Childcare Trouble: Letting Our Nanny Go

2.16.10: Leo's 21st Month

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One of the hardest parenting issues we’ve faced is the question of childcare. It’s an issue that has felt so complicated and stressful for so long that we often have to make appointments to talk about it, we aren’t allowed to just casually bring it up over dinner.

Since the New Year, I’ve been looking into preschools, while Leo continued to share our nanny with another child and to spend a few days with a neighborhood woman who looks after children in her home. The more options I’ve looked into, the more complicated the whole thing seems, yet we haven’t hit on the most suitable and sustainable childcare yet so I keep looking. Then, last week, things went from okay to not okay.

Last week, I walked out the door while the nanny was on the floor playing with Leo and his friend. I put on my coat, began walking downstairs, then realized I’d forgotten my purse and turned around. When I walked into the apartment, our nanny was fast asleep in the same position she’d been in when I’d left a moment before. The boys were still playing, yet I had to say the nanny’s name repeatedly to wake her. I don’t know what was going on to allow her to pass out so completely, but I was alarmed. I didn’t make a big deal of it, just got my purse and exchanged a few words with her on my way out again. She said she’d take the boys to the park. I decided to cancel my plans and work in my best friend’s apartment downstairs to keep an ear on things.

When I didn’t hear any sounds of leaving for the park over an hour later, I was concerned and nervous. I have never wanted to sneak up on our nanny, maybe because it seemed rude (she might be peeing with the door open, she might be, I don’t know, having one of those bad moments that can occur with toddlers where you don’t look like the best caregiver, but really they happen to everyone). Maybe I also never wanted to sneak up on her because I was afraid. Afraid of this whole business of entrusting someone with my child, afraid of being an employer to a woman my own age with kids older than mine. Afraid of a woman who I’ve asked to do one of the most intimate jobs possible: care for my child in my home.

In any case, when I decided to walk back into my apartment an hour after finding the nanny asleep, I was afraid. I was shaking. I took a deep breath, knocked once and stepped into my own home. The boys were playing nicely. The nanny was slumped in the corner, dead asleep and difficult to rouse. I woke her and began to express concern, loudly, about her well-being and her ability to care for the kids that day. She said she didn’t know why, but she had a headache. She would take the kids to the park and get a coffee on the way. She was sure she’d be fine. I helped her put the kids in coats and stroller and get out to the curb, then watched her trundling down the block. I was FREAKED OUT.

In the end, after much discussion, I decided that it did not seem wise to trust this nanny further. We talked with the family we share with, were all on the same page, and we told the nanny we didn’t feel comfortable trusting her with our children anymore. She said she understood, gave us our keys and left, with sadness on all sides. It was and is awful to think about a woman who has worked so hard, been so close with our kids, and who I know has a hard life, suddenly out of a job with no references to account for the last year. Over and over again I wish I could help her, I miss the ways in which she was a part of our lives, and I begin to question our decision. Then, I remember that she was found sleeping once before (when we shared her with another family), that I never felt quite great about her (the other family had hired her first, then we’d joined in, and I often thought I probably wouldn’t have hired her), and I realize that I truly could never again feel safe leaving Leo with her. So that’s that. It’s a hard, grim lesson, and we’re all sad.

All I can tell myself is that childcare is one of those big fat learning processes. And that being home with Leo while we look for a new situation for him is something I can really savor. My sweet, wild little boy is safe and happy and I’m lucky I can spend this time with him.

… Stay tuned for more on looking for preschools and interviewing nannies….

Recipe: Warm Kale Salad