Monday Musings: Careful What You Wish For

Monday, January 12, 2009

On Friday morning, I woke up to the sound of my 3 year old screaming at the top of his lungs "No Nana! I want Mommy! No Nana No Nana No Nana!!!!!"

Nana is our nanny. She has been a part of our world since D was 3 months old and now feels like a part of our family. A testament to this? D came up with the name "Nana" himself. We still call her "Auntie" and we introduced her to D as "Auntie," but he knew unconditional familial love when he saw it and donned her his "Nana."

As a new mom, almost exactly 3 years ago, I had many misgivings about letting this older Indian woman into our homes and world. First there was the requisite guilt any new mom feels about getting help to take care of her children. We've all heard the folklore and mythology of our parents doing everything by themselves and how many stories have we burned to memory about our moms or mother-in-laws doing insane things like traveling to India, solo, with multiple children, no carseats, no DVD players (uphill both ways etc etc. ha.)? So the idea that I was paying for help in my comfortable little life, with only one child and a generous maternity leave on my plate--Let's just say guilt came out of my pores.

Long story short: I got over it. What was more difficult to overcome was the presence of this caretaker--this Indian grandmother-figure--in my space and in my thoughts. Was I her boss or her surrogate daughter? Sometimes the line became blurred, as she alternated between asking me if I wanted tea prepared in the morning to giving me advice on when to introduce water to my newborn. It irked me to no end that this nanny thought she could tell me what to do. And, in retrospect, I think it irked me to see her so natural with my little baby, who, at that point, was a complete mystery to me, as familiar as Greek (meaning: not familiar at all). She also would tell me seriously misguided things, such as "In the last family I worked for, all the kids wanted me more than they wanted their own mother." Great I thought. You just articulated my worst nightmare.

She didn't mean to say hurtful things. She just wanted to convey to me how much she loved my son, a fact that became obvious to anybody as the months rolled by. She didn't mind that he took forever to fall asleep, would demand whole new meals after she presented him with something homemade that took her hours to make, would scratch her face to the point that she would bleed while they were playing. She loved and loves him like her own grandson. And, in terms of my life--she afforded me the opportunity to temper the fog of new motherhood by having time to engage in the real world. I could get out of the house without much planning, completely secure in the knowledge that my new baby was safe and as taken care of as he would be by family. The luxury she affords me and husband now is almost embarrassing. We sometimes tend to keep it a secret that--in all honestly--we go out, see movies, try new restaurants, hang out with friends, and have time for ourselves more often than we ever thought would be possible post-children. Now, pregnant with my third monster, I truly don't know what we would do without Nana.

Of course I still find reason to complain. Nana is messy. Nana is impossibly unpredictable in terms of when she arrives on Monday morning. Nana believes you don't need to flush the toilet every time you go to the bathroom (I know). But these thoughts quickly segue into recognizing: Nana is the reason we could go to Mexico. Nana held a washcloth to my second son's forehead for 4 hours straight when he had a fever and I was stuck in a meeting at work. The only photo Nana carries in her purse is one of my children.

So, Friday morning, at 6 a.m., listening to D screaming at the top of his lungs to be away from his Nana, I felt as much a need to comfort her as I did to comfort him.
26 comments:
TP said...

This is beautiful. And put that guilt away you are lucky I would give my right arm for great childcare. We have hired and fired three part time caretakers in 4 months. It's no fun.

Janie T said...

I have noticed that many people with nannies refrain from talking about their nannies. I've always wondered why but it makes sense in terms of this idea the we are supposed to be able to "do it all" ourselves. Thanks for writing this!

Anonymous said...

Great piece. And the debate about nannies will always be present in groups of moms. I personally would rather use as little childcare as necessary. I figure we will only do this motherhood thing once so might as well soak it in. But that doesn't mean I don't get envious when I hear about people like you who get to keep one foot in their pre-baby lives. I have lost many friends and experiences choosing to take on my new roll of mom. I have no regrets but that's the way it is.

Purvi said...

I'm dealing with some of these issues right now. My baby is 4 months old and I'm going back to work in one month. We need help and I don't want to put the little one in daycare. My mom is offering to hook us up with an older Indian woman (is there a farm of these ladies somewhere?!?) but I don't love the idea of another Indian mom figure in my house, like you were saying! Do you think there are advantages to your nanny being Indian?

sjp said...

Ohmygosh if anybody ever told me that my kids were going to love them more than me I would sock em!

Anonymous said...

when my friends ask me how I manage to "do it all" I always reference our nanny. There is no way I could handle all the stuff on our lives without her. I felt guilt too on the beginning especially when I saw my nanny-less friends struggling to have any help let alone time for themselves but I getting childcare at this point is not a luxury it is a necessity and budgets need to be adjusted for necessities. I just mean that more people can afford help than they realize and judging me because I have a nanny as dome entitled rich girl is inaccurate.

Anonymous said...

"Nana believes you don't need to flush the toilet every time you go to the bathroom (I know). "

She's right. In fact, the US gov is advocating that in order to save water.

I flush usually after the second or even third urination of the day. I have my own private bathroom so nobody is offended.

Anonymous said...

Having a nanny or day care (for that matter) is a personal choice in raising your child. I send my kids to day care part time because my husband and I want to be back in the work force. I think it works for me because I am a better mother with this balance. But I would be lying to say I don't judge folks who take advantage of their childcare, specifically nanny situations. Its great to be able to go out and enjoy life or have the extra help, but often times I think people forget that those children are primarily their responsibility and not the nanny's. Like all parenting, I think its a delicate balance.

Anonymous said...

'if it's yellow, let it mellow. If it's brown, flush it down'.

It's despicable that most of the western world uses drinking water to flush the toilet when so many people do not have access to safe drinking water themselves.

Nana is right!

Oh, and how much of it is 'mythology' that our moms coped with so much on their own? I have great respect for what my mother had to deal with, sans extended family, sans nanny. It might not have made her 'duty to be interesting' (or some crazy piece of advice along those lines you refered to once before) that easy to achieve though, which makes me hope we step back and reflect just how lucky we are to belong to the leisure classes, and to consider the responsibility that comes with this....

Tani said...

It all depends. If everyone is using the same toilet I am thinking you waste a bit of water. Maybe that's just me.

To the poster above: I too respect my mom but man I could do without the thousands of stories of how she had it so much tougher than I do!

Shona said...

Some of these comments make me so angry and make me realize how easy it is to separate real friends from judgmental bi&*hes after motherhood. Who are you or who am I to judge how somebody else is choosing to raise a family? If a nanny works for you, and doesn't work for me, that doesn't make a nanny "right" or "wrong." To the poster who would be "lying" if she didnt admit to judging: Why is your estimation of the right balancing a woman does between everything in her life the RIGHT estimation? And to the poster who is nitpicking about the word "mythology," do you always give such condescending advice? I just think that there is something about becoming a mom that makes people highly, highly arrogant in ways that they never were before. Do what is right for you! Find people who support you! If you find yourself judging others ask yourself if it is only to feel better about yourself.

Anonymous said...

Wow I am surprised by the reactions to this post! I thought it was a nice piece of recognition for your nanny. But I guess the topic of nannies is always hot and loaded. I think it's great for you to put yourself out there like this, given how loaded it is. I have a full time nanny and while my husband and I know it's right for us, I had to do a lot of soul searching to be okay with how others perceived us in the beginning. 2 years out, i twas the best decision I ever could have made and I am not sure if this is related or not related but I can honestly say that I am one of the happier and more fulfilled moms in my circle of friends. While I might not necessarily agree with the tone of Shona above, I agree with the message that you should do what is right for you. Everything else will follow.

Anonymous said...

You are really lucky and the people who judge you for it are probably just jealous. Having high quality childcare is a necessity in this day and age and it's amazing how many of us are constantly searching for it. After having one nanny steal from us and another quit after giving 1 hours notice, I am wary of everyone and it's horrible, and my children suffer for it because being home ALL the time is NOT good for me and is NOT good for them. You learn alot about yourself in becoming a mom and I know I am a much, much better mom when I have help.

Older Momma said...

Everyone has their limits and everyone judges. Some people would have a "babysitter" from 9-5 every day but would "never" have sombody sleep at their homes. Some people would put their kid in daycare for 12 hours of the day but would "never" be the "type of person" who has a nanny. These insecurities go away, ladies. I can guess from these comments that many of the mothers have kids under the age of 3. As they get older we find new things to be insecure about certainly but thankfully this nanny issue gets relegated to the back burner to some degree.

Anonymous said...

I think you should just ignore the folks who judge you for having a nanny - it sounds a lot like "sour grapes". Yes our moms did it by themselves - but not without help from family, and household help. While the title "nanny" creates a lot of uproar - the fact that usually goes unnoticed is that most of the good nannies are like extended family, someone to get help from when we do not have the extended family


It took us more than 2 years to find the right person (happens to be an older non-Indian since most of Indian nannies would not drive and our child is older and needs to get shuttled for classes etc), but we are so happy. My kids call her "grandma" and give her the same respect they would give their Indian Grand parents, and she is just wonderful with them.

Sometimes it is indeed a win-win situation, and everyone around may not understand. I wish we had gone down this path more seriously sooner, we had a terribly tough initial 2 years with 2 kids one of whom required frequent hospitalizations. I know it has taken a toll on us physically and also affected our marital relationship (we never got to go "kid-less" anywhere!)

Jaya said...

That's really sweet that your son came up with "Nana" himself. There is no way a child can get enough love. If you are fortunate enough to have a nanny or any sort of child care provider who loves your child as if his or her own, I think you can safely let everything else go and thank your lucky stars.

Anonymous said...

I think we should Ask An Indian Auntie about this. She'll know what to do.

TH said...

Older Momma said it well: Everyone has her limits. This isn't true just for nannies versus no nannies, it's true for everything in motherhood. Should we let our kids have sweets and cookise? Should we let them cry it out? Should we insist on them eating ever piece of spinach on their plates? Every little decision is personal to how you are going to raise your children. The hard part is that for some reason these decisions are "on display" as if by having kids we have invited commentary on every single thing we do.

As for flushing the toilet: I am not having a latrine full of pee and excrement in my home. That's my limit, go ahead, judge me.

Anonymous said...

i go back and forth on this one but i do know this: there is no way in hell i could have three kids even though the idea of many kids is in some way appealing to me. maybe if i had help it would be possible but i am struggling with my one toddler.

Motherhood is Tough said...

Is there ANY decision we make for ourselves after we have kids that doesn't involve guilt of some magnitude? Nope, I don't think so. Some of the comments here make it obvious why: Motherhood is an open book, inviting judgment, scorn, ridicule, "I'm better than you" feelings. I would be lying too if I didn't think I was a "better" mom than the people who spend no time with their kids. But whether you hvae a nanny or not is only one aspect of how you are or how good a mom you are obviously.

Parul said...

i was raised by nannies and now have a nanny helping me with my kids. it was rough in the first few years but now i love when my kids are excited to see our ukrainian nanny and when she scoops them up and gives them bear hugs in the mornings. i would say that the toughest challenge comes from other moms who may judge my decision to work full time and have a nanny "raising" my kids. they'll call her my kids "substitute mom" when describing her to their kids. i promptly correct her and say "substitute grandma" (as she is 20 years older than me). we clash sometimes, but i appreciate her views and frankly, my kids need exposure to other things that she provides. i myself learned to sew, make beds (with hospital corners) and be a stronger woman because of my nanny growing up (and i still love my mom).

Anonymous said...

I was just going to say something similar, specifically that this issue is hard enough as it is and it is only more difficult when other parents decide to pass judgment. We are supposed to be doing this motherhood thing together aren't we? It amazes me how, at every stage of life, so many people find the ability to turn things into middle school and finger pointing all over again.

Anu said...

I agree, if anyone ever gives you a hard time about having a nanny, they're jealous! I think it's natural to feel a little guilty about a lot of decisions we make as mothers. After all, this is a person's life that we are completely in charge of and the thought (though not true) that every decision shapes and molds our children is overwhelming and guilt-inducing.

~mE said...

aww such act of kindness (ofcourse you are paying her- but these days no one goes that extra bit) brings tears in my eyes

Anu said...

I grew up with a nanny. This was in Kerala in the 70s, and it was such a common thing then. A generation earlier, when my maternal grandparents traveled to visit relatives, the nanny went along to take care of my youngest uncle, then a baby. In my paternal grandparents' home, there were two nannies who take care of all my father's siblings and now their kids. When one of them died, it was one of my uncle's who lit her funeral pyre.

When my mother was pregnant with me, she went home to her mother's house to have me. When she returned to my dad, she came with a 6-month-old me and a nanny who was trained by my grandmother. I still love my mother!

Yet, a generation down, my husband is practically begging me to get a babysitter to watch my 9-month-old for a couple of hours so I can do errands, and I find myself teetering on the edge of madness as I obsess about what this means for my mothering abilities. What in today's motherhood culture is creating this insanity?
Anu

Anonymous said...

Anu, listen to your husband and get the babysitter! And count yourself lucky that your husband understands you need some time for yourself. I don't know what it is about culture, or mothering culture, that makes us so hell-bent on doing everything ourselves, but I try every day to get over it!

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