I feel that I have over the years gathered enough experience and dealt with enough drama to write a book. But, I find that it will be more beneficial if I shared the highlights of my experience with nannies, I could save someone time in jail.
I must be on nanny number 350, stopped counting after hiring the 70th one and after experiencing tunnel vision. They all looked and behaved the same, I can barely remember which one I had the week before last. However, they have left me scared; I will not soon forget my shock and sheer horror at the things that I have found. If you remember my sentiments on Parenting 000, then this is simply a continuation of where I left off.
There is nothing I find more difficult than relying on someone. I am the kind of person who goes ahead and does, because procrastination grinds away at my nerves, and actions are more attractive than words that do not bear fruit. My tendencies have therefore left me depleted, very very depleted. I had not realised what the problem was, I became irritable, more snappish than usual (wipe the grin off your face, I know I snap sometimes … tee hee hee), and constantly tired. And then it occurred to me, I was cracking! Just so you know, it is completely normal to feel overwhelmed and want to run out of your house clapping two sufurias and screaming like a banshee. There are times I have looked at my house and wanted to collapse in a heap and wail for all I am worth, and not out of joy. It is okay to feel defeated, to feel as if you are chocking, being lifted off the ground by a force that has you by your neck and is slowly coiling its cold fingers around your chest like a Boa, leaving you weak and tired and without the will to be cheerful. It is okay to call for back up, because super woman is a fictional character and you CAN NOT operate at 100% all the time. It is exhausting to be everything to everyone, to manage your boss, to service clients, to deal with traffic, to run your home, to keep fit, and be a student, please your husband, be a mother, a good neighbour and a friend, and the ever cheerful Christian. Do all this in heels, a fitting pencil skirt and a blouse that does not bear sweat stains.
Heaven knows I tried, but bowed out of the race, because fault lines begun to appear and monsters are not cute even at Disney.
People, and more so ladies, please stop. Just stop. Pull over and take a breather. YOU ARE NOT THE MANAGING DIRECTOR OF THE EARTH. A lot may revolve around you, but you will crack if you do not take care of yourself. And what good will you be dead?
Do I have a solution? Yes, delegate! Delegate what you can not handle on that day or that period. As it happens, we do not all have family close by, so we heavily rely of nannies. I can not stress how relevant these ladies are to us, but we all know that some are devils capable of the most odious of crimes. Judge me if you must, take out what you will, share with your pals or add on information that will help somebody. All I know is, if someone had told me this earlier, I would have saved my self a lot of trouble.
Trust your gut.
If you ever feel even the slightest discomfort with a situation or your nanny, please step back and assess the problem. I have more than once ignored my gut, and come to regret it later. I once hired a nanny who stayed with me through my entire maternity leave and for the first month after I resumed active duty. She was a quick study, worked well and I could not find any fault with her. She was under my circumstances then, perfect, she even refused to take her weekly day off saying she was new in Nairobi and did not know anyone or where to go. But my gut would not let me be.
Then items in my house would vanish. Completely vanish. My clothes, jewellery, food stuff, you name it, it grew legs and walked away from the house. I once searched her stuff thinking she had them, but found nothing. I looked everywhere in my house, and they were nowhere to be found. Since she never left the house, I figured she was not the culprit.
I could not have been more wrong.
She requested for a week off to go see her daughter, I more than obliged. She left the next day, early in the morning, having hired a truck the day before and shipped half my home to a house she was renting near Limuru.
If I was not forever tired from being super woman, I would have noticed my house was slightly empty. If I had trusted my gut, I would have fired her way before. Do not ignore your gut feeling, ever!
Listen to your children.
When kids approach the age of three, they talk a lot. They also start telling fibs, some are cute, others are straight up ridiculous. Most are a rendition of their favourite cartoons, which if you watch together, you will be able to recognize and handle accordingly.
So my son would constantly tell me he did not like a certain nanny. I would ask why, he would say he just did not, or tell me stories or dragons that ate children. I told him dragons did not eat children, and went ahead to clock channels that might be airing such cartoons. One weekend, I shipped my son and his nanny to my mums. My son was at the time coming out of using night time diapers, so we had dry days and wet days, without a particular pattern. It turned out that the said nanny, out of irritation of washing bed sheets and having to put the beddings out to dry would tell my son that a big red eyed snake will eat him if he continued to wet his bed.
To her, this was no biggie because that is what her culture did to stop bed wetting. My son on the other hand was petrified, and ended up wetting his bed more than he normally did. It took many months of searching the room for a snake and waiting for him to fall asleep before things got back to normal. She was fired after failing to understand that fear is not a good motivator for children.
Children will raise red flags when something is wrong. As adults, we will disnmiss it or make the situation worse by telling the kids to stop the nonsense, or unknowingly empowering the person who is the source of the problem. If talking to our children is not helping, try changing the environment or having someone else do the asking for you.
Because of the high turnover and the fear of helps from bureaus , I ended up having various women arrive at my house from various people who referred them to me as good workers who worked well with children. So, I never really interviewed, we usually just started a working relationship. However, I remember one lady I hired this year as part of those who came recommended. She arrived at my door step at 2030hours, and sashayed in like she was the lady of the house and I was a trump (the fact that I had on a head scarf, a branded tee, dirty sweat pants did nothing to salvage the situation). She kicked off her shoes and sat at the dining table, asked for a glass of water and crossed her legs.
Again, my gut did back flips, blew a vuvuzela and waved red flags but because I was desperate I ignored.
I gave her the glass of water and she sipped it as if chilled wine.
I decided to ask her the basics.
Do you have an ID card?
Where are you from?
How old are you?
Do you have children and where are they?
Have you worked with children before?
All of which she answered, but not with much detail.
I showed her to her room, asked her to freshen up before dinner.
When she returned, I asked her another of “my getting to know you” type question, she looked at me with a creased forehead and a sneer on her lips and snorted something in her vernacular language, which she declined to explain. The next day at ten, she called me while at work and declared she had no desire to be employed.
Find a way to interview the person you are about to hire, even if it is on phone before arrival. If you have the opportunity to have a face to face interview, try her patience as much as you can, if she folds, she will not be patient with your children or with you for that matter.
Check her bags.
Up until recently, I only checked bags when the ladies were leaving my employ. And this is where I suffered the mother of all shocks. These bags hold a lot of secrets, and will reveal information she may have misrepresented. Let me explain.
You will not identify a kleptomaniac by how they look or how they speak, you will sadly discover far too late that you were living with one. Every 5th lady I have hired has stolen from me, and I usually discover this as I check them at the exit interview, and most times long after they have gone. Some even have the audacity to argue with me, declaring that my size 7.5 shoes, hidden at the bottom of her suitcase fit her size 9 feet. And how a size 10 woman is trying to explain how my size 16 pants are hers, and that she came to my house with them.
There is also the sticky issue of HIV status. I have come to realize that stigma is not really with those whom are affected, but with those who are infected. These ladies, even when you ask do not always tell the truth. I realize that it is not my place to force someone to be tested, but it is my right to know what risks I need to deal with. I have heard more than my fair share of stories of how children are abused and therefore infected with the virus by malicious nannies, and I cannot for the life of me get over it.
I have come to discover that I have unknowingly hired infected women when I find bags upon bags of anti-retroviral drugs, and the most I get out of them upon discovery is silence.
I have lived with HIV positive people, and believe me when I say transmission does not come from sharing the same space with them. You however will be facing a different challenge when you have infants who do not know how to talk yet, or children who are easily threatened to silence and cannot defend themselves.
Check the bags on day one. Before you show them to their quarters, ask them to show you what they have come with. If you find the bags of drugs, CCC count clinic cards, little Knick knacks that you know are way above her pay, then you know she is a kleptomaniac or sick. Please be cautious, and informed, and then make your decision.
I know these have revealed the demons that assault children or worse, I also know that they have caused paranoia and unnecessary anxiety. I have never installed one in my house, but with every passing day, I feel the need to wire up my house like a bloody Christmas tree. For those who have them, what are the pros and cons of these gadgets?
Work with your neighbour.
If you have the fortune of having a good neighbour, then take advantage and be each other’s keeper. Many a child has been saved from hostile nannies by neighbours who did not approve of the treatment the child was getting. Small signs like a child who is always crying, or one who is always outside even when it is cold, or nannies who have a stream of guest coming can be signs of problems ahead. A simple conversation with your neighbour will ease your burden, and on days when she quits and you are miles away, the neighbour can take care of your babies as you break all the speed limits.
If your neighbour brings something to your attention, please do not ignore, investigate, fire, have arrested or replace the nanny. Also, be friendly with your neighbour.
“Mimi sifanyangi” declarations.
Mmmmmmh! In the last two weeks I have been told this statement twice. And twice, the nannies have relieved themselves of their duties.
Again, at the interview stage, please ask her, and speak slowly and audibly the following question.
“Are there any house chores that you do not do?”
If she responds with a list longer than your weave, please call in the next one. I have found it usually starts with one condition e.g. she does not spread beds. Then by day three, she adds a few more “I do not do’s” such as she does not wake up before five, and she does not cook Githeri or she does not cook using a gas stove.
Spare yourself the headache, if she feels that she can call the shots, she will for sure have you working for her.
All in all, it is difficult to find the perfect balance, neither is it okay to completely fall off the wagon. Please hire a nanny, treat her kindly, help her often, do not let her become the mother to your children. Always remember the exhaustion you felt when she wasn’t there, allow her to rest when you are home. There are good ones out there, but there are also evil ones, be very alert and pray over your children and homes.
Meanwhile….my struggle continues.