from one of my favorite movies

Dear Nanny McPhee, from one of my favorite movies

I’m stealing this post idea from Sarah over at Clover Lane, a blog I recently found which is just delightful.  Today she wrote about her past experiences as a nanny, and it reminded me of the summer I was a nanny for wealthy families in the suburbs of Minneapolis.

Way back in high school, during one summer break I was accepted into a babysitting agency.  I remember the interview with this little old lady who ran the agency.  She was the type of woman who was maybe not so rich herself, but you could tell from her dress and demeanor that she wanted to be.  Running a babysitting agency for wealthy families gave her a type of “in” into the lives of the rich that she likely enjoyed.

She was very prim and proper, and she made sure that we sitters knew the rules of proper behavior amongst the rich.  (Namely, your job is with the children, do it well and stay out of the way of the adults who have  While I knew my manners, and loved the children, I had some real issues with this lifestyle of the rich that I was supposed to just observe and accommodate.

Some people were very nice to me.  I remember one couple who were a bit older, had just had their first baby together, and adored him.  They were very kind and the mother, at least, made it very clear that she hated to leave her baby at all but she had adjusted her schedule to work part-time and she needed to do it.  Likely both parents had important careers, but they had their priorities right it seemed to me and they loved their baby boy.  I only babysat a few times for them, in their lovely but not ostentatious home.

There was another family, however, for whom I nannied for a full month while they were between full-time, live-in nannies.  The mother was a high-powered Buyer at Dayton’s, Minnesota’s very best late, great department store (for which we all still mourn).  The father had some sort of seemingly less powerful but still time-consuming job.  They were never home.

I arrived at their home at 7 a.m. and stayed until 7 p.m. five days a week, and they would’ve liked to have me on weekends too but I couldn’t work that much.  I fed their two young and beautiful boys all three meals of the day.  I was responsible for their non-stop entertainment and educational pursuits.  If the mother called and we were watching TV, I could sense the pursing of her lips and restraint in her voice as she encouraged me to get them outside, or go over their abc’s some more.  (I’m sorry, I was with these boys twelve hours a day, unlike you madame, and sometimes I needed a break!  Even then as an 18-year old…)

Now, those boys and I did have lots of fun.  The family lived near Lake Minnetonka and their “mansion development” had walking and biking trails on which we could drive the requisite, every-family-has-one, golf cart.  We spent lots of time down at the lakeshore, riding the golf cart, and playing on the playgrounds.  I’m sure I didn’t do enough school work with them to satisfy the mom, but then you all know I’m an unschooler now and even then I thought summers were for a break.  I loved those boys and my heart broke for them many times over.

Their parents were so obviously unhappy.  When they were home, they were usually throwing adult-only dinner parties (one time the mom asked me to shop for that night’s dinner party ingredients.  When I came home brussels sprouts-less, she was so angry with me.  I told her the store didn’t have any, but the truth was I wouldn’t have known a brussels sprout from anything back then!) or, I suspect, they were fighting.  It was obvious to me, from the little I saw of him, that the dad was extremely unhappy with his marriage and probably wanted out.  He disliked me in a big way, too.  I was another stupid decision his wife had made.

But their home was lovely with nothing but the finest Oriental rugs and heavy furnishings.  Their clothes and hair were lovely.  They took fabulous vacations.  They lived on two acres of pristine grass, within a stone’s throw of one of the best lakes in the Twin Cities.  They didn’t have to lift a finger to wash dishes, do the laundry, mow their lawn, wash their cars.  Not even, I dare say, to take care of their children.

A little illustration of that point–near the end of my time as their nanny, and just before a family vacation to visit with Grandma, the mother asked me to take the boys to the barber shop for a haircut.  I don’t think she even knew where the former nanny used to take them, so she suggested the barber shop in the nearby village.  I brought them in to the old guy that ran the shop and said “just give them a regular boys’ cut”, having no idea about boys’ hairstyles (I still don’t, even with a husband and son now).  For that barber, a regular boys’ cut was pretty much a buzz job.  I still thought they looked cute.  But when their mother saw them, it was all she could do not to become furious with me.  Her mother was going to see them looking like this!  What had I done?!

When the family found the young woman who would be their new full-time nanny, I spent a few days “training” her in.  I said nothing in warning about how life would be with these people, but I suspect she found out soon enough.  Or maybe she expected it, being a regular nanny and all.

I walked out of that house for the last time with no regrets, happy to be out of there.  I wonder what those boys are up to now?  I hope they turned out okay, and know they’re loved.  But I can’t imagine it was easy.

My nanny experiences were yet another life lesson in getting my priorities straight.  I can be thankful for that.