At the ripe old age of 24, I made a pact with myself to renounce my position from the esteemed club of powerful, wealthy elites: The Babysitters Club. Or The Nannies Club, whatever (Nanny is the evolved form of babysitter). No more ovary-withering days spent caring for children that I have no evolutionary instinct to care for; no more pureed fruit in my hair; no more Wiggles songs stuck on repeat in my head…no more! I am free! But as I look back on my time as a substitute-parent, I can say that I’ve learnt some valuable lessons…
1. Sexism is alive and well in the nanny game.
I mean the title of ‘nanny’ is practically synonymous with being a woman, as opposed to the very un-PC term ‘male-nanny’ (Friends did an episode on it, Freddy Prince Jnr was the manny in question and it was tight). The assumption that women, no matter what age, have motherly instincts and will look after children better than men is ridiculous. I once looked after two little boys and they were so thoroughly disappointed in me for not being able to kick a football. The older one called me ‘lame’ and ‘boring’, it was very hurtful. I can’t fault him though because I was, for them, lame and boring. I was a young, pale inside-girl who was ill-suited to caring for two little boys who loved sport. I could play princesses and make necklaces no trouble, and was fine with the more bookish boys, but I couldn’t kick a football all afternoon or, to be real, even once (I sprained my ankle). The kids hated me. I eventually hated them. But when I suggested that my brother (who could do the sport and was tall enough to effectively hide treats on top of cupboards) would replace me, the family weren’t into it. “We’d prefer a girl” they said (tut tut). Girls are trained from a young age to tap in to maternal instincts by caring for dolls or playing nurses but that in no way means that women are, across the board, a better pick for babysitter than men.
2. People without kids are arrogant about how crap parenting is.
One day, boyfriend and I were fortifying ourselves with cheap IKEA meatballs before entering the IKEA maze, and we were watching a baby with a giant head and tiny eyes eat chips (endlessly fascinating). He was staring at us, unblinking, while his two sisters screamed and cried and overturned tables and smeared food on the walls. Their mum was forlornly staring at them, weakly protesting at intervals “Don’t…please…Mummy will smack…”. It was so depressing. Boyfriend remarked “Why don’t people just sit down and talk to their kids about their behaviour?” and my mind flashed back to a little boy I used to babysit. One day he hit me on the head with a plastic baseball bat. When I sat him down and tried to explain that hitting is anti-social and hurts, he screamed in my face, ran off and climbed and enormously tall tree. He sat in the tree, refusing to come down and screamed for two hours. Maybe that’s an extreme example but the point is that kids are not logical. They will not respond to rational arguments, so when you see parents struggling please don’t assume you can just rainman in there and solve it with a concise sentence or two. Trust me, that approach has already tried and failed, probably about 6 times already that day.
3. If you take your charge into a public place, you will be judged (loudly) by the public.
Whether it be the park or, heaven forbid, a coffee shop, people will approach you and tell what they think about you and the kids. And it’s a broad spectrum, from “Your baby looks really healthy, you’re doing so well” (implication: most young mothers would probably have given the baby cigarettes by now, congrats on keeping him alive”) to “He’s a chub, isn’t he? Have you tried taking him to the pool?” (implication: “You’re giving this obese angel baby diabetes, you foul Hitler youth!”). I would often scream at any approaching weirdos “I’M THE NANNY!” Stranger still were the times when I held it in and then had to field questions like “Are you having another?” and “Gosh, how do you do it?” Well, I am able to do it because at 5pm I get to go home and drink wine in bed for a while. Honestly, the judgemental looks and comments from strangers on the street was eye-opening and often, in a day full of poop, vomit and tears, the worst part. Which brings me to my next point…
4. I learnt endless patience for struggling parents and nannies.
Looking after kids can be rewarding, but often it’s a real slog. The benefit of being the nanny is that you get to leave at the end of the day. But the negative is that you really feel the void where a parent’s love would be, a void that would be filled with just a bit more love and patience, and would probably make everything easier. The benefit of being a parent is you get that instinctual love XP boost, but you cannot leave at the end of the day. Or any day. So please, before you get angry about a baby crying on the train or children being assholes in a restaurant, spend an afternoon caring for a child. Then imagine that afternoon stretching on for the rest of your life, forever and ever and ever. If that doesn’t fill you with sympathy nothing will. But it’s not all bad…
5. Kids are funny. They have idiosyncrasies and dreams and when you spend enough time with them, you realize that they are all special angels and all that garbage. Also they will very rarely do as you expect.
I once looked after a little toddler whose parents provided everything he could ever want. He had so many toys. He had a miniature basketball hoops that sang; he had dozens of soft toys who all sang; he had vast boxes of building blocks which didn’t sing much to his disappointment. He had so many toys that were designed to hold his attention and teach him things about shape and colour. Do you know which ones he played with? None. Instead he played with water bottles, cardboards boxes, dirty shoes, his own vomit, mixing bowls and, most of all, pegs. Always pegs. We passed hours playing the game of me throwing a peg on the floor and him picking it up. At the playground, he wasn’t interested in the slide or the swings or the space-aged climbing stuff, he only wanted to play with seedpods and the water bubbler. He only wanted to eat biscuits and would spit his healthy, homemade lunch into his hand and rub it in his hair and ears. Bless. Kids are amusing weirdos.
And so to all the little angels who have flourished under my care, I have a message for you: pay it forward. Send me a wine and cheese basket or something because you were absolutely exhausting.