Lessons from Being a Nanny
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Sometimes, I feel like I know too much to move. It’s this wormhole of worry I get sucked into when I think about how to do something right that’s got me glue-sticked down to my sheets. I know the adhesive isn’t very strong and getting up is possible, but also not necessary. I mean… I don’t even have to pee. I’m also not hungry and out of groceries anyway so awake but pant-less, un-showered and groggy I stay belly-down.
Today, it’s the kids who are on my mind.
Sam’s been flipping off cars and spelling out swear words with the alphabet pretzels and Jake won’t zip up his backpack. Sometimes, I feel like Brett can only look me in the eyes if he’s getting in trouble. A few months ago I thought I knew for certain that every problem for a kid under ten could be fixed with a drink of water, bandaid or some ice. But after hanging out and taking care of the same five kids everyday after school since mid-September, my three-tiered first-aid kit isn’t holding up.
What I’ve always loved about kids is how wild they are, ferocious even. The way they whip themselves around schoolyards like they are tiny untamable beasts and play with no limits, but can still call you out if you’re not playing fair.
My little group, aged 5-8, tested the boundaries with me at first. They whined a little and pushed me around but have since warmed up enough to hold my hand, fall asleep in my lap and tell me about their bullies. They’ve warmed up so much actually that their friends know me now, and I know their friends’ nannies and last Friday on a PA day we had a play date to a 3D screening of Pete’s Dragon and Ryan, one of Jake’s friend’s, latched on to me during the scary parts.
Kids trust freely, and that’s why I get so stressed out.
Somewhere around half-way between being a kid and having one, I’ve got glitter clinging to the wisps of my hair that won’t stay up in a ponytail. During craft time I give piggy-backs and on the walk back to the house for snack I let the kids sit on my bike and give them rides, one at a time. After school I’ve got these guys for three hours, and if I’ve got to make a difference or a change or be a support then I’ll let them spit raisins on me if it means they won’t punch each other. I can take it. That’s what I tell myself, that’s what I want to believe; that when they come to me with muddy knees and unsharpened pencils that I can wipe clean, sharpen to a point: I can be it all.
But it’s a lot. And I struggle with just three hours a day of the “Am I too mean? Am I not strict enough?” cyclic chatter I can only imagine parents hear in their own heads all day. I’m responsible, albeit not for long, but nonetheless fully for the small amount of time I’ve got with these kids. I want to do something good, want to help them be good.
I brought Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are to a baby shower last weekend and before writing a little note to a baby I can’t wait to meet and love, I re-read it. I remembered that as a little girl I used to pack my backpack with books, a granola bar and a blanket and just leave the house. When my mom would catch up to me (after what felt like hours but was probably just three minutes) she’d say, “Where are you going?” and I’d say “Running away.” I don’t think I was really ever running from much though, just always too excited about what else could be out there. I remember feeling feral and fierce like Max, instructing the wild rumpus to begin. And, as much as I just want to sit and read books for three hours every day, I know that in addition to putting bandaids on scraped knees, I have to cultivate these kids’ wild.
It’s too easy to take the wily ones and try and shake the silly right out, even though I know sometimes you can’t help but want to. I get scared, too, when they run down the sidewalk that I won’t be able to catch up in time before they don’t see the edge of the curb. I feel heavy when I remember these kids have friends and parents with their own wily-ness that’s got to just be woven into and over my own. Nobody can be anybody’s everything all of the time and I see both (or all) sides of all frustration; it’s my curse.
In the library I’m silently cheering on the little boy who’s doodling k’s where he’s meant to be tracing g’s but nodding at the nanny who’s scolding him, because she’s right too: no one is going to do the work for him. At 3:30, when Brett comes out and his teacher doesn’t even say goodbye to him, because maybe he didn’t listen well enough today, or wrote “poo” all over the hallway wall again, I open my arms and scoop him up and kiss him on the head. But I look up after I put him down and give a half-smile to his teacher, because I get tired, too.
There are days when I can’t get out of bed until three and I don’t love myself enough to write anything down, and I’m sometimes foggy-headed biking down the one-way street to the schoolyard. I feel like I could almost trip over my untied shoe-lace-long to-do lists that seem to wriggle away from me like worms on a rainy day. I imagine the kids are the wriggly worms. I can see them but they’re not supposed to be here, above ground, you know? But that’s where they’ve got to be so they don’t drown. But, then again, my dad used to pay me in pocket change to fill a can up of them so where are the worms ever safe? How do I keep these kids safe?
I feel these instincts, maybe maternal, maybe just obsessive care, permeating my behaviour outside of 3-6 pm. I can’t help but pull my boyfriend’s sweater down, when, only half-way in it, he’s reaching already for his coat; or when my best friend says she’s not feeling so well my first suggestion is always that we can “maybe go have a snack."
The dismissal bell is my alarm clock and for three hours, I’m on. Because, even though sometimes they hit too hard, when laying on my back last night at the beginning of hot yoga (which I don’t even like), I was prompted to think of something I’m grateful for, I thought of Skylar: the close-cropped brown haired seven-year-old who’s got the same size feet as me and is missing a front tooth. The little guy who wants to know at snack time if it’s “fresh from Stephanie’s hands,” who asked his mom if I would walk him to school one day when his big sister was away and he felt nervous about walking with friends, who always slips a slice of apple or gingersnap cookie into my hand while he practices reading aloud in French. Because even though Sam forgets to keep his hands to himself and Jake is always so, so tired, when I’m sharing pretzels with Brett and I’m eating only the broken bits at the bottom of the bag so every time he asks for another I can give him a full one, he smiles.
There are tiny breakthrough moments that make it worth it. They give me all the strength and chutzpah I need to push the kids on swings, indefinitely; to be interested, excited, firm with discipline but never mean. And even if sometimes I’m tired and other times over-caffeinated, I can still be honest and patient. I will carry these kids and teach them, bandage them up, love them and then give them back to their parents before 6pm. Because, that’s what I can do. Because, it’s enough.
[Photo by Juliette Kibodeaux.]