By Rachael NachtweyEthan is running through the fountains at the park playground in a water-logged Sesame Street diaper. His curls are plastered to his head and after several seconds of staring at the running water, he breaks his gaze to flash me a huge, toothy grin. I wave and smile back.
Being a nanny is a funny place to be. You play this quasi-parent role of carrying out the majority of parental duties such as dressing, feeding, and bathing; yet because you’re not the harried mom or dad running from one appointment to the next, you feel a little silly for not being more put together. (Okay, I probably shouldn’t generalize all nannies as insecure stress heads). Maybe it’s just me. I guess I just don’t feel like I have the right to be in shambles when I haven’t taken the oath of official parentdom (which roles include juice toter, sleep loser, poop wiper, and booger sucker outer). If you are a parent, aren’t you expected to have circles under your eyes, crazy hair, perpetual drool on your shoulder, and Juicy Juice stains. But the part-time girl who flits in and out to play with your kid? Not so much. She’s supposed to be fun and cool sans tired eyes, messy hair, and all kid related stains.
But this nanny, my friends, has it all! And speaking of having it all, even though I’ve never carried another human being within my womb, how is it that my body seems to have immaculately sustained some of the damage that is usually reserved for so many women post-partum? Stretch marks, veiny legs, junk in the trunk – crap! That stuff is expected to happen when you are taking on the amazing task of carrying another human life inside of you. But a 32-year old single female who’s closest moment to motherhood was holding her 2-hour-old swaddled niece? Come on…if I’m going to bear the evidence, I better be swaddling my own sweet, babbling baby!
But seriously, why do I let these silly, superficial things bother me? When did I become so self-conscious? I look at Ethan who is in his own little world, patting out a tune on his dripping tummy. As small children, our confidence levels are burgeoning. We don’t entirely understand the world around us but we do believe that it revolves around us. We know few boundaries and our undaunted behaviors reflect this. As we grow, this self-assurance typically diminishes, gradually and insidiously until we have to make a conscious effort to get it back.
However, I can mark the exact day I was introduced to my world of insecurities. It was the last hour of the school day in Mr. K’s fourth grade classroom. I was sitting with the popular girls and the boys were oohing and aahing about how “hot” and “cute” my friends, Kelly and Tina were. Then suddenly my name came up and I heard one of the boys say, “Her? She’s a dog!” It was the first time somebody said something negative about my appearance and how harsh it was! Until that point, I was a content little 4th grade girl with a little belly, a wedge haircut, and a gap between from her two front teeth. Suddenly, those words (“She’s a dog!”) began to resonate in my head. I’m ugly? I thought. It’s not that I had thought I was a particularly pretty girl. I had just never thought about it at all. There were multiplication tables to learn, toads to catch, and birthday parties to attend. Who had time to worry about being pretty?
But that’s exactly when I started making time to worry. For some reason, what those boys thought actually mattered to me. And then it turned into what the snooty 6th grade girls thought of me. And then, there was Seventeen and Cosmo telling me what I should look like. And so on and so on until I can now focus on how I don’t measure up to the hip slope mamas. And somehow, through it all, I lost what really mattered because quite frankly, it’s easier to concentrate on toning up my thighs than to think about much more real and often, painful life issues.
Because of course, it’s not just a matter of feeling like I can’t compare to the trendy New Yorkers around me. It’s about more than having just ended a 5 year relationship and suddenly feeling the need to be attractive to the male species again. It’s about more than wanting to take advantage of every hair removing, wrinkle erasing, cellulite reducing product to feel like I’m on equal ground with everyone else.
A friend recently said to me, “Rachael, why are you so hard on yourself?” She was responding to a conversation I was relaying to her and obsessing over. Had I said the right thing? What if he misunderstood? How did it make me look?
Yes, even when it’s not physical, I am concerned about how I look.
I constantly have to remind myself to let go so that I don’t miss the joy that is right in front of my face. In this moment, if I stopped thinking about jiggling thighs, maybe I’d have more room in my head to appreciate the beauty of wiggling bugs.
Ethan collides into my legs, a sopping mess of 16 months. I love it. His diaper clad, soggy self is inspiring. In his mind, there is no one he is comparing himself to. He certainly doesn’t worry about his physique. He is just there, in the moment, enjoying the sensation of blasting water on a lovely summer day.
Rachael Nachtwey is a Brooklyn Nanny and regular contributor to Hip Slope Mama. Although she adores taking care of Ethan two days a week, Rachael is looking at expanding her hours as a caregiver. If you are looking for regular part-time and/or occasional help with your kids (in the Brooklyn or NYC area), feel free to contact her at Rachael.firstname.lastname@example.org.