A Tale of Five Nannies

The truth is, there’s no such thing as the “new normal” when it comes to parenting.

File Under: Memoir

A few weeks ago, my wife told me about a friend of ours with similar-aged children who had been through five nannies in 18 months. It really put our experience into perspective, having only been through three nannies in the same time frame. We reflected on how grateful we were to finally have a stable situation. Two months and several nannies later, I find myself longing for the innocence of those days.

This past year I turned 40. I’ve been living a very respectable existence as a happily married homeowner and SUV-driving father of two (a boy and a girl) in a midwestern city not far from where my parents grew up. I’m starting my fifth year at a job I love, working with a great team, and serving on the local and national leadership boards for my professional organizations.

Life is good, my friends, life is good.

In the years after college, I used to write stories about funny things that happened to me and send them to a mailing list of friends. I posted them on my AOL website (it was a thing before MySpace), and briefly explored getting them published. About ten years ago I stopped writing, mostly because I felt I didn’t have anything else to say in that forum. (It was around the time that I met my future wife, and I was more interested in hanging out with her than doing just about anything else.) Recently, a random search of my email inbox turned up a sweet note from a friend about a story I wrote back in 2005, and I went down the rabbit hole, reading late into the night through the dozens of stories I wrote in the years between college and marriage. Some of it cracked me up. Some I didn’t remember. Some I couldn’t believe that I wrote or shared.

A few days later, out of the blue, my mom sent me one of those stories I’d written my first year out of college. (She’s retired and cleaning out her work email. Also her house. Also my stuff.) She said it was still funny, which surprised both of us — I like that we each assumed that I was only ever clever in context.

On Yom Kippur, my rabbi gave a sermon, and similarly to several times in the past, I felt he was speaking directly to me. He often talks about writing your obituary, not your resume. This time, he talked about finding a way to tell your story, even if it takes years. He told us to figure out what you want to say, how to say it, and find someone to share it with. (He also mentioned something about Jonah and narcissism, but that part was probably about someone else.)

Days later, I was tagged in a social media post about a new blogging platform for Jewish dads. Fine, I get it. The universe wants me to write again. (Alternatively, when you’re a hammer, everything looks like a nail.)

My creative impulses have led me in other directions over the past decade — composing children’s songs, making music videos, taking pictures (most of my food and my kids). I haven’t thought about writing stories in years. Even (and especially) the births of my children seemed beyond words.

Also: parenting.

It’s hard to remember exactly how my wife and I spent our time before we became parents, but we do recall having it. We lived in New York City, so I think we were either working, exploring the city, commuting, eating or sleeping most of the time. Like many New Yorkers, we were super-focused on work, and often out until late hours in the evenings. We endlessly consumed movies, theater, live music and other cultural experiences without ever needing to plan ahead. We often stayed out until 3 or 4 am on weekends and slept until noon. (Just looking at that sentence, it seems bizarre now.)

Joy, awe, frustration, exhausting and overwhelming love have consumed the majority of my non-working hours over the past six years. As much as I love being a parent, and have lots to say about it, I have never felt like enough of an authority to write about such a universal and personal experience; I just didn’t feel the need or qualification to contribute.

But when something awkward happens — I can speak to that. Finally, the words come tumbling out. I am an authority on the subject of random and uncomfortable occurrences. This is my bread and butter. (Even though I’m allergic to dairy.)

My wife and I met before swiping right or left was a thing. Still, we managed to have an intense series of online relationship-hunting experiences in child care this year that more than made up for anything we might have missed. Let’s just say we’ve had a lot of charming first meetups at Starbucks, but the magic rarely lasts.

Our first nanny left us after two months because she couldn’t handle our house being messy with the kids’ clothing and toys. (Clearly, she missed the part about us hiring her to help out with the children.) She would organize their laundry by color and put it neatly in the drawers like a beautiful rainbow of Target’s seasonal line. It was never going to last.

Our second nanny was amazing, a real Mary Poppins type. (I was sold by the reference that said other people were jealous of their nanny; that’s social climbing for you.) After six delightful months of teaching our son to adorably clap and whistle, she suddenly had to leave the country for unexplained reasons. (This was at the height of wall-building mania, and even though it wasn’t related, I still blame Trump.) We all might have cried a little when she left.

Our third nanny was with us for the summer. She was young and fun and the kids loved her. She even worked at my son’s daycare center, making for a potentially seamless transition this fall when he started. After a few months, just as we were feeling grateful for stability at last, she got a full-time job teaching somewhere else. (So happy for her, so sad for us.)

Our fourth nanny, our first after-school babysitter, was also young and fun and the kids also loved her. (That’s right, our first. That’s right, loved.) She lasted the first week of school before giving notice. Her friend had texted her, unsolicited, with a full-time job opportunity shortly after she started with us. (I’m starting to think working for us is a real career stepping stone!)

Our fifth nanny… let’s just say we are now tied with our friends in the questionably prestigious and hopefully somewhat exclusive five-nanny-in-a-year club, and we’re not feeling so competitive.

The truth is, there’s no such thing as the “new normal” when it comes to parenting. There’s definitely new stuff, but it keeps changing at lightning speed before it ever really becomes normal. Every stage leads to the next, and all you can do is enjoy the great moments and know that the tough ones will pass. When it comes to hiring part-time help for your children, an incredible caretaker is as potentially fleeting as each phase of child development. Right now, our kids are each at amazing ages (18 months and 6 years), and I’m trying my best to appreciate this window in time before it inevitably closes.

As for me and my writing, I’m thinking about getting back into it. My youngest child is entering full-time daycare, and I’m suddenly finding myself with time I didn’t have over the past few years. As I emerge from the haze of new parenthood, and recover from our frequent hiring of nannies (which is kind of a terrible hobby), I’ve started to again see ideas for stories all around me, and I’m excited to have a place to share them.

Also exciting: nanny #5 has outlasted nanny #4 and is closing in on nanny #1. But when she’s busy, nanny #3 is subbing in for her. Nanny #4 still occasionally babysits for us. It’s a tight race; anything could happen.

Jay Rapoport

Nationally-touring music educator Jay Rapoport takes Jewish values and stories and transforms them into "Ruach Rock," a catchy piano-pounding style influenced by Ben Folds and Billy Joel. His first album of original Jewish songs, With All Your Heart, was released in November 2010, and he travels the country sharing his unique blend of instant sing-alongs and engaging musical storytelling that gets people out of their seats and rocking. Jay has performed at URJ Biennial, NewCAJE and NFTY Convention and has served on the faculty of Song Leader Boot Camp, led t'filah for ARJE gatherings, and taught at Hava Nashira. Jay honed his skills as a camp songleader, touring clubs and colleges with various bands, and incorporating original music into his roles as camp director at Temple Rodef Shalom in Falls Church, VA and youth advisor and educator at Congregation Rodeph Sholom in NYC. Jay studied piano and singing at Berklee College of Music and has a master's degree in religious education from Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion in New York City. Since 2014, he has served as Director of Lifelong Learning at Temple Sholom of Chicago. His second album of Jewish music, They Tried To Get Us, We Won, Let's Rock! was released in December 2014.