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About the Author
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Who's Going to Watch My Kids?
Working Mother's Humorous and Heartfelt Struggles to Find and Hold on to the Elusive Perfect Nanny
By Rachel Levy Lesser
Red Wheel/Weiser, LLCCopyright © 2015 Rachel Levy Lesser
All rights reserved.
Search and Interview
I did end up marrying that great guy. He and I left New York City together just a couple years after getting hitched to attend business school at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. The great guy, Neil (his name is Neil, but I do still sometimes refer to him as that great guy), had always planned on getting his MBA as it was the next logical step in his career as a management consultant. I figured that earning my MBA would only help to advance my career in magazine marketing. Plus, I thought having that graduate degree would help me one day as a working mom.
Those days as a working mom came sooner than I had ever imagined. While I was living and studying in Ann Arbor, my mother was diagnosed with a very rare form of cancer back in Philadelphia near where I grew up. The cancer was aggressive and her prognosis was not good. I knew her days were numbered, and I wanted to be near her for as long as I could. I also wanted her to get to know her first grandchild if at all possible, as it would most likely be the only one she would ever know.
So I became pregnant during my second and last year as an MBA student and walked up to the podium to receive my Masters of Business Administration wearing a cap and gown and sporting a very pregnant belly. Prior to that graduation, Neil was offered a job in the Philadelphia office of the management consulting company he had worked for in New York before business school. That made the transition to be near my mother and the rest of my family relatively easy.
Just a few months after graduation, I gave birth to our first child—a boy named Joey. And as I had imagined long ago while working for the magazine company in New York, he was in fact adorable. I was pleased to see that baby Joey had a nicely shaped head and ears, or so other adults who seemed to know what they were talking about told me. Apparently I was not such a cute baby but, luckily, as my mother used to say, I outgrew that funny looking baby phase rather quickly.
It wasn't until Joey started sleeping through the night that I could begin to imagine myself working again. I couldn't think about anything beyond pumping breast milk and swaddling techniques before that magical morning when I awoke to a quiet house at 6 a.m. I immediately thought that the baby monitor had broken. Or worse, that Joey had lost his lung capacity and ability to cry. But he was fine. He was sleeping through the night at only six weeks old. I was so pleased with him and with myself too. When you first have a baby, everyone, from any friend you've ever known to complete strangers at the grocery store, will stop to ask you, "Is he sleeping through the night yet?" So when he did, and at quite an early age, I was pleased to answer with a resounding "yes."
I was lucky on the sleep front with Joey. He was a good eater and therefore a good sleeper. He still is now as an eleven-year-old child. As an infant he got enough nutrients during the day to make it through the night. Then I could sleep through the night again, and my brain started to function so I could go back to work. I had to go back—to earn an income and to keep my sanity.
I had looked for jobs throughout my pregnancy. At first I looked remotely from Michigan, and then in person once I was living in suburban Philadelphia. I thought that being pregnant would make it very difficult to land an interview, much less a job. I was lucky again—very lucky. The whole being pregnant thing forced me to be completely up-front with potential employers. I told them when I was due and that ideally I could start work three months after I gave birth. I put it all out there, and I was pleasantly surprised with many of the responses I received. I ended up getting an offer from a small marketing and strategic branding company just ten minutes from our house. My magazine marketing experience and MBA fit nicely in the business. We negotiated my salary and work schedule (three full days a week) during my pregnancy and agreed on a start date soon after Joey was born.
It all sounded great, and the sleep thing helped too, but then it was time for me to find my nanny Louise. I wasn't really sure how or where to find her. My mother suggested I contact a young woman named Stacey. Stacey's mother and my mother were friends, and Stacey had moved back to the area where she had grown up just like I did.
"In fact," my mother eagerly explained to me, "Stacey lives right around the corner from you. I think you two will really hit it off. She works too, and she has a nanny. A really good one I hear."
Is that all it takes to strike up a new friendship with another mom? I wondered. You just had to live near each other, work, and have a common interest in nannies? It kind of reminded me of the first week of college when you became friends with everyone on your freshman hall only because you shared a bathroom with them and walked the very same route to classes.
I was nervous to make the first move and call Stacey, but I was kind of desperate. I knew nothing about nannies and didn't really know anyone my age in Philly. I hadn't seen Stacey since she left for college when I was a freshman in high school, and I wasn't sure we had ever had a real conversation.
The Newspaper Ad
Stacey was more than happy to help me as our first real conversation went well. She had a lot of advice to give me on the nanny front, and I was happy to take it. She did remember me as the shy little kid that her friends used to babysit when we were growing up, and I think she still thought of me that way. I kind of did too as I wrote down almost every word out of her mouth, still thinking of her as the older and wiser girl who had been around the block a time or two. Since I had last seen Stacey in the late 1980s, she had moved away to go to college in the Midwest, and then to California where she worked in retail for nearly a decade. A job opportunity in her family's business eventually drew Stacey back to the Philadelphia area. When I first became reacquainted with Stacey, she had a toddler son and a baby boy on the way.
"Maybe our baby boys will be friends?" Stacey mentioned during that first phone conversation. I took that statement as the utmost compliment. I mean Stacey the older cool girl wanted her kid to hang out with mine? I had it made. All of those years of ignoring each other as kids just melted away. Almost immediately after our longer-than-expected first phone call ended, Stacey forwarded me the advertisement that she had placed in the local paper where she had found her first nanny. The nanny still worked for her some three years later, and Stacey made a point to tell me what a great feat that was. I wasn't so impressed. That didn't seem so long to me. I had worked at the magazine company in New York for six years and would have been there a lot longer had we not moved to Michigan for graduate school.
I took Stacey's ad, changed the days, hours, and contact information, and placed it in the same paper in which Stacey had placed her ad. That was it.
Nanny needed in home for baby
Mon, Wed, Fri 8:30 a.m.–6:30 p.m.
Experience and references necessary
Non-smoker, speaks English
Need driver's license and own car
The ad ran on a Thursday, and the phone started ringing early Thursday morning. I scrambled for a pen to take down the candidates' information. I had a plan to screen each one over the phone, but that process was not as easy as I had imagined. Some of the women (and they were all women) gave me very little information, and some gave me way too much. I did my best to narrow my list down to a handful of candidates that I wanted to meet in person.
Eileen sounded like a lovely woman over the phone. She had experience in raising her then-grown children, and had taken care of her young grandchildren as well. I arranged an in-person meeting. She came to our house one bright and crisp fall afternoon. I was pleased that the weather was turning cooler and that I could fit into my pre-pregnancy favorite pair of jeans as I sat in the living room across from Eileen with baby Joey in my lap.
I had a list of interview questions borrowed from my new friend and nanny-finding mentor, Stacey. I revised the questions a bit to my liking but really tried to stick to her basic outline. I sort of felt like Stacey was my boss in the nanny-finding department, and I definitely needed one. Eileen spoke a lot about her children and grandchildren, and I liked that. When I asked about her professional experience it seemed that she had floated around from job to job. Perhaps her passion was in childcare, and she had just never found a job before in that field?
Our conversation soon turned to her involvement in her church, and I liked that sense of community involvement and giving back. But when she told me that she developed a strong connection to the church after years of battling alcoholism, I became skeptical. I didn't want to jump to any conclusions, but when you are interviewing someone to watch your new baby for nine plus hours a day alone in your home, and you find out that the person has pretty recently battled a heavy drinking problem, it's kind of a red flag. I couldn't help but stare at our small bar cart filled with bottles of alcohol that Eileen was sitting right next to as I held Joey now slightly closer to me. I imagined her taking a few swigs from the vodka bottle as she watched Joey, then swiftly refilling it with water like I once did in college when I was home visiting my parents. I was all for giving someone a second chance, but not when my son's wellbeing could be at risk.
"All right then," I said as I tried to tie up the conversation. Eileen obviously felt comfortable with me, maybe too comfortable. She had revealed too much, which in this situation was a good thing for me. I knew she would not be getting the job. Eventually I led her to the door and said that I had more candidates to interview, but that I would be in touch with her either way.
I did call Eileen later to tell her that we had decided to go in another direction. She sounded genuinely disappointed and surprised, which frankly surprised me.
I conducted a few more phone screenings with candidates who saw my newspaper ad, but no one was promising. The candidates were either too young, too old, had no experience, wanted too many hours, didn't have enough hours to give me, and the list went on. I wondered why someone would answer my very short and to the point ad if they didn't meet those very minimum requirements.
"Well I can only work weekends," said one woman to me on the phone. Click.
"Can I bring my three children with me?" asked another. Click.
"I can't drive." Click.
And then I picked up a message on my home answering machine while out running errands one day. I was at the gas station and Joey was snug in his car seat, all zipped up in the fleece insert in the back of the car. I was getting a bit nervous that I couldn't go to work because I would have no one to watch my baby. I imagined never leaving Joey's side. Perhaps on his first day of kindergarten I could start to network? By that point though, I would be so far removed from the workplace environment that I would never be able to get back into it. And what about the next child? I'd have to wait until he or she started school too. My career was over.
Then I heard her voice on the machine.
"Hi, my name is Amy. I saw your ad in the paper about the nanny job, and I am interested. I just graduated from college, and I love taking care of babies. I have experience and references. Please call me back." She left her number.
I had a really good feeling about Amy. It was similar to the feeling I had after I first met with a young woman who I ended up hiring to work for me at Time Inc. in New York, and not too different from the sense I got after making a connection with my on-campus admissions interviewer at the University of Pennsylvania some thirteen years prior. Call it an instinct or just a strong feeling, but I've always been pretty perceptive. My mom taught me how to act on those feelings when I was nervous while prepping for the SATs way back in high school.
"Go with your gut feeling.... It's usually right," she used to say. I always had that voice in the back of my mind no matter what the situation.
I called Amy right back, and I liked the sound of her voice. She asked several good questions. I could tell she was serious about wanting the job and about proving to me that she would be good for it. She was a viable candidate and quite possibly the only viable one.
Amy came to our house for the face-to-face interview, and I liked her even more in person. She showed up wearing her oversized Penn State hooded sweatshirt and jeans. A bit casual, I thought, but comfy and ready to play with a baby. My first question to Amy sparked a good conversation, and I got to know some things about her and her family too. She had recently moved in with her parents after college, and she was taking graduate classes at night in education. She hoped to teach one day, and in the meantime, she needed a job and loved to be with children. It all sounded good to me.
I got excited as our conversation progressed, and I began to think that Amy was indeed the one. I started picturing her in our house, playing with Joey, feeding him, putting him down for a nap. I had to stop my overactive imagination and remind myself to play it cool.
"Would you like to see Joey's room?" I asked Amy, figuring we could talk more as I gave her a tour of his room and the rest of the house.
"Sure," she said with a smile as she carried Joey in her arms up our narrow and steep staircase. At that moment I was glad that we had the runner installed on the stairs, as I didn't want Amy to slip and fall, drop Joey, potentially hurt him, and then ruin my chance to hire her as our very first nanny. I made certain to show her Joey's favorite stuffed animal, Mr. Bear, and his cozy blanket, the one that had his full name, Joseph (which no one ever called him), sewn into both the light blue and white sides.
"This is where you would put him down for his nap, if you ended up working here of course," I explained as I tried not to get ahead of myself.
We ended up giving Amy the offer after she came back to meet Neil and my mother. Her references from past babysitting jobs were excellent. I gave her the specifics on the three full days of the week that I would need her to watch Joey. She agreed to that schedule and the hourly rate. I walked her through my expectations about showing up for work and showing up on time.
"After all," I reminded her. "When you can't come to work, then I can't go to work." She understood. We had successfully found and hired our first nanny. Nanny Amy worked out really well for two years until she had to leave us to find "a real job." At that point, I found myself wondering, What are we?
The thing about searching for a nanny with a newspaper ad is that you need to be as specific as possible. You also need to screen really well over the phone. Everyone and their mother reads the want ads, especially in the local papers. You will end up spending more time than you care to interviewing "potential" nannies without a lot of potential if you don't phone screen first. Stacey's phone screening questions turned out to be an invaluable tool. If a candidate didn't have the right answers to the questions over the phone, then she didn't get an in-person interview.
Stacey's Nanny Screening Questions Name:
Willing to take care of multiple children?
How many children?
Would you be able to provide these references?
Do you have a reliable form of transportation to/from my home?
When would you be able to start work?
It's also a good idea to have people that you know and trust meet the candidates in person like I did when interviewing nanny Amy with Neil and my mother. More people means more perspectives. Other people will not become as attached to candidates the way that the mother will. They are further removed from the situation. It was my mother who expressed concern about the shape of Amy's car. She wondered if it would be reliable enough to get her to and from our house. And she was right—several months into her time with us, Amy had car troubles.
The Online Ad
Our search for nanny number two was different from the first one, kind of like how baby number two is always different from baby number one. Not necessarily better or worse, just different. One of my new mom friends suggested that I place an ad on a local caregiving website. (I was so pleased to be making real connections with other moms in our new hometown. It was kind of like how I felt after I made real friends in college—not just the ones who lived on my freshman hall.) Searching for someone online to look after our then-toddler Joey and new baby girl on the way sounded a bit scary back in 2005. But my trusty new mom friends assured me that they had found great nannies online. It was certainly worth a shot.
Excerpted from Who's Going to Watch My Kids? by Rachel Levy Lesser. Copyright © 2015 Rachel Levy Lesser. Excerpted by permission of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Chapter 1: Search and Interview,
Chapter 2: To Live-In or Not to Live-In,
Chapter 3: Country Mouse, City Mouse,
Chapter 4: The Young and the Not So Young,
Chapter 5: We Are Family ... or Are We?,
Chapter 6: You Are Not the Boss of Me,
Chapter 7: Judgment Call,
Chapter 8: Busted! The Secret Lives of Nannies,
Chapter 9: Only One Mother,
Chapter 10: A Teacher Too,
Chapter 11: You Can't Make This Stuff Up,
Chapter 12: Getting Dumped,
Chapter 13: You're Fired,
Chapter 14: Where Are They Now?,