What do you do when you’re burnt out in your field? After 10 years as a carpenter and welder, one wouldn’t have guessed my next step would be nannying. With nothing on my resume but shop work, I submitted it to a family who needed a part-time nanny. They later admitted to interviewing me out of sheer curiosity but hired me for my work ethic and my genuineness. And so started a 7-year career in nannying.
Over the course of my time as a nanny, I got asked a lot of questions. The questions varied depending on the level of interest in “talking shop,” but mostly the questions seem to dig into what my relationship with the family was actually like.
Despite immediately loving the gig, there were bumps in the road. I had never been my own boss before, my own accountant, my own HR. It wasn’t all bubble wands and PB&Js. I quickly realized I was more than a child care provider; I was becoming a house manager, but sometimes I still felt like “the help.” I walked a thin line of following all the house rules about no screen time and mandatory outdoor time while also being tasked with grocery shopping, making and attending appointments, and so many chores. It was my first job with no breaks or lunch hour. If the kids were napping, I was doing laundry; during meals I was doing the family’s dishes; during playtime I had to tidy the playroom. Not to mention, I was also expected to pay for things.
However, I was falling head over heels for the kids.
When I had first started I saw the kids as cute and entertaining, but as we spent more time with each other, real connections began to form. The youngest boy was quiet but loved fiercely. He blew me a kiss from his crib one day and later when practicing his writing, he asked for me to spell my name so he could add me to the list of his family members. The older boy had a laugh so infectious it was my sole goal to get him giggling.
Put that all together, and I had to step out of my comfort zone to stay happy and feel heard in the job. Hard conversations needed to be had: Who pays for outings when they are my idea? Do I cover parking when I’m only given the exact amount to get into the aquarium? How sick do I have to be to call in sick? How do I bring up that I’m seeing developmental delays in one of the boys? How do I express that I think one child is color blind?
The answer is communication, more communication, and LOTS of communication. I’d scratch notes on the daily log, I’d shyly text a difficult question about money while profusely over-apologizing, I’d casually present little bits of evidence of speech delay along with research during our weekly 20-minute recap meeting. It was not always taken well, after all, I was just the nanny—not the parent. They didn’t immediately take into consideration that I was with the boys more than they were. They could be defensive and were in denial as siblings could be very different. It took almost 2 years to feel like I was valuable enough to them to confidently bring up issues I was uncomfortable addressing. But it was so worth it. The parents and I became a team. We tackled an autism diagnosis together, we tag-teamed creating a schedule that we all adhered to, even when I was off the clock. We bounced ideas off of each other and communicated what worked best and what was a flop.
The parents started taking to heart what I was observing and realized all my concern was out of love.
We became one big family. I knew it when they flew me to an elaborate 3 day Hindu wedding with 800 guests. The son with autism kept saying he missed me—a sentiment he had never expressed about anyone. He was constantly overwhelmed with the crowd size and overstimulated by the dance parties. They dressed me in saris and I attended all the events. They introduced me as the nanny who was part of the family. The grandmother told me she saw joy in the boys that I had put there. Another grandmother brought me beautiful jewelry from India each time she visited. I got invited to cousin birthdays and wasn’t expected to watch the kids! I realized I had the best job in the entire world—why didn’t everyone want to be a nanny?
Unfortunately children grow up. Even though a new baby girl was added to the mix 3 years in, She eventually started an all-day preschool. I stopped working full time and became a taxi as their extracurriculars got more advanced and time-consuming, and then eventually my hours petered out.
They didn’t need me anymore. But I needed them!
I felt like we had gotten a divorce and I lost custody. I admit I cried a bit. I asked for lots of pics. I asked the kids to video chat any time they felt like it. Now I suppose I’m like the cool aunt. When I babysit, I rarely charge them. I invite them out to the Renaissance Faire, we do carpentry projects together, I attend birthday parties, preschool graduation, and tennis matches. And I do it out of the purest and most simple feeling out there: love.