There were no nannies where I grew up. Fathers went to work and mothers stayed home, as far as I recall anyway. The neighbors across the street had an au pair one summer, and we all cocked our heads in confusion and wondered if the lady of the house would be playing tennis all summer as her outfits indicated. She had no job that we knew-no reason to leave her kids with someone else. That was suburban controversy at its height.
I don’t remember having a judgment at the age of 10. I’m sure my mother thought it was obscene to invite a young woman to live in your home not just because it was unnecessary in a one-income house but because it was highly improper. Clearly, you’re asking for trouble when a buxom Swedish girl of 19 moves in. Yet, I think everything turned out just fine across the street.
Fast forward to today. Our town. Our economy. Our generation. There are a significant population of nannies and au pairs and babysitters. There are stay-at-home mothers and stay-at-home fathers and parents who work out of their homes. Some work out of necessity and some work because they enjoy what they do, and often both situations apply to some degree.
And with all many variations of childcare come various designs of play dates. My favorite kind of play date is the drop-off. It doesn’t matter who’s minding the children because I’m just happy that I am not. In other words, when someone else is minding my children, I mind my children less.
In second place for me is the decidedly rare Perfect Match date. This is the play date where the stay-at-home parents are friends AND all the kids get along. Especially utopian is when the play date morphs into supper requiring little effort or clean up. We all make it through those tough late afternoon hours when small children are particularly wound up and grown-ups are digging deep to find whatever patience may be left after a long day. Add a glass of wine to the evening, and then it’s almost as pleasurable as the drop-off date.
After these top two play dates, the rest are equally unpleasant for different reasons. The kids may be friends when the parents are not. Or, the parents get along famously, but the kids spend the entire play date arguing with each other or avoiding each other entirely.
I’m just about as comfortable with play dates with the nanny as this Jewish, gay mom is spending Saturday morning at church with the Seventh Day Adventists. Ok, I might be exaggerating just a bit, but I’d rather not. That may sound unkind, but parenting is tough enough without having to endure an uncomfortable afternoon. Even more irritating is the rare occasion when a parent blind-sides me and co-ordinates a date with me and my kids but neglects to tell me that the nanny will be there while they are at work.
Over the years, I’ve successfully avoided most situations that are not going to be enjoyable. But there are the few occasions when the boys want to spend time with their friends, and I can’t give them a good reason why they shouldn’t. I take a deep breath and hope for the best and make a mental note to fill up their calendars so that we might be busy in the foreseeable future.