A reality of living in suburban DC as a stay at home mom is that you are outnumbered. By the nannies.
They are everywhere. Parks, pools, mall play areas, gym classes, preschool pick ups. It's usually easy to tell who they are. They are often too young or too old to be a mom. Or look nothing like the children. Or speak a different language than the children. Obviously this is not a foolproof method, as there are some older moms, bilingual moms, etc. But overall, it's generally easy to tell.
I remember when I first started staying at home I was worried that it would be hard for me to find other stay at home mom friends, since all I seemed to be meeting was nannies. That didn't turn out to the case. If anything, stay at home moms tend to gravitate towards each other because there are so many nannies. We're the minority out there, so we stick together.
If this "us" and "them" notion sounds silly, that's because it is. Why such a nanny/mom distinction? The answer is, I'm not quite sure. But it's there. Maybe because of a language barrier. Maybe because of the age differences. Maybe because of the notion that their presence is inherently temporary - their time with any given family will end at some point.
But I think there's something more.
When I had my own nanny, I often wondered what she did with my son all day. Did she pay enough attention to him? Cuddle him? Talk sweetly to him and play with him and push him in the swing? Or did she yell at him? Ignore him? Treat him in ways that would infuriate me if I knew? Absent a super high tech nanny cam or private detective, there is no way to really know.
But now? Now I have this insight into the nannies of suburban DC. I feel, in some ways, like the residential spy on behalf of all DC mothers with nannies. Like now that I am home I need to look out for their children and make sure they are being well taken care of by the people entrusted to their care. When I see a friend's nanny, I text them to let them know - "I'll keep an eye out for you!" And I do just that (and I'm happy to say they are all wonderful).
Let me tell you, there are some FABULOUS nannies out there. They engage with the kids. They play games. They pack lunches and do nanny playdates and embrace the kids when they cry. It is obvious that they love the kids they are taking care of, and the children love them. I was lucky enough to have a nanny like this when I was young.
Some of these nannies put me to shame. I have to admit, when I take Casey to the park, I generally spend my time following him around (checking my phone periodically), and making sure he doesn't kill himself. I'm kind of bored, to be honest. But some of the nannies? They tickle, they sing songs, they make the kids laugh out loud hysterically. They have an energy I just don't have at 10am, despite, in some cases, being at least 20 years my senior.
But I have seen a handful of bad nannies too. Not abusive, per se, but negligent. The kind of thing that if you were a parent, and you saw them in action, you would not be happy.
Yesterday as I was leaving Turtle Park with Casey I noticed a young girl, about 18 months old, standing outside of the gates of the park. She was wandering around aimlessly, and actually started following me as I headed towards the parking area. I stopped and stood with her for a moment, assuming that whoever she was with would come claim her. No one did. I took her hand, walked back into the park, and started walking around asking people if they knew who she "belonged" to. Finally, a nanny recognized her and pointed to another nanny sitting on a park bench in the distance. She was on the phone, oblivious to the fact that the little girl she was taking care of wandered outside of the gates. The little girl went towards her, and the nanny took some crackers out of her purse, staying on the phone. I thought about saying something, but didn't. I left.
I got teary eyed as I was leaving. I don't know why. I guess because as a mother, this is kind of your worst nightmare, right? You entrust someone to watch your kids, to be vigilant - more vigilant than you would even be perhaps - and in a moment, you are betrayed. And you probably will never even know about it.
But you know what? Maybe it's okay the mother will never know. Her child is okay. Maybe this woman is a great nanny, does love the child, but had a momentary lapse. God knows, we've all had them. I'm sure I will "lose" my kids for a minute or two at some point in their lives. We are all human.
At the end of the day - good nanny or bad nanny - chances are, the kids are going to be fine. But for a control freak like myself, I have to say that I take solace in the fact that the only negligence I have to worry about right now is my own.