It was June, 2006. Elizabeth, 3, would be four that November and Daniel had turned 2 in March. This summer the family’s beloved Nanny would be moving away so the Mom, Jane, was seeking a new Nanny using various babysitting provider websites. I had just graduated from college in May and worked my way through school at a child care center while babysitting my cousins on summer breaks. After graduation I was looking for a fun and challenging change of pace. One night I started just browsing nanny job websites and stumbled upon Jane. Her ad simply stated her situation, working Mom with young children, but I felt compelled to answer it, even though I hadn’t yet decided if I was going to quit the job I had. I sent her my resume and we set up a time to chat that Friday night. When she called we introduced ourselves and said some pleasantries and then she just said it: “OK, the first thing you need to know is that my children are two and three and I’m a widow. My husband passed away this past January. It was cancer.”
I was taken aback and breathless. I remember thinking, “Oh goodness, what have I just gotten myself into”? I managed to eek out a quiet “I am so sorry to hear that,” for which she thanked me and then she kept on talking. It was as if she expected this reaction out of me, a 22 year old with very little life experience. I mean, what would I have said? She explained the basics of her situation: Dad was sick for 3 years on and off and passed in January. He is very much missed and talked about often. She was a stay at home mom turned work from home mom/marketing manager with a heavy travel schedule, often gone 2-3 days and nights a week. She gushed about her fantastic and adorable children who were extremely well-adjusted and happy considering just losing their father six months ago. She loved my resume and wanted to meet as soon as possible so we agreed on the next morning at 11. I’d come for lunch and if all worked out we’d go from there.
I was giddy and excited and had a hard time sleeping that night. Considering the nature of the job and its’ requirements, I had a lot to think about. It was a big commitment of both my time and my energy. However, my gut just told me this was a good thing; it was the right path for me to take exactly two weeks after my college graduation. After all I did have a brand new Psychology B.A., why not put it to some use counseling these poor babies? After arriving at the house a little before 11, I buzzed the bell and was called to “come in” by the two cutest kids ever. They were sitting at the kitchen island munching on strawberries, blueberries and bologna and cheese roll-ups with sippy cups of milk and big smiles as Mom made them laugh across the counter. They looked like twins as they are only 16 months apart and Elizabeth was petite for her age. I remember thinking both Jane and the home were gorgeous and that she was so sweet and welcoming. I instantly felt like I made a new friend – or at least I had a new babysitting gig if the Nanny thing didn’t work out for some reason. Needless to say we all got along great and agreed to have a trial run the following week, same time, same place. We talked about Dad some but not too much. I remember when Mom asked where Daddy lived now, each child pointed to their heart and said, “He lives in my heart so he’s always with me.” I knew this family was going to be great but wondered if the inevitable grief and time demand might be tough on me. Did I want to commit to all of this just yet? Just from that meeting I knew I’d essentially be a Mom/Nanny on some days. Did I want that at my age? It was scary, but those kids were too cute. And my heart kept saying… “Well, why not?”
Apprehension and all I arrived the following week and the trial went well. At least I say that now, as I'm looking back. Jane went to run errands and take some personal time. Elizabeth and I had such a great time doing art and chatting over lunch until it was rest time. After putting Daniel down we set off to find her blankie which, for the first of a hundred times over the next three years was, of course, in Mommy’s car. That was often in a different state entirely. Thankfully today she was only at the grocery store. Elizabeth cried forever, at times for her Daddy, until I distracted her by having her name all the kitchen appliances and praising her for how smart she was because, as I told her, I just could NOT remember what that big white box thing was called! I was also calmly texting Jane about the tragedy and telling her not to worry about the blankie she just found in her backseat, Elizabeth was A-OK.
Daniel was the happiest and silliest two year old ever, just the sweetest little boy. He ate great and slept great and it wasn’t until Elizabeth started talking about Daddy that he cried. And then for the first time in my life I’m having a conversation about something I knew so little about – the death of a parent. Not to mention, I’m having it with teeny tiny toddlers. They were so sad and missed their Daddy so much but they were also brilliantly light-hearted, even through their tears. We said hello to Daddy from the swings and blew him kisses. We talked about his dog who was with him keeping him company and their mom’s dad who was there as he had just died as well. I found out later he passed a few months before her husband, cancer as well.
Jane came home and we told her about the fun we had and then all talked about Daddy while they “introduced” me to him through the picture boards from his funeral. While not on display, they were in a closet where the children could go and “visit” Daddy whenever they wanted. It was an incredible experience for me to connect with them like this and also to observe this loving and intimate behavior from such little ones. It was then that I knew that with this family was where I needed to be.
Jane and I talked business while the kids played and she cooked dinner. There would be many overnights and some weekends if I wanted to work them. There was a cleaning bi-weekly cleaning lady but I knew I’d need to do housework since Jane was away so much and worked all day. There would be very early mornings and very late nights and no overtime pay because of the high salary, which was always very high in our area for a nanny. Add that to the fact that some weeks I’d work 25 hours while the next I’d work 70. This meant even more once both children were in some type of school setting and I’d often end up working only half days, 1-6 or something. There were other negotiations along the way and eventually I ended up with ALL time off paid with tons of vacation as well as plentiful and generous bonuses and raises. There was no real gas allowance until later on when our travel/outings increased and then gas prices increased on top of that. That came as a credit card which was used for all child care related expenses too. This was fantastic and made everything so easy (although I might have gone overboard buying the kids’ things they “needed.”) Jane and I split my health insurance costs because she felt so strongly that I needed it – god forbid I get sick and need to be in the hospital, she knew just how expensive that could be. We talked about our parenting and discipline styles a bit which were identical and for most things we were absolutely on the same page. We communicated so well.
Finally, we talked about the job of caring for two children whose worlds were turned upside down just six months ago with the loss of their father and now again with their current Nanny, whom Jane called “Mary Poppins,” who was moving away to a new state. She said she loved the way I was with the kids, she could tell they loved me and if I wanted the job it was mine. Anxious as I was, I mustered up some courage after that intense afternoon and told her that I would be honored to work with her. It was the beginning of the craziest and best three years of my life.
In that time I became: home and family organizer, activities coordinator, week day chauffeur, part-time maid, neighborhood babysitter, child and adult therapist, mom’s bff for personal stuff and sounding board for work issues and, the best, “Jane’s right arm” as I affectionately became known as among her group of friends. We worked like a well oiled machine, raising her children and helping the family adjust to these new circumstances. It may be cliché, but my three years Nannying was such an enriching and rewarding experience for me even during the bumps in the road. There were some, I have to admit, especially working with a grieving family, but I believe that’s natural in any family. I learned so very much about life, love and growing up from all of the incredible people I met as a result of being Elizabeth and Daniel’s Nanny. As well as, most especially, just from knowing Jane.
I moved on last year when Elizabeth entered first grade and Daniel went off to all-day Kindergarten. Jane was on her way to finding love again and they were absolutely the most well-adjusted, fun-loving, and silly children I knew and happy as ever. I left on the highest note and I am so grateful for that. I started a new adventure after moving closer to my real family and I am now blessed enough to have another job that I love, co-operating a child care center. I still talk to and see my “Nanny Family,” although it’s not as often as we’d all like but that’s ok. After all, no one knows better than I do how crazy their lives are so I really don’t mind. They are truly my family and neither time nor distance will ever change that.