Confessions Of A Nanny

Gabriella Salmon tells of being in the world of motherhood, but not of it.

I spend my days wiping snotty noses, changing dirty nappies and interpreting two-year-old speak. I have spent anxious hours in the hospital with a croupy 18-month-old, and I have dealt simultaneously with a projectile-vomiting baby and his three-year-old sister who was freaking out about the loud noises coming from the train that we happened to be travelling on. I have whispered “I love you” to sleeping cherubs, and I have grinned until my face hurt at the antics of ‘my little cutie’. Yet, I have never been pregnant, never given birth, and never been called ‘Mum’. You see, I’m a nanny.

It’s interesting living in a country that, unlike Britain, for example, doesn’t have a tradition of nannies. In my experience, and that of a lot of other people, an Australian nanny is quite an uncommon species and rarely seen, especially outside of capital cities.

In mothers’ domains, I am an anomaly. At the music playgroup I take my current little one to, the teacher is often heard saying, “Now, Mums and Dads and… Gabbie…” I am in the world of motherhood, but not of it. I’m definitely not a member of the ‘mothers’ club’ (I get too much sleep to qualify!), but I understand a lot more about it than your average singleton. Practically speaking, I do everything a parent would do, but at the end of the day, I get to hand them back and go home.

Although I am intimately involved in their lives, I sometimes have to remind myself that these are not my children and that, ultimately, their parents decide how they are brought up. This means I have found myself biting my tongue when parents allow what I consider to be too much (or inappropriate) television. I have fed small children food I would never give my own children, and I have stood by, faintly bemused, as parents bend over backwards, sideways, upside down and inside out, trying to please a spoilt child when what the child really needed were some solid boundaries.

In the current day and age, when the concept of a ‘village’ or extended family bringing up a child is laughable for all but a few, a nanny can help alleviate the sense of ‘doing it alone’ that many parents, particularly mothers, feel. For once, there is an ‘independent’ adult around who actually cares that little Bob did a poo two hours ago, that he can now say ‘b’ and that he went to bed late last night.

For me, what I do is more akin to ‘work experience’ for my own personal journey of one day being a mother. Sometimes I immerse myself in the world of babies (under fives are my specialty) far beyond what could be justified as research for any ‘job’. I am drawn to little people; stepping in and taking over ‘mother duties’ flows naturally to me. I don’t just ‘look after the kids’, I help raise them; I provide a genuine, loving example of the ‘outside’ world. In a fiscal sense, I work for the mothers (and fathers) of the children I look after, but overall, I work with them to help raise healthy, creative, loving and loved children.

I once looked after a gorgeous little three-year-old who would often say, “I love you, Gabbie”. And I would say it back. These were no business transactions, there were no time sheets or pay rates in sight – it was just a series of beautiful moments between two human beings… one big and one little.

Recently, ‘my’ two-year-old has been questioning why I don’t go to work when the other significant adults in his life (Mum and Dad) do. After explaining that looking after him is my work, I asked him if he liked me looking after him. After taking a moment to reflect, he cocked his little head and said, in an endearing way only a two-year-old can, “Yessss”.

Phew! I’d passed the quarterly performance review!

Another indication I use of how well I’m doing in my role is to tally up how many people assume I’m the mother of my charges. It’s like the ultimate ‘Mystery Shopper’ review. Is this woman attentive to the practical and emotional needs of the children in her care? Check. Is there an obvious bond between this woman and these children? Check. Can she communicate in fluent two-year-old, pretend to be a fairy and organise lunch at the same time? Check. I know I pass with flying colours because today, after almost two months of playgroup, one of the mums only just realised that I’m not the mother of the little boy with me… and that was only because someone told her.

I know all nannies aren’t like me and that for some, their work description doesn’t extend much past ‘Keep children alive. Keep parents happy. Keep job.’

However, it’s impossible that there aren’t other nannies and carers out there who feel a similar kind of vocation in their work as I do. Other nannies who, when asked, ‘Do you love your work?’ would reply, ‘Absolutely!’

Illustration by Andrea Smith