Almost five years ago, we interviewed our first nanny as my belly swelled in front of me and my mind danced with a chaos that made me dizzy. I spent weeks in the middle of my pregnancy preparing and planning ahead for the complete unknown, as we all do. I talked to women and tried to suss out whether they’d take good care of my little girl before I even knew what that meant. To think back and come to terms with the fact that I chose a near stranger to take care of my baby before I even knew the color of my little girl’s eyes, the shape of her nose, the shade of her hair, (that she was a she and not a he) feels impossibly awkward and scary to me now. To remember how that first nanny did not work out feels painful and, yet, with the perspective of years, makes sense.
Almost four years ago, we interviewed our second nanny. I remember more about the second time around – the people we met, the questions we asked. We knew more. We knew what we wanted and, more importantly, what we didn’t. We interviewed so many very lovely women, sitting at our dining room table with our little girl balanced on our knees. But what stands out to me most is the one line that most of them said as we talked about qualifications and expectations. It went something like, “I’ll make sure your little girl is loved and cared for while you aren’t able to be here.”
No doubt they all worded that better but it hurt every time. I wanted to work but I didn’t want to be away. I wanted to pursue my career but I wanted to be the one loving and caring for my baby. I didn’t want to think about someone else doing that job. I didn’t want to think about someone else making my little girl giggle and laugh, watching her play and soothing her to sleep. I wanted those things to happen. I knew they needed to happen without me. I just didn’t want to think about them.
Whether Miss N. said those exact words or not, I don’t remember. What I do remember is knowing, as soon as we met, that I did, in fact, want her to take care of my little girl when I couldn’t. To be honest, I kind of wanted her to take care of me too. I wanted to hang around home for art projects and music and outings to the park and story time and trips to the old caboose that sits in the field about a mile away. I wanted mornings at the creek, hands dipped in paint to make decorations for every holiday, afternoon dance parties in the living room. If I had written down a list of the things I really wanted for my little girl, the things it felt silly to say out loud because these were the things that were icing on the cake and not solid care requirements, I’d have checked every one off the day we met Miss N. She had it all. I knew that she’d nurture in my little girl all of the things that were important to me and that, in doing so, she’d push me. I knew she’d push me to up my game, let go of my fear of messes, my need for control, my tentative nature and tendencies to tip toe into new waters. She’d introduce my little girl to the feeling of paint between her fingers and mud between her toes. She’d teach her to launch into the world and go bravely with her head held high. She find seeds of passions and interests in my baby and she’d carefully care for them and make them grow.
I knew that she’d push me towards the mother I wanted to be. She’d push me to be a better mama.
And I trusted my still new motherhood instincts enough to know that I needed and wanted that pushing.
It’s a completely underrated responsibility of motherhood – the responsibility of choosing the people who become a part of our children’s lives, the people who will weave themselves into the fabric of our babies’ childhoods and make a difference there. For a short time in our children’s lives, we get to choose who joins their inner circles, we have some degree of control over who gets to know them well enough to fall in love with them. It’s a huge responsibility and it’s so easy to mess it up. I have. Twice. Probably more than twice.
But there was this one time that I got it right. So right. And that time is up there as one of the best decisions I’ve made since my children were born.
Miss N did care for my little girl when I wasn’t able to be there. And my little boy too. She cared for them selflessly and wholeheartedly and she did it more than I ever imagined. I grew to love the idea of her being there when I wasn’t, experiencing things with them that I didn’t, being the one to love them in person when I couldn’t. And she did take care of me too. She helped my kids become the people they are today and helped me become the mother I am today. But most importantly, she taught me how about the magic that happens when you open your heart and let the right person into your family.
Miss N moves away this week. She has big things ahead and I’ll be watching closely because I know her one precious, wild life only gets better from here. And though there is an empty space in our home these days that we will never fill, I’m reminding myself and my little ones that this is not goodbye. Because she will always be part of us.