I’ve recently picked up some part time work as a nanny, something that I haven’t done in years. I like the schedule and the work, and I like spending time around goofy kids. I found these gigs through some acquaintances, and I didn’t know the families before I started working for them.
Walking around a stranger’s house, on my first day, I felt odd. This is perhaps one of the few contexts in which I can spend large quantities of time in some else’s house, when they are not home and not hosting me. I do not snoop, because I value privacy and I am a private person myself. Still, in feeding the children, changing their clothes, and looking for their toys, I am led all around this house that is not my own.
It is an oddly personal glimpse into a family’s life, to see the photos that they have up on the walls. It is oddly personal to rifle through the refrigerator, past half-eaten dinners, to make the child’s snack. And it is oddly personal to spend a lot of time in the family bathroom, next to shelves of beauty products and toothbrushes, while potty-training a two-year-old.
In some ways, I feel like an intruder, a blundering guest who doesn’t know where the backup toilet paper is. I feel uncomfortable in a nice house that does not have any space for me. I cannot help but form theories, hypotheses about the family- who has turned gluten-free, adding a package of black bean pasta next to the whole-wheat package? Why is one parent conspicuously absent from the framed candid photos on the wall? Who is reading that book, and who has stacks of drawings over on the desk?
Normally, we share our homes with people we know well, or with people that we host. It is rare to be in someone’s home on an everyday level, when the laundry is not folded and the bed is not made. It is an unexpected glance into someone’s private realm, their refuge from public gaze.
To what extent do our living spaces reflect our selves? I think about letting someone I barely know into my tiny apartment, to let them roam around and observe all the motivational sayings I have taped on my wall, to run their eyes past my collection of books, to see my soups and noodles piled in the refrigerator. What questions would they be asking? What impression would they form of me, rifling through my cabinets, trying to figure out where I store the backup toilet paper?