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how we chose our nanny | the story of nanny Katie

This is a hard read. I’ve just about forgiven myself for all these thoughts.

About a year ago, my pregnant mind fell apart. Everything became too painful to think about. The knowledge of what having a newborn is like, coupled with the insistent thoughts that I didn’t think I could do it anyway, were absolutely crippling me. Layered on top, the terror of losing my bond with my eldest, the chasm that I thought maternity leave would grind into my career path, and the physical effort of being me plus foetus, I was really, really struggling.

I would have told you all that if you’d asked. Believe me, some people regretted asking how I was, many a time. My irrational unhappiness was difficult to listen to.

It was at this time, at this table I write at now, that I sat down with a prospective candidate for becoming our nanny. And I told her all of the above, and more. There were tears.

I thought, we thought, that what we needed was somebody who could take the baby off my hands so I could continue on the precise path of parenthood I was already on. It was all I could see – this new baby was going to stop me from being me. I had to make sure that didn’t happen.

My criteria was thus:

  • Somebody older than me (yes, there are such women)
  • Somebody who could walk in, look at the mess I’m in, and just take charge
  • Somebody who shared my attitude to play, manners and discipline

This lady sat across from me as I poured out my, in hindsight, shameful attitude and plans for the future, sat and listened and intervened with precisely the right amount of tolerance for it. Yes, she would take the baby. Yes, she would take him out of the house if I said so. Yes, she would look after both children so that I could get away.

Never in my rosiest hopes did I think it would turn out the way it has. Nanny Katie (never Katie in our house, always Nanny Katie), worked the oldest parenting trick in the book on me – distraction – and, without me realising it for months, enabled me to bond tightly with my son, safe in the knowledge that my daughter was wanting for nothing, least of love, play and attention.

By employing Nanny Katie before Flinders arrived, we gave her the chance to strike up the most wonderful friendship with our daughter. You’ve probably heard of love bombing as a tactic, but Nanny Katie prefers craft bombing, and adventure bombing, and good, old fashioned undivided attention bombing.

We cut Tibbs’ nursery hours down and two afternoons a week, Nanny Katie and Tibbs spent together. Nanny Katie has a lovely dog called Poppy, who is the maiden aunt to Mack’s gregarious teen, and the four of them roll as one crew, welly walking, flower collecting, and baby lamb feeding up at Nanny Katie’s farm home.

When it was time for Flinders to come along, the only thing that stopped my heart from breaking as David dropped me at the hospital to take Tibbs to nursery, unaware as she was of what I was bringing home to her, was the knowledge that Nanny Katie would pick her up from nursery as normal, and her world would seem completely as it should be.

The early months were hard, as hard as I’d feared, but with Nanny Katie on hand to pour attention on whoever needed it the most (sometimes, even Mack got put first), we got through it. Silly as it felt to ask her at first to accompany me on little things like a trip to a cafe, on reflection, with no family close by, Nanny Katie became that missing helping hand, or person to roll eyes at, or to make me laugh.

It wasn’t as I thought it would be. Flinders stayed with me, needing to be breastfed, and, due to allergies only later diagnosed, struggling with skin and stomach pains. I became their mum, not just Tibbs’ mum, because Nanny Katie helped create that trust.

Then, later on, she started looking after them both. It wasn’t easy at first, he was a frightful crier and extremely loud and stressful, and I’m not honestly sure how she did it, but she MADE him love her as much as Tibbs does. His giant cheeks swivel in her direction when she walks in, and his legs start pumping up and down, and his hands flexing, and then the grin spreads. Tibbs just carries on the conversation in her head that she’s been having with Nanny Katie anyway, and they tessellate into their own groove for the afternoon. I am gratefully redundant for a while, free to work, to tidy, to be me.

Their arts and crafts projects are monumental, their baking truly impressive. No, I don’t have piles of freshly ironed baby clothes stacked in the nursery, courtesy of Nanny Katie, or less guff on the playroom floor, or army-grade bed making upstairs. She’s no housekeeper. I do have a child that can feed baby lambs. That is an enthusiastic library goer and river paddler. That raised tadpoles, makes fairy gardens out of moss, has baked every breathing and sometimes non breathing household member a birthday cake in the last year, and they were edible.

Nanny Katie has delivered. She walks in, knows the score, and just, well, does. I’m incredibly proud that, other than the obligatory nearby soft play as far as I know, Tibbs has never been to a conventional playground with her. They do outdoors fun with the dogs and that’s not a playground thing.

My kids are happy. I’m so far from that manic, frightened, dramatic pregnant person. We made the right decision. As Tibbs prepares to start school, it’s so brilliant to know that, on days when work stops me from picking her up, the next best thing from a parent will be right there to hug her, listen to her and bring her home to us.

So, what would my tips be for choosing a Nanny Katie of your own?

  • Choose according to your personality first, not necessarily that of your child. Children have a lot more latitude for adaption of style. If you need someone punctual, tidy, or risk-aware, make those things you priority, because you will not stand for it and it will make your life much harder if you chose someone you thought your kids would like best, but that person continually doesn’t meet your personal standards
  • Decide if you want somebody who directs, or needs direction. I needed ‘I thought we’d go to Chew Valley lake today for a picnic, is that ok?’ not ‘What would you like me to do with them today?’
  • Accept that sometimes, your children need to be at home to be cared for, so you might have to go out, even if you weren’t planning to (especially important if you work from home)
  • Decide, and take the nanny’s advice, on how you want to transfer discipline/responsibility for it when you are both around. We had some right fun and games at first, with Tibbs playing us all like a piano, so we agreed that as soon as I/David was around, we do the discipline
  • If you want somebody who cleans, get a cleaner, or look for a nanny/housekeeper
  • Let them do their job – just give them the tools to do it, the suggested food and routines and the like, and let them get on with it. Nanny Katie can get Flinders to sleep in his cot during the day, I can’t. It’s better to let them be them

I hope, by reading this thus far, and it’s been a long one, you’ve come to the conclusion that sometimes, it’s ok to ask for help, even if you have to pay for it, if you can afford to. We’re not all blessed with a ‘village’ of relatives surrounding us. We made our own village a little bit.

Lastly, if you are thinking of getting a Nanny Katie, there are some books you might like to read.

Aunt Amelia, by Rebecca Cobb, tells the story of just how much fun one can get up to with a babysitter.

Marge in Charge by Isla Fisher, tells the story of an unconventional, but utterly loveable child-wrangler, possibly with magical powers (pretty sure this one is actually about Nanny Katie, but don’t tell her!)

Thanks for reading. This one, for obvious reasons, is for you, Nanny Katie, with my whole-hearted appreciation.

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