When I was little, we always had someone helping with me and my brother in the house. My dad traveled a lot for work and sometimes my mom went too. So from a very young age, we had someone living in the house – started with au pairs from places like Sweden and Scotland, then live-in nannies/babysitters, then as we got older and didn’t need “childcare”, it became live-in housekeepers.
We didn’t have a big fancy house or crazy expensive things, but we did have some luxuries and that was one of them.
However, it’s not until now, when I string all the stories together (and especially since I have had to go through the hiring process and trust babysitters, nannies, etc for my own child while I work) that I realize the lunacy behind the years of childcare my brother and I received.
My mom went to college, got her masters and taught health and sex education in NY (no I’m not kidding and that’s a blog post in itself. Stay tuned.). That lasted about 5 mins and when she had me and moved to Florida she went into early retirement to be a stay at home mom. My brother was born 5 years later and my mom wanted help. So she got it.
I don’t know how many girls from Sweden or neighboring countries worked with us, but I’d say a handful. Partially because their visas would run out, or there’d be an incident prompting my mother to call their parents and let them know she loaded them on to a plane back home with one-way ticket. Either way, there was a lot of turnover.
I don’t remember the first because I don’t even think I was 3 yet, but her name was Louise and she was from the Bahamas. We had just moved to Miami from NY and she accidentally let our new puppy outside who subsequently met its fate with a car and ended up in puppy heaven. My mom’s tactic in times of severe crisis or stress is to distract you by buying stuff before you have a chance to absorb the gravity of the situation. And that’s how I ended up with a stuffed animal puppy named Napper. This one couldn’t escape and would let everyone regroup before we brought another living one into the picture. (This same tactic was used many times in my life, including sometime in my 20s when I had a reaction to anesthesia during an in-office procedure for my wrist, passed out, mom panicked and starting rambling about how if I woke up there was a Gucci wallet in it for me. I did and she delivered.)
My first memory is of Eva, a young girl from Sweden. We loved her and from what I remember it was a positive experience sans the time my mom had to have a talk about dress code since she preferred to chauffeur my brother around the neighborhood in his stroller while she donned coochie cutters (and this was pre-90s before they were a thing) and high heels. We had Helena, also from Sweden, whom we all adored and she coincidentally found us all on Facebook years ago. My mind is blown to see her and her own children so I can only imagine what she must think seeing us!
Then there was Jessica. She was a train wreck. My mom found her in her bathroom threatening to harm herself, promptly called her parents, told them she was putting her in a hotel for the night and would not put us in jeopardy with her in the house in that state of mind. Several hours later, she was spotted hitting the town with a distant relative of ours, whom none of us liked, and then she ended up back home with her parents.
Mari was from Scotland and she was fantastic. My most vivid memory of her has to be her boobs. They were ridiculously big. I don’t think I have ever seen boobs that big. She made us yummy pancakes and was always eating. She was eating so much in fact that my mom couldn’t afford to feed her AND pay her.
With the constant influx of girls in and out of the house, my mom decided it was time for someone who might be able to stay longer than a year or two, and scrapped the au pair thing for a nanny/babysitter.
I don’t remember the order, nor how many there were. But they all lived with us and took refuge in the converted garage complete with white tile everywhere and 80s-style glass block windows.
Here’s a short highlight reel:
Carolina was from Honduras. Young and sweet and a Jehovah’s Witness. She was fine until my parents walked in on her and a friend performing some kind of ritual involving chanting and praying over our miniature schnauzer, Precious. Sidenote: Precious used to eat and immediately puke after every meal. My mom diagnosed her with bulimia and still maintains that diagnosis to this day, but in reality she had some issue with her pyloric valve and eventually had to be put down. So maybe Carolina was trying to heal her? But it was creepy and did not sit well with my parents.
Suyapa was also from Honduras. She was not as sweet as the others. She said “no” any time we wanted to do something. And one day, when she shot down our plans again, my friend Kelley slathered peanut butter all over her pillow. Not a good tactic in retrospect, and while my mother certainly did not condone it, it brought her non-kid friendly antics to the surface.
See ya later Suyapa.
Fatima was a fiery but loving woman from Ecuador. She was a phenomenal cook and probably made us all dinner a few times a week. We loved her and she was with us for a long time. Eventually, she got very comfortable, maybe too comfortable, almost like we worked for her and she called the shots.
Precious was probably the first iteration of housekeeper versus nanny. She was quiet, kept to herself, but was a hard worker. There was one thing though. If you have been paying attention, you will also see our dog’s name was Precious. My mom raised this concern during her interview by saying something like, “I mean, my dog’s name is Precious…is that going to be weird for you and are you going to think I’m yelling at you if I am calling her?” Shockingly, this was not Precious’ first rodeo as her retort was, “Oh no ma’am, the last family I worked for had a dog named Precious too.” I think she was with us a while, and to my knowledge nothing salacious happened. Maybe she moved, maybe she didn’t want to share her name with a canine counterpart.
Peace out Precious.
Seeing it all in one place like this feels like it can’t possibly be real (I get that a lot when talking about my family history and my life in general). But I can assure you it is. Every last detail. Crazy good or crazy bad, most things seem to be sprinkled with at least a little crazy. But amidst all the craziness (and the revolving door of nannies and babysitters), I think I emerged unscathed!