Could Wallace Shawn Be My New Nanny?
I think parents have heard a lot from long-suffering nannies, tortured and beleaguered by demanding, helicopter parents who force them to work ungodly hours teaching their kids Mandarin and calculus and preparing five course gluten-, dairy- nut- and soy- free organic meals en route to fencing lessons.
Full Disclosure: I am not one of those parents. I’m the kind who says I’ll be home at 6, calls at 6:20 and then shows up at 7 pm without dinner plans or the check.
Nanny woes have been well chronicled in books and movies (The Nanny Diaries), blogs and magazine articles (Ex-Nanny for Brad and Angelina Tells ALL!) and we working non-celebrity, non-rich parents suffer guilt and anxiety (Yay, something new!) anew with every fresh horror exposed. That’s not even counting the nannies who accidentally abuse or murder the children in their care, whom we’ve all heard of, but this isn’t about them because we have enough to worry about just finding a nanny who will work when your kid has Coxsackie virus. If you don’t know what that is, this article is probably not for you.
But what about us, the parents who hire these people, and keep them happy so they don’t leave and we can keep our jobs in order to pay them? Oh the depths of guilt and terror that a nanny will quit. Hell hath no fury like the long and lonely slog of searching, interviewing and hiring someone who can cook a hot dog, play Sorry! and drive.
First off, semantics. For me, a nanny isn’t a fulltime employee with health benefits and a commitment to her craft. Those exist, I have great respect for them (I mean, come on, who wants to parent full time?), and I have never been fortunate enough to be able to afford one. I know some people have real nannies. Some of my friends have GREAT nannies who are a part of their family and pick up their dry cleaning. This article is not for them.
I usually employ more of a babysitter-petsitter-caregiver hybrid who works part time — someone who’s usually female, under 25 and between school / work / boyfriend decisions and has been a camp lifeguard or worked in retail at some point and found it unfulfilling.
I hire them because they seem cheerful and energetic and they always “love kids!” This is probably because they are not parents. They agree to the schedule, the pick ups, the helping with laundry and dinner prep, and sign off on the very specific list of expectations we have written down in 16 pt bold Helvetica and taped to every surface in the house in exchange for paying them $15-$20 an hour cash under the table. Then the fun begins.
I have had nannies “forget” they were supposed to show up. I have had babysitters accept the permanent, part time job with us and email me the week before school started that they got a better offer. I have had babysitters leave dirty, cheese-encrusted pans in my sink and cigarettes in my yard (neither of which were used by my children). I have had nannies decline to come to work because their parents insisted they attend the family vacation or not drive in the snow. I have had nannies cry because their car wouldn’t start, or because I caught them having a date in our house during our date night. I had a nanny agree to help with laundry and fold our clothes damp and inside out. Which, if you’ve never experienced it, is actually worse than not folding them at all.
I had a nanny tactfully suggest I help buy her a new car (again, I feel it’s important to note she was working for us three afternoons a week). I even had a nanny quit on me to go work for the daycare where she picked my kids up. I had a nanny confront me about my husband routinely asking her to put the kettle on if she were in the kitchen and he was working in the basement, and how that wasn’t her job. And my kids cheerfully report on the babysitters who spend the entire $15 an hour, cash-under-the-table day texting their friends (while driving or supervising them swimming).
A recent helper texted me no less than 11 times a day, usually mid-meeting with my CEO or CFO, with queries like, ‘What is grassfed beef? Could not find in store. Is it a brand? :) ’ and “What kind of cheese for kids burgers?” I appreciate that she went grocery shopping, I really do, but my children are 8 and 9 and have strong opinions about their cheeseburgers and would happily share this information if asked. I assume they were with her. They also, God bless them, know what grass fed beef is.
I didn’t make any of that up. And during these adventures I was working. It’s not like I was out getting eyelash extensions or playing tennis when any of this happened (I made sure to do those things during school hours on my days off).
See, I wasn’t kidding when I said I wasn’t a good parent.
I have just lost the perfect nanny, whom I respectfully and worshipfully referred to as my wife, to a doctorate program in the career field she wants to pursue (not nannying). She was my everything, my fairy godmother, and my life is hell without her.
She was from a different time, when young people thought a job was something you were committed to and had to show up for and take seriously. She was honest, hardworking, morally sound, no nonsense and ridiculously reliable. She was good to my kids but didn’t take any crap from them. She was immune (unlike me or my husband) to their wicked, manipulative charm. She tolerated my husband’s selective deafness, and my listening challenges. She could have starred in one of Michael Landon’s shows, Little House on the Prairie or that one about Angels where people do the right thing without pay or guilt as incentive. She was nice. She passed the lifeboat test.
But now she’s gone, and we’re back at square one, hostage to Sitter City, Care.com and God help me, Craig’s list.
I know for a fact I am no picnic, and the people who worked for us probably have their own hilarious stories about me and our household (She lets them eat Little Bites at four o’clock! She dresses as if she were my age! I feel sorry for her poor husband! What’s up with her hair — LOL WTF!).
They can write their own article, if they haven’t already.
I try to be honest and funny in the interview. “When you’re here, you’re basically me,” I say. This is my way of letting them know that I expect them to do everything I do, with the exceptions of having sex with my husband or cleaning my toilet. Neither of which I have time or energy to do very often. Sometimes I say this, hoping they will understand where I am coming from and that we’ll have something hilarious and conspiratorial to share. They don’t and we won’t.
I haven’t found anyone yet to be my wife three afternoons a week. I interviewed a woman who claimed to charge (and receive) a flat fee of $80 per car ride. I had to stop myself from asking her if she could possibly refer me to her clients. Imagine if I could charge my kids that (to soccer practice, friends’ houses, piano recital, swimming lessons, the library, store where you can buy a jock strap last minute, hideous amusement park, etc.)? I could quit my job and not need a nanny.
She also expected to be paid in full for any pre-scheduled times she wouldn’t be working (school vacations, etc.). “But it’s a part time job, 12 hours a week,” I offered meekly. “I’ve found that system works best for me,” she volleyed crisply, definitively. I was afraid of her after that. She should be in a corporate boardroom. Scratch that. She makes more money driving kids around.
The next woman I screened on the phone would not stop talking. I mean, would not. Stop. Talking. I was briefed on the dysfunctions of her last family, the dad’s yelling and weird dental habits, the mom’s denial about the children’s behavioral issues (clinical, though not yet diagnosed), and the terrible job they were doing parenting. They let the kids circle the dinner table while wearing shoes with wheels, among other things.
One woman seemed promising. I interviewed her on the phone, checked her references (“She will do what you ask but won’t go the extra mile” was the stellar review) and then asked her for a resume and a follow up to meet the kids. I got this response:
Hell,no. I do not have a resume. I am sure. I can put one togther.. If you like? Sorry, cannot meet the next two days. I am at the beach.
I will be back Friday. Sorry, for the inconvenience. Thank you. :)
Is anyone able to write anything anymore without using a fucking emoji?
There was the woman whose profile picture looked like it belonged on Seeking Arrangements (look it up), complete with half open mouth and exposed cleavage and tattoo. Then there was the woman I hired on the spot because she was mature, reliable, experienced and serious. She quit without starting because she got a job “too good to pass up.” One week before the first day of school.
Pain, like joy, is in the details.
Which brings us to Wallace Shawn. On the phone, he was a young man who said he worked for Apple but is now pursuing a Master’s in Education and cleaned one family’s entire kitchen one day while the kids were watching TV, even moving the refrigerator to get the “disgusting junk behind there.” I asked about his background, which consisted vaguely of consulting and substitute teaching. I figured he had to be in his twenties, between school, career decisions and sexual preferences. But it seemed inappropriate to come right out and ask how old he was. Plus isn’t that illegal? Even when you’re hiring someone part time off the books? Who knows.
Upon further prompting, I learned he worked at an Apple Store. Again, the repeating theme of unfulfilling retail. I sat at the café waiting for him, thinking how nice it would be to have a manny, just like Britney. I’d be the envy of all the peri-menopausal moms like myself at school pickup…
Just then a squat, bald man in his late forties ambled in with a few looseleaf pieces of notebook paper (resume and references) and an irascible yet perplexed expression. He smiled a mouthful of whimsically placed teeth and held out a stumpy hand. Oh my God, Wallace Shawn is going to be my nanny! Now, Wallace Shawn is awesome. He’s smart, funny and imperfect. Like most short men, he’s probably great in bed. But this man wasn’t Wallace Shawn, he was odd and shy. He insisted on never texting or using a phone, which would have been admirable until I needed to reach him. He had an uncanny talent for not directly answering any of my questions. His references were clearly falsified and typed up that morning. His resume was a list of consulting jobs from the 90’s. I’m sure he was very nice. But I have to be honest, he was not Wallace Shawn. He was the guy on your street that gets the neighborhood watch fired up. The idea of him being a nanny of any kind was…inconceivable.
I know what you’re thinking. Just take care of your kids your damn self you privileged, whiny, entitled bitch. I would, but if I spent that much time with them I know they wouldn’t love me.
I like working. I have a good job with benefits. I like the people I work with. I like getting out of my yoga pants, going to the bathroom alone and finishing sentences three days a week. I like having money and benefits. As I know caregivers do. If I could afford to buy them health insurance and vacations to Turks and Caicos I would. And believe it or not, I really do love my kids. They are the best thing that ever happened to me. So far, I mean. I would die for them. If you’ve read this far, you know I already have.
But more than anything, I like loving my kids, working and having a wife. The best of three worlds. It’s too late for me to be a man, so I’m adjusting. I’ll keep looking for her. My second wife. My manny.
Interested parties may apply here. Wallace Shawn, are you listening?