Reflecting on the very complex relationship between mom and nanny.
I met you just a few days before my baby came. I’d never interviewed a nanny before, and I had no idea what to ask you. I read every article, and printed three pages of questions I’d found on the internet. But I didn’t ask a single one. Instead, I rubbed my belly and tried to imagine the baby that would soon be on the outside -- what life would look like in a week, in three weeks, and in three months when it was time for me to go back to work. It just looked murky and abstract.
I interviewed two other nannies, mostly because I thought I was supposed to. And I couldn’t picture leaving my baby with any of you. But I knew I was going back to work, and although I didn’t know much about motherhood, I had heard that leaving a three-month baby home alone wasn’t an option. So I trusted the moms whose children you had already raised, and I hired you.
A week before I was due back at the office, you arrived at my door. I handed over detailed notes about everything the universe had so far revealed about my baby. I showed you how bouncing on the exercise ball calmed her, and how she’d only finish the bottle if you tilted it just so. I lectured you on her likes and dislikes, I quizzed you on her daily routine, and I made you swear up and down and back and forth that you would do everything JUST like I did it. Because after all, I was the expert. Then I cried when I left for work, just 12 weeks after my baby was born.
Those first few weeks, and even months, were incredibly difficult. Each day, I second-guessed my decision to go back to work. I wondered if I’d made a huge mistake, if I was outsourcing motherhood to you. You were a relative stranger, and you were raising my baby! Would she grow up feeling abandoned by me? Or unloved? Would she forever blame me for leaving her in someone else’s care for the better part of her days?
But as the weeks and months wore on, I watched her melt into your warm embrace each morning. I heard the sweet giggles you shared while I got ready for work, and witnessed the knowing glances you exchanged at the end of the day. It turned out that hiring a nanny didn’t mean she was losing me. It meant she was gaining you.
Thank you for letting me have the milestones -- I know she first rolled over under your watchful eyes. But you didn’t tell me, and you shared my excitement on that Monday morning when I regaled you with stories of baby’s incredible feats.
Thank you for letting me take the credit -- while I’m at work all day, you patiently teach all those “please” and “thank-you”s that impress all the mommies at the playground.
Thank you for letting me keep my role -- she’s never once acted confused about who her mama is, a fear that anyone with a nanny knows well.
You’ve quietly become the glue that holds us all together. You remind us to buy milk, you surprise us with a home-cooked dinner on those extra-long days, and every so often, you trade in your warm bed for my pull-out couch, so mommy and daddy can have a much-needed date night. Thank you.
When I was home again on maternity leave with #2, we became a caregiving team. And this time, instead of imparting my alleged baby wisdom upon you, I asked for yours. I willingly handed her over when I couldn’t get her to stop crying, and begged for your advice when something -- anything! -- seemed wrong. Never once did I tell you how to take care of her. You already knew. You knew it all along.
You suddenly got sick this past summer, and I was distraught. You, who I once couldn’t imagine in my life, now I couldn’t imagine life without. Suddenly, it was my turn -- our turn -- to take care of you. And as we nursed you back to health, we realized that aren’t just our nanny, you are our family.
On your birthday this year, we threw you a surprise party. We invited the children who called you their nanny, the families who you watched over for so many years. All the girls (yes, they were all girls) used familiar sayings (your sayings) and told warm stories about your life before you walked into ours.
And they were all so amazing, those generations of girls...the kind of girls I hope my girls grow up to be. The kind of girls I know they will be. Because you’re raising them, dear nanny. You’re raising us all.
Photography by Lisbet Svensson Schau.