She couldn’t replace my late husband, but she did everything my husband would have done: From the time we met, which was three months before Lyons Cub was born, she unpacked my moving boxes with me, built cabinets and shelves with me and filled them with pottery (only to take out all the pottery once baby could crawl, to replace it with toys), fed my two dogs, Honey and Sally, my two cats, Felix and Frankie, and even a handful of crested geckos, a gargoyle gecko, a hybrid, and a bearded dragon, and a tank full of fish, who lived in my basement. She came at 4:00 a.m. in the morning on the day my son was born, to join me in the Monroe Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt in Nashville for a whole week while he was in the NICU there before being transferred home to Clarksville. She witnessed my son’s birth and took pictures. She helped me into my clothes and out of my chair after my C-section. The week after, she drove me to work and picked me up every single day for two weeks straight. She fed, changed, carried, entertained, and educated my son, and was instrumental in his learning English (since I spoke only German with him). Who did all that, selfless, caring, and sacrificial?
It all started with an ad I had posted on care.com that I was looking for a nanny for my soon-to-be-born son. At first, I had published an ad saying I expected twins, but at my second ultrasound, the doctor let me know that I had had a “vanishing twin,” so my son was going to be a singleton. (Deep in my heart, I thought my husband had always wanted a girl, so maybe our little Emily Rosalyn, as her name was supposed to be, was with him in heaven now, and Leander, the boy I had always wanted, was with me earth side.)
Originally, I had wanted to find an in-house nanny, and I had furnished and prepared a room in my new house for her. I had also been looking for a university-educated lady with newborn and early childhood experience, who was between 35 and 65 years old. If I live with a woman under my roof, she would have to be someone near my age and educational level, so we could get along well and have similar histories and interests; I also needed somebody who spoke perfect Standard English, in order to raise my child bilingually, since I was aiming to speak only German to him. Therefore, I was rather looking for an educator or private teacher and not for a girl who just changes diapers and gives bottles. I eliminated all the 18-year-olds who wrote on care.com that they had “been baby sitting their little siblings,” because that was not the education and experience I was looking for. I further didn’t want a nanny in child-bearing years, because I wanted her for the first three years of my son’s life, and if she had a baby, she would be gone and we would have to look for a new person of contact to build a relationship with. Lastly, I didn’t want a grandma, because my son already had a grandma in Europe, and she wanted to be the one and only, of course!
Nannies out there, when you apply for a job on care.com, please be aware that we mothers tend to look for certain cues in your writing. When you start your application with, “hello family, My name is X, and I would like to introduce myself to you. I have an Early Childhood teaching degree from Y. and 10 years of experience teaching and tutoring kindergarteners. I have raised two children myself who are adults now and am looking to help a family with my love, patience, and expertise…. I have nannied a lovely child for the past three years, who now goes on to kindergarten, so I would be available….,” this makes a very good impression. If you start your application with, “I want to make some extra money and take 20 dollars per kid per day,” that makes a very bad impression. We don’t weigh our precious children in dollars. We might not make a lot of money ourselves but need help in our household because we are either a) back to work or b) single mothers, or both (I was both), so we want to make sure that the little we have is given to a person who educates, loves, and protects our children like the apple of her eye. Child care is expensive in the U.S. And of course, we want the very best for our heartbeats. We are longing for a loving, nurturing person, who addresses us properly, introduces herself (of course, with a photo; I didn’t even look at applications without a photo), writes in proper grammar, and talks about her past experiences and her qualifications. If you fall into the door just talking about money, you’re out. It is hard enough on us financially already as it is.
Just to show you what I mean, here are a few pleasing and disturbing examples (the source is care.com):
I probably don’t need to explain which type of the above example ads I would answer. And I was willing to pay the price and worked hard to afford it. I gave my first nanny my new car, a red Toyota Camry, to drive (as I drove my late husband’s), paid her gas to get to work, and paid a fair hourly price that was standard for the educational level I was looking for. I got a workers’ compensation insurance with Liberty Mutual for her, and a car insurance with State Farm. I paid quarterly nanny taxes to Breedlove from care.com, hired an extra animal care-taker and a back-up nanny for times of illness and vacations, and all in all spent about USD 20,000 annually out of my 40,000 on my nanny. She would have gotten her own bedroom with a full bath, too (she ended up sleeping over a few times when there was a need, but usually slept at home with her husband, haha).
What I didn’t pay were the summer breaks and other school breaks, because during those times, I was available for my child full time and would most likely travel to Europe to my relatives with him. Therefore, it wasn’t easy to find a nanny willing to commit–but I found one! First thing you do when you have interviewed and hired a nanny is to make a nanny contract. This was my first draft, based on a sample I received from the care.com website; we modified it and deleted things that didn’t apply (such as relocation costs):
I had started to look for a nanny in September; the first contact stood me up, the second one became one of our two doggy care takers, and I hired the third applicant, our Nanny Nancy, in November (my son was due in March), and that was good, because he was born at the end of January! We were able to unpack my moving boxes (I had moved from Illinois to Tennessee in July, but since I was right back to work and pregnant, I never got to unpack the 40 crates of pottery my husband had inherited from his artistic parents, all my books, and plenty of other things). Without her help, those boxes would still stand in my basement 😉
We set up the nursery together, so I could start nesting. And although we were both kind of technically challenged, we were able to assemble several shelves in the basement, and we were building a shelf the night before I had my son, when I already had contractions. I have a very high pain tolerance, so as a first-time mom, I naturally thought those were the Braxton Hicks contractions I had read about on the Internet, and I didn’t give it another thought–after all, I still had two months, or so I thought. On January 29th, I taught my English Education methods course from 4:00-7:30 p.m., got home at 8:00 p.m., built a shelf with nanny, then she left, I fed the animals, went into the bathtub, and as I came out at 11:00 p.m., I lost my waters, mixed with blood. I thought, “that’s it,” and called my nurse, and she said, “get to the clinic!” So I put two towels inside my pants and drove myself to Tennova in Clarksville, where I arrived at midnight, was hooked up to monitors, received one steroid shot, and was told to prepare. At 4:00 a.m., I called my nanny that it was time, and she arrived promptly. At 9:11 a.m., my 3 lbs-son arrived by C-section, and only then, we heard that he had IUGR, and the whole drama started with his transfer to Vanderbilt in Nashville, a level-IV NICU.
You can read all about my NICU time and the challenges of having a preemie here. Without my nanny, I would have been lost. When you don’t have a husband anymore and no parents/relatives or friends in the city you live in, you’re in a jam–especially when baby comes early and nobody expected you to need any help that soon! Doesn’t she look like a doctor in her protective gown and cap?!? (I never told her that, but I kept thinking, if I had had my son the night before when we were building the shelf and I felt strong contractions, she would probably have ended up being my midwife, too!!!)
Not only did she take pictures at my C-section, she also was present for the first bottle, the first bath, the first clothes, the upgrade from the isolette to the normal bed, the hearing test, the car seat test, and all the other firsts. She made Valentine’s Day beautiful for us by having a special onesie printed for Lyons Cub, mommy’s little valentine, and getting his foot prints framed. (The little red hat was from the Heart Association, but I had to exchange it secretly for another one, because they were all too big for his head; they had put one on each seat in the NICU
Nanny Nancy was with us on our ride home (well, she had to, because she was our driver!!), and on our first outing with the stroller around the blocks in Clarksville. We didn’t venture out very far (as I was still paranoid taking a little 4-lbs baby fresh from the NICU and without a strong immune system among other people), but it was a first! There were many other follow-up excursions; nanny got a wrap and a baby carrier and took him to her house, to Hobby Lobby, and to other places. With time, Lyoness became less anxious 😉 I guess it’s mommy’s first fear after leaving the hospital to introduce her baby to the outside world–and all its germs. And this was all pre-Covid! I don’t want to know what it would be like now.
Of course, we also got to know Nanny Nancy’s family. She raised three big boys, so Lyons Cub wasn’t that much of a challenge to her (he is to his mommy, occasionally 😉 ).
Here, we went out to eat in Hopkinsville, KY with Nanny Nancy, her husband, and her youngest son. We were out to eat several times, and I remember one day when I ordered a “cheese sandwich” and expected a nice slice of bread with one slice of cheese on it. What I got was a soggy toast with hundreds of different cheeses melted on top of it, and I found it so disgusting that I couldn’t eat a bite! Nanny laughed her head off. I should have known better. We went shopping for baby clothes and toys in the little mom-and-pop stores in Hopkinsville, and I always found something lovely to take home for Lyons Cub. Also in Hopkinsville, Lyons Cub had his first haircut at Juanita’s Beauty Salon!
We went to several restaurants together (my way to say “thank you” for special help on challenging days), and there was one Indian restaurant in Clarksville where Nanny Nancy got the most ominous dish I’ve ever seen. It looked like it was ballooning off her plate:
Lyons Cub became self-efficient early on due to our Montessori approach. So lucky to have had a nanny who was experienced in it, went along with it, and never stopped learning the Montessori way, just like mommy! Nanny’s husband even built Lyons Cub’s first Montessori house bed together with mommy, after about 100 separate wood beams had been stained and dried:
Nanny Nancy fed Lyons Cub right from the beginning, first colostrum, then mother’s milk with fortifier Similac Sensitive, then Holle powdered goat milk and baby food, and finally, real food… Sometimes, it was messy; most times, it was fun. Lyons Cub always wanted to hold his own spoon. Here are my two favorite feeding scenes; the second one was around Christmas, where Lyons Cub tried mommy’s chocolate brownies:
Our funniest ever outing was when Lyoness and Lyons Cub had to travel to the German embassy in Atlanta, GA to get his German passport, so we could spend the summer breaks in Europe. We took it in turns to drive the 6-hour-long way, met mommy’s family friends in Atlanta, and visited an IKEA store, nanny’s biggest wish! She was NOT amused by the snake, but otherwise had the time of her life. IKEA bosses, if you read this, you absolutely need to build a store near Hopkinsville or at least in Nashville. You don’t know how many people there are longing to have you near!!!
Lyons Cub met lots of his first milestones with his Nanny Nancy. For example, he learned to crawl with her while mommy was at work, teaching. Nope, I was not jealous that I missed a few milestones and nanny got to see them first. That’s life for a working single mom, and I was glad to have the help I needed and to know my son was safe, secure, and in the best possible company, learning a lot and not just being supervised. The ONLY time I got jealous was when nanny was mistaken for me; Nanny Nancy went out to go shopping with Lyons Cub in a wrap on her chest, and another customer said, “Aww, look at that mommy with her new baby!” or something like that. Man, that was hard!! But I had my sweet revenge when the nice receptionist at Monroe Children’s Hospital in Vanderbilt in Nashville thought “nanny” meant something else, so when I introduced my companion als “Nanny Nancy,” she said, “Oh, and you are grandma!!” (Heehee, we are just three years apart!!! 😉 )
Having a nanny is a wonderful help, but it is very expensive. In Europe, I couldn’t afford it at all. In the U.S., I could only afford it because I had inherited just as much from my husband as was needed to cover the first three years of childcare for my son. (His Montessori kindergarten cut a big $1,000 per month out of my not so large teacher’s paycheck; at some point, I had a nanny as well as Montessori kindergarten for my son, since the kindergarten vacations did not coincide with my university vacations, and there were lots of other closures due to the flu and later, complete closure due to the pandemic). Since I was inexperienced with taxes in the U.S., I let HomePay/Breedlove from care.com handle the nanny taxes for me. They had a wonderful customer support system and always replied timely and with a solution to my many spontaneously changed hours (imagine a crazy teaching schedule for English education, where faculty meetings and events are added at random, and student teachers suddenly wish to be observed in the field with little prior notice! Then, they cancel in the last minute due to the flu or snow days or other reasons, and their field observations have to be rescheduled.). Breedlove paid my nanny weekly per deposit. I put in the hours worked online (and sometimes, I just notified them by email). Then, I paid Breedlove for their service quarterly. This is what a typical payroll history looks like in the online portal of Breedlove, after they have taken out the amount for nanny’s Social Security:
And this is what one of their tax forms looks like. I’m glad I didn’t have to deal with the IRS myself. I’d rather pay a costly service who does it correctly. If you hire an au-pair, you don’t pay any taxes, but if you hire a nanny, you MUST pay nanny taxes to keep it all legal. It’s not an easy process. At first, I tried to record all hours worked in an xls file, but both Nanny Nancy and I agreed that it would be better to outsource it to a knowledgeable company.
Once you have to separate from your nanny, because your child ages out of her care, or for other reasons (in our case, nanny Nancy had a work-related accident and broke her elbow and was out of commission for a year, but a few months after her accident, we would have looked for a part-time nanny, because Lyons Cub started Amare Montessori from 8 a.m. through 4 p.m.), you write her a favorable certificate, so she can go on and apply to another family. Our nanny had been wonderful, and we hope many great families and lucky children will get to have her after us.
Also, don’t forget to give your nanny lots of stars in your review on care.com, if you hired her from there! This tells other families which nannies did a great job. Reviews are important, and I also looked at the star rating before making up my mind. You can check characteristics like, “would rehire,” “punctual,” and “dependable,” etc. Furthermore, care.com runs a criminal background check and a vehicle record check on the nannies (I had to pay extra for those).
All in all, having a nanny is more than just finding a caretaker for your child. It’s having a relationship. It’s getting involved with another woman and her family, and it melts together those families. There will be emergencies, and there will be normal, day-to-day activities and events. There will be friendship, and there will be differences. I personally found childcare in the U.S. a catastrophe financially and am so glad I had a nanny, so Lyons Cub could form an early relationship and wasn’t handed from person to person, or exposed to too many germs of other kids at a daycare center a very young age, as I had to return to work full time a week after his birth. (In Germany, I would have received paid maternity leave and would have had the choice of taking 1 to 3 years off work.) Lots of mommies are less fortunate than we were (well, if you can call it fortunate to have to inherit from your beloved husband). Lyons Cub’s Montessori kindergarten was also great for his development, but I wouldn’t have been able to afford it for long.
Here in Germany, I pay EUR 80 to the “Jugendamt” (Youth Welfare Office) per month, and that’s it. Kindergarten is free. I pay EUR 55 per month for his food there and get a wonderful, written menu every month with the daily dishes, which are healthy and tasty. The German government sponsors each first and second child with EUR 219 per month (and 225 for a third child, and 250 for each following child, the so-called “Kindergeld”), so you can basically afford childcare from that. You can’t afford a nanny, because this is like hiring an employee (a nanny in Germany who works a 40-hours-week earns between EUR 1,500 und 2,500 a month).
Returning to work that soon would have been illegal for me in Germany. Employers here are not allowed to employ women six weeks before the birth and eight weeks after the birth of their baby. If the woman has a preemie, twins, or a child with a disability, it’s 12 weeks after birth. German mommies receive “Mutterschutz” and “Mutterschaftsgeld.” The downside is, German taxes take almost 50% out of your earnings. But I’d rather have that and a functional health care and child care system! German middle class generally earns enough so that one doesn’t need to have a second job, plus you get 30 days of vacation per year (not counting additional overtime you can take off, depending on your company). As a single mom and a green card holder (which means, no benefits are allowed, because you would have to leave the U.S. if you became a financial “charge”), I wouldn’t have been able to make a living for my growing son and me in the long run.
Are you ready to make this commitment and have a nanny? Do your research, get a tax adviser, and go looking, for you might just find the right person, like we did. It will have a big and positive impact on your child’s life. Lyons Cub is still talking about his Nanny Nancy!