Thursday, March 01, 2007

confessions of a recovering nanny

I went to the Internet Movie Database website a little while ago in search of something, and an ad for a trailer on the front page caught my eye. It was for the movie version of The Nanny Diaries, a novel (not-so-loosely based on someone's real experiences) about a girl balancing school and a nanny job in Manhattan. As hilarious as the trailer was, I am a little apprehensive about seeing the movie.

I actually read the book while I was a nanny in New York, and I think my emotions about it at the time (a mixture of very very dark humor, profound sadness, all-too-real commiseration with the main character, and jealousy that she still had a life at school) would come back too sharply if I were to re-read the book, or see the movie.

Nannying is an enigma. Most girls I've met who have been nannies have some pretty bad war stories under their belt. The only ones I know who can truly say they enjoyed it (and I don't mean a consistent, part-time babysitting job- I mean either live-in or at least full time) are pretty much off their rocker. One example: I babysat for a baby girl in Denver one time, and part of the reason I was there was because the main nanny was looking for someone to help her out. That's never ever a good sign, when the main nanny needs help. For one child. But I think she was cutting down her hours. So I get there, and she gives me this run-down that is part interview and part instruction. She tells me about all of her philosophies on nannying (or what looked to me like wannabe parenting). When the baby cried, she ignored her for something like three minutes, to establish the fact that crying was not the way to get attention (because an infant has so many options). The baby was not allowed to watch more than 15 minutes of Baby Einstein per day, and must be "stimulated" by a walk around the neighborhood. Then this girl asked me what my zodiac sign was, because I guess your planets have to be aligned in a certain way in order to be a good caregiver. I should have left right then and there, but I agreed to watch the baby for an evening.

When I went to actually babysit, the baby's parents were the ones to greet me- imagine that. While mom was getting ready, she asked dad to show me where the baby food was. Dad did not have a clue where the baby food was, and I ended up finding it for him. I also got introduced to the baby monitor that was actually its own channel on the TV, along with the monitor-of-the-front-porch channel. Then mom showed me the changing table, including the baby wipes that had their own warmer, so baby's butt didn't get cold in the process of being changed. And even though I was almost positive that someone (probably crazy nanny) was going to watch a video of me after I left, I still let the baby watch an entire half hour of Baby Einstein, and I'm pretty sure I didn't ignore her when she cried. I was never asked back. Darn.

Almost none of my experiences were good ones. Once I was left out in a car with a kid to wait while his mom had a drink with her friend at a restaurant. That same mom had apparently hired me while she was visiting her sick mom in Denver, and had not told her husband that she hired a nanny because he was I guess very much against it (he told her this while he was in rehab for alcoholism), and when we pulled into the parking lot of the hotel she was staying at, she thought she saw his car and completely flipped out. She started swearing and told me to stay in the car and come up with a story as to why I was there. It turns out her husband wasn't there at all (as that would have required escaping from rehab), but I was pretty much done after that. I also had the parents who were way too worried about their kids- like making sure they only ate whole grain pasta, and not painting their nails because of the chemicals. And then there were the parents who didn't seem to understand that they had to be the responsible ones, and as a result their kids pretty much climbed the walls and screamed all day. Within my first 10 minutes of watching 3 kids, one of them had gotten so mad about something that he crushed a Christmas tree ornament in his hand.

Most of these were temporary jobs, or jobs that only required 10 or so hours of my week. But then I decided to take on full-time nannying when I graduated college in order to pay off a chunk of loans and have the ability to live in a big city. Yes, I did pay off a good portion of loans, and yes, I got to see New York in all its splendor, but I really doubt I would do it again if I could go back. I was a live-in nanny, and for 5 days a week, usually about 6:30am to 6:30pm, I was responsible for 4 kids. It was without a doubt the worst time of my life. I should have known that I wouldn't like it, because I had never really liked any nanny job. I don't understand why parents would have kids and then be gone so much, or why a couple with two kids really needs a babysitter so they can go grocery shopping. My mom trucked all 3 of us along when she went to the store- it's manageable. So why in the world would I take a job doing something I disagreed with? I can't answer that question. All I know is that I was capable of breaking down into tears at any moment of any day- and I did, often. The kids were fully aware of the fact that they barely saw either of their parents, their life and their rules were inconsistent, and I barely ever felt like I had any control of any situation. I don't want to get into too much detail, because that wouldn't be very nice of me. And part of it was on me, as I didn't tell the parents a whole lot about how I was feeling. But I was supposed to commit to a year in that job and I only just barely lasted 10 months. It was bad.

So- this nanny movie coming out- I hope I'm able to laugh at it. I'm not yet at the point where I can laugh at that last nanny job. The warmed-up baby wipes, yes; the 5-year-old screaming on a regular basis that she hates her mom or hates me, no. I still notice myself sometimes getting very angry very quickly at petty little things, and I don't think that it's a coincidence that that started after that experience.

But Scarlett Johansen is in the movie, and she's cool.


Julia said...

I don't understand the whole baby wipe warmer thing either. I want to banish them from the earth because they're so stupid and unnecessary and a waste of electricity.

Anyway, your nanny/babysitting experiences are so interesting and you descri!be them so well. I feel guilty if I chuck Esme aside for ten minutes while I do laundry or check my e-mail. Maybe I shouldn't feel so bad.

Julia said...

I don't know how that exclamation mark got into the middle of that word, but it looks kind of cool.