Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Boiling the Babysitter

A friend of my mine - also a nanny - just yesterday shared with me this little story, a cautionary tale perhaps, and I thought it so perfectly fitting that I just had to share it.  She called it, "Boiling a Frog."  Essentially, it goes like this: If you try to put a frog in a pot of boiling water, it will leap out immediately because the water is simply too hot.  However, if you put that same frog in a pot of cool water and gradually increase the temperature, the frog will not notice and will eventually be boiled alive.

Now, why would she share this with me?  Because, it recently happened to her and resulted in her finally putting her foot down and quitting her job.  The mother of the children for whom she sat was the pot of water, slowing increasing in requests and expectations - or one might say, in water temperature - so that, the job that was first described as "looking after the children" slowly, ever so gradually, became a job of "doing the dishes, preparing dinner, picking up around the house, doing the laundry, running errands, changing light bulbs, and anything else that needs to be done that I can think of and don't want to do myself."  And my nanny friend thought that, by performing each task, she was simply being agreeable.  What she now realizes, however, is that with the first little nod, she had willingly jumped into a pot of soon-to-be-boiling water.  When the water began to percolate, she was out of there.

I realize now that she shared this story because she saw in me the frog.  As we swapped nanny horror stories and I described the recent tasks that have been asked of me, from changing the sheets on the master bed to hand washing "the mistress' delicates", she quickly identified the real truth of the issue.  It's not that my employers are really so busy that they can't do these things themselves, or that they present these to me as "Can you do me a quick favor?" but that they want to see just how much they can get away with without having to pay me additionally or hire more help.  Here I just thought that I was "pitching in", while in reality, I am slowly but ever-so-surely being boiled alive.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Spanking: In Hindsight

While schools are closed this week and the families I work for on vacation in various warmer climates, I have temporarily escaped to the house where I grew up to visit my parents and take a little vacation myself. I love to come back here, as it often helps me to regenerate and reminds me of what really matters in life.  Yet again it has helped to put things into perspective and makes me truly appreciate the way in which I was raised, particularly because of the children I look after and their lack of discipline. 

I am the first to admit that I was not a perfect child. I can think of more than one occasion where I truly earned a punishment, but I can also vividly recall the lesson I learned and the way it influenced my future behavior. Privileges were taken away, desserts seized, and - on the rarest occasion when I was at my worst - I was spanked. Of course, at the time I cried and screamed and loathed my life. Now, however, I actually look back and thank my parents for being brave enough to punish me and teach me those lessons. It can't have been easy to follow through on those threats of "Bite your sister one more time and you are going to regret it, young lady", but I think they understood the necessary level of fear required with children in order to teach them to consider the consequences of their actions and to value good manners and proper behavior. I am not saying that this lesson must be taught with physical punishment, but I feel it must be taught nonetheless.

This is what is lacking in the households where I work: this necessary fear of consequence and authority. I watch the girls scream and yell and hit and scratch and kick their mother on a weekly basis and I watch her reward them for eventually stopping by giving them candy and sleepovers and little toys. I've watched this lack of fear and respect for adults grow to encompass their life not only in their home but on the playground, in the neighborhood, in the homes of their schoolmates. And then I am privy to their insights that "Mommy is not strict at all." They believe, from a lifetime of lax parenting, that their parents - and now all adults by default - are powerless. I can't say I disagree with them.

After experiencing numerous events where the children have emerged victoriously untouched simply because neither parent wants to take on the inconvenience of being the disciplinarian, I find myself in a position where threats are empty.  Completely.  I now secretly await the next time that the children will misbehave just so that their mother will have an  opportunity to punish them, to see if she will, in fact, punish them. Chances are, she won't.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Ask, Don't Tell

Dear Mothers,

I am not your property.  You do not own me.  You have the privilege of employing me, but I am my own person operating under my own power.

When you would like me to work for you, please feel free to ask me my availability.  Should I find myself available on the particular evening of your request, I will consider accepting the job of watching your children.  Please do not assume that I am available and simply tell me when and where to arrive, as I do have a life outside of your household and I would hate for you to have to cancel your dinner plans because of my personal schedule.

I might also add that making me feel guilty for having a social life is unkind and unnecessary.  I do not make you feel guilty for hiring someone else to take care of your children.

Thank you,
The Nanny

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Whose side am I on, anyway?

Correct me if I'm wrong, but a nanny is generally hired to look after one's children, not to be treated and chastised as one's child.   Last night, however, there certainly seemed to be some role confusion going on when, rather than supporting me in the governing of Child B, The Mom simply gave into the child's whims and undermined me completely.

Just for the record, I was right.  I was trying to demonstrate to Child B that demanding a glass of water is not the proper way to get a glass of water, prompting her to ask me and to employ kind words such as "Please" and "Thank you."  Perhaps she had never heard these words before.  I certainly have never heard them spoken at this particular dinner table, and it seemed to me that tonight would be as good a time as any to introduce manners to the kitchen.  When she began screaming and throwing her body around in response, The Mom walked into the room, stepped in front of me, and handed her daughter the water.  I understand that "the right" is not always "the easy", but the look she gave me as she appeased Child B spoke volumes as to the uphill battle ahead of me - against both mother and daughter. 

I do not mean to say that I expect always to have The Mom on my side.  Of course, I realize that our ideas of child-rearing will differ on occasion and that, as The Nanny, I am invisible whenever there is a divergence.  That is not the reason for my soreness.  The reason is that she took away my power completely, setting me up for unnecessary struggle in all conflicts to come with her children.  And, if there was any doubt about who "won" this battle, Child B smirked at me across the table, raising her water glass in the air and singing a little, teasing song of victory.  I was immediately transported back to my childhood and my own history of trivial conflict and stunned to have my intentions so blatantly thwarted - by both mother and daughter.

Uphill I go.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Brains for Babies

First, allow me to preface this first post by saying that I have nothing against non-English-speaking nannies.  In fact, I believe that a child growing up under the supervision of a nanny from another culture and background can only add to that child's development and understanding of this diverse world, and I have no doubts that the maternal instinct speaks every language.

That said, there does seem to be some instance of misinformation being delivered to this city's youths.  I recently witnessed a nanny feeding a toddler his snack, dangling a spoonful of banana before his eyes.  There was nothing extraordinary about the sight - in fact, it was the picture of urban childcare: black nanny, white child.  What caught my attention, however, was when the child turned away from her in protest, the woman tried to coax him with the words: "Eat this.  It's full of brains."  Yes, brains.  Her spoonful of brains.  Of course, we all know the message she was trying to convey: "Eating this banana, full of vitamins and nutrients, will feed your brain and make you strong and healthy and smart."  But the delivery was all wrong.  And I watched the child take a big bite, digesting a mouthful of potassium and years of confusion.

Children, as we all know, are sponges, absorbing anything and everything they hear, see, and experience and holding onto it for - seemingly - ever.  Child A still shocks me with her ability to recall minutiae of years past: the choice word that escaped me when I knocked the coffee tin out of the freezer, the nail polish I wore on the first night I tucked her into bed.  For this reason in particular, we need to make sure that we are conscious of what we feed them, whether it be a "potty word", a processed food...or brains.