I started working as a babysitter when I was 14 years old. It was an old fashioned kind of arrangement: a family my parents had come in contact with through work was looking for a responsible girl to look after their three sons on occasional Saturday nights, while they went out. I’d sleep over so they didn’t have to drive me home after their night, and I got to help out at breakfast, too. The boys were aged between four and seven. All this is relevant because we carried on for the best part of a year and a half. It was the first family I got to watch. They were wonderful, and it was very interesting.
Although life has taken me down various roads since, I never really stopped. I have recently turned thirty and the family I am currently employed by is my fourth long-term situation. Their youngest child is the thirteenth I have cared for. She is the second I met as a newborn, the third I have had from before the age of one. The stretch of road I have walked with each family took anything from a couple of months to over three years to cover. Not once was it easy to say goodbye. I have been lucky enough to be allowed to keep in touch with most of “my” children, and I will always miss and wonder about the ones I’ve lost to distances in time and space.
With each child I have shared countless stories, sung many songs, and searched for the answer to hundreds of questions. I have watched them as they showed me who they are, and I have listened eagerly as they slowly found the words with which to tell me of their thoughts. They have shared with me first steps, first days at school, first handwritten notes. Some have even shared their secrets. They have each taught me very important things about the world and about myself, they have put up with me, accepted and forgiven my mistakes with grace, comforted me, cheered me up and inspired me to watch, listen, read and research. They have made me a better, happier, more mindful version of myself. We have loved each other deeply and argued passionately as we tried to allow for all our feelings, something that has often seemed very hard to me and completely natural to them.
Each parent, carer, grandparent, uncle, aunt, neighbor has shown me one of the infinite ways in which families operate, influence their members, stick together. They have helped me to see that there are very few absolute rights and wrongs. and that one-size-fits-all methods often only fit a precious few. We spent lots of time talking, adults and children alike, about the reasoning behind our choices, and it always turned out to be time well invested. I think I can say that I’ve learned to keep an open mind and to diligently sharpen my sense of wonder.
Through the years I came in contact with numerous au-Pair and Nanny agencies: they helped me to find most of “my” families. Some were more useful than others. Some had the children’s, family’s and Nanny’s best interest at heart, and their wellbeing on top of their priority list, some did not. All in all I found that those agencies run by ex-Nannies made me feel safer, better understood and represented. I felt they knew what questions to ask, and could see more than both families and candidates could put into words.
So, as I approach the maximum number of goodbyes I feel this Nanny can take, the concept behind a different sort of Nanny agency has begun to form in my imagination. If you are a J.M. Barrie fan you’ll know what I mean when I say that one morning it was simply there, perched on the rocky coastline of a Neverland I try to visit as often as adulthood will allow: I suspect it might have been looking for me. It was small but cosy, and in it were all sorts of helpful things I’d seen in other agencies, plus all the ones I’d wished for but had not found in any of them. Its shelves are stacked with all the things I feel I’ve learned, in tea-leaf form, ready to be brewed. I also found that it had lots of empty cupboards, waiting for all the new information that will surely come in if I manage to always keep the door wide open. It might be hard: I’ll need some help, it’s windy up here.
I hope you’ll find it comfortable and useful, and that you’ll let us know when it is not, so we can refurbish as often as needed. In one of the drawers, by the entrance, you’ll find my CV, and all my references. All visitors are welcome to them if they ask, because it is only natural that you should wonder who your host is, and what sort of tea she brews.
I hope to see you soon!