Good Help

January 30, 2011

Good help is hard to find, or so the saying goes.

Preface: I fully acknowledge that this is a first-world problem, as well as the kind of problem that childless people don’t want to hear about. But, if you are so inclined, I could use some help with a child care conundrum.

Preface #2: Pre-babies, I ranted about mommies who have nothing better to talk about than poo and diaper rash. Poo and diaper rash do come up in this post, but they are critical to the larger questions of managing employees, work-home struggles, personal standards, et al.

We have a nanny who has been with us about a year. We have some other babysitters who help out as well (some regularly like one 3-hour shift every week, and some only occasionally), and all of them are fantastic, but they don’t have enough available time to add up to a full childcare schedule. The nanny and the other babysitters are all college students. The nanny usually does about 30 hours a week, though this semester she’s doing less, and across all of them we have less coverage than we would like.

It used to be that I would say that the nanny is great with the twins, and very eager to do anything we need around the house. Reliability has been a problem for a long time (DH says that at any regular job, if she cancelled and no-showed this much she would have been fired long ago), but we felt that when she’s actually here, she’s great.

When the twins used to sleep a lot during the day, she used to do a lot of cleaning on top of the usual baby tasks. Now, there are typically about 2 free hours each day during naps to get stuff done. Not enough to do the regular daily tasks plus major cleaning. Fine, we can forgo major cleaning, bring someone else in to do it sometimes, or have the nanny clean when we happen to be out of town but have to pay her anyway, all of which have happened at various points.

Increasingly, the nanny has gotten lazy about household tasks. There was a time when she would anticipate everything that needed to be done. Now, she only does things if we specifically ask her — she does them willingly, but then the next time, we have to ask her again. Some things never get done unless we do them ourselves because she keeps “running out of time,” like the pots that sat in our sink for a week until I got sick of staring at them and washed them myself. More and more, she’s been doing her schoolwork (at least I think that’s what she’s doing on her computer all day). I can tolerate her doing some amount of work when the twins are playing, because I understand that it can be a bit much to play with them all day long. Then, she started working more and more during naptime too. We have never told her that she couldn’t do her schoolwork, but usually by asking her to do other tasks, she ended up doing less. None of the other babysitters ever do their schoolwork — they don’t even bring their books into the house, let alone computers.

Yesterday was the worst ever. At the end of the day she left the house a mess — the full day’s worth of bottles (6!) unwashed, high chairs covered in food, floor under the table hadn’t been swept in more than a week, a dirty diaper on our fireplace mantle. Basic stuff that ANYONE doing child care would have taken care of. The tasks that most other babysitters are willing to do were also undone: diaper pail not emptied, empty trash cans still at the curb from the day before, none of the laundry washed in the past week put away in the nursery, crib sheets visibly dirty, etc. Oh, and the dirty dishes from her lunch were in the sink for me to do.

Milk stain on the floor that I know for a fact has been there since November -- yes I realize I could have cleaned it myself or pointed it out to her, but I am playing a little game to see how long it stays

We’ve tolerated living in squalor for a while because it’s hard to hire someone new, especially when we don’t know if we’re moving soon. The nanny has gotten worse since the possibility of moving arose — lame duck — but the reliability and laziness problems predate the move question by many months.

We felt like we could put up with it because the twins were happy — they love her. But, every other babysitter reads to them often and plays with them the whole time they’re here. Obviously I don’t sit and eavesdrop on her all day, but I’d be surprised if she read one book to them every day, and it’s been weeks since I walked in on her sitting on the floor playing with them.

Yesterday, DH stopped in during his work day to say hello to the twins. The nanny was at her laptop as usual. The twins’ faces were crusted with food from lunch an hour before. Burrito had a poopy diaper. That was the third time in three days that DH had walked in to find Burrito in a poopy diaper.

The really bad part is that Burrito has been battling a terrible diaper rash for the past two months, requiring three separate visits to the pediatrician and several different medicines. I literally sniff his butt every 5 minutes just to make sure he’s not sitting in a dirty diaper — but it’s rarely necessary, because when I’m in the room with him I can almost always see it in his face when he poos (TMI, sorry, though it’s actually pretty cute to watch). I know for sure that the nanny isn’t totally to blame for his rash because he also had big problems when we were away, but I’m pretty sure that yesterday’s resurgence was due to her negligence. I guarantee that she is not looking at his face often enough to notice when he’s making his pooping expressions.

We’ve talked about firing her several times over the past few months (usually when I receive a text message after she’s supposed to have already arrived telling me she won’t be coming), then we always decide to stick with her. But yesterday may have been the last straw… or maybe not.

What would you do?

  1. Put up with status quo: keep asking her to do each task, and let her do her homework much of the time.
  2. Have a conversation about moderate changes that need to be made.
  3. Have a conversation about major, nonnegotiable changes that need to be made.
  4. Fire her and hire someone new, not knowing how long they’d be working for us due to possible move (and definitely knowing that the process of interviewing requires kissing many frogs before you find your princess).
  5. Fire her and make due with existing babysitters part-time plus hire a regular housekeeper.

The last option is quite a departure from having almost full-time care, but honestly, as long as someone else does all of the grunt work, I can probably get by work-wise, at least until I know what’s happening with the move.

I love spending time with my children. I also love my work, and I am fine with paying sweet young women to give them loving, stimulating care, which used to describe everyone, but now describes everyone except the nanny. I am decidedly not fine with paying someone to fully ignore the house and half-ignore the twins. Which I suppose means that I’ve crossed #1 off the list of possibilities.

Suggestions?

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Unimaginable

January 23, 2011

Two days after her birth, Wiseguy’s daughter Lola went into cardiac arrest and passed away. Wiseguy was kept in the dark for almost a week. There are no words.

See Kristin’s blog to help remember Lola.

Thoughtful ThursdayWhere do your thoughts turn when the phone rings in the middle of the night?

In the wee hours today the phone rang — not too wee, but wee enough to be too early for a normal phone call. As DH ran to grab the phone, he said, “This can’t be good.”

My first thought: Our unreliable babysitter is calling to cancel. Except that she would call my cell not the house phone, and she would text instead of calling.

My second thought was the same as DH’s first, that an elderly relative was having a health issue — which is what it turned out to be. Not catastrophic, but not nothing. 911 involved. Should be back to normal soon.

It also reminds me of a time when Burrito and Tamale were a couple months old and DH’s mother was staying with us to “help.” Because of a mixup on their end, the oil company had missed a delivery of heating oil, and we ran out of fuel. The heat shut off in the middle of the night, and I woke up because it had started to get cold inside the house. We called the oil company for an emergency delivery. They called back when the technician was on his way. When DH’s mother heard the phone ring at 4 a.m., she freaked out, immediately assuming that someone was calling to say that her (very very old, but healthy) mother had died. She didn’t sleep the rest of the night because she’d gotten so riled up.

When a loved one is dealing with a specific life-threatening condition, of course a call about them becomes the most likely explanation. But when everyone is doing fine, I tend not to jump to conclusions. After the call is finished, I sleep just fine.

Where do your thoughts turn when the phone rings in the middle of the night?

Thoughtful Thursday: Stars

January 13, 2011

Thoughtful ThursdayRelated to our prior discussions about balancing different parts of your life, and about making hard choices…

I can’t stop thinking about Mark Kelly. Most people are probably thinking more about his critically wounded wife Gabrielle Giffords, or perhaps some of the deceased like Judge John Roll or little Christina-Taylor Green, but I’m stuck on Commander Kelly.

He was about to live something probably beyond his wildest childhood imaginings: not only commanding the very last Space Shuttle mission, but spending time in space with his astronaut twin brother. Twins! In space together!

Now, depending on his wife’s condition, he may not go.

Not only are what may be the best and the worst events of his life happening almost simultanously, but the worst event may preclude the best.

How do you begin to choose between caring for the person you love most and following your wildest dream?

The advice that people would often give in a similar situation, “You can fulfill your dream next time,” doesn’t apply. This is the last Space Shuttle mission.

Then again, his wife is gravely injured.

But his twin brother…

My heart goes out to all of the victims and their families, but particularly to the man whose grief and whose choices are so under scrutiny right now.

Choose your own Thoughtful Thursday:
When your heart is pulled in multiple directions, how do you begin to make your choice?

or

Which aspect of the tragedy in Arizona has stuck with you the most?

Thoughtful Thursday

Happy New Year! Welcome to the January Intelligentsia, the people who commented on every Thoughtful Thursday post for the month of December.

#23: Wiseguy from Woman Anyone?
#15: including a post one day after giving birth, Elana from Elana’s Musings
#14: A from Are You Kidding Me?
#12: Jill from All Aboard the Pity Boat
#7: Strongblonde from Strong Blonde

Thoughtful ThursdayThis topic was inspired by last week’s shopping trip with Lori and her daughter Tessa.

It was delightful of course just to be with them, but I was also struck by a particular set of parenting tactics that Lori used throughout the day. All of the shopping was a set of teachable moments.

One very obvious set of lessons were the impromptu math lessons — practicing mental arithmetic to calculate the sale prices, subtotals, and money remaining after purchases.

Less obvious was the wonderful financial training Lori was doing. Tessa had a lot of shopping she wanted to do, and she was required to use her own money for all purchases. Tessa had to make her own decisions about whether each item was worth its price; how to maximize a finite amount of money; delaying gratification; and needs versus wants. I’ve known many adults who don’t manage their finances as well as this 9-year-old girl.

Scenes like this may not be news to some of you, but I’ve never seen anything like it before. It’s the complete opposite of my upbringing. Anything I wanted was purchased for me. I had a lot of inherent self-control, so I actually didn’t take advantage of it the way that a lot of kids would have, but there were definitely a few big-ticket birthday gifts that other kids envied. I had designer clothes that I didn’t even want, and more toys than I could ever play with. I would have gladly traded all of those possessions for a college fund, which I didn’t have.

Financial education was never a consideration. My mother didn’t know how to delay gratification herself, she enjoyed the act of buying more than the items she purchased, and she was always broke at the end of every month, so she was not someone who could teach me anything about money. In fact, I wanted to teach her. As a kid, I was desperate to take over the budgeting and dole out reasonable amounts to her each week; now that my mother is fully incapable of handling her own finances, I finally get my wish.

I still operate somewhere between instant gratification and sensible purchasing. My biggest “impulse” buy? Years of IF treatments, spending all of our savings, then replenishing the savings by selling a house at a big profit, then spending all of our savings again and then some. My grand total for treatments was insane, much more than I’ve ever earned in a single year, but it was worth every penny. Though, by the time the twins were born, we didn’t have any money for a college fund.

How did your family educate you about finances? What do you wish they’d taught you?

My perfect moment actually involves the matriarch of perfect moments, Lori, and her daughter Tessa.

Burrito, Tamale, and I had the pleasure of seeing them both when they were in the neighborhood (neighborhood = 100-mile radius). The twins and I had last spent time with them, as well as Reed, in New York five months ago.

Before that, during the brief period between bedrest for placenta previa and bedrest for cervical shortening and preterm labor, we all went to the beach.

The first time I’d met them, I was 8 weeks pregnant with Burrito and Tamale. Tessa accurately predicted they’d be a boy and a girl. Reed’s prediction: dog and cat.

This time, Lori’s family has been enduring great difficulty, and they took a break with us by engaging in some retail therapy. Tessa helped me pick out some baby shoes, Lori eyed some yoga wear, and Tessa shopped in half of the stores in the mall. We also had lunch, and Tessa helped me feed the twins.

When I drove them home, Lori sat in the front seat and Tessa sat in the back between the car seats.

Background: It takes zero effort to get a smile out of Tamale, and very little to make her laugh. Burrito is a tougher crowd. He rarely smiles at strangers, and a very short list of people are able to elicit laughter.

The perfect moment was sitting in the front seat with Lori and hearing three little giggles behind us. Tessa did a great job of making not only cheery Tamale, but reserved Burrito, laugh hysterically. In turn, she was delighted by their laughter.

Babies and kid smiling (and laughing) in back seat. Dear bloggy friend in front seat. Perfect.