Hav­ing a nanny is harder than it looks. No, re­ally.

The agony and the ec­stasy of need­ing (and want­ing) a lit­tle help.

ELLE (Canada) - - #Storyboard - By Olivia Stren

afew years ago, I was in­vited to take a Sil­versea cruise through the Caribbean. Or­di­nar­ily, a week on board a cruise ship (the enor­mous kind, where you find your­self cor­ralled into a Zumba class in the a.m. and slop­pily ad­hered to the back of a conga line in the evening) would not en­tice. But Sil­versea, a fam­ily-owned Ital­ian com­pany—the Ar­mani of the cruis­ing world—woos with a pe­tite fleet of re­fined, in­ti­mate ves­sels. There would be no kid­ney-shaped pools or mil­i­taris­ti­cally peppy staff. But there would be but­lers. In fact, each Sil­versea pas­sen­ger is as­signed a per­sonal but­ler upon check-in. My but­ler (a thrilling term that I, by the way, could not stop ut­ter­ing) was called Sanjay.

Dur­ing my first few days of is­land-hop­ping aboard the Sil­ver Spirit, I be­held misty vales, cloud-skimmed moun­tains and slen­der palm trees reach­ing to­ward enam­elled-blue skies. I jour­neyed is­land roads, ver­tig­i­nous and coil­ing, past juice stands sling­ing pa­paya and tamarind sor­bets and school­child­ren bounc­ing along steep streets, eat­ing man­goes like they were ap­ples. I visit­ed the sorts of water­falls you see in or­ganic-sham­poo com­mer­cials, snapped pic­tures of var­i­ous bod­ies of emer­ald water and wit­nessed rain­bows bright enough to verge on the vul­gar. But, through all of this, I found my­self long­ing to get back on board to, say, discuss the evening’s canapé se­lec­tion with my but­ler—although since my hus­band and I were cruis­ing to­gether, Sanjay was, tech­nic­ally, our but­ler.

Zsa Zsa Ga­bor said that you never re­ally know some­one un­til you’ve di­vorced them. I dis­cov­ered that you may

not truly know your spouse un­til you’ve cruised with them. Upon meet­ing Sanjay, I main­tained the cha­rade that hav­ing a valet was awk­ward—that I was un­com­fort­able with the con­stant pam­per­ing and care­ful at­ten­tion. When, for ex­am­ple, he rang and in­quired as to whether I might need a dress pressed for the evening, I hur­riedly de­clined.

“Are you quite cer­tain, madam?” he asked weakly, cast­ing an eye­ball on a breeze-wrin­kled frock tossed on the back of a chair. “Yes, yes, I’m fine. Thank you so much, Sanjay.”

He looked de­vi­tal­ized. “Per­haps some tea or cham­pagne, madam?” he asked, his voice live­lier with hope. “Oh, no, no. That’s all right, thank you, Sanjay.” “I see, madam,” he said, crest­fallen.

My hus­band, ev­i­dently, tossed such shows of mod­esty over­board. Within a cou­ple of hours of check-in, the man had turned into Down­ton Abbey’s Lord Gran­tham. I walked into our room and found him re­clin­ing in bed, dressed in a Sil­versea robe, dis­cussing the pil­low menu (yes, there is one) and the af­ter­noon tea ser­vice with Sanjay, who stood neatly in his tails re­spond­ing gid­dily with things like “Very good, sir” and “Per­haps some cham­pagne with that, sir?” To which I heard my hus­band—a man I thought I knew—say things like “Yes, won­der­ful. You can leave the tray on the ter­race. Thank you.” What?

By the third day aboard, I was start­ing to worry that what I fan­cied as po­litesse was, in fact, rude and up­set­ting to my but­ler. Maybe it was time I took him up on some of his of­fers. I dis­cussed this press­ing is­sue with a fel­low pas­sen­ger. “You need to get over it. Your dis­com­fort is mak­ing him un­com­fort­able! I called my but­ler at mid­night last night and or­dered pizza and cham­pagne,” he said. “I mean, I didn’t fin­ish the bot­tle; I tossed it over the rail­ing so as not to ap­pear waste­ful.” Right. Em­bold­ened, I picked up the phone: “Hello, Sanjay? I won­der if you might tell us about the canapés to­day?” “I will be right there, madam,” he replied brightly.

Sanjay was much like P. G. Wode­house’s Jeeves, the fic­tional valet (and over­all ge­nius) to wealthy wastrel and in­com­pe­tent bour­geois id­iot Ber­tram Wooster. Like Jeeves, Sanjay had an al­most ex­trater­res­trial way of ma­te­ri­al­iz­ing with alarm­ing speed and si­lence. Jeeves never walked so much as floated, glided, wafted or breezed. Sanjay, too, would ap­pear with the supreme quiet of a cat on a Per­sian car­pet. We dis­cussed the wine menu, I won­dered who I had be­come and Sanjay va­por­ized from our berth with his usual feline stealth.

On the last day of the cruise, Sanjay won­dered if he might help me pack my suit­case. I gen­er­ously agreed. He con­sci­en­tiously par­celled ev­ery ar­ti­cle of cloth­ing in tis­sue. Within a week, I had been de­liv­ered of all com­pe­tence and agency and was un­able to press cloth­ing, pack my things, un­fold a nap­kin, et cetera, with­out Sanjay’s as­sis­tance. If trav­el­ling is sup­posed to broaden one’s per­spec­tive and chal­lenge be­hav­iour and even iden­tity, this cruise man­aged to change my iden­tity too. It turned me into an id­iot.

When we re­turned home, I un­packed my own lug­gage, made my own cof­fee and missed the sun­shine and salt air—and Sanjay. All that seemed to be ma­te­ri­al­iz­ing, as if out of mid-air, were dust­balls and Visa bills. My cats watched me as I put­tered around and then looked at their empty food dishes, their whiskers twitch­ing in spasms of ir­ri­ta­tion. Oh, to have staff. Then, as Pen­guin me­owed in protest, I re­al­ized: I am staff.

To­day I’m staff to more than my feline chil­dren. I’m also in the (ex­haust­ing, heart-filling, of­ten amus­ing, of­ten anx­i­ety-caus­ing, demanding, over­whelm­ing—did I men­tion mind-blur­ringly ex­haust­ing?) em­ploy of my (hu­man) baby, Leo. I re­cently heard about a fel­low jour­nal­ist who used her time “off” on ma­ter­nity leave to write a novel. I barely man­aged to read a novel that first year, let alone pen one. “I just try to floss,” an­other new-mother friend told me apro­pos of goal set­ting, “and usu­ally I for­get.” This seemed sen­si­ble yet mildly dis­con­cert­ing as I would now have to add floss­ing to the list of things I should feel guilty about for­get­ting to do. I con­sid­ered rais­ing this sub­ject with my ther­a­pist, but I couldn’t re­mem­ber when my next ap­point­ment was. I called her of­fice. “Your ap­point­ment was this morn­ing,” a re­cep­tion­ist chirped. “Un­for­tu­nately, the fee for missed appointments is very steep,” she said mer­rily. What I re­ally needed—or at least longed for—was some help (and not strictly of the psy­chi­atric va­ri­ety).

Al­most a year ago, my hus­band and I de­cided we would look for a nanny to take care of Leo (who was then eight months old) three days a week, the idea be­ing that it would af­ford me time to work (so that I might pay the nanny). We called Judy, a nanny agent, who had all the brassi­ness of a Hol­ly­wood agent. Judy (whose busi­ness is to bro­ker ar­range­ments for her sta­ble of nan­nies, pair­ing nanny with fam­ily) seemed to be the Sue Mengers of the nanny world: con­nected, opin­ion­ated, a deal closer. “I have some­one for you. She is FAAAbu­lous,” said Judy, as if she were help­ing me cast a Broad­way pro­duc­tion of A Cho­rus Line. “But you will have to move fast or she’ll get booked. She’s FAAAbu­lous.” We met with Ber­nadette the next day—she was sunny, en­er­getic, af­fec­tion­ate, sweet with Leo and so com­pe­tent as to make me feel to­tally in­com­pe­tent. Per­fect. We hired her im­me­di­ately.

Some friends of mine, also moth­ers of ba­bies, warned me that the tran­si­tion could be a dif­fi­cult one for all of us. “It was so hard for Camilla,” one said. “She cried and cried when I left the house. For weeks, I would stand

out­side our front door and lis­ten to her sob­bing.” What was dif­fi­cult (on my ego) was that the tran­si­tion did not seem re­motely dif­fi­cult for Leo—he didn’t seem to care whether I was there or not. Yes, I should be happy and re­lieved (I was, of course) that my leav­ing Leo with a stranger did not in­duce vi­o­lent sob­bing—but just the tini­est bit of koala-like clingi­ness would have been nice. What proved thrilling was oc­ca­sion­ally com­ing home to find Leo flap­ping his arms and squeal­ing like a seal pup in crazed de­light. This was a first; I’m not used to any crea­ture re­act­ing with such joy at the sight of me. (I have cats.) (I should add that he also re­acts this way at the sight of him­self in the mir­ror.)

This is not to say that the ar­range­ment hasn’t had its chal­lenges. Hav­ing a nanny is prob­lem­at­i­cally ex­pen­sive. And then there are the emo­tional costs. On days when Leo was strug­gling with a cold or an ear in­fec­tion or sprout­ing a new tooth, it was near im­pos­si­ble to leave him, car­toon tears mot­tling his pil­lowy cheeks, and con­cen­trate on work. And there have been more un­fore­seen dif­fi­cul­ties. I once came home to Ber­nadette an­nounc­ing proudly, “He said ‘Mama’!” This would or­di­nar­ily be an ex­cit­ing mile­stone mo­ment. I called my hus­band at work. “Baby Leo said ‘Mama,’” I told him gravely. “Re­ally? Awww,” he said. I added: “He said it to Ber­nadette! Maybe he thinks she’s his mama?” “That’s ab­surd,” my hus­band at­tempted to re­as­sure me. “He knows you’re his mama. He’s just prac­tis­ing sounds.” I tried to re­as­sure my­self, re­mem­ber­ing that he had long been say­ing “Dada” to his dada—but also to me, to our cat Pen­guin and to a floor lamp in our liv­ing room.

All told, it has been a gi­ant ad­just­ment but a gen­er­ally great one. About a month into our new life with Nanny Ber­nadette, my hus­band looked around at our spot­less house and slum­ber­ing baby and said, “Our lives are so much bet­ter thanks to baby Leo—be­cause now we have Ber­nadette!”

Be­fore her ar­rival, there were days when I felt con­fronted by what seemed like the in­sur­mount­able: laun­dry that needed do­ing, gro­ceries that needed buying, “ur­gent” emails that needed re­ply­ing, fruit that needed purée­ing, floors that needed vac­u­um­ing, teeth that needed floss­ing, anx­i­ety at­tacks that needed hav­ing, et cetera. I’m sorry to ad­mit that I en­coun­tered sim­i­lar mo­ments be­fore I had a baby—I just didn’t have an ex­cuse (moth­er­hood) that other (or­ga­nized, ef­fi­cient) peo­ple rec­og­nized as valid.

FA­CIAL CLEANS­ING BRUSH The other day, I came home to what might have been the most bour­geois

is your first step to­wards ageless skin. mo­ment of my life. “What is that de­li­cious smell?” I asked Ber­nadette. “Oh, I

Each ro­ta­tion deeply cleanses and pre­pares made kale chips,” she chimed. My nanny made me kalethe skin chips. for I your looked anti- aroundag­ing rou­tine. me: The house was im­mac­u­late, the cats and the wash­ing ma­chine were purring

Use with Olay Re­gener­ist Mi­cro- Sculpt­ing Scrub Cleanser to re­veal bright, smooth skin. in the back­ground and Leo and Ber­nadette were laugh­ing at some new game they’d hatched. But then she went home. Leo looked at me and then looked quizzi­cally over at a bowl of fruit—as if to say “Mommy, that pear isn’t go­ing to purée it­self.” He tossed his board book onto the floor and looked at me again, as if to say “My bunny book isn’t go­ing to read it­self either. So hard to find good help these days.” “Oh, yes, of course! Mama will pre­pare your lunch right away!” I said, leap­ing to my feet, try­ing for Sanjay-es­que stealth, and al­most adding “Would you like cham­pagne with that, sir?” n

My hus­band looked around at our spot­less house and slum­ber­ing baby and said, “Our lives are so much bet­ter FLAWLESSthanks to baby CLEAN. Leo—be­cause now we have Ber­nadette!” AGELESS SKIN.

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