I’ve been looking after other people’s children in one way or another for nearly ten years; during the brief periods when I don’t have any of “my kids” life feels unbalanced. Especially during my last year at Cambridge, time spent with kids has been such an important change of gear for me. And being part of a number of different families is very helpful in giving me ideas about how I’d want to parent my own children.
I think I’m quite a good nanny. I doubt I’d measure up to Norland Nanny standard, and you won’t see me pushing around a Royal baby any time soon, but my kids like me and with every new family I’ve got better at meeting the parents’ expectations and hopes. Today my current 5 year old looked at me and said “I like it when you come!”. I tapped his little button nose and said I liked it too, but inside my heart was swelling more than I’d let on. I remember those little details vividly – when my four year old in Paris hung off the bannister halfway up the stairs and told me she loved me; when my baby in Cambridge woke up from her nap, gave a sleepy beaming smile and raised her arms to me for a snuggle; when my current eight year old rested his head on my shoulder as we read a book together.
Of course one of the main things that helps our relationship is that I am not their parent. I’m not the one who has to tell them off when they’re naughty (I do occasionally have to reprimand, but on the whole they behave better for me precisely because I’m not mummy), or drag them out of bed for school when they’re tired, or build the basic manners. A lot of the foundation for these boys being such lovely kids was laid long before I came into their lives. I like to think I have contributed a bit – I’m very hot on hand washing, use of tissues instead of sleeves, please and thank you, and help clearing up after meals, although their parents evidently also demand these things as well or they’d not remember from one week to the next. And something that is special to the time I spend with my boys is our joint cooking adventures.
Both boys have had basic cooking lessons either at school or in cubs, but by the sound of it they mostly did things like biscuits and toast. Useful skills, certainly, but despite my occasional attempts to prove otherwise, one cannot live on bread and biscuits alone. Today I had the older boy peeling potatoes and making salad dressing, while the younger one helped me mash the potatoes (top tip: drain them completely, allow them to steam-dry for a while, mash, and then add milk and butter afterwards) and tossed the salad. It’d have been a lot quicker if I’d done it on my own, but as well as the fact that they’re learning useful life skills it would also have been a lot less fun for all of us.
So far, thank the Lord, we’ve not had any chopped fingers or burnt arms, and hopefully by the time they’re old enough to be leaving home they’ll have learned enough about cooking not to be in the position of my friend, who I will not name, who asked me during a Freshers’ week shopping trip “when you cook pasta, do you need to put water in the pan?”. Plus I’ll have acquired lots of helpful parenting ideas. Really it’s a winner for everyone!