Weeping Nanny Angels

If I were just going to stereotype the whole Nanny world, not knowing how it works or how hard those people work or how badly my own family needs help… well, I think I would be insulted by the whole idea.

I worked hard to gather my children.  I don’t need someone else mothering them.

I work hard teaching my children.  I don’t need someone else undoing all our hard work.

I know what’s best for my children.  I don’t need someone else interfering.

I have really good, really amazing children.  I don’t need someone else corrupting them or spoiling them, when little things are life or death because of all their little selves have already been through and the drugs they have been exposed to – it’s always bigger than what is happening in the moment, and that takes a mother’s vision.  No one else knows them like that.

I don’t need no nanny.

So when we won a nanny last week, or more specifically, nanny hours, I wasn’t sure how to handle it.

I mean, as very mortal parents, Nathan and I made all kinds of jokes about how many naps we can take now, or how we can just go off on vacations by ourselves, and about all the delightful meals we will get to finally eat while they are still hot.

But seriously, as real parents – real parents – we are supposed to do the parenting.

That’s part of the deal.  That’s the agreement we made.  That’s what the children are trusting.  That’s how a sealing works.

So the first thing I had to do was research not just this program, but what exactly are these roles, and how could they help us?  I had to learn the difference between a nanny and a personal assistant, between meal prep and cooking, between light housekeeping and helping with laundry.  I don’t know the difference between all these things because this is our life, all the time, multiplied by eight.

But as I began to understand what they were offering, the next questions quickly became figuring out exactly what Nathan needs help with and what I need help with and what would be best for the children.

We didn’t just want a housekeeper, not when Nathan and I take good care of the children, and the children themselves are in the middle of learning some mad skills for chores – and deeper yet, responsibility and stewardship.

We didn’t just want a babysitter that spoils them and cuddles them, because that’s what grandparents are for, and Nathan’s parents have been so kind and generous to help out in that role.

Even asking for help at all is hard.  We didn’t know how to do it when we were fostering, and we didn’t know how to do it when I got cancer.  I don’t know how many Bishops and how many Visiting Teachers begged us to let them know how they could help throughout the years, and we were never very good at answering that.  Our ward families always came up with ingenious ways of doing it anyway, despite ourselves, but knowing how to itemize the way your family survives one day at a time is pretty tricky.

I started with Nathan, because that’s easier than looking at my own stuff, right?

The thing he needs more than anything is time.  As a serious and legit writer and artist who works from home, he needs time and space to create.  He also needs time to collaborate with his composers or do his own composing.  He’s brilliant at it, and I love the pieces and works and things he creates, but all of it requires a time.

That’s not very easy when he’s also a sweet and faithful husband and father, working very hard to care for all of us who depend on him for so much.

So how do I use nanny hours to create time?

The first thing I thought of – especially as we prepare to move to Owasso – was driving the children to and from preschool everyday.  That’s a nightmare with traffic, and while Nathan is more than willing and has done a great job, it would be almost four more hours in his day if he could just work during that time.  That would make him more present in the evenings, too, because his work would already be finished for the day, instead of trying to do it all at the same time.

Trying to figure out what I needed was harder.  I still filtered through Nathan’s needs and the children’s needs.  Nathan needs relief from fixing every single dinner just because I work nights so that I can be home with them during the day (after chaplaincy residency).  The children need help with homeschool work, especially when the younger three are home also, because we may have worked out a system that works for us, but there is still only one of me.  So I picked out a part-time nanny who can tutor, who is available just two hours each morning, and who knows sign language.

I also had the idea of what if I got one of the nanny persons who also is willing to cook.  But instead of just cooking for us every night, what if she specifically comes a couple hours twice a week to teach the children how to cook and help them prepare a meal two nights a week?  Then they get to cook, which they love and which is still play for them, but also learning even while I am not home, but also it provides two of the dinner meals for while I am at work at night so Nathan doesn’t have to do it?  I can fill in at least one in a crock pot, and that gives Nathan only a two to worry about!

The other thing for both me and Nathan that I thought of, obviously, was date night.  My bishop in Owasso promised to sign my recommend to get married if I promised to always have date night no matter what.  We have worked hard to keep that promise, even when that was just apples and cheese with a movie after the kids were asleep on a weekend night!  But they are older, and now we have this opportunity, so even if we just have to go out and do free things, why not get to have some couple time together?

When I thought of the children, I thought of a couple things.  They need time to just play, without worrying about if Kyrie is sick or not, and just for physical therapy and trauma healing and social skills and because they are CHILDREN.  So what if I used a few hours to also just make sure they had playdates, and could go whether or not Kyrie was in crisis?

What I finally decided on for me was help not with the children or writing, but help with all the work that comes because of writing.  We need help running to the post office, replying to public appearance requests, selling books at those public appearances, watching the children while we speak until it’s their turn to surprise the audience, and those kinds of moments where maybe it really is time for some assistant work so that I could spend more time with the children.  There are also some times that because of my pain I cannot hang my clothes back up even though Nathan runs everything through the laundry for us, or those kinds of random things kind of specific to just ongoing recovery.  What if I got help with those kinds of things, so that I could get back to resting and healing, which has actually NEVER HAPPENED.

So that’s what I did.  Instead of hiring one person just to nanny in a way we didn’t need, I chose several people to help in a variety of ways for all of us.  Maybe I made life harder, or maybe I beat the system.  Maybe it will be a great help and good for all of us after these hard years, or maybe we will all hate it or not be able to find good matches in people and none of it will work out.  But regardless, it’s going to be a grand adventure in the next few weeks.  We will see!

But we researched the people available when we needed, and then filtered those through who was able to work with special needs children and then of those who knows sign language.  We ran extensive background checks, more than even what we had to do to foster.  Then we picked about twenty of those to email and get to know a little, and interviewed a handful of those in person.

Then we hired a bunch, instead of one person for everything, mostly because our family is crazy enough we couldn’t find one person who could do everything.

Here’s what we have now, just for this one season of sponsored nanny hours: a person who is going to just pick up and drop off the preschoolers for school and the second graders on Wednesday nights; a nanny-tutor for the second graders for two hours in the morning on Monday-Thursday; a nanny for two hours one night a week for Nathan and I to go out on dates, two hours for meal prep with second graders twice a week, and four hours for field trips for all the kids two Saturdays a month; two hours with a dance teacher every week; one hour with a piano teacher; one hour with a political science tutor; one hour with an art teacher; and a very part-time assistant to help with book stuff.

It seems crazy exciting, but six of the eight people in our family are introverts, so we may all hate the whole idea except for the two extroverts.

Or maybe just the two extroverts need a nanny, maybe one each.

Because this is crazy, a whole staff just for us.

It’s hilarious, in a ridiculous kind of way.

It’s maybe the scariest birthday present I ever got, EVER.

Also, we would have just taken a gift card for groceries if they had asked.  That would have maybe fit our needs better, it would seem.  Except that this forced us to look at self-care and healing from the last five years in a whole new way than we have ever been able to before even with Bishop prompting.

It’s making me super anxious, actually, just this side of horrified, so much so that in my head the nanny concept has already morphed into mascots in my dreams, and I am terrified of mascots, if you didn’t know.  And then by the end of today, when it was all said and done, nanny mascots had morphed into weeping angels from Doctor Who.

Can anyone else hear my dead mom laughing, because this feels like the kind of birthday joke she would pull on me.

Classy, mom.  Classy.

Or maybe it’s real.  Maybe it’s what I need post-heart, post-cancer, post-fostering to finally rest and recover my strength.  Maybe it’s the kind of help that will keep Nathan alive and able to function.  Maybe it’s the kind of stimulation the children need, with so many special needs, and maybe that’s part of special-need parenting, is learning how to rely on the entire village.

We know it is a blessing, even if we don’t yet know what we will learn from the experience.

But I thought maybe in the beginning that it was a blessing so that I could keep working extra, and just keep making things easier after so many hard years… except that I don’t think a blessing would be sent to help me stay away from my family more.  I don’t think a blessing would come to make me work harder.

I think it is a blessing, after very-very-very hard work, and I think it is a blessing of rest.

Not laziness.  Not not-working.  But a lightening of the burden placed upon us, a freedom to work more effectively and at the things we enjoy, like writing and creating.

I think it’s a blessing sent as part of the experience of turning forty, of coming out of forty years in the wilderness, the wholeness-perfection of my eighth year since getting baptized, all of these pieces that are my Jubilee.

Not an easy life from now on, and not complete rest or rest forever.

But a going home, a just be-ing, a being present with my family.

It’s like what we have done medically with Kyrie, making her comfortable only and just letting her be and hoping that lets her regain her strength instead of putting her through more… it’s like somehow, by some miracle, Nathan and I get to give that to ourselves mentally and emotionally.

And that’s huge, after what we have been through, I am not even kidding you.

Life is full of maybe’s.

Maybe we weren’t able to rescue our children in time after all.

Maybe my cancer will come back again.

Maybe Kyrie will die tomorrow.

Or, maybe she won’t.

And maybe I will be healthy as I can be.

And maybe our children are doing just fine, just for today.

Maybe that’s what we are learning: how to be okay, just for today.

That’s a pretty big birthday present, you see?

About Emily

I am a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints since 2009. I serve as a Chaplain, and work as a counselor. I got bilateral cochlear implants in 2010, but will always love sign language. I choose books over television, and organics over processed. Nothing is as close to flying as ballroom dancing - except maybe running, when in the solo mood. I would rather be outside than anywhere else, especially at the river riding my bike or kayaking. PhD in Marriage and Family Therapy, and currently doing a post-doc in Jewish Studies and an MDiv in Pastoral Counseling. The best thing about Emily World is that it's always an adventure, even if (not so) grammatically precise. The only thing better than writing is being married to a writer. Nathan Christensen and I were married in the Oklahoma City temple on 13 October 2012, and have since fostered more than eighty-five children. We have adopted the six who stayed, and are totally and completely and helplessly in love with our family. Nathan writes musical theater, including "Broadcast" (a musical history of the radio) and an adaption of Lois Lowry's "The Giver". He served his mission in South Korea, has taught song-writing in New York City public schools, and worked as a theater critic for a Tucson newspaper. This is not an official Web site of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Comments are closed.