and you’re just a little too envious of your husband for getting to leave all day. I know you feel a mess when he comes home, and it looks like a tornado went through your house and he doesn’t know how many times you cleaned the house already today, and you cannot bring yourself to pick up one…more…toy. I know. I know YOU, and I get it.
I get HER. That mother who fired me for no good reason– She couldn’t have done all of this, and it is OK.
Because I can. You can.
So I say “thank you” to her, for planting a lasting memory in me that would drive me to be the absolute best mother I could possibly be just to prove her wrong.
“Thank you” to her.
“if you ever read this… you know who you are. You were feeling inadequate that day. It felt better to bring me down to your level and blame someone else for your guilt. You felt like a good mom when you took back your family and began to care for your own children. I get it now. It is the hardest thing in the world to be a mother these days, when women are expected to be solid bread winners, go to college, and be as successful as their husbands, and still raise good children. Thank you, and I forgive you because I know it’s so hard. It’s so damn hard.”
But as a mother who has to have help sometimes too, I know the value of a good nanny. I am blessed to have found several wonderful caretakers over the years to help in times when I could not do it alone, and because of that mother who mistreated me, I will never, ever take them for granted. The people who help me take care of my children and give me the precious time I need to take care of myself and my career, they have my utmost respect. I would pay them in gold if I could.
So here is to moms and good nannies everywhere. You are valued, and you are important!