I have to start this post by saying that I know some great nannies. Actually, I know two great nannies, both of whom used to work for families in our building. One is Irish, the oldest of 10 kids; she would sometimes sit for us on weekends, and I would walk in to the apartment after an evening out with Joshua and think, “Did someone clean this place while we were gone?” She was amazing, and very, very responsible. The other is from the islands – maybe Jamaica? – and although I did not have as much contact with her, I saw her often enough with the kids she raised (because let’s face it, that’s what nannies do) to know that she was loving, fair and responsible.
That’s my disclaimer for this post.
Today we were at our Wednesday playgroup at River Run. It was hot enough that the sprinklers were on, so the girls put on their bathing suits at one point and went to cool off. While they were running in the sprinklers, a toddler who was maybe 18-20 months old came walking by, slipped in the water and fell. She began to cry. The girls went over to see if she was ok, but couldn’t locate a parent or guardian. At one point one of Maya’s friends went and got her mother who came, picked up the little girl and walked around the playground with her, trying to locate the responsible (I use that word loosely) adult. She finally found the girl’s nanny, who was deep in conversation with one of her nanny friends and who, upon hearing what had happened, yelled at the little girl, “I told you not to go over there!” and promptly strapped her in the stroller and kept talking, without a word of thanks, or any word at all, to the Mom from our group.
Now I don’t know the situation of the family who has hired this woman to raise their child, but I do know how much full time nannies make in New York City, and it is a LOT. Usually it almost equals the salary of one of the working parents. Which begs the question, why are you working if it is only to pay someone else to raise your child? Why not do it yourself? And if you don’t want to do it yourself, why did you have a child in the first place? Nannies are not parents, even though outwardly they perform all of the tasks of a parent. Taking care of kids is a job to them, and over the years I have repeatedly seen nannies at playgrounds ignore kids to the point of neglect (and I, as you may have discerned from this blog, am not in the camp of the overprotective, helicopter parents); and nannies carting their charges to gymnastics or rock climbing classes and then either excuse/ignore the kid’s abominable behavior, or use the empty threat of “I’ll tell you mother about this later” which they almost never do because they fear it will reflect badly on them.
Why am I talking about this? The incident in the playground today got me thinking again about why parents do what they do and what they want for their kids. Do most parents really want children, or is it something they do because it is expected? Sometimes it’s hard to tell. Believe me, I am under no illusions about my own shortcomings as a parent. I love our life together and am happy that our learning style works for us, but perfect we are not. There are days when I think the thing I’d like to do most is go check into a hotel by myself armed with a dozen of my favorite movies and just disappear for a week or so. Other times I think how wonderful it would be to have a “mute” button in our house, so that I could turn off all the questions, the millions of questions, I am asked every day. But those times pass, and even in the midst of them, I never wish someone else was caring for my kids. I never wish I was off working all day, even at something I enjoy, because I had my kids on purpose so that Joshua and I could raise them. The mistakes we make are all our own.
There is a saying that says a mother’s job is to give her child both roots and wings. Giving someone roots is not just a matter of giving them life and then handing them a family tree and saying, “See this? These are your roots.” It’s a matter of being available when they fall in the water and cry, or when they have a most important story they need to tell you. It’s a million little every day things that for the most part go unnoticed. It’s not perfect, but it’s consistent. Kids raised by nannies, even the good ones, are missing out on a lot of that every day interaction which affects the security that roots give you. The result is that sometimes the wings grow early before the child is ready to handle them, or they don’t grow at all out of fear of being alone.
I don’t know what my kids will do with their lives as they get older. I hope they will continue to be happy, and develop honest work and loving relationships. I hope I do my best every day to give them roots, so that when they are ready and not a moment before, their wings will take them wherever they want to go.