Let’s play a game called “Will My Nanny Kids Have a Normal School Day Today?” Since school resumed after winter break, there have been 13 school cancellations and 8 2-hour delays. I think the weather is winning.
Let’s play another game called “Who is Going to Get Sick at Work?” In a super-fun twist, we’ll include the dogs in this game. So far I’m winning over my bosses because I’ve only had to clean up dog vomit once and I’ve only dealt with part of the fevers.
Either way, these games are starting to wear me out.
When I’m at work, there are many times throughout the day when I have one dog trying to lay in my lap, another dog trying to get me to pet him, and the baby wanting me to play with him.
Admittedly, it can be a bit overwhelming to have so many creatures craving my attention. On the other hand, I never question whether or not they want me around.
I’m a nanny. I chase after a toddler, corral grade school children, and try to help keep the household afloat. I cook, I clean, and I occasionally receive a face-full of snot from a dog or a baby. Don’t get me wrong, I am very thankful for my job. I work for a good family and my employers have provided generously for me. However, there are some days when I can’t shake the feeling that I’m not living up to my potential. It’s my mostly my pride speaking because someone has to care for the children, and I’m not so wonderful that I’m above changing a dirty diaper or playing “knock down the block tower” over and over and over again. Still, I have to resign myself that I feel a bit of embarrassment when I run into a high school classmate and I tell them that I’m “just a nanny”.
On the bright side: Despite the firm warnings from high school and college career counselors that I would have to have a professional wardrobe someday, I still get to wear jeans to work every day. I showed them!
Do you work a job where you don’t have to dress professionally? Does this job meet your career expectations?
It’s been awhile since I’ve written an “Introvert Monday” post. Sorry!
Last week I was reading my youngest nanny charge One, Two, Three! by Sandra Boynton. Since many of Sandra Boynton’s books weren’t published until after I had outgrown board books, reading her books are new to me. Consequently, I had no idea that One, Two, Three! understood introversion. First, the book took us counting up to 10 while looking at illustrations of animals doing funny things like having tea or exploring a cave. *Spoilers* But the last few pages went like this:
Ten makes a celebration LOUD, LOUD, LOUD! And ONE is WONDERFUL after a crowd.
I smiled as I finished the story. I might be trying to glean too much from a children’s book, but I felt that here was an author encouraging young readers to spend time alone and not to feel like they always have to be having fun in a crowd. The illustrations also encourage this idea. On the “Ten” page, nine animals march around with noisy instruments while the tenth animal (a little cat) gives a bug-eyed look to the reader. On the last “One” page, the same little cat gives a relaxed smile as he stands alone on the page, because one is truly wonderful after a crowd.
One of my bosses told me yesterday that she is officially taking Monday and Tuesday next week off (she mentioned the possibility a few weeks ago). Naturally, this means I have Monday and Tuesday off as well. This also means that because I have weekends and Wednesdays off, I get a 5-day weekend. It will be a much needed break for my boss, the kids, and me since our work schedules have been long and busy since I started work at the end of July (although both my bosses’ work schedules have been longer and busier than mine, so I can’t complain. . .too much).
When I told my husband that I officially have Monday and Tuesday off, he just sighed and said, “Well, we just can’t win when it comes to vacation time.” That’s true–it always seems like when one of us has too much free time, the other doesn’t have enough. However, I merrily told him that I have big plans for my 5-day weekend.
Despite my awesome schedule of working two days and then having a day or two off, I’m always exhausted by the time I get to that day off (something I always forget about when making plans). I’ll have a long list of things to accomplish during my free time, but all I really seem to do is this:
- Writing articles for upcoming newsletter
- Reading for upcoming book club meeting
- Updating car registration/driver’s license
- Finding a new doctor
- Going to the dentist
- Patching clothes
- Finishing unpacking/repacking boxes from our move
- Cleaning off my desk
- Tidying up the junk I have strewn around the house
- Writing all the blog posts I have floating around my head
- Writing/sending out update letters to our support congregations
Okay, so that list is technically what I wish I would find the motivation to do this weekend. This is probably what I’ll actually do:
It wasn’t more than two months ago that people informed me that I didn’t look any older than 13. However, now that I consistently care for 2 grade schoolers and a baby at work, I find myself often mistaken for the children’s mother. This always leads to a feeling of awkwardness when people ask about “my children” at the store or the school secretary informs the teachers that “their mom” is here to pick them up. Do I hastily correct their assumption or do I just ignore the innocuous error?
Even more awkward is when people compliment me on the baby’s looks. You see, Baby has everything needed for adorableness: Chubby cheeks, curly hair, and a gregarious grin. Obviously, I have nothing to do with these attributes. So, when people say, “Oh, he’s so cute!”, I find myself responding with something like this:
As Baby’s nanny, I can objectively agree that he is a cute baby because I have no parental bias. However, it suddenly struck me the other day that if I was Baby’s mom, then I would have something to do with his looks. Consequently, if people think I’m Baby’s mother, my response might seem a bit vain–like I was responding with, “I know, his father and I gave him some awesome genes!” Now I’m hyper-aware of the words that leave my mouth when I have the children with me. This leads to lots of stammering and long, unasked for explanations about how I’m a nanny.
Fortunately, I’ve come up with a solution:
That should take out all the ambiguity of my social interactions. However, my arm may get tired carrying around a sign all day.
Have you ever been mistaken for another child’s parent? What do you do in those situations?
This move has been an unusual experience. I’m not sure how often people move back to a town only a year after moving far away, but this is the first time for me. My husband and I created an even more unusual moving circumstance by returning to the same house and same jobs (my husband’s job is to go to school so he can graduate 🙂 ). We even decided to continue worshiping at my husband’s former field work church this year. Consequently, there is a sense of familiarity in our daily activities.
Of course, nothing stays the same, even for “only” a year. Our house more or less remained the same, although there has been some touch ups here and there. The two older farm cats are still hanging around, but our kittens from last year are gone. My nanny family has an additional child now, so now I spend my days juggling the needs of two grade schoolers and a baby. My husband’s field work church even has a new pastor now. Of course, many of our friends are gone either on their calls or on vicarage. So while our daily activities seem familiar, there are just enough differences to add a nuance of befuddlement.
I told my husband the other day that this move is like buying a new pair of running shoes in the same brand as your old pair: You know they will eventually be comfortable but they still need to be broken in. For me, some of these changes will rub for a few weeks until I can get use to the differences. . . at least that is my hope.
On Saturday, my husband and I attended my nanny children’s birthday party (my nanny kids and their cousins all have birthdays in the same month, so their family throws a big birthday party for them every year). This would be the first large group, non-church event we have attended since starting vicarage and truth be told, I was dreading this party all week. I knew that I wouldn’t know most people at the party. There would be a lot of people at the party. Basically, I feared that I would go into introvert/anxiety mode in front of my boss. By Saturday morning, I was berating myself for not finding an excuse to get out of going to the party.
However, it turned out to be a pleasant party. The usual sensation of unease and stress never arose. I didn’t feel my shoulders tense or my heart race. It was the most comfortable I have felt at a large group event in a long time.
As we drove home from the party, I wondered why I felt so relaxed at the birthday party while Sunday mornings still remain a stressful ordeal. My ponderings lead me to three reasons:
1. There was ample space. Crowds and noise are big triggers for me–that’s part of the reason I struggle so much at church (I know that I should be thrilled that the church is crowded with happy people; it still makes me uneasy). However, the birthday party was outdoors with plenty of space for the numerous children to run around. Likewise, there were several picnic tables spread out, meaning that when we sat down we weren’t bombarded by other tables’ conversations.
2. I had a surrogate. I’ve mentioned before that having a surrogate–a non-shy person to help a shy person in social situations–can be extremely helpful. My husband is my surrogate. While he is an ambivert (someone who falls in the middle of the extrovert/introvert continuum), he isn’t shy. Likewise, he is a very gifted in small talk, meaning he can navigate social encounters with much more ease than I can. Unfortunately, on Sunday mornings (and really any church event) my husband cannot be my surrogate because he is working. However, for this party he was able to stay with me. He didn’t need to rush off to talk to this person or that person. And he was able to handle the small talk.
3. There weren’t any expectations about my behavior. I’ve heard it all before: Just because I’m the vicar’s wife doesn’t mean I have to do certain things. Despite this, I still feel pressure to be gregarious at church. And whether I like it or not, what I say and do reflects on my husband. This adds to the stress of Sunday mornings. However, at the birthday party I was only the nanny. If I didn’t talk much, if I seemed “shy,” that was okay–I have never heard of anyone expecting their nanny to be outgoing. Likewise, it’s easier to monitor my behavior in relation to how it reflects on me than how it reflects on someone else.
The party provided both comfort in concern. On one hand, here was proof that I could still function at a social event without going catatonic. On the other hand, the three factors that made this party easier to tolerate cannot be easily emulated on Sunday mornings.
What do strategies to you use to make awkward social situations easier?
Aside from the chirping birds outside and the fridge humming, my boss’s house is quiet. I lounge in the armchair as I wait for the children to awake, rotating between gazing out the window and reading. I soak up the solitude and silence now because I know that once the kids are up, it will be hours before I experience quiet again. I glance at the clock. 7:55, I should really wake them up, I think to myself. In less than 10 minutes, I have the kids seated at the table to eat breakfast. They quickly shake the slow sleepiness of the night and move into the high energy of the day. Before I know it, they are happily talking over one another and wrestling in the living room.
It’s loud. It’s chaotic. It’s everything that the introvert in me tries to avoid. Why am I doing this job again?
Believe it or not, I do actually like children. They’re funny and enthusiastic, and I enjoy teaching and helping them. While I didn’t go to college to become a nanny, there are certainly other professions I could have pursued to help pay the bills while my husband is in seminary. Nannying has simply worked out to be the best option for me for the time being. Consequently, I find myself in conflict with two parts of me: One who enjoys the world of children and the one who thrives in a world of structure and calm. Obviously, both parts need to compromise with one another in order for me to keep my sanity. The two biggest helps I have found in balancing my life as an introverted nanny are quiet zones and quiet time.
I am acutely sensitive to noise. The inevitable roar of a large crowd makes me cringe and I have to put my dress watch in my jewelry box so I can’t hear it ticking at night. When by myself, I often choose to do my hobbies in silence rather than turning on the radio or television.
However, children are noisy creatures. Whether it’s by increasing their volume during play or making odd, unconscious sounds during quiet activities, kids suck the silence out of any situation. That’s just the way they are. I realize it would be unfair of me to expect them to keep their play quiet.
To find a compromise between my preference for quiet and the needs of my nanny children, I try to ignore the reasonable noises they make. Sounds like a happily raised voiced or an occasional burst of loud bangs or crashes should be tolerated. However, if they start getting rowdy or continue a loud noise for several minutes to the point where I can feel my nerves tingling, I give them choices. Either they can switch to a different activity or go play somewhere else, like the basement or outside, where they can make all the noise they want. Sometimes they choose to find a different activity, sometimes they choose to go elsewhere, and sometimes I wind up choosing for them to go elsewhere after they have been already warned to keep the noise down. Usually they sulk for the first few minutes after I choose for them, but soon they are happily being noisy again in a place where they won’t get into trouble. After a few minutes of quiet for myself (often I’m doing something like cleaning the kitchen), I’ll go and join them, able to participate another round of loud, rowdy play.
Like a stay-at-home-mom, I don’t have a real break . Since I am the only adult in the house, so I can’t punch out for an hour and tell the kids to leave me alone. This can make for a very long day. Consequently, finding some sort of reprieve from childcare duties for at least an hour after lunch is vital for me to keep functioning at my best (or at least keep me from become a blubbering mass before a parent comes home).
Naps are a useful way of making quiet time. Ideally, you tuck the child in and they’ll sleep for a couple of hours. Of course, no child likes taking naps, especially as they get older. This means some compromises maybe needed to create a quiet time in the house. For kids not yet in kindergarten, sometimes I put them in bed with a couple of books to look at (sometimes they’ll even fall asleep reading!). For older children with their own bedroom, I’ll let them play with quiet toys in their room. This year I have permission to show a movie for the older kids while the younger child naps. While this isn’t as the quietest option, it still gives me a chance to drink a cup of coffee and stare off into space for awhile.
This quiet time can be good for children as well as introverted nannies, even extroverted children. Marti Olsen Laney, Psy. D., explains in her book The Introvert Advantage, “Many extroverted children don’t want to miss out on anything, which can really be exhausting for parents, even extroverted parents. Schedule quiet time even if your children don’t want to slow down [. . .] Even every extroverted children can do too much. They need opportunities to practice introverting,” (pg. 148-149). Just like children need adults to help them understand how their bodies need healthy foods and when their bodies are telling them to use the bathroom, they also need adults help to teach them that their bodies need rest.
Preparing for the Future
While nannying isn’t exactly the same as parenting, there are some things that overlap. Consequently, I feel that learning how to handle my days as an introverted nanny will help me when I become an introverted mother. Of course, this could be an overconfident delusion, but one can always dream.
What tips do you have for other introverted nannies? Do introverted parents have any survival tactics they would like to share?
Here’s another nifty list of how to handle being an introverted parent: http://creatingafairhaven.wordpress.com/2011/11/22/10-survival-tips-for-introverted-parents/. I’m not saying that I would implement every rule she has created, but I admire her for realizing that she needs to care for her introverted nature in order for her to function as a mother.