Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Third time's a charm...Tempeh's 11th hour topic day post on childcare

I always remember Topic Day at 11pm on...Topic Day, so here I am, dead last.

Wow, I could write thousands of pages on this one, but since it's late and I am leaving for work in t-8 hrs, I'll focus on the nanny issue.

We started out with my firstborn in a reputable traditional daycare down the road from our house, which is about 45 minutes away from our jobs. With no traffic. That lasted all of 7 weeks, during which time my son (a winter baby) was sent home for three distinct infectious illnesses. When he started there, I was an oncology fellow and my husband was an internal medicine resident doing his ICU rotation. When we would get the alarm bell that my son had a fever of 101 and needed to be picked up within the hour, it was a panic to figure out if we could even GET THERE in an hour if we dropped the chart in our hands and ran. Not to mention that you really can't just leave as a resident or fellow. It was constant stress. When I walked in to pick him up one day unexpectedly early and found him lying on a mat on the floor crying while his "teacher" balanced her checkbook, that was it. I took him home and we never went back. Thank God it was a Friday!

After I finished crying for about 12 hours out of guilt over leaving him there, we called my mom to come and contacted a wonderful local nanny agency. In our desperation to find someone to watch our son in our home ASAP, we tried to persuade ourselves that her references, who said our nanny-to-be "was more emotionally needy than our preschool aged kids" and "left us abruptly when we told her we were pregnant with a second child," must have had an axe to grind. She was kindly and at ease with our almost 5 month old son, and he seemed to take to her even at the interview. SOLD! Within a few months, she self-referred for PT for "the earliest signs of carpal tunnel syndrome" and started scheduling her PT appointments during her work hours because that was the time slot her preferred therapist in the practice had open. It would often take me an hour or more to get out of the house in the morning because she wanted to talk about some, usually quite minor, mishap in her day. Invariably, she would cry and want hugs--like actual hugs--which I would patiently deliver day after day while watching the minutes of my already very short workday (the fact that we decided to hire her only 26 hours per week will be a topic for another time) tick down over her shoulder on our kitchen clock. When we unexpectedly got pregnant with our second child when our son was 9 months old and shared this news at about 20 weeks gestation, she told us the following morning that she was quitting due to her worsening carpal tunnel and was gone a week later. She did stop by a couple of months later reportedly just to say hello. I noticed she was still wearing her splint. She told me that she missed nannying and had just come from an interview with another family who had one baby boy and lived just a few minutes from us. That was what had made her think of us. They called for a reference shortly after she left. When they asked why she had left us and I mentioned that her carpal tunnel had gotten worse, the mom said, "What carpal tunnel?" I asked whether she hadn't noticed the splint. Turns out she wasn't wearing the splint at the interview. The mom mentioned that she was almost 40 and wanted to try to get pregnant with another child within the next few months. My advice to her: "Run! Save yourself!" Lesson 1: Believe the references. Nanny history repeats itself!

For our second nanny, we decided that it wasn't worth paying the steep nanny agency referral fee a second time. We used an online DIY type of nanny agency called enannysource. It let us post a family profile with as much or as little detail about our family and our needs as we wanted. And we could search nanny profiles by the same details in our zip code. Like magic, a 36 yr old woman, the mother of a 9 yr old boy, saw our profile and emailed us to express interest within 24 hrs. She came to interview the following day. She had a degree in early childhood education but had never worked because her son was born shortly after she graduated college. She had gotten divorced due to marital stress over her son's medical issues (he was deaf, bipolar, and on the autism spectrum) when her son was a toddler and had remarried within the past few months. She was young, energetic, direct, and clearly a very devoted mom, which I thought would bode well for us since we were hiring her to be sort of a part-time mom. We were a little worried that her son's issues could cause her to be pulled in two directions, but what mom isn't? So we put it out of our minds. We needed a nanny, and she was otherwise perfect. I was visibly pregnant with my second child, which did not daunt her one iota. Ahhh, I thought, she'll stay with our family forever. So we hired her. Flash forward a few months, and there we were: scrambling to get home over and over because her son needed to be picked up from school or because he had a doctor's appointment or because his school was closing early for snow, etc. All reasonable, all issues we ourselves faced as parents. We felt like hypocrites to say anything about it. We knew how hard it was. A few months later, I gave birth to my daughter, and she fell madly in love with her. So in love, in fact, that she decided she actually wanted one too. Six weeks later, she unexpectedly dropped in at dinnertime with her husband and son to tell us that--GREAT NEWS, YOU'LL NEVER BELIEVE IT!!--she was about 1 minute pregnant, and they were over the moon. The next several months were a marathon with hurdles--morning sickness that made her unable to stand the smell of our kids' diapers, insomnia making her emotionally unable to deal with our tantruming toddler and colicky daughter, and ultimately, the deal breaker, back pain that got worse with having to carry our kids around. Lesson 2: If your nanny has kids of her own without iron-clad childcare, and you/your spouse don't have a VERY flexible job, you are in for trouble. Lesson 2, subpart 1: It may be illegal to ask a nanny of childbearing age if she plans to get pregnant (unless she brings up the topic first), but it's not illegal to talk about it at night in bed with your husband if your nanny candidate is in her late 30s and newly married. Especially if you have or are about to have a delicious little newborn who could plant such a seed in her fertile brain.

For nanny #3, we again went back to enannysource. This time, I was wiser. I spent hours and hours every night after our kids went to bed sifting through nanny profiles, word-smithing our family profile, reading between the lines both ways. It took us almost 5 months to hire our next nanny during which we officially used up every favor we were ever owed and got a 40 yr or so advance on future favors with our parents, siblings, friends, and a few babysitters turned temp nannies where they were available. To say that it was stressful doesn't even begin to describe it. Fortunately, we had reached a point in our training when we had more flexibility so we could arrange to go in early and come home early and the other spouse go in late and come home late. It wasn't easy, but we made it work. When we met our third nanny, whom I had emailed back and forth repeatedly and interviewed by phone (along with dozens of others) for about 90 mins before bothering to invite her to our home, we knew that was it. She was 26 yrs old, single, energetic, had taught in the public school system but wanted to work with kids on a more individual basis, and she shared our values. Her references, which weren't really in childcare, loved her across the board. Over and over, they described her as loyal, reliable, honest, flexible, optimistic. Music to our ears. Our only reservation was that she was kind of...well, sloppy. But, we said, we can live with that. And when she described what she had done with kids at an in-home daycare she had worked at several years prior, we noticed that all of the activities sounded like...well, a huge mess. We had a moment of reservation as we surveyed our light carpet and pastel-colored sofa and chairs, but, hey, kids are washable, and that's the fun of being a kid. Our shy then 2.5 year old son kissed her goodbye at the end of the interview! We hired her. That was 3+ yrs ago, and she has been an absolute joy to have in our family. She loves our kids, makes them handmade gifts for every birthday and Christmas, remembers my son's Epipen and chases me up the driveway with it when I forget, and is more patient and creative than I will ever be. She even makes us dinner when she knows we are going to come home exhausted, which is more often than not. She joined the Y so she could take our now third child, who is a complete water baby, swimming while the older two are at kindergarten and preschool. She is loyal, reliable, honest, flexible, and optimistic. Our only complaint: she's...well, sloppy. And the things she does with the kids--things like painting refrigerator boxes with non-washable tempera paint on our kitchen floor--are...well, a huge mess. But, hey, we can live with that. Lesson #3: Trust your instincts. Know the things that are deal-breakers for you. And the things that aren't. And see lesson #1!

Which reminds me, A, that you deserve a raise!

1 comment:

  1. Tempeh, Topic day just wouldn't be the same without your insightful 11th hour posts.

    I also completely agree with all 3 lessons. Completely. ESPECIALLY Lesson 2. OMG. Yes.


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