My book I Wear the Maternity Pants in This Family came out this week. The movie The Nanny Diaries is in theaters this weekend. The timing works — my book is a lot like The Nanny Diaries — without the nanny.
Until last week, I’d never had a nanny. I’d spent time with these professional child care providers when I lived in Manhattan, and discovered I was in the minority of moms who took their own kids to the park.
For a short time, when my husband and I had two children in as many years, I hired a regular babysitter by splitting her hours with the mom down the hall. But the babysitter spent all her time in my apartment complaining about my neighbor. I wondered what she said about me on her alternate days. Besides, I worked at home so there were a lot of us in a small apartment. Dealing with my own kids seemed easier.
Now that I have four children and live in the suburbs, we don’t travel in too many nanny circles. The baby goes to day care a few hours a day so I can do a radio show with my husband, but the majority of child watching is done by us, the parents.
Recently, though, my best friend hired a nanny because that really crappy disease, called breast cancer, meant that she needed extra help. The Nanny (as I’ll call her — my friend wouldn’t want you to steal her away) is great with my friend’s girls (ages 11 and 6), and often takes our 13-year-old daughter along to swim at the town lake or stroll the mall.
So when our annual week at the beach arrived, a week when my friend and I take all kids and any available husbands to Long Island to eat Cheese Doodles and lie around on rubber rafts, The Nanny came along. She was prepared to watch not just my friend’s two darling girls and our well-behaved daughter, but our three sons as well — including our busy (if not terrible) two-year-old baby!
It took a couple of days before I was comfortable relinquishing control to this wonderful young woman, but, after that, no problem. The Nanny had a schedule; she had a plan. She chased the baby around on the beach and splashed with him at water’s edge. Then she said, “He’s done. I’m taking him home, bathing him, giving him lunch and putting him down for his nap.”
It was amazing. The older kids stayed with us swimming and building sand castles until we brought them back to the house where The Nanny told them to change out of their wet things, not leave beach towels on the floor, and not track sand through the house. She told them to clean up the games they played, and to eat snacks only at the kitchen table, instead of crumbing up the entire house.
She made the baby say please or no thank you, and had him choose: in or out, drink juice or play, read a story or color.
At one point, The Nanny told my seven-year-old to shape up or face the longest time out of his life. We never found out what that meant because he shaped up fast.
She asked the kids to set the table, and to chew their food, and to wait a half hour before swimming — and they did. She also said they would need to decide what show they’d watch together without fighting.
When the world premiere of High School Musical 2 was on last weekend, the den was filled with pillows, lights dimmed, popcorn doled out. Parents were banished to dinner in a restaurant together without children. We hardly knew how to react.
The Nanny was clearly fun, but firm. The children took her at face value. There was never a moment of back talk or whining (not that was tolerated anyway.)
Our blissful week ended; but since then I’ve incorporated some of The Nanny’s approaches, raised my expectations of the kids a bit, demanded respect, and reminded them to use their manners.
I might be a mom, but The Nanny really knows how to raise children.
–Susan Konig’s new book I Wear the Maternity Pants in This Family will be published on August 21 by St. Martin’s Press. She is also co-host of Speak Now or Forever Hold Your Peace with her husband, Dave.