A High-Class Problem?

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People generally refer to “nanny problems” as “high class problems,” as though clearly only the rich can afford to have nannies and therefore nanny problems.

In my native Canadia, amongst my friends, nannies are very common. There is live-in caregiver program in Canada, which allows caregivers to come to Canada and establish permanent residency. According to the Canadian government HR website, “Live-in caregivers working in Canada under the Live-in Caregiver Program may choose between two options for calculating their employment requirement for permanent residence:

  • 24 months of authorized full-time employment, or
  • 3,900 hours (within a minimum of 22 months which may include a maximum of 390 hours of overtime) of authorized full-time employment.”

Most of these nannies come from the Philippines, and many have wonderful, long-term relationships with the families they come to live with and work for. Furthermore, the financial benefits run both ways: the nannies make substantially more in Canada than they would in, say, Hong Kong (generally with far better living conditions), and for the Canadian family, the cost of a nanny is about equal to the cost of one child in daycare (so if you have more than one child and you need to decide between a nanny and daycare, in terms of cost alone, the choice is obvious).

All this is to say, I wish someone would watch my kids, cook my meals, and do my laundry. There, I said it.

Nanny-employers got a bad rap in this book/film . . .

When I moved to this side of the border, I first looked for someone to watch my kids. Which I could find, I discovered, for about $15/hour.

I also looked for someone to clean the house. No problem, as long as I’m willing to shell out $25/hour–and then come home and clean the toilet and the kitchen, since apparently they’d been missed.

Yet still, I was convinced that somewhere out here, in bounteous America, there had to be someone who wanted to work for me for, say, $14/hour, and do some laundry, be a wonderful playmate for my children, and scrub my toilet.

And I found her!

We spoke on the phone:

Me: “Hi, Would you like to come to my house to meet us and talk about employment?”

Nan: “You me need?”

Me: “YES! Can I give you my address? Can you come by on Sunday? 1pm?”

Nan: “Meet at library?”

Me: “OK, library.”

Nan: “OK, bye.”

Me: “Wait–how will I know it’s you??”

Nan: “Sunday no good?”

Me: “No, I mean, like, will you wear red?”

Lady in red?

Nan: “Better at 2?”

Me: “No, but how will I find you?”

Nan: “Saturday?”

Me: “No, no!”

This conversation, dear reader, should have rung some bells. How can you employ someone with whom you have no means of communication? Maybe what should have also rung some bells was that she was so readily available, or that she was willing to do for $14/hour what she should have been charging at least double, and maybe triple for.

But I determined to learn some Spanish, determined it would be wonderful to have my children exposed to a new language and a new culture, and yes, I determined to have my neverending piles of laundry diminished, and my peed on and peed around and peed near toilet and floor scrubbed, and my children entertained by Spanish tales more authentic than Diego provided. All would be perfect!

It didn’t work out that way.

We hired Nan.

At first, things went well. I came home and the baby was sleeping soundly, the beds were made, and, without my asking, the fridge had been meticulously wiped down. Nan continued to come, and I continued to be sure that the money was well spent. I pulled Baby MoFo, who was going to daycare 4 days a week, out of yet another day of daycare, dropping him down to 3. Admittedly, from the first days, Nan often came late–somewhere between 10 minutes and 20, but I didn’t worry too much.

Then she came an hour late. Then 2.

Then I started looking for clothes I had put in the washing machine when she came, asking her to throw them in the dryer, fold them, and put them away. I discovered them stuffed in a bag (each piece crumpled into a little ball), hidden in Baby MoFo’s room. Despite my repeated requests that she fold the clothes rather them hide them, this trend continued.

Then I started noticing that although the floor had that clean vinegary smell, it was covered in granules of rice and other debris. It turned out than while she was washing the floor, she wasn’t first sweeping or vacuuming it first.

Evidence of Nan's cleaning: our bookcase tiers are "decorated" with cleaning utensils, a kippah, my cosmetics case, garbage, and clean laundry (that *I* folded).

Whereas friends in Canada swear their nannies save them $100s with their economical ways–they hang clothes to dry! they wash and reuse baggies! they carefully pack up and save all leftover meals in tupperware neatly stacked in the fridge!–mine ran the dishwasher with one glass and two plates in it. And since she never rinsed said glass and two plates first, they often had to be washed again.

One day I came in while she was feeding Baby MoFo his lunch. It was a bowl of the chili I had made–full of beans and veggies and other good stuff–she had warmed it up and then mixed in potato chips and chocolate chips cookies.

The toilet never got scrubbed.

One day when I was leaving the house at 9am, I saw her giving Baby MoFo another wonderful meal: a Lifesaver. Apart from the fact that Baby MoFo was 18 months old!, could have choked and died, and never needed to be eating candies, it was 9am! Was this breakfast?? Luckily, I caught her. She looked at me: “No good?”

I breathed deeply. “No good.”

It was around then that I decided to admit the truth: things were not going well. It was time to let her go.

But how? How? How?

I couldn’t do it. All I could think of doing was pretending I went to Florida and never came back.

Dear Nan, Here's Baby MoFo in Florida. We're having so much fun, we may never come back. All the best, PP

And then, miracle of miracles: she quit.

I hugged her, wished here well, and was thrilled.

Two days later, she called and asked for her job back. I hedged. I said we were going to Florida and I didn’t know when we would be back.

Shortly thereafter, in my absence, she left at the house boxes and boxes of Christmas presents–for me, for the house, for the kids. Talk about guilt.

I waited a long, long time before I called her. But how could I not say thank you?

Nan: “You me need?”

Ass that I am, I said: “Yes.”

But reader, this story ends on a happy note.

No, I didn’t suddenly grow some cojones.

Yesterday, a blustery January day, Nan came over. She fed the kids garbage, she threw out that one piece of Lego that makes the whole 875-piece spaceship stay together, she hid our clean laundry, and she made the bed using our waterproof mattress cover as a sheet, BUT–here’s what else happened:

I decided to go get some work done at Starbucks. I went into the shed to get my bike. Suddenly, a gust of wind whipped the door of the shed closed. The pin fell into the hole of the lock, and hearing the little “click,” I immediately realized: I was trapped!

I tried not to panic (I was panicking). Suddenly I remembered that, miracle of miracles, I had my lousy, rarely-charged, pay-as-you-go cell phone with me. I kissed said phone. I called Nan.

“Nan!! Help!!! I am locked in the shed!! Get me out!!!!”

(In my state, I forgot that classic Diego line: “Ayudame! Ayudame!”)

Ayudame! Ayudame!

Nan: “Baby OK?”

Me: “I hope so. You have him. It’s me! I’m in the shed!”

Nan: “Wash sheets?”

Me: “YES, wash sheets! But that’s not what I need right now! Come to the backyard!!”

I finally did make myself understood.

And so, signs from the universe tell me that perhaps I should keep this nanny . . . although signs of my peed-on, unwashed bathroom floor tell me otherwise . . . What to do . . . what to do . . .

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2 responses »

  1. Loved it. It made me laugh. You know, you make Ama, our second nanny, look glowing with your account. Even though every time I spoke to her she ducked, as if I was going to hit her, and I had to let hubby communicate with her because she wasn’t scared of him. But still. Very funny. May your floors get clean, your toilet scrubbed, your kids survive.

  2. My husband and I are pissing ourselves reading this. As you know, we also employed Nan and had similar experiences with the chronic tardiness, odd meals fed to the child, and interesting cleaning habits (often at the neglect of the child), as well as the large fish she stored in our freezer. We also had trouble communicating over the phone, which led to several miscommunications when the child was simply not picked up from school. But the biggest miscommunication came the day Nan tried to quit. She simply couldn’t express this to my husband in a way he could understand, so she waited around until I came home an hour later. I came in to find them all there and a perplexed expression on my husband’s face mouthing the words “I don’t know why she won’t leave”. We too were relieved when the stress was off us to let her go, and felt equally awkward 2 days later when she asked for her job back, arms loaded with presents for all of us. For us though, the answer was clear, we had already arranged full-time care. I feel bad for her though – despite being unreliable, she did genuinely love the kids.

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