It’s lunchtime and Jack doesn’t want to leave the park. He stayed home from pre-school, but he doesn’t look sick to me. His tantrum wakes his baby brother, Matthew who had just fallen asleep in the stroller.
Now Matthew is screaming! I’m trying to shove a bottle in his mouth and wrestle Jack into the double stroller when a pedestrian gives me a sympathetic smile. I want to yell, “I’m just the nanny!”
I haven’t always been the nanny. I once had a job that came with a box full of business cards, each one printed with the title, “Reporter.”
I was 22 with a journalism diploma in hand when I was offered the position as a business reporter at Miami Today. I thought I’d landed my dream job. I imagined I was on my way to working my beat, writing feature articles about high-profile people in Miami. Instead, I was assigned to cover county commission meetings. I thought I’d move into my chic, studio apartment in downtime Miami, walking distance to the newspaper. I couldn’t afford that place on a reporter’s’ salary and ended up commuting from my parents’ house an hour away. I hoped I would be respected, but my colleagues called me “the girl reporter.”
Ten months in, my editor offered me a choice: two weeks to “prove myself” or two week’s severance. I was tired of pretending my job made me happy. I took the severance and walked out the door.
I weighed my options. Starting over at a different newspaper meant trying to prove myself all over again. I could try freelancing or, I could go back to being a nanny, as I’d done in college.
I found a family immediately. A power couple with a two-year-old named Jack. A second baby would be arriving in August, but that was in December. It was plenty of time to figure out a writing path, I told myself. Being a nanny was just temporary.
Months came and went, and instead of using my downtime from Jack to write or apply to other newspapers, I played solitaire on my iPad and watched reruns of Will & Grace. Then Baby Matthew arrived. I was NOT ready. He never slept. If he managed to doze, he had to be held, my arms falling asleep every time I forgot the damn donut pillow in the other room.
So, there I was. Twenty-five, covered in spit-up, reeking of formula and I’d remember the laundry that needed to be sorted, washed and folded, dishes that needed to be cleaned and bottles that needed to be sterilized all before Jack’s school pickup at noon!
My life went from stressing about deadlines to stressing about diapers. I realized that becoming a nanny was a colossal mistake.
I resented Baby Matthew.
So much, that when the mom said she was taking him to the doctor, I didn’t ask why. I was relieved to have a few hours to myself. She said she was worried about the way Matthew dragged his right leg when he crawled. I was worried about using my kid-free time to write. I’d started a blog called Day-Mom, about a reporter who takes a leave from journalism and lands a temporary gig as a nanny. I kept telling myself that this gig was temporary.
I started the blog mainly so I could keep calling myself a reporter. Blogs are supposed to be personal, and Day-Mom read like a news story; Matthew and Jack weren’t my boys, they were my beat.
That day, I blogged about the joy of being alone for a few hours. I wrote about drinking my coffee slowly, not scarfing down my breakfast and about how silence is golden.
An hour after I published the post, Matthew’s mother called. They were on their way to the hospital. An x-ray revealed an infection in Matthew’s right hip that was eating away his growth plate. He needed emergency surgery. Matthew was 8-months-old. I felt like a jerk.
The day after his surgery, I went to visit Matthew. I told the guard I was family. Matthew was in a makeshift crib at Baptist Hospital. They don’t see many babies in the orthopedic wing. Matthew’s mom sat in his room, firing off emails from her phone. She excused herself. Matthew and I were alone. He had on the smallest hospital gown I’d ever seen. Tubes and wires ran from his little body to different machines. I stepped closer to him. His back was turned to me. The silence was terrible. I whispered, “Hi Matthew.”
At the sound of my voice, Matthew rolled to face me. Then he smiled. Choking back tears, I picked him up ever so gently and held him in my arms and kissed him all over.
As a reporter, this would have been a career-defining assignment. I was no longer on the outside looking in. I had become part of the story.
Matthew had a second surgery to add PICC line, a long, flexible tube inserted into a vein for administering antibiotics. A nurse taught us how to administer the medicine and flush the lines. I wrote down everything just as I was trained. I took my assignment seriously. One wrong dose and Matthew could be back in the hospital. I wasn’t going to screw up another job. Plus, this wasn’t just a job anymore.
Matthew was my bionic baby, both physically and emotionally. He never cried. He never let the stitches in his hip or the PICC line in his chest slow him down. At a time when I thought I’d never recover from my bruised ego, he showed me resilience. He taught me to move on.
Weeks later, I almost fainted watching the doctor pull the PICC line from Matthew’s tiny chest, not realizing how deeply it’d ran. Matthew cried, the first real emotion he’d shown in this two-month ordeal. I held my cries. I wanted to reassure him it was all over, but all I could do was hold him. I felt helpless.
Matthew healed, the small scar on his hip only to be seen again in future locker rooms, or by a distant lover. I’d be one of the few to know about his surgery. I’d remember it more than he would.
As I watch Matthew run around, without a limp, it occurs to me; I’m not helpless. Matthew couldn’t administer his medicine or clean the dried blood from his PICC line. Jack can’t read himself his favorite books or cook chicken nuggets. To them, I am essential. Even on my best day as a reporter, I never felt that way.
Today, when people ask me what I do, I can’t hand them my business card. But I send them to my blog. Once, I worried about whether I’d ever call myself a reporter again. Now, I worry about the boys outgrowing me.
Written by Rachel Tannenbaum
The story “Day Mom” was selected as one of the Lip Service stories performed at The Miracle Theater in Miami, Florida.