Received Tuesday, May 22, 2007
I should have known, when I went to interview, that it wasn't going to be a good job.
"We've had five different nannies in the last four months, we've had to dismiss each of them, and we're just looking for someone to provide the kids with a little stability in their lives."
It should have been a red flag. I can understand firing one nanny. Or two. But five in four months? This had to be some kind of bad nanny record.
But it was January, it was Wisconsin, and the electric company had just sent a very nasty note to my third-floor, drafty walkup apartment. And I did love kids. Besides, I'd been temping for a year and was "between" horrific office slave temp jobs -- at least being a nanny had its perks. Like not paying income taxes.
Whether I got the job because the interview went well or because they'd exhausted the town's nanny supply, I'll never know. The next week, though, I met my three charges.
One was named after his father, so let's call him "Junior." The middle child, a girl, was named after a borough of New York, and the youngest girl was named a bizarre hillbilly name. Junior was four, Borough was three, and Hillbilly was 18 months old.
I soon learned that the procession of nannies had made the kids holy terrors. They were used to getting what they wanted, when they wanted it, and if I didn't give it to them, they all had strategies. Borough would stand in the middle of the hardwood floors and pee if she got really angry. Hillbilly would let out a wail that could have brought the police department.
But Junior had things down pat. "I want oreos."
"But it's breakfast time."
"I WANT OREOS NOW."
"We can have oreos after lunch if you want. Lunch is at 12:30. That's not very long! We'll watch The Lion King and play a game, and then it'll be lunch time. Then we can have Oreos."
He'd glare. "I don't like you."
"That's just fine, Junior. You don't have to like me. But I like you, no matter what!"
"No, you DON'T understand. I don't LIKE you. I'm going to tell MY PARENTS that you're a BAD NANNY."
Pretty slick for a four year old, but he didn't get his way and I didn't have to suffer the shame of being bullied by a toddler.
Three weeks later, the parents announced that they were traveling to Whistler, British Columbia, for a vacation. Whistler happens to be my favorite spot in the world, so I hoped they'd take me and the kids with...but no. I was to stay with the kids in Wisconsin for seven days, 24 hours a day. However, the parents promised, there would be a "sizable" bonus upon my return.
All my objections were shoved aside by the prospect of a bonus. How much would it be? $1000? More? I could finally fix my car's radiator! I was giddy with the thought of having dinner out, or seeing a movie, with my newfound fortune.
Once the week began, though, my worst fears were realized. The kids had never been away from Mommy and Daddy for more than a day before -- and they thought that if they were evil enough, Mommy and Daddy would have to come back, if for no other reason than to punish them.
The week is a blur, I've blocked most of it out -- I do have a memory of waking at 4 AM to discover that the three of them had emptied every cosmetic, perfume, and lotion in their mother's bathroom onto the floor. The smell could have knocked out elephants. I remember Junior and Borough destroying their closets and the hallway linen closet, leaving clothing and towels strewn around the house. I remember getting 3 hours of sleep a night as I tried to clean up after them, since they absolutely refused to clean up themselves. On the last day, they were worse than ever. As much as I cleaned, they could make messes twice as fast. They wouldn't let me get near them to dress them or brush their hair, and since I didn't want to get child abuse charges, I couldn't even grab them to hold them still.
Then, the parents got home, and I got my check -- for the EXACT SAME AMOUNT I usually got, every week. "Given the condition of the house when we returned," the dad said, "we didn't feel that a bonus was appropriate."
I went home and cried.
I came back to work the next day. I had nowhere better to go. At 11 AM, the phone rang. I let the machine pick it up. A female voice was on the other end of the line:
"Hey, I was wondering if you'd put the ad in the paper for the new nanny yet? I think it needs to be done A-S-A-P, you know? I mean, I can't BELIEVE she'd leave your beautiful towels unfolded in the linen closet! And you say Borough's hair wasn't even brushed when you got back? How terrible! You've had just the WORST luck with nannies! Give me a call when you get home, ta-ta!"
I stood there, shaking. I had taken care of their children, essentially for free, for an entire week. I had been utterly taken advantage of, and now they wanted to fire me. And I still had nowhere better to go, and nothing better to do than wait for the inevitable.
Two days later, they let me go. "We expected a nurturing, loving home for our children when we're gone. We expected more than just mediocre care," said the dad.
My contract called for severance pay. I never got a dime of it.
The next day, I went to a pawn shop in another town, another county. I got five hundred dollars for a very state-of-the-art, very expensive camera. It was a camera I could never have afforded myself. That night, I went to a movie, and I ate crab legs at a real restaurant. I bought myself a pillow that wouldn't make my neck hurt. I fixed the radiator on my car.
In the end, I got my bonus out of them after all.