I’m trying to turn this blog into a place where I can share writing beyond ECI 521! The following is a short memoir I wrote last year, inspired by Dave Egger’s A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius:
There’s a problem with the English language. The word “nanny” means a plump, middle-aged British woman with dark-rimmed reading glasses who overuses the word “proper” and makes delicious tea. The word “babysitter” means a ninth grade girl who, every third weekend, puts her neighbors’ kids in front of the TV until she tucks them into bed early so she can watch reality shows and raid the kitchen cupboards.
I can’t really call myself either, so therein lay the problem. What is it that I’m doing three and a half hours each weekday? I’m certainly not a nanny, not even a babysitter. I like to think I’m not a conniving villain who seeks to suck this family dry of their resources by charging them $10 per hour to fulfill my ever-growing hormonal longing for tiny socks. I guess I’m just their Hannah. I’m Hannahing them. (Please ignore the sexual-sounding syntax.)
“What’s the matter?” I cry, certain that the passing car has amputated Jack’s foot.
“A bad troll lives in there,” he shouts, lagging behind so he can point out the gutter that houses one of our most feared enemies.
A sigh of relief. “I bet it’s cold under there,” I mumble. He still has all of his limbs.
“Wouldn’t it be funny if trolls didn’t use potties and they just went pee and poop on the floor?”
“I suppose you could call that funny.”
Conner chimes in, suggesting that perhaps trolls use trashcans for potties and potties for trash cans. After reaching the conclusion that troll toilets are most likely called troilets, we climb the steps to their Victorian townhouse.
As we remove our winter gear, I ask Jack how his school day was.
“Fine, but nothing special.”
I ask Conner.
“Horrible, as usual. Tell me about your school today, Hannah,” he demands.
This puts me in a crisis. I can’t tell them about how all of my classes were so boring that I contemplated, on several occasions, quitting school, leaving the country, and becoming a gypsy. If I did, both the boys would, without a doubt, follow through with my fantasies by the time they reached age 15. In an effort to paint a sterling picture of higher education, I relay random tidbits of knowledge I did not learn in college, but imagine they might find interesting. For example, we’ve spent a lot of time discussing the anatomy of scorpions. For this reason, I firmly believe both of these boys will eventually earn a PhD as a result of their early-discovered passion for learning. I fear, however, that it might be in a useless science and they’ll both become old bachelors doing hourly demonstrations at a museum. And it will be entirely my fault.
“It was good. Nothing special for me either.”
As Conner, age 9, stomps up the steps to begin his 45 minutes of bathroom time, (I don’t ask questions—one of the perks of not being their parent), Jack, age 3, utters the dreaded words. The dreaded words that have plagued my every weekday for two years now.
“Tell me a story about big bad dragons and big good dragons.”
I’ve been trying to delay story time a bit each day because, frankly, I’m running out of stories to tell. If we wait until 5:30, that leaves me approximately a half an hour to fill with tales of Jack, Conner, me, and their fat cat Mystique gallivanting through the forest together. The stories have begun to resemble each other in basic plot and form, but I’m still able to fool him by slightly modifying our many encounters with various creatures—both good guys and bad guys. Our repertoire includes, but is not limited to: tiny good dragons, big good dragons, big bad dragons, the one-eyed-one-horned-flying purple people eater, bad trolls, Pokemon/Bakogon characters, rock monsters, vampires, zombies, Tai Lung (the evil tiger from the animated film Kung Fu Panda), and Edger (our imaginary 10-year-old who doesn’t share his toys). Note: Jack is capable of single-handedly defeating any of the above listed characters in battle because of his excellent fighting skills and unmatched magical superpowers.
I prepare the snack. I pull out of the fridge a brand of yogurt called YoBaby that is thought to actually contain dismembered body parts of babies. I probably should tell Jack that it doesn’t, but I enjoy too much the horrified squeals inspired by a baby’s foot sighting on his spoon. I’ll likely be fired for encouraging cannibalism. I pop bread into the toaster for Conner’s peanut butter and banana sandwich, all the while thinking how great it is that I didn’t have to go shopping for this bread.
* * * * *
While I a strong believer that contraceptives were man’s greatest invention since sex itself, (sex with no babies, really?!), spending hours with these boys every day for years has gotten me thinking how much better my future kids will be than Conner and Jack. I’ll have three—two boys first, then a girl—my first son born the summer I turn twenty-eight. My kids will be smart, but not nerdy. They’ll be social, but not attention seeking. They’ll hate video games and love books. They’ll like ethnic food, even as young children. They’ll be good-looking enough to be models, but they’ll think that physical attractiveness is superficial. They’ll be open-minded. They’ll be creative, but not too quirky. Respectful of authority. British accents—purely for ease of attracting a suitable mate. Athletic. Musically-inclined. They’ll quote Will Ferrell movies as toddlers. And they’ll of course obey my every command without a single complaint. Should any of these stipulations fail to reach fruition, I’ll simply send them back and get new kids.
If only I had a single choice about any of this.
How much influence do I, or even their parents, really have on Conner and Jack. Was Conner born with an aptitude for compromise, and Jack for discerning the emotions of others? Or are these traits that I can teach to my own future children?
* * * * *
For a period of several months, Jack had a dreadlock. One dreadlock. It rested on top of his thin blonde baby hair, originating at the crown of his head and extending all the way down the back of his almost-mullet hairstyle. Party in the back, as they say. Inside of the dreadlock lived an evil troll, who every night while Jack was sleeping, twisted the dreadlock to make it bigger and bigger. As I told the story of our battle against the dreadlock troll though, it was Jack’s chubby finger that mindlessly twirled the clump of hair. He has a tendency to blame everything on invisible bad guys, whom of course, only he has the power to see.
“Ahhh!” Another high-pitched scream from the next room. I wish Jack didn’t squeal like a girl. I am sitting at the kitchen, talking to Conner about the family of Peregrine falcons that live at the top of the Cathedral of Learning. (It’s true—look it up.) He is pacing back and forth, sucking loudly from a juice box.
“What’s the problem, Jack?” I ask, loud enough to startle their cat that is missing a chunk of flesh from her shoulder from a recent animal attack. (I’ll never understand how this occurred because they live well inside the city limits.)
“A bad guy just hurt me,” he cries, cradling his wounded arm against his chest as he toddles around the bend into the kitchen.
“Are you sure it was a bad guy? Are you telling a fib?”
“Yes, I’m sure. He closed the chest while my arm was getting my puffy-fish,” he explains. “The bad guy was trying to kill me.”
“Ok, well let’s go get back at him!” I declare, rising slowly from my seat and grabbing my imaginary spear.
After switching to attack mode, we thunder into the dining room with a lot of swishes and hy-yahs, slashing the bad guy with our swords and shooting our dark matter and bad germs out at him. This emeny (enemy) stands no chance.
“That’s what you deserve,” Jack pretends to spit down at the bad guy, who has fallen to the floor in defeat.
At that, I hear the beginning of All Star by Smash Mouth blasting from Conner’s room upstairs. Somebody once told me the world is gonna roll me, I ain’t the sharpest tool in the shed…
* * * * *
I recently applied for a summer job that involves working directly with children. The organization, which was an after-school program for inner-city kids, had a building in a trendy, but sometimes-dangerous part of the city. I approached in my tiny Corolla, fingers tapping nervously on the steering wheel. I entered the run-down office building and approached the front desk. After sitting in the dreary waiting room alone for exactly seven minutes, the pudgy interviewer came out and called my name. Hannah Geeeeuuroff. I can’t wait to change my last name, purely for the sake of proper pronunciation. I’ll probably marry a guy with an eastern European name, though. After talking about the basics—school and my previous work experience, she wanted to know all about my experience as a nanny.
HER: So I see you’ve been working as a private nanny for two years now. What kinds of responsibilities did you have for the family?
ME: You know, the normal after-school stuff. I picked them up from school, got them a snack, helped them with homework, played for a while, and made sure they didn’t kill each other in the process.
HER: Boys, ages three and nine. That’s quite the age gap. Did they have problems getting along?
ME: Well, they definitely love each other very much, but they’re just too different to be able to really play together. I almost quit early on because the fighting was so overwhelming, but as time has gone on, they’ve gotten better about it.
HER: How has working for them changed you?
ME: I can’t really claim that I am emerging from my experience with Conner and Jack any wiser, or with any idea of how I’d like to raise my future (and, of course, perfect) children. I do know some of the ways that I don’t want to raise them.
HER: Oh yeah? How won’t you raise them?
ME: I’d like to say that I’d be stricter with them than Conner and Jack’s parents are. But when push comes to shove, I’m sure I’ll be a softer parent than I’d like to be. One thing that I do want to make sure I do differently is to maintain a more consistent schedule, especially when my kids are young. I believe that kids thrive on structure, and that’s something that the boys I babysit lack.
HER: How so?
ME: Well, they have a different schedule most days. Both parents work full-time, very demanding and unpredictable jobs, so the kids’ days vary a lot. I’ve noticed, especially with Jack, that on weird days, he’s much more easily upset. Also, the first thing he asks me everyday is “Who’s putting me to bed tonight?”
HER: So, you want to be a housewife?
ME: No, not necessarily. I just want to make sure that my kids’ well-being is a priority, even more important than my own career success. I guess I’m old-fashioned that way, but if I could have both, that’d be the ideal situation.
HER: Do you think that’s possible?
ME: I have no idea. I’d like to think so. The modern American woman is tugged in two different directions, and I’d like to think that as time goes on and the effects of feminism play out further, those two directions would be able to converge. Perhaps I’m being naive to think that, though.
HER: Did your own mother work?
ME: No she did not. She was a free-lance oboe player before we were born, but pretty much stopped playing when she got pregnant. She was never all that successful, so she wasn’t giving much up. While we were kids, she did some random music and photography work, but I grew up in a home where at least one parent was always home with us. It was great. When I was a teenager and my mom took a temporary secretary position for a friend, I was really upset. I didn’t want to have a working mom, mostly because of the horror stories I heard from my latchkey kid friends.
HER: So you want to stay home because your own mother did?
ME: Well, that was great at the time, but now that my dad has passed away and both of her children are grown and gone, she’s starting her life from scratch at age 52. That’s my worse nightmare. I can’t imagine having lived half a lifetime and still be searching for some strand of identity. She’s having a horrible time finding work and is extremely lonely. Maybe it’s because I don’t want to end up like my mom that I’m so passionate about having my own career and identity outside of the home.
HER: Well, that’s all very interesting to hear, but I really don’t think you’re right for this job. A little too chatty—and a bit indiscrete. If you wanted to tell someone all this personal information so badly, why don’t you just write a book? Maybe a short memoir? Thanks anyways. Have a nice day.
* * * * *
Myself a future teacher, I’ve heard my fair share of cautionary tales about nightmarish parents who think their horrible children are perfect. Well, my still-yet-to-be-conceived children are actually perfect, so I’m not going to have that problem.
I got a first glimpse of my future psycho-parent self last winter, as Jack’s preschool class was preparing for their winter choral concert. I was picking Jack up from school. I waited at the door as Jack took his backpack and Dora the Explorer coat from the long row of hooks. Mr. Biscup, his music teacher, walked him to the door and then led me by the forearm, a little aggressively for my tastes, into the hallway.
“You’re Jack’s babysitter, right?”
“Yes, I’m Hannah.”
“Nice to meet you Hannah. I’m Mr. Biscup, Jack’s music teacher.”
I’ve heard about Mr. Biscup. The kids call him Mr. Biscuit.
“Nice to meet you too,” I replied.
Jack was running around in a small circle, singing the alphabet song, three feet from me.
“I wanted to talk to you about my concern about Jack’s behavior in my class. He’s refusing to participate in certain songs that we’re singing. He doesn’t need to sing, but I’d like him to at least pretend like he’s enjoying himself. All the other kids are dancing around and he refuses to sing the songs he doesn’t like,” he blabbed, his entire jaw moving up and down in an exaggerated motion.
“Oh, ok, thanks for letting me know,” I replied, trying desperately to keep my composure. This man spoke, and looked, like Kermit the frog. “I’ll talk to him, and I’ll be sure to tell his parents.
“Thank you, Hannah. It was nice meeting you.”
He hopped his way back into the classroom, resuming his position at the head of a class of 3-year-olds. I reached for Jack’s hand, and he clasped my middle and ring fingers.
“How was your day, Jack,” I ask.
“It was good. Nothing special.”
“That’s good. Hey Jack, why weren’t you singing the songs in music class?”
“I was singing the songs, I was just taking a break during the songs I don’t like. I was too sleepy to stand up.”
As we walked hand-in-hand down the hallway cluttered with art projects, I found myself mumbling, He’s three years old Mr. Biscuit. Go screw yourself.
* * * * *
I will miss Hannahing. With graduation from college approaching and my future unknown, my time with Conner and Jack is winding down. Before I know it, I’ll find myself sitting through one of Dr. Conner’s museum demonstrations or run into a preteen version of Jack in an ice cream shop with a group of young hoodlums wearing oversized zip-up hoodies. We’ll have a strained conversation that begins with “You’re so grown up now! I used to change your diapers!” Afterwards, he’ll walk away, muttering to his friends about how that weird lady used to babysit him. I’ll watch him bend down to tie his futuristic shoes. Left over right. Twist. Wrap it around, that’s right. Pull tight. Good job.
- I never actually interviewed for the job position. The interviewer never actually existed. My responses, however, are exactly what I would have said had the interview actually occurred. For those of you readers who are concerned about my future employment status, I do have a job for the summer. Thank you for your concern.
- The order of events may have been rearranged and time compressed unintentionally, though in this case, it is essentially irrelevant. Pretty much the same things happened everyday for my two years of babysitting, with only slight variations.
- I am actually already engaged, (and I’m not even going to get into the stigma of an engaged undergrad,) but my married name will not be Eastern European. It’ll be Weaver, which is, thank God, virtually immune to mispronunciation.
Note: The boys’ names have been changed.