I was looking through old photographs in one of the boxes that line the walls of our temporary home, and came across a rare pic of my sister and I with one of our "nannies". I use quotes because we never used the term nanny growing up but in retrospect I realize that is what they were. My parents were typical baby boomers who believed children got in the way of their search for personal fulfillment, but felt the pressures to have them any way. I know this because as a college professor, I had to sit through a lecture that attempted to explain the generations throughout history ending with the current generation and how to teach them. As the lecturer revealed the traits of baby boomer parents- latch key kids, emotionally removed, concerned about career advancement- it was as if he was reading my parents' Match.com profiles. It was then that I remembered the parade of "nannies" we had growing up.
When I see the process my friends go through interviewing nannies, I laugh because my parents' generation was so lax. I believe part of the reason we had a German Shepard was so that in a pinch, it could be considered a plausible babysitter. The first caretaker I can remember was Roseline. I don't think that was her real name, but it is the name my memory has given her. She was a super Christian and was bound to a wheel chair so we mainly watched television. Her favorite was a female televangelist who wore flowing gowns and proselytized from a chaise lounge. The back drop of sheer curtains would flow in a fake breeze as she shared gentle thoughts about God. I remember Roseline being very nice, but very boring. She left us after a few months and was replaced by an incredibly mean, Kansas hick named Virginia. My sister still shudders when I mention her name.
Virginia was overweight and often wore light blue polyester pants. She had a light mustache and her hair looked like it belonged on a old doll. My sister and I used to delay getting out of bed in the morning, dreading the sound of her voice in the door frame. We begged our mom not to go to work, but of course, she never believed Virginia was as bad as we said. That is how it is in the movies as well, which is why when my kids say there is an alien in the attic, a possessed teacher, or an evil babysitter, I will believe them. When Virginia watched us, she brought her son with her. He was an absolute asshole. When we played Lincoln logs in the basement, he would let out a piercing scream and wait, smiling, as his mom's feet pounded the ceiling above us. "Mom! She hit me!" he would scream. My sister and I would stare at each other in frozen fear, partly because we couldn't believe someone was that evil and partly because the one that spawned him was coming down the stairs. I remember Virginia taking us bowling in the afternoons. By taking us, I mean physically taking us in the car and sitting us on a bench while she bowled and her son ate hot dogs and drank Coke. The last straw was when she burned my sister's teddy bear, Tuddy, in a metal trash can in the back yard while my sister watched, simply because she was tired of sewing his ear. That was the undeniable evidence we needed to prove she was truly the devil and she was fired.
After hurricane Virginia, our next nanny, Daisy, was the Red Cross. She was a kind grandma who wore house dresses and support hose and smelled of Avon's White Ginger; she was perfect. We practically ran home from grade school to see her at the door. My only complaint was that she added milk instead of water to Campbell's vegetable soup, but I choked it down without complaint. Sadly, our love affair with Daisy was short lived. We moved to an even smaller town in Kansas and my parents began using a combination of the latch key system (after all, my sister was in third grade) and part time babysitters.
Our first was Joy, who got us hooked on Days of Our Lives when Bo kidnapped Hope. Joy had incredibly long, black hair and dated my principal's oldest son, a senior in high school. Unfortunately, Joy got pregnant and fired for being a bad influence. She was replaced by Elaine, an Irish Catholic with long, fire red hair. She was a freshman at the local college, was beautiful, and had the personality of champagne. She would often watch us overnight and one weekend, we made a clandestine trip to her dorm room. I was amazed that all these girls lived together, without their parents. I was even more amazed by a poster of a bloody Alice Cooper on one girl's wall.
I'm not sure how to end this little memory trip. But I think, that although at times I wish I had kids at a younger age, I am glad I sought personal fulfillment solo. As I have said to my pals, "the itch has been scratched" so I am perfectly content to spend my days finger painting and driving to karate classes. I hope we can continue to make the sacrifices necessary for me to be home because in this economy, we are lucky to be able to pull it off. I think it is important to be a part of the memories my kids are building instead of having to rely on child care from a stuffed animal assassin.