I work part-time from home.
Many of you probably think that my day centers around watching Chopped seasons 1-4 whilst folding laundry and occasionally checking my Outlook calendar.
You'd be (99%) wrong.
I'm an editor. And a writer. And a vacation rental owner/sales lady/marketing executive extraordinaire (Have you heard about the May special? Here. Take a brochure.)
I also have a three-year-old whose early fall birthday puts him squarely in the "You can't go to school yet" category, awful as that is to even imagine, let alone live. I mean, he goes to a preschool two days for a few hours, but is he really gone? I mean, really, really gone? Not on your life. With the prevalence of bacteria-laden eye goop and virus-infected snot smears in abundance in toddler play land, my child has managed to attend school roughly 28% of the time, give or take a Tuesday.
Hence, the nanny solution.
Naturally, I queried my friends first. But since they haven't lost their minds and would happily give me a winning Powerball ticket or their SUVs before handing out the names of their babysitters, I was left empty-handed.
So, naturally, I queried friends of my friends, who haven't been acquainted with my devious nature. At a booze-laden NYE party, I sauced up a friend's sister-in-law so she'd be pliable for my sneak attack. How easily my pretty prey fell right into my lap. A couple of IPAs and a champagne toast, and we were best friends swapping child-rearing war stories while she breezily texted me the name and phone number of her nanny.
Ahem. Where was I?
When the nanny showed up to my home for her interview, she brought two of her darling charges with her. I thought: "Perfection! Now I can see how she acts in her element." I imagined a Maria von Trapp passing out goldfish while singing the littlest girl to sleep in a warbly soprano. Obviously, I kept my expectations low so as not to be disappointed.
It went down something like this:
Me: "Nice to meet you, Nanny. I'm Kelly. Come on in."
I ushered her into my home with the graciousness only a genteel woman with good breeding can muster.
Nanny: "Sorry we're late; the girls were acting foolish this morning."
SCREECH *Stop the tape*
Foolish? What a bizarre word to use with little girls aged 18-months and 4 years.
Me: "Um, it's okay. Come on in."
We sat down. The girls played with (avoided) my son mostly because he was grabbing everything out of the baby's hands and then hiding in the bathroom. I asked Nanny about her experience while trying to pretend my child was not rolling around on the carpet with Play-Doh in his mouth. I asked her if she knew CPR while I wrestled the baby's lovey from in between my son's legs. I asked her who she voted for while pulling my child off the countertops where he'd been crawling. You know, all the standard questions and scenarios during an interview.
Then, I got down to the behavioral interviewing part. I'd just written an article about it and wanted to try it out.
Me: "Tell me about a time when a child you were watching didn't listen to you. What did you do?"
Nanny: "Well, I have an 'obey the first time' policy."
Me: "Tell me about that."
Nanny: "They obey the first time."
Me: "Sounds interesting. How does that work?" Clearly, I needed to learn from this wonder of wonders. This sage of uncanny child wisdom. This unicorn of nannydom.
Nanny: "If they don't obey the first time, they get time out. And then they get put in their rooms."
Me: "So, tell me how that would work in a scenario. For the baby."
Nanny: "I'd tell her to come here. If she didn't listen, I'd put her in timeout. And then if she didn't come when I told her to, I'd put her in her room."
Me: "Again, I'm referring to the baby."
Nanny: Blank stare.
Me: "You put the baby in her room? As a punishment? For not obeying the first time?"
Nanny: "I mean not every day…"
It dissolved from there.
She seemed unaware that she was being interviewed and actually snorted when I asked her about her experience because she'd been watching kids for "many, many years." When I asked her to define that, she snorted again waving her hand, saying something about high school. She looked maybe 20.
We said goodbye and heaven help me, I actually considered her. Because a woman's got to work and good (mediocre) help is hard to wrestle out of someone's unwitting hands.
Thankfully, I was spared that fate, and eventually found a cheerful, brilliant nanny oozing kindness out of her invisible pores who said strict obedience was a low priority as far as three-year-olds go. She starts this week.
But, as I contemplate the ins and outs of my daily routine for her, I realize the unicorn may have had a point. Clearly, my kid could use a lesson or two in listening. The fourth time I had to pry the baby's sippy cup out of his greedy little fingers, I was pretty close to locking him in his room and handily forgetting where I stashed the key.
However, since I've already raised two little boys who have turned out to be pretty decent human beings, I realize that around 4 ½ years old, the little monsters seem to magically morph into kids everyone wants to be around.
Until then, we all just kind of hold our breaths, pray the nanny knows how to sing a mean "Do-Re-Mi," and doesn't fall in love with our Captain Von Trapps.
I'm convinced that my success as a mother is measured, in part, by my ability to manage almost anything I've been handed.
When my three-year-old shrieks, "Here!" from the backseat while I'm driving, I deftly reach back to accept any number of things he's screaming to be rid of:
· a mashed, half-eaten banana
· an iPad/headphone conglomeration of tangled wires
· a blanket that smells faintly of vomit
· one lone booger
I deal with it, because, well you just do, as a mom. You take the things your kids hand you.
Over the nine and a half years since I've been a mom to living, breathing children (we won't get into the one who never made it out of the womb because that leads to tears and pre-noon imbibing), I've been handed everything from perfectly formed acorns to really shitty news.
My oldest son, the string bean in 4th grade who's learning erosion in science and euphemisms for the "f" word at recess, was playing outside one day after school and handed me a problem: two neighbor kids had banded together and shoved him off a trampoline. Then, they'd laughed when he'd broken down into tears.
As a mom to three sons, I'm used to the occasional throat punch. The choke hold. The ol' thumb-in-the-eye trick. The pinch-my-brother-under-the-arm-where-I-don't-think-mom-can-see-but-she-really-does maneuver. I don't bat an eye at occasional violence, because like it or not, I've been handed a houseful of testosterone and sometimes, someone gets a tooth knocked loose.
These were supposed to be his buddies. And these particular buddies outweighed my string bean by at least 25 pounds and out-aged my string bean by two years. So, momma got handed a problem, but those boys were about to be handed a solution.
Now before you get salty about me jumping in, please 1). calm down and 2). understand that I do not fight all of my kid's battles for him. I leave him to solve small skirmishes at school. I encourage him to use his wits first, his words second, and his walk-away third. And when none of that works, to go to the teacher. And if that still doesn't work, to connect his fist with the bully's mouth if the bullying doesn't stop. But in this instance, both those bigger boys and my own son, needed a bit of a lesson.
I took seven to twenty-five deep breaths after hearing the story (to ensure that all parties would remain unharmed and jail-free) and then took my child and moseyed on down to the offenders' home for a brief chat.
"Hey, kiddo," I said when I spotted the first boy, a sandy-haired kid with shoulders already starting to develop. Behind him, the other kid casually walked behind a tree.
"Hey," he said nonchalantly, like little boys do when they've been caught like fish at the end of a string.
"Where's your dad?"
His eyes grew round. "Why? I don't know what he said we did…"
"Go get him."
The other boy wandered from behind the tree, and made a beeline for the fence gate.
"Don't move," I said, pointing at his chest.
Sandy Hair ran in to get his dad, and while my son and I waited, me holding Frozen Boy in place across the yard with my pointed finger, I placed the other arm around my son's shoulders and told him that it wasn't his fault he'd been shoved and it wasn't a big deal that he'd cried. I reassured him that it was natural to be upset when he's been hurt physically and emotionally, and I was proud that he'd had the courage to tell me about it.
Mostly, I was calming myself down. Because, even though I knew I would never freak out on a little boy, I was inwardly at a freak-factor of 12, and was doing my best to take it down about 11 notches before the kid's dad came out.
But he did. And when he saw my face, he said, "What'd he do?"
"My son told me that they shoved him off the trampoline and laughed at him when he cried. It's unacceptable behavior and I'd like to try something to help." (I mean, probably less eloquently than that, but you get the idea.)
The dad squinted at me. "You want me to hold him so your kid can punch him or somethin'?"
"Ahh, no." Although in reality, I'd already envisioned that same scenario.
But, you see, I'd been handed a problem. And since my success as a mom is, in part, determined by my ability to deal with almost anything I've been handed, I chose a different route.
I stood them in a circle facing each other, and instructed them to look at each other's faces. Naturally, they squirmed and smirked and sulked. But then, I asked Frozen Boy to look at my son and name three things he had in common with him. He stumbled a bit, but eventually said they both had brown hair, they both had arms, and they both had legs. Then, I asked the same thing of Sandy Hair. He said they both had brown eyes, they both had freckles, and they both were not wearing shoes.
Then, I asked my son to find similarities between all three of them. He said they were all boys, they all had scars on their knees, and they were all wearing shorts.
Then, I looked at them and said, "Since you are all so similar on the outside, do you think you probably have some similarities on the inside, too? For instance, do you have people you love?" All nodded. "Do you get angry sometimes?" More nods. "Would you feel upset if a friend pushed you off of a trampoline and laughed at you?"
Frozen Boy remained frozen, but Sandy Hair spoke up. "But we didn't shove him. He fell."
"Let's say that’s true. Did you laugh at him when he fell?"
The dad poked his son in the chest. "Did you?"
"I mean, we were all laughing…"
"I wasn't," my son said.
Frozen Boy looked up. "Sorry," he mumbled.
"I forgive you," my son mumbled back.
"Let's just jump on the trampoline," Sandy Hair said.
"Not until you apologize," the dad said.
Sandy Hair muttered the insincere apology they all use, and like wild dogs, the three of them scampered away from the awkwardness and went back to bouncing on the trampoline. A minute later, they were all laughing deliriously.
So, was he shoved or did he fall? I have no idea. Those kinds of stories have a way of twisting and spinning so much that no one really ends up knowing who did what. What I do know is that I wanted those boys to walk, for just a minute, in my son's (missing) shoes and realize that their commonalities could combat whatever differences they might have.
And, more importantly, I wanted them to know that they were being handed something, too: mercy. Because I could have gone crazy – eyes rolling around in my head, shrieks of rage spouting out of my mouth – and even, like the dad suggested, had my kid punch one of them in the guts.
But I figured, I don't always handle the things I've been handed with the most delicate of care, but once in awhile, I can at least try to get it right.