10 Tips for Nannies and Babysitters

Mary_PoppinsWe’re just coming out of another round of hiring a part-time nanny/babysitter, and I’m struck again by how challenging and sometimes ridiculous the recruiting and ramp-up process can be. Unless you’re paying a service upwards of $2000 to help you find the right, professionally trained and background-checked match or are on the market for one of the round-the-clock celebrity super nannies who make more than you do, you’re navigating the process on personal recommendations and instinct and then leaving your most precious possession in their charge while you’re not there. Harrowing.

Of course, the match-finding and settling in with a new family can be a challenge for the nanny too, and usually with very little context: kind of a worst case for starting a new job. So with both sides doing their best to find the best fit and then fit in, what are some of the things that a nanny can do to make the process go more smoothly? (I have some thoughts for the families too, also based on my errors and successes – those are for a future post.)

Just a quick caveat: I know a number of these suggestions fall into the category of “basic professionalism” but I’ve been surprised by how often they’ve come up as issues. Maybe it’s because the job feels highly personal and therefore casual, or just because the basics are often overlooked over time so they bear repeating. Whichever it is, I hope this is helpful!

Interviewing

1. Be honest in interviews. This process is already difficult enough without the addition of interviews with candidates who have misrepresented their availability or are really looking for something different than what we’re offering. This isn’t to say you should never interview for a job you might not keep forever: we happily hired a wonderful sitter over the summer knowing she would be taking a teaching job this fall. We loved her and, knowing she would only be with us briefly, we were able to set our expectations accordingly. Just try to be clear about where you are in your search and plans. It’s a good place to start with a future employer.

2. Be someone I will want to hang out with. I know this sounds a bit vague and personal. What I mean is, “Be interesting, attentive and courteous.” Don’t misrepresent yourself, but, assuming you are not naturally an offensive jerk, your best bet is to be sincere, focused and have a real conversation with me at the interview. You’ll be hanging out with me and my child, after all: we want to like you, so show us what there is to like. (See here for more on this point re: hiring. We also heard this from an admissions director of an exclusive preschool recently, so I’m definitely not alone in prioritizing this vague qualification!)

Punctuality and absences

3. Be on time. Bonus points if you can be 5-10 minutes early. Babysitting is not one of those new-industry jobs where showing up approximately on time is fine. This is a job where I am counting on you to show up on time so I can show up somewhere else on time. I will absolutely book enough buffer time to get my little one settled and me out the door and where I’m going, but I will not continue to hire a sitter if I have to book (and pay for) the extra time his/her chronic lateness requires to make sure I get there on time. It is just too hard on my nerves, those ten minutes of wondering if you are going to show up at all! It just starts the shift and the day off on the wrong foot.

4. Texting to confirm your shift ahead of time is a great habit. We’ve recently had two sitters who confirmed by text every time they were scheduled to come. It is wonderfully reassuring. Of course, if you’re the full-time nanny, this isn’t necessary but for one-off date nights or part-time nannies where schedules seem to be constantly shifting and parents may be juggling a couple of different caregivers and two parents’ schedules, it is a huge relief to get a, “I’ll see you at 5PM this evening,” at 10AM that morning.

5. Get in touch the minute you start to feel ill or think you won’t make your shift. This is a personal pet peeve of mine, and it’s now an upfront policy with everyone we hire. Calling ten minutes before you were supposed to be at work to say that you’re feeling unwell and won’t be coming makes me nuts! It’s not that I don’t believe you – I do – but I’m betting you felt ill an hour ago, three hours ago, or last night the way I do when I’m getting sick. Call or text with a heads up as soon as you start to feel sick so I can move things around in case you aren’t able to come. If you feel better in the morning, great: I’ll still be happy to see you. If you don’t, I’m still minimally covered.

To be very clear, it is not a courtesy to follow the logic, “Well, I might feel better in the morning, so I’ll just wait and see and not bother anyone.” Bother me. Period. I would so much rather be bothered now. Really. If you can’t afford to not get paid for the hours and that’s why you’re taking the risk, let’s talk about sick time (or make-up shifts if you’re not full-time).

Communication

6. When in doubt, ask. I would rather answer a quick, “Does A. like mayo on her sandwiches?” than hear that she skipped lunch. I know some parents may differ with me on this, but my policy is, “I would rather field a question now than a crisis (even a small one) later.” All parents want our sitters to be self-sufficient and competent, but, especially early on, I expect to provide some guidance and course correction: it’s how we all ease into new jobs and situations. Caring for my child is a team effort and that means you should feel comfortable reaching out when you need a hand. (I also don’t want you going without caffeine because you don’t know where I keep the coffee. Ask me about things for yourself too.)

7. Related: don’t spare me the bad news. I expect things to go wrong. They go wrong for me all the time! Really. I want to know where and how she got that scrape on her knee or that something weird happened on the bus. Trust me, now that she can talk, she’ll tell me herself. Before that, I’d probably hear about it from someone else, and that is the worst case for employer/employee trust. I will trust you more for giving me the bad news as well as the good.

And, corollary, I want you to consult me immediately when things really go off the rails rather than being shy about bothering me. I trust your judgment, but this is my child, so if you’re stranded at the park with a dead battery at nap time, call me. I can help. Really. You aren’t on your own.

8. Provide notes of what happened and when. This is most important when nannying for an infant: how many ounces the baby drank and when, plus when and how long she slept are essential to a parent’s planning after you leave for the night. (A Post-It will do.) I like to get those updates on my preschooler as well. If she didn’t eat much lunch, I’ll plan a big and early dinner; if she didn’t nap, an early bedtime, and so on.

9. Related, texting during your shift to confirm that things are going well is a nice touch. It’s enormously reassuring to me, as the parent of a child who can get anxious easily, to know that everything is going smoothly or just to know what she’s up to.

10. Be tactful with parents and their guilt about leaving their child in your care. Some parents are super well-adjusted about their career and care choices and bravo to them. But many aren’t. These are some of the things I’ve heard from other moms: “I want him to be happy with you – but not happier than when he’s with me!” “I want her to miss me but not to the point of being unhappy,” etc. You see what I mean? I had one nanny tell me she just skipped telling one parent about missed milestones because the mom took it too hard. The baby would just do it again on the weekend and that was that. Most parents don’t need that kind of extreme care, but regardless, it’s a tightrope for you, the caregiver, I know. Just do your best to help a mom out where you can. Provide details but don’t brag too much about a child’s wonderful days without his beloved mama!

And finally, keep in mind that some people just aren’t a good fit with each other and that’s OK. No harm, no foul. Follow your best judgment, and know that sometimes things don’t work out and you just have to cut your losses and call it a day – by giving plenty of notice in the most professional way possible, of course.

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NABLOPOMO Resurrection

Welcome to November, everyone, home to Thanksgiving and that lesser known ritual of voluntary stress, National Blog Posting Month (or NABLOPOMO), in which participants vow to post to their blogs once a day for the month. As with National Novel Writing Month which spawned it, “volume” and “veolicty,” are the watchwords, not, “publishing the most incisive stuff I’ve ever written.” Since I’ve been in the throes of an unprecedented and imposing bout of writers’ block for nearly a year now, that sounds about right for me: writing pretty much anything will be a step in the right direction. Brace yourselves for some oddness. It may be a bumpy ride for all of us, but at least I’ll be back on the horse. Or near a horse, depending on how soon and often I get thrown off. You can stand well out of the way by the stables and laugh in a supportive manner. And bring me cocktails occasionally, as you see fit.

 

Best Thing Ever. No, Really.

microwave_toasterOK, we have to talk about this. Yesterday I went to check out a rental apartment in my neighborhood so that when you come to visit, you will have somewhere nice to stay, and what do you think was in the teeny tiny kitchen? You will never, ever guess. Not ever.

Let’s start with what it wasn’t:

a.) a possum

b.) your aunt

c.) anything not mini

What it was was a microwave oven with a vertical built-in toaster in the hidden side panel. Yes! Can you believe it?

Me neither.

This is brilliant in every way and I am going to need two of these.

Not only does this genius invention combine two kitchen appliances into one – hello, space saver! – but it also streamlines the cumbersome process of me electrocuting myself using a butter knife to get the toast out of the toaster, treating my third degree burns and brushing down my crispy hair, then buttering the toast and dropping it on the floor. In one simple step, the vertical toaster ejects the toast directly onto the floor. Such a time saver. This is the definition of efficiency kitchen.

I am golf clapping myself silly and you should join me.

Tomten Inflation

The tomten market is making a comeback. I was looking at my Christmas Things wish list on Amazon last week, and lo and behold one of the tomtens I bookmarked last year for possible purchase this winter is listing at $100,030.00. Another is now going for $290,024.00.

(If you aren’t clear what a tomten is, they are, in a nutshell, short Scandinavian awesomeness in hats who take care of livestock and security on farms.)

Now, tomten prices took a dive when everything collapsed a few years ago, but, like many luxuries of high living, they’re back on the rise. How can I tell? Well, there’s no exchange category for tomtens, since barn gnomes are not a commodity tracked by the US Department of Agriculture or anyone else except children (whose calculations can be, admittedly, inconsistent).

(It would be an insult if there were a market for them, really, being practically human as they are. And God knows you don’t want to insult a tomten: although, like the Mormons, their reputation has recovered from sometimes questionable practices of the past (in their case, violence to local maidens, not marrying them), they are still testy when not provided with buttered porridge, so let’s just everyone keep things civil and accord them the respect they deserve.)

In the absence of official market tracking, my tomten rebound data is somewhat anecdotal but so striking I think it stands. A jump from $29 to $100K+ is noticeable.

At first I was shocked at the inflation, but after a moment I realized that this is an appropriate market correction. Tomtens are, when you get right down to it, live-in farm hands. While paying a nearly $300,000 salary for a day laborer may sound steep, keep in mind that tomten work at night as well. Also, they’re magic, and you can’t put a price on that, am I right?

Of course it’s possible that these prices aren’t reflective of the larger market as a whole but a glitch in a server in Amazon’s subbasement,  but I prefer to think that tomtens are finally getting their due: civil rights – and possibly unionization – have brought equal pay for equal work.

Unfortunately, this uptick in wages puts them squarely in the 1%, so they’ll see a lot of the tax breaks they recently started enjoying disappear in the coming fiscal year, but we all have to pay a little to get a little, and tomtens’ socialist Scandinavian roots will have toughened them to a 40% tax bracket.

For my part, I’ve been priced out of the tomten market for the time being. I could get some livestock for our yard so I can write off my tomten as a business expense, but I’ll need to run that by my accountant to confirm. And R. He’ll probably want to have a say in introducing a cow to our twelve square feet of grass. I’m sure he’ll be fine with it though. Who wouldn’t want a cow if you already have a gnome to take care of it? No one, that’s who. This is going to be an awesome Christmas.

‘Tis the Season To Travel

Hi there. It’s been a while. How’ve you been? How’s your uncle’s health? That thing that happened to your foot, is that all sorted out? Great. I’m so glad.

I’ve been busy. Globetrotting busy. Sorry I couldn’t take you along, but I had a small companion with me who, while adorable, would’ve gotten you up at 2AM or 5AM depending on where we were that week, so you should thank me for not inviting you.

You’re welcome.

My little family on Zurich See.

We were in Zurich, Paris, Brussels, and Brugge in early October (with side trips to Copenhagen and Berlin for R.), then New York for 48 hours in the middle of the month (for a wedding and, let’s be honest, to see if I could outrun Sandy, which I did, by the way – last flight out, so high five to me. No high fives for global warming and devastating the city I love.) Then Roatan, Honduras for a week of friends and diving last week.

It was all very glam and exhausting and fantastic and over-luggaged, and, truth be told, I’m happy to be home for the holidays. I’ve got my sights set on a tapas Thanksgiving which will include things like stuffing meatballs and mini pecan pies. Maybe. It may also include a loss of eyebrows and a visit from the fire department. Who knows? An all-flambe Thanksgiving could be fun, right? One thing is for sure, we’re getting a Christmas tree Thanksgiving weekend, and this year I’m going to water it come hell or high water.

Actually, come high water, I will stop watering it. You don’t want to overdo it.

In the interests of making your future traveling life simpler and easier than my recent one has been, here are

The top seven things I learned from our trips to Europe, Central America and pre-Sandy New York:

1. If a hurricane is approaching your intended destination, you might want to reconsider your trip, as it may take you forever to get home. Unless they have Dunkin Donuts where you’re going, in which case you should definitely go. Or a really good friend is getting married. That too. You should go to that. Get a coffee and donut on the way. And a case of bottled water. And a generator. You’ll be the life of the party, maybe literally.

2. When you book a trip to a third world country, you should plan on getting immunization shots. And by “plan” I don’t mean ring up your doctor and your child’s pediatrician in a panic five days before the trip to find out if you will come back with yellow fever, malaria and rickets. (Rickets is still a thing, right?) And you need those shots about six months ahead, not six hours, for them to be effective. Just FYI. (P.S. I don’t have malaria. Yet.)

3. I know you love French cheese. It’s because it’s unpasteurized. And illegal, which makes it more thrilling. (As thrilling as sitting perfectly still with a dairy product, a small, non-lethal knife and a baguette can be, but the point stands.) No matter how much you love it and how willing you are to brave questions from humorless customs’ agents who probably want that cheese for themselves, do not bring seven pounds of it home. Unless you sent out invitations for a cheese party before you left, you will not eat it before it starts resenting you.

4. If you have a tiny portable speaker to broadcast rainshowers all night to keep your toddler insulated from startling noises and reliably asleep and that speaker has a small, essential cable that charges it and connects it to your iPod and you lost that cable on your last trip, only to rediscover it after extensive searching only the day before the current trip, do not for any reason detach that cable for fear the connector might snap off in your luggage and store it “someplace safe.” This is the equivalent of just going ahead and running it down the garbage disposal and checking yourself into an insane asylum for a few days, as you will a.) never find it again (again), and b.) will lose your mind trying.

The reason I dive.

5. If you are claustrophobic and nervous about people/yeti/sharks/the Mafia sneaking up on you while on land, you may want to reconsider diving in the open ocean. They have sharks there. Also, adorable turtles and seahorses and what not. But you will see them while under 40 feet of water and breathing dry oxygen from something that makes you look like Bane to your small daughter while you’re getting re-certified in the pool before you went out there, which makes you worry that she too will start sitting with her back to the wall and facing the door in restaurants because it’s good to know what’s coming and be able to see your exit. Which, for the record, is above you if you’re diving. Which is not normal and counterintuitive and weird. Like breathing underwater. The whole thing is weird.

6. United Airlines is a terrible, terrible company that turns what are probably perfectly nice, normal people into super-annoying and bizarrely unsympathetic employees who park their beverage/ice crusher truck next to your sleeping toddler’s head TWICE, ruin your luggage, do not apologize, offer more trips on their terrible airline as compensation and generally show almost no human characteristics. You should avoid flying United if you possibly can. But you knew that.

And finally,

7. Even with all the lost cables, panic attacks underwater, terrible airlines and weather, weather, weather, travel is good. You should go. It may be tiring, it may be logistically challenging, it may be expensive, but you should still go. You get to see your cool friends, you get to see the American election from outside the country (thank God), you meet a turtle or two. It gives you some breathing room and some perspective, that time away. You’ll like it. Just go.

Even if you get rickets. Which you probably won’t. But get some sunlight and Vitamin D anyway. And a donut. Donuts help with everything.

Infiltration Is the Answer

I read another column by Cass Sunstein this week on how you can’t convince anyone of anything, and I woke up yesterday morning wondering how I can get around it. The basic (proven) theory is that if you present someone with strong opinions with a balanced representation of the facts, a.) they will only hear the facts that support their own position, and b.) being confronted with the facts on the other side of the matter will only cement them more firmly on their own side of it.

Sum total: once people believe something, it’s unbelievably hard to convince them of something else and using empirical evidence to do so is more than pointless, it’s counter-productive.

Since I think I’m super right about a lot of things – like that Dunkin Donuts is the best coffee and that tearing down the Liberace Museum in Las Vegas is a goddam travesty – this is obviously distressing. How am I supposed to get people behind me when I start my army to settle this, “It’s fuck all hot around here so can we all just admit there’s global warming?”

Sunstein says there’s one exception to the depressing rule: if someone like you, who believes things you believe and who you view as essentially an ally, purports to believe something you don’t, that dissonance may cause you to re-think your position. So, if you’re in the Fox News camp, and Karl Rove came out in favor of puppies after years of lying, cheating and puppy-kicking, you might consider getting a dog. (I mean really: who doesn’t think Karl Rove kicks puppies? Back me up on this.) Or if I started saying that I thought, yeah, San Francisco might be a real city after all even though everyone has a #$?! garage and what kind of self-respecting urban density is that?, you might reconsider too. That kind of thing. (Not that anyone agrees with me on that San Francisco thing, which I don’t understand at all, but there it is: life is full of mysteries.)

So the upshot of all of this is that if you plan to take on Uncle Al at Thanksgiving dinner about whether Obama is actually an American citizen, you better get Donald Trump on your side and bring him along, ’cause that’s your best bet. See also: “How to Have a Memorable Thanksgiving.”

I don’t fully understand how you get the turncoat over to your side in the first place, but maybe Sunstein covers that in his next book. My completely-not-a-conspiracy-theory is “long-term infiltration.” E.g., Trump spends a lifetime building a tacky real estate empire, a silly television show, and a ridiculous haircut as prelude to the moment when he goes, “OK, yeah, I saw the birth certificate and it looks real. My bad,” over lemon Jell-O mold and stuffing in your Nana’s dining room. That is totally going to happen. I can feel it. This is your year.

In the meantime, I guess we should all just try to be a little more suspicious of our own personal echo chambers and give our moderate friends a hug.

For the record, though, I still think that you should invite Trump to Thanksgiving. And me. I’m totally coming too.

Nanny Withdrawal

So our nanny left. Not because I’m crazy and never mow the lawn or yell obscenities on Thursdays or something, thanks for asking. She got a better offer – more money, more kids, full-time – and we didn’t counteroffer. (Because we didn’t want FT help. Also, we have no other kids. Or money.) When this came up six weeks ago, it seemed like a brilliant idea to go it alone. A. is two and a half now, by the way, a barrel of laughs and she and I are great together. Like cream cheese and jam. Peanut butter and honey. And other combinations of sandwich fillings found in New England in 1978.

We could also use the money we were spending on the nanny for things like more tiaras for me.

I find my tiara really sets me apart from the other moms at the playground, especially when I pair it with track pants, but I need more than one in the rotation to seem truly chic and on it.

Photo by Shelley Panzarella, Flickr Creative Commons

At the end of week one without a nanny, I will admit that I am having some doubts about my cold turkey approach to the transition away from having time to myself every week to work and do other important things like drink a cup of coffee not at 6:30AM or run twelve errands in 45 minutes.

First of all, I have no extra tiaras yet, which is a big disappointment. It turns out that having a toddler in tow = very little time to peruse the goods at Bejeweled Bejunction.

Second, I have gotten no writing done. OK, like an hour the other day, but that’s it. This is not good for anyone involved. I get crabby when I don’t write and was getting a little foggy at the edges by Wednesday. It’s Friday now and by this evening I’m going to need either a.) seven cocktails, or b.) some (*&$! time to write already.

I’ll grant that this week hasn’t been the best one to make generalizations about how it’s going. A. got one of those inexplicable little kid fevers on Tuesday that led nowhere (good) but kept her up and periodically hysterical when she was supposed to sleep (bad) but down and listless when she was supposed to be awake (also bad). I feel for both of us.

On top of that, I started reading a book about OCD last night at about 9:30. This is the bedtime equivalent of going on WebMD with “headache” as your primary symptom. It wasn’t the best choice I’ve ever made, I’ll admit, but I’m interested in brain research and psychology and when the hell else am I going to read this stuff? In bed at 11AM with my bon bons and Pomeranians? Yeah. It turns out I both do and don’t have OCD, by the way, which is very confusing and makes me want to wash my hands several times and check all the doors because I’m so anxious about it.

So all in all, a disruptive first week on the full-time-no-nanny train. Next week’s plan: skip The Daily Show and go to bed early so that I can work in the early morning. Here’s hoping I don’t start writing about the glories of the dishtowel or take up triathalon training or other it’s-still-dark-outside delusional activities, God help me. Stay tuned.

Double Espresso?

Top Five Better Vice Presidents Than Paul Ryan

On Saturday, Bland White Dude in Waiting Mitt Romney announced super-aggressive youngster Paul Ryan as his running mate in the 2012 presidential election. Ryan’s platform of hard-core Catholicism, guns are great, gays are bad, women don’t matter, and fruitcake ideas about how to manage our budget aside, I would not have chosen Ryan as my running mate if I were Mitt. Why? Because he could have done better. That’s all I’m saying.

Top Five Better Vice Presidents Than Paul Ryan

1. Michael Phelps. Right?? I know!

The only job of the Veep, besides hiding a hopeful grin whenever POTUS trips on the carpet, is breaking a tie in the Senate, and Phelps wouldn’t ever let it get to a tie in the first place. He’d either hand them their asses out of the starting blocks or he’d out-touch them at the wall with that albatross wingspan of his. I have no idea what that means in the Senate, but I guarantee you this: Phelps is gonna win whatever it is hands down. That is one winningest motherfucker and Romney needs a piece of that action.


2. A gun. Admittedly this choice would upset some people, but those people weren’t going to vote for Romney anyway. Bonus: the Take Our Country Back-ers who’ve been on the fence about the Mitt-ster would be so excited to see someone they recognize up there on the campaign float next to the horse-owning, boat-sailing, northeastern millionaire that they don’t. A shiny Smith & Wesson would do the job. No need for an actual assault rifle. That would just be dangerous and unnecessary overkill, right? No? Oh. OK. Sorry.

3. Sarah PalinIf you thought she was a surprising pick for McCain, imagine how surprised everyone would be if Romney picked her too. I for one LOVE a good, heart-attack-inducing, no fucking way surprise.

Romney’s campaign could use a jolt of the paddles to the chest and Palin could be it. She’s still super maverick-y on things like basic facts and what’s an appropriate use of Facebook and – bonus! – she doesn’t have any pesky un-vetted secrets anymore now that Bristol’s got her own show and Levi’s shown his, um, colors in Playgirl.

Besides, 30 Rock is coming up on its last season, so we all could use a little more Tina Fey in our lives.

4. RafalcaRoy Rogers had Trigger, The Lone Ranger had Silver and Mitt Romney has Rafalca. I know a horse is kind of a stretch for the vice presidency, but come on: it’s a dancing horse. That shit is Uh. Mazing.

I know Rafalca’s been a bit of a Richie Rich problem for Romney, so putting her on the ticket would be the ballsy, call out the haters move. Plus, she’s a girl, so he might win some ladies back to his side. Or some twelve-year-old girls.

While we’re on the subject, I honestly can’t fathom why Romney won’t just release his tax returns: with a dancing horse and a car elevator, we all know he’s just one chocolate waterfall away from Willy Wonka wealth, so he should just post his, “I’m a crafty, paid-no-taxes bastard,” docs on WikiLeaks and let’s all move on the Rich Man’s Carnival also known as the Republican National Convention. Bring your horse. I’ll bring the hookers.

Which brings us to our fifth awesome candidate:

5. Gene Hackman from The FirmHackman is the whole package. He’s like the second coming of Dick Cheney without the pacemaker and that weird man-sized safe.

First, if Romney really doesn’t want to release his tax returns, Hackman’s got him covered. He already has a condo in the Caymans chock full of super secret off-shore documents. What’s another box or two? Also: good place to hide bodies or “ladies of the night” or whatever else you got going on.

Bonus: Hackman’s got that guy from Quaker Oats on his payroll and that that dude has some hidden security skills, no Secret Service required.

See? Five super duper, perfectly viable candidates I bet Romney didn’t even consider. All of them right up on that “notice me” edge. I’m not saying Paul Ryan is a bad choice, I’m just saying Romney could have done better. He’s got a couple of weeks before the Convention to reconsider, so have at it. You’re welcome.

David Rakoff, 1967-2012

“We are wired for unburdening. It’s what we do as a species. When I am being told, I listen, mindful of the honor, remembering all the while that the shore would be mistaken to believe that the waves lap up against him because he is so beautiful.”

David Rakoff, Half Empty