Mary Poppins arrived with us at the start of the year, in preparation for my full-time return to work. I’m not sure of the correct criteria for assessing a nanny’s performance, but I’d say she’s been a resounding success. She hasn’t resigned, the children don’t cry when I leave them (although they do often cry when she leaves, which does little for maternal confidence), and she doesn’t appear to have stolen anything or sold my secrets to the Daily Mail. She hasn’t found my vibrator (at least, if she has, she’s very good at putting it back undisturbed) and most importantly – according to the nanny horror stories with which I was regaled when I first suggested the idea to my friends – she’s not sleeping with my husband. To my knowledge. And I have to say, the children are so very happy with her, and she keeps the house so very nicely, and we pay her so very little, that if I were to come home and find her in bed with my husband, it’d be a tough call as to who I asked to leave. Well, nannies don’t grow on trees, you know.
Everywhere I go people tell me how wonderful my nanny is. I receive a veritable stream of text messages from all my stay-at-home-mum friends; “jst seen yr brood in town – so cute!”, “wow, ur lot havin so much fun @ twins clb!”, “sat in music grp with yr littlst on my lap!”, “OMG can’t believe u cld be so evil as 2 leave ur kids while u sell yr soul for a public sectr pension!” Well okay, that last one was made-up, but in the early weeks back at work, when I was still emotional about leaving the pygmies with a virtual stranger, these messages were like knives in my post-natal conscience. It was useful feedback though; otherwise how on earth do you know how your nanny’s really getting on? We do run a ‘nanny diary’ which is a useful communication method on those days when I run out of the door at 7am just as she’s putting her key in the door;
“Morning, hope you had a great weekend & the kids aren’t too bad for you. Neighbour brought some apples round – crumble maybe? Toilet-training not a raging success – says he likes to poo in his pants. Any ideas? Girls have bad colds – feel free to dose with Calpol . See you later, will try to get off on time”
Mary Poppins’ responses are always beautifully measured with never an ounce of frustration. It took me a while to learn how to read between the lines and discover that the difficulty of her day is in direct proportion to the number of exclamation marks used in her diary summary…
“Hi, hope you had a good day. Gosh, the girls have been full of beans!!!! I didn’t think they’d ever go to sleep after lunch!!!! J hasn’t quite cracked the poo issue, but I’m sure that was because of today’s upset tummy!! Think we need some more washing powder LOL!!!! We went to toddler group but came home after five minutes because E was a bit clingy!!!! Oh well, I’m sure they’ll all be more cheerful tomorrow!!! Let’s hope so!!!!!!!!”
Two or three consecutive diary entries with similar punctuation and I know it’s time to give her a half-day.
The obvious feedback method for care-givers is to ask the children, but that’s tricky when they’re all under three. J is the only one articulate enough to complain, so one morning I went on a fishing trip…
“Do you like Mary Poppins, darling?” (that’s not her real name by the way)
Hmm, need to probe further.
“What do you like about her?”
“I like the playing. And the painting”
Well, that sounds promising. At least she’s not just sitting them in front of CBeebies with a quart of juice; the juvenile equivalent of red wine and porn.
“But I don’t like the shouting”
What? Oh my God. She shouts? How dare she? We don’t pay her to shout. We pay her to remain calm in the face of adversity, to do the childrens’ washing, cook their meals and prevent the house from looking as though Fisher Price has thrown up on it. But definitely not to shout.
“What does she shout, darling?” I asked brightly, in a manner I fondly hoped was akin to a child psychologist with several degrees in communicating with pygmies. Not a paranoid mother shamelessly using her child as a pawn to assess employee performance.
My son stood stock still, legs akimbo and hands on his hips, looking all the world like Les Dawson at the garden fence. “GET IN HERE NOW – I WON’T TELL YOU AGAIN! FOR GOD’S SAKE WHY AREN’T YOU LISTENING TO ME?”
Horrified, I dropped to my knees and embraced him; an instinctive move to protect him from this harridan I had inflicted on him and his sisters. What on earth should I do? Should I sack her immediately? Should I employ friends and family to spy on her? Buy a nanny-cam and watch her from my car on a wireless connection hi-jacked from the neighbours?
J continued his undercover reportage;
“But that’s only when YOU’RE home, Mummy. The nanny doesn’t EVER shout – she’s LOVELY”.
I guess that’s why I go to work.