When I learned I was getting laid off from my online news editor position in late November, friends and family members immediately fired a slew of cringe-worthy questions my way. What were my options? Where was I looking to find a replacement job? Did I have any leads? How would I pay rent and other bills in the mean time? Was I reMyceiving a severance package?
The inquires alone overwhelmed me, but I had a simple answer to almost every one: “I don’t know, but I’m going to start babysitting to turn my brain off for a bit. I’ll aggressively apply for work in 2013.”
Burned out after a few years in the online journalism, a field of constant adjustment, evolution, heartbreak, and uncertainty, I felt I needed to take a break from the 24-hour news cycle and try something a little more physical. With half a dozen nieces and nephews, I believed I had a special way with kids, and I’d first begun babysitting nearly 15 years earlier. I also live in the highest paid city for babysitters, so I wasn’t too worried about being in a financial pinch while I figured myself out.
I landed a nannying gig before my last day of “real work,” and the first week with 5-year-old Brendan was a refreshing change from monotonous office culture. We chased each other around Stuyvesant Square, goofed off at Karma Kids yoga studio, pushed empty swings at the neighborhood playground, danced to “Gangnam Style” in the living room, and even sang pop songs in the street. I appreciated being on my feet, and I always had a good laugh when other kids asked whether I was “the mommy or the babysitter.” It brought me back to my own childhood, when rent due dates and utility bills didn’t consume my thoughts.
Of course, the honeymoon stage proved to be rather short. Though Brendan and I got along and he’d adorably professed his love to me five days in, I was at a loss for words when he’d refuse to obey me. I remembered it being so easy to discipline my nieces and nephews, all of which respected authority and never lost their cool, but managing children outside my family was a bigger challenge than I’d anticipated.
Any time he started to shout rather than use words to communicate with me, I’d put him on timeout (per his parents suggestion) only for him to squirm out of the chair and carry on with his flailing outburst. He’d always make a point to tell me that he was enjoying his timeout, leading me to believe he was smarter than the average child in that he’d already mastered the art of manipulative mind games. My tolerance was decreasing daily, and I realized childcare wasn’t the right career path for me. It takes a special individual to look after children, and while I pat myself on the back for many things in life, I’m simply not equipped for this particular line of work.
I really noticed this when the afternoons started to drag on. I only watched Brendan from 1:00 to 4:00 p.m., but each minute felt like an hour. I’d glance at the clock constantly, shocked that I’d read three pages of a children’s book to him and that only 30 seconds had passed. Three hours with him seemed much longer than then nine hour work days I’d regularly put in at my last job, especially since he demanded my full attention and all my energy. It became incredibly exhausting to entertain, even though I was accustomed to working on my computer for significant amounts of time without ever feeling tired or bored, but as my stamina faded, so did my patience.
I remember calling him a brat for throwing a full-blown tantrum after I told him we had to skip his OCD daily rituals on the walk home from school. Every day, we would walk past a doctor’s office on 68th and 5th and he had to push the automatic door opener button every time, but when I saw the lobby was overflowing with people in wheelchairs one afternoon, I explained to Brendan that we’d just have to wait until the following day to hit the button. He grew inconsolable and I grew frustrated. It upset him even more when I accidentally stepped on a crack in the road, which he believed to be bad luck. He berated me anytime I said “thank you,” as it was his least favorite term and he’d decided he wanted to keep conversations with me to a minimum. Every time I picked him up, he’d list all the things he didn’t want to do rather than tell me how he’d like to spend his day. He seemed very cynical and unpleasant for someone so young, but I knew deep down I just wasn’t a good fit for him any longer. We’d outgrown each other.
Bratty as he may have seemed, Brendan didn’t deserve to be judged or labeled by a novice nanny, and it was so unlike me to speak to someone that way, even after months of him constantly ordering me not to say “thank you” and refusing to go outside. That’s when I realized just how much I missed my old job, time-consuming and competitive as it was.