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Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Nanny Chronicles - Installment 1

Our nanny, Kim, is awesome. We are having a great experience and Shaila is head over heels for her. Ki-am (as Shaila calls her in her new Southern drawl) takes Shaila and Nico to the library, to the park, to the mall to see Rocknocerous every Thursday and to "the bouncy place." She is kind, nurturing and reliable. All in all, someone we are very lucky to have found.

But we have not always been so lucky with our nannies in the past.

At not even 2 1/2 - Shaila has been bounced around with childcare more than most children her age. When I first returned to work, she was in daycare, got pulled out because she kept getting too sick, stayed at home with a nanny and then got put back in daycare when I realized that nanny was crazy and now, with the arrival of her new baby brother, Shaila is back at home with her new nanny, Kim.

So much for consistency, huh?

So anyway, going back to our first nanny experience. At 9 months old, Shaila kept getting repeated ear infections and had been on so many rounds of antibiotics that we had to call it quits at daycare, at least until she got a little older.

We ran across Poppy's* ad on Craigslist. I was immediately attracted to it because she was bi-lingual. I really wanted a nanny who could speak Spanish. Despite my many years of Spanish in both high school and college, I am hardly fluent (although I can say, "Hola, yo hablo un poquito español.") And while John, who is half Puerto Rican, is fluent at lots of Spanish curse words - call me nuts, but I just don't feel like that counts.

Let's face it. John can possibly get confused for the following:
1) Fez from "That 70's Show." If you squint really hard and have had 2 - 3 beers.
2) Eric Estrada circa 1979. If you squint slightly harder and have maybe 1.5 beers.
3) A Bollywood actor. No squinting or alcohol required.

He gets number 3 more often than not. When he tells people he is, in fact, half Puerto Rican and half Italian and no, John is NOT short for Jagdish, the looks he gets are usually of disbelief. To prove the Latin part of his heritage, he will usually resort to letting a few choice Spanish curse words that his late grandmother taught him roll off the tongue. And then he will look at whoever he has just cursed to high heaven with pride, looking for acknowledgment.

"See?" he'll say.
"Wow." Our Spanish friends will say, very impressed by the verbal blitzkrieg my husband just demonstrated. "Very authentic. Your grandmother taught you that?" That's hard to believe but is, in fact, true.

And that about rounds out John's Spanish dictionary.

So I thought it was really important that Shaila, our little quarter-riqueña, have some exposure to the more "legitimate" conversational aspects of the Spanish language early on. You know, like "I am going to the grocery store (Voy a la tienda)." Or "I would like some water (Quiero agua)." Or even "I am going to the libraby for the latest John Grisham" (Voy a la biblioteca por la nueva Juan Grisham.")

Not - "Can you tell me where the baño is?" (Me)

Or, "!Ay, Get your BLEEP BLEEP BLEEP off my BLEEP BLEEP BLEEP you stinking niño of a BLEEP BLEEP BLEEP!" (John)

Enter, Poppy**.

So we found "Poppy", who appeared to be a sweet Peruvian woman in her early 50s who had never had kids of her own, and had taken to caring for children because of her apparent knack for nurturing.

Now, there were signs early on. And some of the signs were like bright neon and blinking like crazy. (Crazy again being the operative word here). But in retrospect, OF COURSE everything seems so much clearer, hindsight being 20/20 and all.

On the way over for her interview, Poppy got lost. Since there were about three turns she needed to take between our house and her house, this was not a good sign. She called me hysterical from the parking lot of the Harris Teeter, which is 1/2 mile from our house, and despite my trying to direct her back to my house for 5 minutes, I knew it was a lost cause. So I went to get her from the store so she could follow me home.

When I got to the Harris Teeter, I spotted her immediately. Oh she looked so sweet! She had only been sitting in the Harris Teeter parking lot for three minutes, and she already had unrolled one of those big solar protector visors over her windshield to block the heat. How efficient of her!

While I waited another 5 minutes for her to now get that solar visor off her windshield, I reflected on the sweet looking, unassuming woman in front of me. I had images of her teaching me how to make mole sauce and teaching Shaila how to sing the alphabet in Spanish and was already scripting our future together. She could tell me what those fiery ladies were fighting about as they passionately rolled their r's and pulled each other's hair on the Telemundo soap operas.

We would have a whole new world opened up to us.

This was going to be SOOO great.

When she followed me to our house and drove at 10 miles an hour on our 35 mph hour street, I figured she was just trying to make a good impression on me. You know? Safety first! Oh that Poppy, I shook my head and smiled to myself. Forget about a good impression. That Poppy, she was already making a GREAT impression.

And after we interviewed her, I just KNEW that she was the one. My mother in law, Nilsa, was visiting me and also confirmed that she "had a good feeling" about Poppy. Between her intuition (proven) and mine (still not quite sure if I have any), I figured I was ready to make my decision.

As we watched Poppy back out of our driveway over the course of 15 minutes (no our driveway is not very long, I assumed she was just trying to show me how cautious she was. Remember, safety first!), me and Mom had already pretty much decided and just had to tell John the good news.

"Are you sure about her?" John seemed skeptical. He was fine with his mastery of the Spanish language, but I was pushing a different agenda.

"Oh John - she seems so sweet. Granted. She will NEVER drive Shaila anywhere." Not because we won't let her, but because she will be stuck in the driveway all day. And that wouldn't be good for anybody! "But that's ok! Shaila doesn't need to leave the house!" Yeah, great idea Kiran.

"What about emergencies?" Good question.

"You mean, like if Shaila needs to go to el hospital?" It was important that I start brushing up on my own Spanish immediately if this was going to work.

John, looking at me as if I was slightly unhinged,"Uh, yes. THE HOSPITAL."

"Well - we will come home and handle it - or leave back up contacts for our friends."

DUH, John. Do I have to think of everything for this family?

It was an ill thought out plan. I will admit it. But I had fallen in love with the IDEA of Poppy and her infusing our home with latin culture and the whole Nanny Poppiña vibe.

Within ten minutes of signing the contract with Poppy, she requested to use two of her sick days for Doctor's appointments that she had already set up for the following week. I needed to show what a cool and understanding employer I was. I could swing with that!

And when she worked 1/2 hour overtime the first time, despite her coming to work 30 minutes late every day, and requested payment, I didn't flinch.

Because you see. I could roll. I was a good employer.

When my mother-in-law spent 3 days acquainting her to our house (though now I hear Poppy was very attentive when it came to learning how the television remotes worked) and I spent an additional 2 with her, Poppy seemed to be quite confident in handling Shaila. As I showed her how to bathe Shaila and reminded her that after the weekend, she would be doing this alone, I think I may have seen a fleeting look of panic cross her face. Nah. (intuition, inshmuition!)

"Wait. So you are going to work?" she stammered.
"Uh, yeah." That's kind of the idea, right?
"And your Mother-in-law won't be here either?" I think she was starting to catch on.
"Noooo. She needs to go home to New York." Hmmm. Was that a bead of sweat forming on her lip? No it's just the crappy bathroom lighting. You can't trust anything the builders put in this house!

She looked down at me bathing Shaila in the bath tub.

"Oh - that's too much for me. I have a bad back. I can't bathe her. Is too much."
"Um, it's really not that hard."
"No - she is too too much for me to bathe."

Friends, yes I know. I KNOW. FLASHING LIGHTS. This is one of those moments.

Instead I sat back and thought about it and agreed that it could be tough to bathe my newly mobile 9 month old. I could see her point. After all, bad backs are hard to deal with. What kind of uncaring person was I if I couldn't understand that.

Ok, I would handle that.

Over the course of the next few weeks, life with Poppy was never boring. And I don't mean because she was so much fun and we were always laughing - oh ha ha ha - but mainly because I doubted my ability to determine what constituted the right care for my child. Every night I was in bed, wondering if Shaila was getting the attention and love she needed. She was too little to tell me anything.

"John, am I being too harsh? Am I expecting too much?" I would ask my husband.

Caught somewhere between the guilt I had that someone else was raising my child during the day, the protectiveness I wanted to provide to my child and the gratitude I also had to show towards this woman who was giving my child love and attention every day was the right answer, I just knew it.

On the surface, things were looking pretty good. But I think that a few weeks in, my intuition finally decided to make a grand (and long overdue) entrance . . .

More to come in installment 2 . . .

* Names have been changed to protect the innocent, namely my family because this lady turned out to be a bit of a wackadoodle.

** No, seriously, this lady was crazy.

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