Rosa, my kids’ nanny, is on vacation for two and a half weeks, and seeing as how a) I am totally missing her right now, as I squeeze this column in while my son naps and the laundry tosses around in the dryer, and b) there has been a slew of new books about nannies lately, I thought that this would be a good time to reflect on my relationship with the nanny in my own life.
Rosa started with us five years ago, a few days before Harper was born. We got off to kind of a rocky start – she was a total baby hog, and all she wanted was to hold Harper and carry Harper and feed Harper and bathe Harper, and, in my eyes, keep Harper completely and totally away from me so that Harper would love her more. I can vividly remember crying in my Mommy and Me class when Harper was three months old, as I told everyone about the evil, love-stealing woman I had in my employ, and I can also vividly recall a few of the other moms nodding their heads, telling me how they’d had to “lay down the law” with their own nannies in order to get any time alone with their infants. Of course, I can also vividly recall Michael telling me to just fire her if I was so unhappy with her behavior, as well as the sheer panic that I felt at the very thought of being left alone to care for the impossible, screaming little monster that we had produced, even for just a few days until I found someone else.
In retrospect, I now realize that poor Rosa – who had left two daughters behind in El Salvador so that she could come to America and send them more money than she could ever make at home – just really loved little baby girls, a concept that I simply couldn’t grasp at the time since my own baby girl was driving me so completely and totally insane. When I was on maternity leave and I went out to run an errand, I used to apologize to Rosa for leaving her with Harper, and I could never understand how she could smile so big upon being handed my child, who was so clearly the spawn of the devil.
Over the years, though, my feelings towards Rosa have changed (as have my feelings towards Harper), but they’re still conflicted. I know how lucky I am to have such a wonderful person to care for my kids when I can’t, and I also know that I couldn’t possibly live without her. I depend on her for my entire work life, I trust her implicitly, and my kids adore her. But at the same time, I hate that I’m totally dependent on her, and sometimes I wish that my kids didn’t adore her quite so much. I get jealous that she gets to hang out and do all of the fun stuff with them – they dress her up in silly costumes, and they make up games with intricate rules and characters – while I sit upstairs in my office, working on my book or checking e-mails. And I can’t help being envious of her infinite patience –Rosa never loses her temper, never so much as raises her voice towards my kids, while I can barely last ten minutes without snapping at them for something. I even hate it that I’m missing her so much right now. Why can’t I be excited to spend eighteen days alone with my children? Other women do it every single day of their lives without any help whatsoever, so why does it sound so horrible to me? I try to remind myself that taking care of my kids is Rosa’s job, and that she’s so dedicated to and patient with them a) because I’m paying her to be, b) because, unlike me, when she’s with them she isn’t stressed out by the fact that she has chapters to write or phone calls to make or e-mails to check or interview questions to answer, and c) because, also unlike me, she gets to have two days without them every week.
But still…I won’t lie. When I hear my kids yelling mommy, mommy, as they run through the house, it hurts when I answer them and they say oh, no, we were talking to Rosa because we’re playing mommy and baby, and Rosa’s the mommy. I’ll play, I tell them. Can I be the mommy? But Harper shakes her head. No, she says, her face earnest. Sorry, but you don’t know how.