I could have written “The Nanny Diaries.” It’s one of those books I read mournfully, knowing I could have gotten $$$ from my experiences as a nanny in NYC and Texas. In the past year especially, I’ve seen a lot of deadbeat nannies (people always talk about those), but also “good” parents. They don’t abuse their kids; they feed them, give them tutors and good schools, toys, clothing, etc. They take them out on activities and surround them with friends. And yet. . .a couple “good” parents made my heart break at the playground today. I took Lucy to try out the swings, which she is a BIG fan of now. A nanny was pushing her kiddos nearby and smiled at me as I cooed over Lucy, bringing my hands towards her like airplanes every time she was on the “upswing.” I noticed a couple mom friends sitting on a bench while their kids played in the sandbox. They were completely oblivious to the kids, which didn’t surprise me. I knew the type. They looked worn out, annoyed to be there, but drawn on by routine. I bet if I go to the park tomorrow, they will be on the same bench, satellites slowly orbiting their children from far away. Now having taken care of kids a LOT, especially kids in the 3 year-old “Why?” phase, I totally understand checking out now and then. These moms checked out for 5, 10, then 15 minutes. I took videos of Lucy to send to my siblings-in-law, and pictures of her hair to prove that it’s turning red like Michael’s. Finally we went over the sandbox where the moms’ kids were playing. The little boy immediately came up to me, brandishing his Hot Wheels car.
Boy: Look at this! Is it yours?
Me: Wow, cool car! No, it’s not mine.
Boy: Whose do you think it is?
Me: I don’t know. Somebody probably left it here, so you can play with it.
He grinned at me like he’d found gold, and then “Vroom vrooomed” the car around the sandbox, looking up at me now and then to make sure I was still watching. I put sand on top of Lucy’s hands and feet so she could get used to the texture. She is pretty far from zooming cars around, but that day will come. Right now she’s just discovered she HAS feet. The little girl came over to me and showed me her car too: “Look what I found! Vrroom vroom!” and I doted on her a little bit and talked about how awesome the car was. The girl looked at Lucy with her nose upturned, like she wasn’t sure Lucy would appreciate this whole car thing. And indeed, Lucy just sat next to me in the sandbox like a fat caterpillar that’s been put on its end. This went on for a few minutes, but I’m used to it. You know the saying—dogs and kids can tell who likes them, and I LOVE kids. The more the merrier.
The little boy went over to his mom on the bench. “Mom, look what I found! A car! Somebody left it here, so I can play with it.” (Notice the quick incorporation of what I’d told him.) The mom snorted and turned to her friend: “Wow, it’s a miracle,” she said sarcastically. Her friend laughed. I didn’t see the boy’s face, but my heart dropped in my stomach. The boy continued to vroom vroom his car around his mom, trying to get her to notice. Meanwhile, I played with Lucy while daydreaming of taking handfuls of sand and throwing them on the manicured, coifed, beautiful women sitting on the bench, completely ignoring their children. This boy was so full of excitement and wonder. And kids learn QUICKLY. What his mom had just taught him was that he shouldn’t be amazed at finding a cool thing, and she was annoyed with him. Michael always tells me, “You can’t adopt every child,” but it’s tempting, isn’t it? From the looks of the moms and kids, this child seems well taken care of. He’s probably (considering the area of Brooklyn we were in) enrolled in lots of activities, has ample care, and has a bright future ahead of him. But what about his heart? What about his inquisitiveness, joy, wonder? Will these things be crushed?
I get it. It’s hard to be present, especially with the repetition of child-rearing. When I was nannying for Ella (3) and Addy (1), I worked 50 hours a week. By the end of caring for them, I was 6 months pregnant. Ella is the most inquisitive 3 year-old I’ve ever met. Questions galore. I’d get tired and sometimes snap at her. I’m sure I was sarcastic on occasion, at least in my head. One day I got so tired of answering questions that I decided to flip the game on her—I asked all the questions: “Did you like breakfast? What’s your favorite animal? Do you like the color green?” She NEVER tired of answering, but she did say, “Why you ask so many questions Heather?” :) The last question: “What was your favorite thing that we did today?” She looked up at me, squinting in contemplation. That day, we saw the ocean, went to a park, played hide & seek, bought ice cream from the ice cream truck, colored and read library books. Lots of lovely things to choose from. Her answer: “the flowers.” “What?” “The flowers. I like daffodils.” I remembered then the 30 minutes it took to get to the park. Ella loves flowers. She asked EVERY flower name, multiple times: Lazy Susans, Roses, Tulips, Daffodils. . .she laughed every time I said “daffodil,” until I guess it stuck. It IS a funny word if you think about it. . .feels like taffy on your tongue.
I try to remember that story when I’m changing Lucy’s diaper for the upteenth time, or she’s playing with the same rattle for 15 minutes. For kids, “the world is charged with the grandeur of God.” I won’t remember a year from now that I missed a phone call from Michael while we were at the park, or that I was hungry. I’ll probably even forget the little boy and girl who were so desperate for attention. What I will remember is the feel of sand on my baby’s skin—how it got stuck in her fat rolls. How her hair glinted red in the sun, and how big she smiled when I made stupid little zooming sounds and pretended to tap her on the head when the swing came close. I don’t believe parents should be doormats or endless reserves of attention for their kids. You need your “me” time. But get in the freaking sandbox now and then. DON’T be sarcastic when something awesome happens. Don’t miss a cool sandbox find. Don’t miss the daffodils.
PS. We are going to buy a ton of Hot Wheels for Lucy. They are awesome.
PPS. For “Lucy”. . .who am I kidding. Michael and I will be building race tracks in the living room.