My Nanny Experience

How many jobs involve travel on private planes, luxury 5 star hotels and having to change dirty nappies and provide enough entertainment to distract a whining 3 year old who just wants to sit with mummy?

You may think that rides on private jets, business class travel and perks which include barely worn cashmere sweaters {which, incidentally were for maternity wear as I would never be able to fit in to Mummy’s usual size 0} would fully compensate for the long hours and the whining whenever mummy is around. Believe me it doesn’t. Which is why I have decided to quit nannying for good.

Having had many temporary summer jobs during my degree and post graduate course, I decided to go for one last glitzy trip away before I finally buckle down and try to get my first job in journalism. So, this summer I found myself accepting a summer position in East Hampton, New York for the month of August, looking after Leonardo* aged 2 and Ryan*, 7 months. I have been to the same spot for the past two summers, both times with the same family and have wonderful memories. But as soon as I met this family at the airport, I knew that it wasn’t going to work. Although I hadn’t immediately warmed to the mother in the interview, I decided that the beaches of the Hamptons outweighed any mild irritation I may have had. I also told myself that ‘it’s only for a month’. Big Mistake.

She had a very annoying drawl, which is apparently also known as Long Island slack jaw. It slightly irritated me in the half hour interview, so you can imagine how I felt during an 8 hour flight. Before we even took off she stretched her seat all the way back so she could spread out with Ryan on her knee. The very pretty attendant came over and asked her politely to put her seat up for take-off. Mommy snapped at her rather dramnatically ‘I have a baby in my arms!’ {Er.. I don’t believe that makes you exempt from airline safety procedures, I thought}. The stewardess said, ‘Sorry, but we need you to put your seat in the upright position.’ And as she walked off Mommy was bouncing the baby on her knee speaking in a ‘Whatever happened to baby Jane’ scary voice; ‘We don’t like her! No we don’t! No we don’t! We don’t like her!’ {repeat twenty times, you get the picture}. She was thin as a rake and I soon discovered why. We didn’t eat lunch at the airport and didn’t eat on the plane either. She had ordered me a vegan meal for some obscure reason {probably just to exert control over me from day one} and they had no regular meals left. Leonardo threw his food at me when I asked him if he wanted to try some, to which ‘Mommy’ said “Oh, poor Leonardo, were you not hungry?” adding an extra three syllables into each word. Which reminded me why I preferred working for straight talking English mums who would have told their child off in a no nonsense type of a way. He started screaming before we even took off, and although Nannies can often distract and contain screeching children, it’s very difficult when you have a fawning mother who is pandering to every yelp and scream with ‘Poor baby, are you ears sore?’ Maybe his ears were sore, but lets be honest, what can you do about it when you’re strapped into an economy seat in a plane that is about to take off? My first instinct is distraction. I started up with the Batman doll and comic which stopped the yells until Mummy leant her scrawny neck out and said ‘Is your ear still hurting baby?’ which reminded the little dear that he was in fact having a good old scream and continued to do so until the movies started up.

During the flight she let him run around the aisles and often peer in at what people were watching on their screens. Something I notice a lot as a nanny is that what some mothers find sweet and endearing is actually quite rude behaviour. For example, I once worked for a mother who used to actually encourage her children to approach strangers in restaurants eating their dinner because they wanted to say hello. Can you imagine having a meal with a friend and having a 4 year old come up to you and say hello?? And then to glance over and see the mother smiling in a ‘Ahhh, aren’t they amazing’ way and have no alternative but to smile and say hello back and therefore ensure that these kids will be bothering you throughout your entire meal? Can you?? Maybe you’re a sentimental person who loves kids and it would make your night. But what if you aren’t?

Anyway, he was running around, in and out of the aisles and eventually into the Virgin Upper Class Cabin and to the bar. I went in and told him he mustn’t go in to that cabin, but his mother said ‘He can go in there if he wants’. If he wants? If he wants? Those people in there paid thousands of pounds for their seats! To have a 3 year old running around their bags? No! I don’t think so.

Needless to say it was a very long flight.

In our interview I was told that it would be ten hour days, 8.30am until 6.30pm, so when we arrived in East Hampton I went to bed having set my alarm for 8am. Imagine my horror when I was awoken by Mommy dearest at 7am with a loud knocking on my door {which incidentally was the downstairs bedroom next door to the kitchen}. I opened it bleary eyed and frowning, to see her standing in front of me with her whingey baby.


‘Morning! I just wondered if you could hold him while I go upstairs and get his bottle, I forgot it.’

{WHAT?!?!?! You woke me up for that?}

‘yes of course’

Doh! Why didn’t I just say, ‘Er, it’s 7am, I thought I started at 8.30??’ So of course, she goes upstairs and then comes back down a half hour later by which time she asks me to give him breakfast. She laughs and says ‘Oh poor you! I know I said 8.30 but if you could just help me out over these next few days…..’ Of course I say yes, foolishly. You give an inch….

The next few days I would get up at 7am, she would hand me the baby and the 3 year old, and then she would take herself back to bed. I would feed and dress the children, and we would hang around until she woke up {around 10-11} and then often she would take Leonardo to their private beach club for lunch. Then she would drop him back off with me while she went shopping. The house we were staying in was her husbands family home, and was full with her sister in law and two children, her in laws, a chef and, of course, us. The baby had recovered from an illness several months prior to the trip and had gotten used to being rocked to sleep, cuddled and doted on. So when I had to put him in his high chair for lunch, or if I needed to put him down to make dinner, he would scream and scream and scream. And I’m not talking little baby cries. I’m talking blood curling, screeching, hyperventalating screams. At nap time I was required to rock him to sleep for literally an hour or even 2 until he fell asleep. This went against all my experience and knowledge… I was very used to putting babies in their bed, and returning to comfort tears but leaving each time they settled. It was a nightmare. I would stand outside his door listening to his screams and finding myself feeling so helpless and almost manipulated by a baby {which I know is ridiculous} that I would often end up in tears out of desperation.

There were other things that frustrated me, my bedroom was downstairs and was also used as an office, so the in laws {who I had to refer to as Mr and Mrs X, another formality that I have never experienced, even working for Lords and Lady’s}, were in my room constantly. Leonardo was incredibly sensitive, in my opinion from being babied and mollycoddled. He would screech to his mother ‘Cuddles! Cuddles!’ in a desperate voice whilst jumping around until she said ‘OK, my little lamb, come to Mommy. Oooh my sweet, sweet boy’ blah blah blurgh. It made me feel physically sick. When I spent mornings with him he would play with his batman and I would try to engage with him, but with a baby on my hip that cried when I put him down, it was difficult to play fun games or really focus on him. The final straw happened one morning when as usual Mommy had gone back to bed after telling me to make plans with Leo as she wanted to spend time with Ryan. So I looked in the local paper and found an ad for a puppet show on a boat in Sag Harbor. I had heard about it from some previous employers who had a house in E Hampton. I told Leo all about it and said how great it would be. When Mommy awoke at 10.30, I told her that Leo and I would be off to the show that started at 11, and handed her baby. She said ‘Oh.. maybe you could take baby with you so I can have a shower and get some things done.’ So I said of course, but I thought you wanted to spend time with him? So Leo starts screeching and whining ‘I don’t wanna go! I wanna stay with you!’ and hiding behind her leg and whining as though I was trying to take him to swim with sharks. I told him not to be silly and that it would be such good fun, lets go!

To which Mommy picks him up, takes him into the kitchen and says ‘Now! What’s going on! You don’t want to go? Are you tired?’ {Tired at 10.30am when we have done nothing except hang around and wait for you to get out of bed? I don’t think so.} She says to him ‘OK, you don’t have to go.’

So I am standing in the kitchen with the baby, we are all dressed and ready to go the puppet show that she asked me to arrange.

I tell her ‘This isn’t going to work.’ And she starts shouting and screaming, telling me that she wants me ‘Gone by tomorrow’. To which I replied ‘Oh, I’m leaving now.’ It was awful, she was crying, I was crying, she told me she hated me {and I’m proud to say that I didn’t retaliate, her children were in the kitchen with her}, and I managed to call me old boss and ask her in between gulping sobs if she could come and get me. Her sister in law waited with me on the front lawn and told me I had done the right thing, that it was a bad situation. The car pulled up, my former boss’s husband got out to help me with my bags, and he gave me a big hug and told me not to worry. His son {and my former charge} Oliver was in his car seat in the back and said ‘Hi, Lisa! You’re coming to stay right?’ with a big smile. And within a minute, I felt better and remembered why I enjoyed nannying so much in the first place. Even though I will never take on another holiday job again, if I do a weekend or an evening, it will be for families I know and love, and who love me in return.

*all names and identifying places have been changed.

By : Lisa Mawhinney

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