One year ago today, I officially started my nannying career (and yes – it is a career, but I’ll jump on that soapbox in a few). Happy Workaversary to me! And how fun that it falls on the first day of Rosh Hashanah! This has already been the longest I’ve ever kept a job – the closest runners up were a couple of bars and a teaching assistant job in college that required about 3 hours a week.
Lest you think me a total flake (rather than a partial flake, which I am), do consider that I’ve been in college until fairly recently and had a few false career starts after that. But hey, I figured if I’m going to be food insecure anyway, it’s better for me to get out of a job I hate before the suicidal midlife crisis sets in. I followed my gut when it came to ending jobs that may have had promising potential, and that has paid off.
And not just because I make more in childcare than I did in any other post-college career field I’ve worked in. Every morning, I get to work and am blasted awake by either a screaming toddler – or, more often, big smiles, food-smeared hugs, and a detailed account of the places a four-year-old has planned for us to go that day. What with the every day processes of getting dressed, figuring out which toothpaste to use (Thomas? Lightning McQueen?), driving to and from school, and using enough dinnertime reverse psychology to make Freud proud, the days go by pretty quickly.
I happen to work for a Jewish family (No they don’t take advantage of me, yes they have big curly hair, no they’re aren’t miserly, yes they keep kosher). And over the last year, if nothing else, I’ve been amazed by how much I’ve learned about Judaism. I think part of the reason that I’ve enjoyed my time with this family so much is because the parents are both well-educated, kind-hearted intellectuals who are willing and able to answer the myriad questions I have about Jewish law, Jewish history, Jewish culture. They also have a great library which I borrow from liberally. As a total outsider, Jews are a people who fascinate me – in no small part because it’s entirely possible to be an atheist Jew who practices culturally. How awesome is that? Particularly in Mormonism, where absolute belief in the doctrine is mandated, it is virtually impossible to separate beliefs from culture. But boy howdy, the Jews can do it. (Not all, I know, but a lot).
And Sam, the 4-year-old – I’m sorry, 4-and-a-half-year-old – has thoroughly educated me on all things pertaining to Jewish holidays. He and his brother, Micha, both attend a Hebrew preschool, and Sam’s mind is this black hole of knowledge retention. (“Watch out,” warned my boss on my first day. “If you don’t want us to know something, do not say it in front of Sam”). Sam slowly and patiently makes me repeat new words in Hebrew until I get it right. Then I get a congratulatory “Good job!” Or once: “Liz, sometimes I can’t understand what you’re saying. Then I just say ‘Good job!’ anyway.” I can recite the first half of many of the most common brachot. I know a fair number of silly children’s songs in Hebrew, and even more in English. I can count to ten in Hebrew, I can keep a kosher kitchen, I know what to announce before the shofar blows, and I can even blow a miniature shofar, which is fucking hard, btw. Google it. It’s really interesting stuff to learn about.
And when I’m not getting Hebrew Immersion 101, I’m eating dinner with the family. Visiting the super awesome Museum of Science and Industry, or the Lincoln Park Zoo. Hanging out at parks. Playing outside with chalk. Drawing pictures. Changing poopy diapers and instructing the boys in basic anatomy. I love all of it. It’s a really fun job, and it’s often a really challenging job, and I just love it.
And it’s shown me things about myself that I didn’t know. You don’t know how far you can push your boundaries of patience until you’re nicely telling someone else’s child for the umpteenth time to Stop laying on the bathroom floor and put on your pants after you finish pooping! Or when you’re waiting for a raging toddler to finishing throwing himself at the foot of the stairs because he’s suddenly forgotten how to get up by himself. Sticky hands in your clean hair. Shit spilled all over the floor the second you get it clean. Piles of crisply folded laundry devastated in one fell swoop. Or when you think to yourself, “What’s that smel- Oh, good God, no! Nooooooooo!” and the call in the Hazmat team.
A few weeks ago, I was with the kids at a museum and we went to the bathroom. It was one of those full-on-everybody-in-together-lets-steal-the-handicapped-stall trips. I went potty. I coerced Sam into going potty. I changed Micha’s poopy diaper. We got everybody’s hands washed and dried, using both the towels and the hand dryer of course, and then we were out and on to the next adventure. Some point shortly thereafter, I realized I had not even looked at myself in the mirror once while I was in the bathroom. I had forgotten to. Getting the little dudes in and out without pissing off the fickle baby gods was my only priority, and for maybe the first time since I turned eleven, I unwittingly walked in and out of a mirror-equipped bathroom without looking at myself.
That might seem stupid. But we know why there are more mirrors in women’s bathrooms than men’s. I fix my hair, check my makeup from every angle, sneak in a quick teeth check. We all do it. But having kids around you makes you less self-absorbed. Yes, even if they aren’t your own. Taking care of someone whose needs constantly supersede your own brings you to your knees – literally, metaphorically, emotionally.
Nannying is one of the hardest jobs I’ve ever had, and yet now, I really understand those assholes who say that you should do what you love. I always thought that was stupid – like, who loves their job? – but at the end of the work week, or the short weekend trip by the family who’s in from out of town and needs a babysitter, or the three-hour walk to the park so somebody’s mother can take an elusive nap, I get paid. And I think to myself – every fucking time – “Sweet! I just got paid X bucks at hour to hang out with kids.”
I just love it. And here comes the nannying soapbox.
I’ve had a lot of jobs. My boss always teases me whenever I mention them: “Was this before you were an assassin for the CIA? Was this after you were an astronaut?” My stunts in various professions include, but are not limited to: Auction House Secretary, Dental Assistant, Editor, Bartender, Waitress, Car Salesperson, Bank Teller, Banker, Children’s Photographer, Research Assistant, Mashed Potato Scooper at KFC, Clothing Retail Bitch, etc.
Never, in any of those jobs (probably combined), did I get any kind of intrinsic fulfillment that compares to the kind I get now. There was never a sales goal or piece of paperwork or meeting that was more important to me than making sure these two little guys make it out into the big fucked-up world a little more well-adjusted and loved because of how I showed up to work every day. No promotion or bonus measures up to pre-naptime snuggles from Micha and the gut-busting laughs I get from the shit Sam says.
I get asked a few questions about nannying pretty often, usually with this weird, “Don’t mean to offend you but I’m about to say something offensive” tone.
- How do you not swear in front of the kids?
- Aren’t you bored?
- But you’re not going to do this -*awkward pause*- forever, right?
- Don’t you think you could be doing something more intellectually stimulating?
- This isn’t, like, a career, though?
- What are you going to do when they grow up?
- How do you not have sex in front of your parents? There’s a time and place for everything, and it’s not that hard to sort out.
- No. Absolutely not. Things change every day in this job. The kids get older and start doing new funny and adorable and weird shit. They stop doing other things. Family comes to visit. Holidays are celebrated. When I do “boring” things like laundry or dishes during naptime, I put on NPR podcasts and learn something.
- I very well fucking might. It pays well, it’s fun, it’s one of the few careers that often lets you bring your own children to work with you.
- Such as…. sitting at a desk, trying to convince people to take out loans they don’t need? Writing? (Which I do on the side). Music? (Which I do on the side). Art? (Which I do on the side). I have time and money to pursue my interests because of this job, and I’m plenty intellectually stimulated, even when I’m not trying to explain to Sam why the sky is blue (you try doing that for a four year old and get back to me on how that works out for you.)
- Yeah, it is. You get raises and PTO and everything, by golly! You get better jobs with experience. You learn new things. Some people are lifers. Have you been in your career forever, anyway?
- Cry a little. Be happy for them. Miss them. Find another family, repeat. Maybe start fresh as an FBI operative. I don’t know! What did you do when you were fired? When you company merged? The kids growing out of needing a nanny ins’t some existential career crisis, even if it’s a little sad.
Anyway, down from my soapbox. That about sums up what I have to say about that.
Shanah tovah, motherfuckers! 🎉