Thursday, June 12, 2008

The "Why"ner and the Whack-her

The brilliant and advanced 3 year old I care for has already started the "why" phase of childhood, and I am eventually going to run out of answers. Recently, I actually found myself begging her for 5 minutes with no questions. Add the "Why?" issue to her already drifty attention span and apparent inability to listen and focus, and I feel like I am constantly yammering at her. I am trying to think back to other 3 year olds I have known, and remember what I did to survive this stage, but so far, all I can think is "Why? WHY? WHY have we hit this stage already???"

Meanwhile, Miss Charming 16 month old is in her scientific experiement stage. Her current favorite test subject is big sister. Here's how I imagine Buttercup's inner dialogue would sound if she could talk:

"Hmmm....sister is sitting and playing. That means I can reach her hair! Wonder what will happen when I pull her hair really hard? (hair pulling commences) Oh WOW! That was GREAT! Definitely a 4.5 on the screech scale. I bet I can do better than that though. I wonder if she'll be louder when I whack her on the head with this handy naked Barbie doll ?(whack whack whack) Oooooo...that was my best work of the day! An 8 on the screech scale and a scream! Uh-oh, wait a second. My nanny is headed this way. I better wail and seem like I was just hurt. That'll throw her off my trail!"

At least I can still surprise a 16 month old. She's beginging to experience the (occasionally overused) phemomenon of "Time Out". Her first spell in the chair surprised her, so we'll see what happens when she knows what "Time Out" actually means. Of course, I also tell her what she did wrong and what she must do instead. Then I send her over to Beanie to appologize, and Buttercup jabbers something before offering a kiss on big sister's boo-boo. Completely cute.

All this serves as an illustration of my point, which is that patience is not only a virtue, it's practially a pre-requisite for nannies. If you can't keep your cool while answering "Why?" for the 648th time at 2 pm, and you can't repeat yourself over. And Over. And OVER. while being stared at blankly, you won't make it in my job.

Don't get me wrong. I am certainly not a saint, and neither are the nannies I know. I do lose my patience, and occasionally raise my voice.

The real issue for me is that at any given minute I can be prepared to discipline and then I get caught off guard by an awesome display of cuteness or silliness, and I lose my "stern voice" to a horrible case of giggles.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Disdain? Discomfort? Dismay? There has to be some sort of appropriate term for the strange and unsettling reception given me by many of the moms I see on my daily rounds as a nanny.

Generally, I'll be chatting with a woman while at the park with the kids, or while waiting for a charge to finish a class, and she'll say something that makes it clear she assumes I'm the mom. At that point I'll tell her "I'm their nanny." Then the weirdness starts. And this happens at any time, from 15 minutes to 6 classes into a friendly discussion.

I'll get an "Oh...really?", a blank stare, or nervous laughter, and then, 80% of the time, conversation stutters to a halt, leaving nothing but an awkward silence. The mom will soon make a vague excuse before walking away, or will turn to the woman on the other side of her to start a lively discussion.

In my novice nanny days, I thought perhaps I was simply somehow boring or annoying, and the realization that I was a nanny was an out for moms who weren't really interested in a friendly conversation. But now, I am forced to wonder why THEY have an issue with me. I was fine to talk with when I was presumably one of them, but as a nanny I am somehow not worth the effort.

Because I am generally curious about what makes people act the way they do, I have come up with 3 possible reasons for the "Mom Freeze": they feel scorn toward my momboss for not being home with the kids, and therefore I get the brunt of that disdain; they feel that they don't know how to relate to someone who's "just" a nanny, and they get uncomfortable; or they are concerned that developing a friendly relationship with me will be awkward, since we presumably have little in common.

There have been moms I have wound up talking very comfortably with, who don't seem to give a flip what I list as my IRS occupation and just kind of enjoy casually talking with me. I am always happy to be seen as a person, rather than as my occupation. I just wonder why I am taken as I am so infrequently.

Now, the theories I have may be full of hot air, so I am curious to see what you all think. Moms, do you feel awkward talking to nannies, having them over for playdates, or otherwise interacting with them? Is there an ethnic or cultural compoment to any discomfort you have? Nannies, have you experienced "Mom Freeze", or are your stories different from mine? Could it be a regional issue, or a product of the American awkwardness with "domestic help"? Toss your ideas into the mix, and help me out!

Monday, June 2, 2008

Transitions, "big kid" stuff, and weepy nanny

My older charge is in camp for the very first time this week. In other words, this is the first time EVER I have taken her somewhere and left her there. ALONE!

Well, OK, she was actually with 7 other 3 and 4 year olds, and 2 teachers, and 2 teen helpers, and a bunch of other older kids. But I wasn't there. And I have always been there for her. Since she was less than 1 week old, I have been there to take care of her, comfort her, help her with the evil that is putting on shoes...

So, my little beanie is getting older. She starts school a few days a week this fall. I may not survive. Can nearly 40 year olds have seperation anxiety? Is the weepy stuff just silly when the kid isn't even your own? Is it totally selfish to want to keep her little forever?

Answers: Yes, complete with tears. No, not when you've been with them an awful lot of the time and love them lots. Yes, because as scary as it is to send her off into the world, she is so smart, and so funny, and so ready to take on whatever is out there. You know, on the 3 year old "whatever is out there" level.

I just have to remember that I now get to have some solo time with the little sister, a charming and talented toddler. It'll be terrific to get to know her as a solo act. Buttercup is a hoot and a half.

Also, just FYI? Anyone messes with my Beanie, I will HURT you.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Incompetancy, Bureaucracy, and Parenting Difficulty

A 16 month old girl was murdered by her 19 year old mom and/or the mom's 18 year old boyfriend this week in my city.

Nine days before she died, she was taken to the hospital with a broken arm and leg.

DFACS dropped the ball. Completely, utterly, and inexcusably. They sent this baby home with her mother.

Nine days later, she was dead. Head trauma.

I currently care for a child about that age. I have seen 6 other kids through that age, and I managed to not fatally injure any of them.

I know what you're thinking. Yes, I am older, more mature, more educated, and likely much better able to cope with the myriad of frustrations parenting a toddler dumps on you each and every day. Yay me.

But what about the teen parents, the older yet still uneducated parents, the well-meaning but ignorant parents? And, more importantly, what about the children? The safety net that currently exists loses kids every day. DFACS is obviously broken, not just in my city but nationwide. What can be done to fix the system?

I don't have the answers, at least not real answers that could be realitically put into play. I can list all sorts of "magic wand" ideas, but that means nothing, because I haven't got a magic wand.

I think it may be finally time to volunteer as a mentor for young moms. Because sitting on my butt crying about the death of a little girl does nothing to help fix the problem.

Off to stick my finger in the proverbial dike.