Tuesday, January 31, 2012

the right help

I let our nanny go last night. Today was to be her last day--I'd given her three weeks notice--but I couldn't bear her anymore--skulking about morosely, reprimanding Isaiah for petty offenses like chewing with his mouth open, drifting through her last days with us in impassive reluctance. Her presence grew heavier, and the children's protests louder.

I probably shouldn't have hired her in the first place. I needed help after Genevieve was born, Charles wanted a French-speaking nanny, and she came with excellent references and seemed confident with the children, particularly the baby. I interviewed 13 nannies, and it came down to two: she was the one with the most experience. Yet she remained opaque in many ways: for example, my openness about family matters would cause her to look away. Over time, talking became a minefield of ways I might offend her, so I just stuck to the basics of what and when. She also wanted Isaiah to be more, well, proper; to greet her with a cheery "Bonjour!" when she arrived. Often Isaiah will not even greet Charles when he comes home from work, it takes him a few minutes to adjust before he is ready. My son inherited his mother's dislike of performance. Despite my efforts to assure the nanny that Isaiah's temperament wasn't the cheerful-greeting-sort, she continued to vie for his affection, often revealing sweets at the doorway just to get a smile from him upon arrival. And then she would be hurt when he didn't take the bait.

Nonetheless it seemed she did her job well, kept the household mostly serene, and I found her quiet routine comforting. But after Christmas things took a turn for the worse. She moved around the apartment in listless trance. She stopped noticing basic things, like dirty diapers and puddles of vomit. I asked what was wrong, but she denied anything had changed. I found myself watching the children more and more, while she drifted off into the kitchen where a few breakfast dishes took her a full hour to wash. I asked her again, with the same response. I gave her three weeks notice and started looking for someone else.

Today I have our new nanny with us. She also speaks French. She was my second choice a year ago, and luckily for us she is still available. Isaiah is elatedly running around the house singing, "The dinosaur train! I love you Genevieve! The dinosaur train!" He hasn't knocked on my office door once, or thrown a tantrum.

Learning how to have employees has not been easy for me. It is a privilege to have help, yes, but it comes with its share of challenges. It has taken me a long time to trust my own instincts, to find ways to negotiate conflict with warmth, to maintain strong communication, and to set proper boundaries. I'm an open person; but while I tend to speak freely, I also avoid conflict. Things like paid vacations, sick days, and proper compensation cause me a sense of dread. I want to do right by my employees, and yet I don't want to stretch our budget too tightly. I've learned a contract helps--but just as helpful is my own determination to address issues as they arise. Even more helpful is just to find the right person to begin with. Which is what I hope (fingers crossed) I've done this time.

1 comment:

Veronika said...

That diptych is amazing!!!

Hope everything will be smooth and fun with the new babysitter! I am so very awkward with nannies! I hire several at a time, letting them come for a couple of hours, I start telling them that I'll call and then I don't, etc., then after trying several more, weeks later, I call one of the first babysitters, asking her to come again (and then I'm not happy with her again) - I feel like as perpetual bachelor, who is trying to find a perfect wife.