January 11, 2009

geneva conventions


Today's guest blog is written by none other than our resident brilliant doctor Neva. If you've been reading this for a while, you know that Neva and I met about nineteen years ago in a deliciously bizarre way. ANYWHOODLE, it's my pleasure to turn the reins over to the woman who has salved my sicknesses long-distance (and turned us onto Umcka)...


If you want this choice position
Have a cheery disposition
Rosy cheeks, no warts
Play games, all sorts

After I coveted his lovely babysitter, Ian offered me a chance to write a guest blog about the ideal nanny for my family. What an honor it is to have this space to expound on such a loaded topic! Although I think we'd all love to have Mary Poppins as our nanny, my experience as a working Mom of two girls, now age 5 and 8, has led me to realize there is no one out there "practically perfect in every way", including me. So, I have adjusted my original unrealistic expectations of a nanny and whittled it down to a few key elements but perhaps they are still unrealistic. You tell me.

Why do I need a nanny now? Over the last 8 years I have struggled to find an ideal work/life balance. I put career advancement, insurance benefits, retirement savings, and extra income aside for awhile in order to be with my kids more. Recently I decided to leave my private practice where I was working "part time" and receiving no benefits (and not much money) to take a state job, working more hours, but finally receiving benefits of my own. This is important because my husband, who is thankfully currently well, has lymphoma, and my youngest daughter is developmentally disabled. We expect she will require lifelong care. We now need someone to pick her up at her special preschool and care for her before we get home as well as help with her older sister at times.

Here's what I would tell a nanny candidate if I was totally honest:

First, and foremost, don't make my children love you more than me. This sounds silly and selfish but is just the darn truth. I may have a few graduate degrees, but if my kid isn't glad to see me when I come home I feel worthless. I can't speak for others but I think this is the great fear of all working women. I think we had children because that mother/child relationship is gratifying and important to us but we worry that without "quantity time" those bonds won't form strongly enough or could break.

For men, working outside the home and supporting their family makes them a good Dad. For women, as much as we give "quality time" lip service, there is still a deep cultural sense that mothering requires large amounts of hands on time. Good Moms are there to wipe noses and bandage boo boos. A good nanny has to play a tricky role of "almost Mom" but clearly not Mom. She must be a safe and loving person to come to but never step into the Mommy zone. I am okay with giving up some of the nose wiping and bandaging, but I still want the biggest hugs and kisses.

Second, be reliable and honest. If you have a significant psychiatric problem, be upfront about it. Sound like a strange request? Well, unfortunately, we discovered our very first nanny staring into space while our toddler crawled around on the floor unwatched for who knows how long. She was disassociating, as was not unusual for her when faced with significant stressors, and she promptly went back to the psych ward. Also, please note, partying too much the night before is not a good excuse for not showing up to work the next morning. Can you tell I live in a college town?

Third, help me to remember to take care of myself too. Don't be standing by the door with your bag when I arrive. Stay an extra thirty minutes once in a while and encourage me to go exercise or read the paper. With my new schedule, both of these now seem impossible.

Fourth, look for little ways to be helpful if there is down time. Everyone deserves a break but reading an entire magazine or playing for ages on Facebook is not okay. Although I wouldn't expect it every day, please occasionally wipe up the countertops, run the dishwasher, fold the clothes or straighten up the playroom. Those small things make me so happy and can make the difference between feeling like life is doable and not totally overwhelming.

Finally, please see the good in my children and remind me of it too. This can be a tough one. My youngest doesn't give you much in rewards. She makes huge stinky diapers, drools a lot, is loud and destroys things much like a very large 2 year old. She doesn't understand "no". She cannot talk but walks quickly to places that usually aren't safe for her. It takes loads of patience and a special person to deal with this.

People occasionally, with the best intentions, tell me how special we are to have had her. "Special parents have special children". I know they mean well with this, but it is bullshit. There is nothing special about me, except my genes didn't merge together right with my husband's that one time. To be totally honest, I could not care for her alone without help for any extended periods of time without going totally batty.

A nanny for us really does have to be a special person. Unlike me, she will know what she's getting into when she takes the job. The right nanny will see the sweet disposition under the non-verbal grunts, appreciate the hugs, the attempts at dancing, and the first words at age five and she'll remind me to celebrate them all.

Thinking about this request led me to realize that what I need in a nanny says an awful lot about what I need as a person, too - from not just childcare folks but from most people in my life. Oh, damn you Ian, as usual, you forced me into self-exploration!

Posted by Ian Williams at January 11, 2009 11:30 PM
Posted by: ms four at January 12, 2009 1:19 AM

Neva, what a great post! I'm an American expat in Cairo, and it's a totally different situation for us here. First of all, we could never afford a nanny in the US, or maybe just part-time after school, but in Egypt, we have a full-time housekeeper/nanny. It's a really different dynamic than what you've described, and, frankly, makes me glad I'm here (and I'm not always glad that I'm here).

My kids were born in Ethiopia (and adopted by us) and we have an Ethiopian nanny who really cares for them, but I don't think I've ever worried my kids would love her more. She does spend quite a bit of time with them, but this has never been an issue for me or us. She plays with them and actually is speaking Amharic (the primary language of Ethiopia) with them. Maybe because they were adopted, I already got over my "not the real mom" issues. Or maybe it's because I have a good work-life balance here. My job is 35 hours/week, and I have a lot of holiday time (American holidays, Egyptian national holidays, western Christian holidays, eastern Christian holidays, and Muslim holidays, plus six weeks in the summer), so I do see my kids a lot. And our housekeeper is one of the reasons this is possible. She cleans and cooks so I don't have to. In fact, we're sending her to a cooking class for the next few weeks! We're all excited about that.

She works really hard--we usually don't have to ask her to do anything because she takes the initiative herself.

Our nanny/housekeeper also often stays later and also cleans and makes us dinner. And lest you think she's a poor refugee--well, she is a refugee, but a well-educated political refugee from a wealthy family.

Anyway, I'm really lucky, and we do have a wonderful woman who works for us (though there are trade-offs: living in Egypt means I can afford a housekeeper/nanny but can't watch UNC basketball games here), but I'm more appreciative of this now after reading how difficult this can be back in the US.

Good luck to you and your family.

Posted by: Anne at January 12, 2009 3:26 AM

Neva, I wish you all good luck with your nanny search. There *is* someone out there for you and your children. She may not fill every one of your expectations, but you know that.

We were struck by a lightning-bolt of amazing fortune when I met, at the tot park two blocks from our house, a nanny about my own age whose best friend was ready to return to work after raising 3 children (the youngest then 12), and was looking for work as a daytime sitter. When I first met Diane, I was struck by this thought: She's very much like *us*! -- in terms of values, intelligence, taste. She had, and has, no ego, just a love of children. Plus, she had all that mom experience. And she was so warm with our children, reaching out immediately to them.

That was 17.5 years ago. All three of our children firmly consider Diane a major part of their family life, even though it has been a few years since we ended our last, very part-time employer/employee relationship with her (she used to pick up our kids from middle and high school for a few years after they actually needed a sitter). We all get together; she and her husband come to major events such as our daughter's graduation party.

All of my friends, to a woman, were deeply envious of us for having found Diane. In fact, "I need to find someone like Diane" became a sort of mantra among my fellow moms for a while. Eventually, one of those friends "inherited" Diane as her younger kids' full-time nanny.

Sorry to go on. I should blog about this sometime; it's a great topic. Use the grapevine... word of mouth was a wonderful resource for me and other working moms as we did the nanny dance.

Posted by: GFWD at January 12, 2009 5:00 AM

When I bear my soul in my little family updates or in all things Carolina, one of the things I notice (after all of the exasperated replies from women who tell me they'd choke me if I wrote those details about their private parts during birth) is that it opens the doors for real communication among other people enduring similar circumstances. Talking about things we endured like miscarriages fostered dialogue that helped make the experience more bearable.

I have several close friends whose children have special needs. I have no concept of what you deal with worrying about being a wife, mommy and hero to a hubby with cancer and a daughter with special needs. Your naked honesty, however, will go a long way toward helping others. Admitting that you resent a portion of your circumstances or that you, YOU--my super woman friend--feel overwhelmed and have concerns as a mother will help the rest of the mere mortals who read your words.

From one who is not afraid to put his business out there from time to time, I commend you. Your post today is going to help someone in immeasurable ways. Mark my words.

Good job, old friend . . . even if I didn't ever get to kiss you on stage at a concert. Some guys have all the luck!

By the way, do you have any suggestions or insight to help our beloved Heels? Any suggestions for your ideal super nanny to give the boys a swift kick in the ass? Anything?

Posted by: Tanya at January 12, 2009 5:58 AM

Dear Ms Four, be glad you can't watch UNC basketball right now. Geeez.

As for the nanny, GOD, this was timely. We are on nanny #3 since October. THe first one was too good to be true and her job as a pediatric nurse called her into regular weekly working hours. The second one...ugh. Too much drama with her "partner's" grandchildren/custody battles and keeping Grant on the road all day every day as she dealt with them - not to mention she was insanely expensive. This last one seemed great...until she told us she was pregnant the second day on the job. I live in a small town with no decent childcare centers, so a nanny is really our only option. Neva, I wish I could cut and paste your list and put it on Craig's list. Instead, I'm left hoping that I, too, will get struck by incredible luck and find someone awesome...before July. It's amazing how stressful the search for childcare can be. I'm at my wits end. :P

Posted by: Kelly in NC at January 12, 2009 6:35 AM

Great post! I wish you the best in finding your perfect nanny. We were very lucky to find our perfect nanny a few years ago and it has made all the difference in the world.

We have a 5 year old singleton and 6 year old triplets. Two of the triplets are autistic. We are very fortunate that they are on the higher-functioning end of the spectrum. Nonetheless, the challenges feel endless at times.

I love that you called bullshit on the "special parents have special kids" aphorism. In no way am I a special parent. Hell, there are times I'm not even a very good parent. Yes, my kids drive me batty more often than not.

Back to the nanny issue. Our nanny satisfies all your criteria except perhaps the rule against "loving her more". While I don't fear that the kids think of her as "Mom" instead of me, I have no doubt that she is generally the more pleasant individual to deal with. (Why wouldn't she be? She gets to go home at 6:00!) So I really can't blame them when at times they seek her out instead of me. They love being with her and miss her when she's away and I feel so lucky that they do.

Again, I wish you good luck!

Posted by: Josie at January 12, 2009 7:58 AM

My Fairy Godmother has been with us for 5.5 years and we are very lucky. She is an older woman from Naples Italy and is as close to a clone of my mom as I could get, with all of the good traits and nary any of the bad.

My advice to you is to look at those who have BTDT. They understand the stressors of motherhood and truly appreciate the magic of children. You will still have struggles, but they will probably have more to do with a need for control than with competency. Rosa was patient with me while I made my way through these issues.

My friends/acquaintances are not shy about their attitudes that older women "may not have the energy to keep up with my kids." Don’t judge too quickly. At 66, Rosa makes me looks pretty incompetent as a housekeeper, cook, and playmate. She possesses the spirit of a 20 year old trapped in the body of an older woman. She loves my kids like her own grandkids, and they love her right back, immensely so.

I used to worry about the bond she shared with my kids, until I came to the realization that a child's capacity for love is not finite. They can love any number of people at once, and still love you too. A child who has so many to love is lucky indeed.

Posted by: Emma's big sis at January 12, 2009 9:14 AM

Neva. As you know, I've been keeping up with you via Emma and occasionalloy email for years. I've been heart-broken with your struggles - youe husband's scary diagnosis, your child's many challenges, your quest to find a job as a medical practicioner where you can actually help people instead of worrying about insurance billing or having insurance for yourself...

We too had problems finding a nanny. We wanted to do the search ourselves and thought we did a pretty good job of screening. The first seemed perfect. She had dinner waiting for us and SA seemed perfectly happy when we got home. The first 4 days were a honeymoon. The 5th day I smelled alcahol on her breath. We got rid of her and a couple of months later found her wine stash in the basement.

The second seemed great but thought that being on a salary meant that she could call in sick once a week and still get paid. Then she started telling us strange stories about rescuing kids and weird medical incidents. I tried to verify her stories but it turned out they were all lies.

We did find a suitable one for a while, but she went back to school. Finally Michael's sister came and lived with us until we could find someone. We ended up in a daycare center and I ended up job sharing.

15 years later it seems so distant, but I do remember the stress of all of that. You will find someone. You are doing a great job. Your quest for the right balance for your family will pay off.

Maybe Eden could write a letter and you could tear it up and burn the pieces in frustration. No telling what the wind might bring in.

Posted by: Neva at January 12, 2009 9:32 AM

Thank guys for the words of encouragement and support. Josie - what is BTDT?

Posted by: Lee at January 12, 2009 9:52 AM

Hi Neva, BTDT is I think, Been there, done that.

I'm with you on the nanny thing. I was telling someone the other day about how my nanny has "truth issues", to put it nicely, and she was telling about a book coming out called "In Search of Mary Poppins". Don't know if it's out yet. Did you write it??
We've had our nanny for almost 2 years even though she's lied several times, that we know of, and stolen once, that we know of. Our daughter loves her and would be devastated if she left. She's also GREAT with kids and comes up with all kinds of creative ways of playing and teaching that we would have never thought of. The pros just outweighed the cons at the end of the day.

Good luck in your search. It's hard!

Posted by: kjf at January 12, 2009 10:12 AM

i know it seems like you will never find the right person or situation to help you with your full plate but you will. it really is stressful but the right person will show up.

unfortunately the mommy guilt never goes away - you just learn how to manage it. and sometimes managing it means just accepting it as a given and somehow that makes it easier - once you give up the quest of thinking it will go away it seems to just sit there like the dust in the corner of the room that only you see.

and remember that all kids know who love them.

ps. BTDT is been there done that

Posted by: LFMD at January 12, 2009 10:28 AM

Hi Neva! Great post. You rock!

Posted by: Tessa at January 12, 2009 10:43 AM

Lovely post, Neva.

You articulated so many of the complexities of the working mother. I could never stay at home - all I could think during REVOLUTIONARY ROAD was thank God I was born when I was. I would have had to wait out the 1950s in an asylum.

On the other hand, I have waded through a fair amount of guilt and confusion about not putting in more parenting hours. And, I'm very lucky. Because we're writers and make our own schedule and because my office is a block from home, I can be at home if I feel like I need to be. But it is still challenging.

Anyway, here's are the two things about Laura that makes her so wonderful... Actually, before I say anything, EVERYTHING about Laura is wonderful. But here are the qualities I recommend that friends look for in a caregiver.

The obvious one: a basic loving warmth.

The less obvious one: Laura has incredibly good judgement and common sense. And because Lucy spends at least as much time in Laura's care as she does in ours, it is incredibly comforting to me to know that Laura will make the sort of decision that I would make in any circumstance.

I hired Laura off instinct. I've come to realize that she would not have been a desirable candidate for lots of people. She had raised her children but had no other childcare experience (I thought being a mom qualified her but lots of people disagree). She spoke only a little English (I speak Spanish, so that was fine). And her first couple of days with us were rocky. Lucy cried A LOT and Laura seemed pretty shaken by it. But I just felt good about her, so we kept going and soon discovered that she was the best person on earth.

Laura joins me in sending great nanny-finding vibes!

Love, T.

Posted by: mcf at January 12, 2009 1:40 PM

i loved this post, and have the ability to say that, because i have been afforded the opportunity of KNOWing neva over the past almost 20 (gasp!) years or so, that she WILL find the best fit and she and her family will thrive despite what sometimes must feel like the toughest odds. she's a tough bird, that neva. (meant in the best way, of course! )

as for the working mom conundrum, i totally get that, too. but i firmly believe (perhaps i am rationalizing) that doing your best -w hatever the issue - IS good enough if your children know -- deeply -- that you love them unconditionally. and neva, i know that must be true with your gals...

Posted by: dean at January 12, 2009 1:50 PM

Neva: I am the proud father of a son born with significant birth defects who has fought mightily and is largely a-ok now after 7 years. If you need more details, consult GFWD b/c I am such a wus of a daddy that I sometimes still throw up a little bit in my mouth when discussing it.

As you know, you can't hire just anyone. We have found that the recent cutbacks in mental health services by the State of NC has created a lot of folks looking for work, especially for cash. My son attended a preschool operated by United Cerebral Palsy for a few years and they usually have interns from UNC-Wilmington. They are a gold mine. You can also call some of the super-reputable home health care firms and ask them if there are any such folks. We were lucky that one of the administrators of such a home health care firm attends our church and took us under his wing.

We never hired a "nanny" per so b/c my wife is a stay-@-home mom. But, we found babysitters that we used for several hours per week. Nonetheless, I'd say these avenues could be useful


Posted by: xuxE at January 12, 2009 2:19 PM

this is a doozy of a topic, isn't it.

my first thought was that there's always the stay-at-home Dad option... everyone's circumstance is different, but i'm just sayin. i mean, my husband had never changed a diaper before my first son was born but yet i was somehow able to make business trips for days at a time and they were both still alive when i got home.

we have never gone the nanny route because we had enough flexibility in our work schedules, but we did do home daycare for a short while before they started preschool at 2. it's entirely possible that special needs may require more attention than what can be managed in a home daycare setting, but generally speaking i think it's a great option which has the best of both worlds - not a cold sterile baby prison type daycare and less room for the potential flakiness of a single person with other things going on who may or may not show up.

we were particularly lucky because the women running the daycare we used are very very close friends for years prior, but even when i looked at other home daycare providers in the area - for a while my band offered daycare options to moms who wanted to come to our gigs - i found a lot of really great home daycare environments out there where i would have gone in a heartbeat.

Posted by: emma at January 12, 2009 3:33 PM

Well written, dear friend. How honored and blessed I feel to know you Neva, along with the other articulate, kind commenters who I have known for years and years - you know who you are. Neva, since I have met you, I have always admired you, but especially in the last five years, you have become a model to me as someone who handles whatever life throws at you. You have felt like you were bumbling thru at times, but you have truly excelled at being a Mom and wife - from my point of view. I feel lucky to call you my friend.
I hope the right nanny comes along and I believe she (or he) will. I love Meg's willingness to hug and come to a person (me) that she sees mostly only during football season. I hope for every drunken nanny (that's what we call the nanny in my big sis's comment), there is a Laura and that she will be walking down your cul de sac soon and knowcking on your door.
What is umcka, btw?

Posted by: Neva at January 12, 2009 5:10 PM

Thanks so much Emma, and all of you, for all the sweet comments.

I don't want you to think I have it so bad. I do have a great husband who is more patient than I and probably changes more diapers if we got around to counting. His schedule is more flexible now than mine and he is stepping up to the plate in a big way helping out at home. Also, we have a fabulous preschool for Meg where half the kids have special needs and she has on- site therapists. We are very lucky, really. It's all in how you look at things.

The school is a 20 minute drive in the opposite direction from where we both work and we need help with transportation and a little bit of child care time after school. Starting next semester though she'll be in public school kindergarten (in a self contained classroom) and that will be a whole other story, I'm sure.

I do find the inflexibility of my new job hours stressful and the constant planning and juggling of responsibilities exhausting but I'm pushing on for now.. I'm actually optimistic now about the childcare situation and I think you all have helped a lot. If nothing else I feel less guilty about needing and wanting the help.

Anybody ever notice how Mary Poppins seems to have a subtle message that staying home is the right thing to do? In the end she flies away because Mom and Dad have finally learned their lesson and decided to watch their own kids? How dare Mom want to go off and help women get the right to vote! How terribly selfish!

Posted by: Neva at January 12, 2009 5:12 PM

Oh, and umcka is an herbal cold treatment - has some decent studies behind it. I haven't actually tried it myself yet but I had patients who swore by it. Does it work for you guys Ian?

Posted by: bridget at January 12, 2009 7:15 PM

that was a beautiful post. thanks so much for being so open. it helped me immensely as this is my 2nd week back to work after maternity leave. i've felt silly all last week hoping that when i arrived back home my 5 month old would be happy to see me. that the many hours his nanny was with him wouldn't replace our bond. even though, rationally, i was very happy we had found someone he would really like, i couldn't help feeling like a jealous rival.

Posted by: Erin at January 12, 2009 7:19 PM

Beautifully written Neva. I will send good nanny vibes your way.

Posted by: Ian at January 12, 2009 11:49 PM

I mean, I *think* Umcka is working, which is most of the battle, yes?

Posted by: oliver at January 16, 2009 7:56 AM

I feel like I've been reading somebody describe a secret sexual fantasy. Can you really ask somebody to do that for you? I suppose the answer is "yes," but that by analogy you might expect to have to pay extra. It's so easy to be cynical and mercenary as a worker or professional anything. Bosses and/or customers are bound to face an uphill battle changing employee culture--even if they're teenagers and have no union. Have you thought of impersonating a nanny on MySpace?

Posted by: Ileana Mcray at May 6, 2013 7:56 AM

If you're still on the fence: grab your favorite earphones, head down to a Best Buy and ask to plug them into a Zune then an iPod and see which one sounds better to you, and which interface makes you smile more. Then you'll know which is right for you.

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Posted by: Tama Bruck at May 10, 2013 8:53 PM

Hands down, Apple's app store wins by a mile. It's a huge selection of all sorts of apps vs a rather sad selection of a handful for Zune. Microsoft has plans, especially in the realm of games, but I'm not sure I'd want to bet on the future if this aspect is important to you. The iPod is a much better choice in that case.

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Posted by: Dorian Treaster at May 19, 2013 2:22 AM

The Zune concentrates on being a Portable Media Player. Not a web browser. Not a game machine. Maybe in the future it'll do even better in those areas, but for now it's a fantastic way to organize and listen to your music and videos, and is without peer in that regard. The iPod's strengths are its web browsing and apps. If those sound more compelling, perhaps it is your best choice.

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Posted by: Gregory Despain at June 18, 2013 4:38 PM

The new Zune browser is surprisingly good, but not as good as the iPod's. It works well, but isn't as fast as Safari, and has a clunkier interface. If you occasionally plan on using the web browser that's not an issue, but if you're planning to browse the web alot from your PMP then the iPod's larger screen and better browser may be important.

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