I am six months into my gig as a nanny, taking care of two young kids in the year between my graduation and Matthew’s. It’s been fun and challenging and adorable and a much needed break from academic life. I’ve made friends with tee ball coaches and other nannies, and I have finally figured out how to convince kids to help clean up the playroom and get ready for bed with minimal screaming (…sometimes).
Here are my top five lessons from the nanny life so far:
1. Savor the snippets.
I’m writing this in the parking lot during the half hour between the little guy falling asleep in his car seat and the pick-up time for his sister when I’ll have to wake him up and carry him into the school with me. You’re not always going to have a full day to rest. Or a full afternoon. Or a full hour. But these kids are pumped to go to the park even if they know we can only stay for 15 minutes. They don’t waste the time wondering how many minutes they have left or fussing about whether they’ll have time to finish something. They just jump in and go until I say stop– granted, sometimes they don’t make the most graceful exit, but they spend their limited time well, fully committed to being where they are and doing what they’re doing in the moment.
2. Rushing doesn’t pay off as much as you think.
You cannot convince a three year old that doing anything or going anywhere is urgent. You just can’t. It doesn’t register. And you know what? We still get everything done that needs doing. No matter how many times I repeat my little mantra, “Buddy, let’s go. Put shoes on sweetie. Quick quick. Here we go. We gotta go,” their pace stays roughly the same. Sometimes the reminders are necessary to keep them focused when there are distractions– like the last few seconds of a song on the radio or a stuffed animal unexpectedly discovered by the door– but past that, they’ll do it when they do it and there’s only so much I can do about that short of throwing them over my shoulder and strutting out to the car. Sometimes my little mantras are even counterproductive, which I realized when one kiddo interrupted my mindless litany of “Are you buckled in yet? We can’t go until you’re buckled. Are you–?” with “I’m trying, but it will be faster if you stop asking me. ” I was stressing her out with the rush.
Not being able to pick up the pace drives me up the wall half the time, but the other half I just say, “Whatever. We’ll get there when we get there.” I’ve learned to adjust our start time to accommodate the snail’s pace and how best to encourage them to get a move on, but once I’ve done all I can do I just have to let it be ok. And the thing is, it really is ok. We get there when we need to get there not because I have become a giant stress ball frantically hurrying everyone along but because I now know how long it takes to get where we need to go and I just plan accordingly. Plus, letting them take the time to do things like buckle their own seatbelt and put on their own shoes is good for them. It helps them learn, but only if there isn’t someone standing over them asking every five seconds, “Are you done yet?”
3. Bring snacks.
Everywhere. Always. No exceptions. Everyone will be in a better mood. Just trust me on this.
4. Take a cue from Mary Poppins to make the lame things fun.
It is 100% more effective to start anything with, “On your mark, get set, go!” than “We have to go…” Kids will race each other to do a chore they have been swearing up and down they will NEVER do (even if they play the dreaded, “You can’t make me!” card) if you bet them they can’t finish it by the end of a Disney song. They’re doing the exact same thing I wanted them to, but just changing what I call it completely flips how they approach it. I’m finding that applies for me, too. It takes all the willpower I’ve got to put on my sneakers if I say I “have to” go running today, but if I tell myself I “get to” explore a new part of Chapel Hill or try to beat my last run time I actual look forward to it. Some things still kind of suck no matter how cheery I am about them, but I can at least think about them as a step to rewarding myself. Each paper I write earns me an episode of Modern Family. That’s enough to get me started, at least, and I usually find that the process is a lot more pleasant than I built it up to be in my head.
5. Spend some time with the kids in your life.
There are the obvious reasons about how important it is for kids to have grown-ups they love and trust who invest in them and take an interest in who they are and what they care about. That is hugely important. All you have to do is watch a kid’s face when you ask them about themselves. It’s like sunshine. But honestly, healthy and appropriate relationships with kids are good for grown-ups, too. Their literal take on things keeps you honest. Their imagination keeps you free. Their perspective keeps yours fresh. Intergenerational friendships are good for all the generations involved.