“A Nanny? Why? Are you ever going to get a real job?”
I’m sure those are questions we are all used to hearing. I could go on about how being a Nanny is absolutely a “real job” and how 99% of the people who ask me that question couldn’t last a week doing what I do – but for now, I want to focus on the part that I came to terms with only a fairly recently: Why?
I’ve been taking care of kids for 15 years. I started babysitting the little boy down the street when I was only 12 years old. Looking back on it, I cannot believe these parents trusted a 12 year old to take care of their 9-month-old baby. I was always a very trustworthy kid and I OBVIOUSLY took the American Red Cross babysitting class at the local community center, but wow! I remember calling my mom (we lived 6 houses away) to ask her the most ridiculous questions. What do I do with the baby when I have to go to the bathroom? What do I do when he has cried for a solid 10 (gasp!) minutes? I forgot to bring something to eat—should I eat their food or can you bring me down some dinner? My mom was a stay at home mom my entire life. Besides a few odd jobs here and there (mainly babysitting), she was always with my sister Hannah and me. Growing up, she had a nanny job for two fantastic boys, both with cerebral palsy, which lived down the road. Through watching her take care of me and other kids, and her teaching me the ways of childcare, I grew up to be a fantastic babysitter and nanny.
From the ages of 12 until now, I’ve always had some sort of childcare job. Whether babysitting, a temporary nanny job, working in the nursery at church, volunteering at camps for neglected foster kids, or doing behavioral therapy for autistic children, I always found myself working with kids. It’s always been my passion. I’ve always been that person that could deal with kids that were “hard” and I’ve always heard the phrases, “You’re the only person he/she will go to besides me” or “They took a bottle from you?”, “I can’t believe you calmed them down/got them to sleep”, “I can’t believe you (got them to take a nap/eat dinner/listen/do their homework/open up to you/etc), would you like to babysit for us sometime?”
As much as I loved taking care of kids and as good as I was at doing so, I never really considered it as a career option.
Fast-forward to the year 2013. I had just moved to Chicago and was thinking that being a nanny would be my best bet in working my way through school as a court reporter (stenographer). Court reporters, for those who don’t know, are the people in the courtroom during a trial on those little machines typing everything that is being said. It is an EXTREMELY lucrative career, and I was really good at it. 10+ years of piano and flute lessons gave me REALLY fast fingers, and I was advancing quickly. I was working another dead-end, miserable retail job, and thought that nannying would be a better option for me. After doing a nanny-share for two wonderful families, I ended up landing a nanny job for a wonderful couple who were in their late 30s and who had just had their first baby. They knew right away that I was the perfect fit for them.
Court reporting wasn’t something I particularly loved… I was just really good at it and I knew I had the potential of making a lot of money. I figured I could at least do stenography and make good money until I figured out what I really wanted to do with my life. Despite my teachers basically telling me that as long as I was willing to be miserable, I would make really good money, I trucked along.
Time went on and I grew more and more attached to my nanny kid and my nanny family. They were fantastic bosses and the bond I had with that little baby boy was something I had never experienced before. Every day I loved coming to work, and every day I hated going to school or practicing my stenography. I just kept the image of dollar bills in my head knowing I would be making REALLY good money in a short amount of time.
In April of 2013, I was heading home to my family in Peoria to visit for the weekend. My cousin Alissa picked me up at the Amtrak station in Bloomington, and we headed over to a bar for some pizza and a drink before heading back home. My phone rang and I looked down and saw it was my mom. Figuring she was just making sure my train arrived safely, I picked it up and enthusiastically answered. She was in hysterics. I tried calming her down and eventually she got out the words, “We’re at the hospital; they think your sister has cancer.”
I tried to remain positive as we stayed in the hospital for the next 4 days waiting the test results. There was no way she had cancer, right? She came into the hospital because she had pneumonia that wasn’t getting better – not cancer, and certainly not Stage IV Rahbdomyosarcoma. No, no. My beautiful 20-year-old sister couldn’t have one of the rarest and most aggressive cancers. This was a mistake – surely they read the test results wrong.
My sister was a selfless human being. She was 20 years old and beautiful. She was in nursing school to become a midwife. She had a silly laugh, was a terrible driver, and loved her cat. Over the next three months, I became one of her primary caretakers. I watched her as her hair started to fall out and held her while she cried. I shaved my head to show her that it was just hair and it didn’t matter. We picked out cute hats on Etsy and watched I Love Lucy. I rubbed her legs and back as she howled in pain in the middle of the night and had panic attacks. I helped her bathe and go to the bathroom. I fed her. I watched her beautiful, smiling self turn into a bloated, miserable, and suffering young woman. And during all of her suffering, during her panic attacks and coming to terms with the fact she was dying, she was most concerned about me. Most concerned that I had quit my job and dropped out of school to move back home to take care of her. I had just FINALLY made it in my dream city of Chicago, and I gave it all up in an instant. She was so worried about me. I can’t describe how it felt to be having a conversation with my little sister about how she knew she was dying, and in that conversation she still told me how bad SHE felt that I was there taking care of her. Those three months were the worst three months of my life, but they were exactly where I wanted to be.
On July 14, 2013, my mother screaming waked me up from a nap. I ran downstairs and saw her, my dad, and my aunt all around the hospital bed we had in our living room. I ran over to Hannah and grabbed her and held her. I remember screaming “NO,” thinking she had gone. Then, I heard her take one more breath — one more painful, shallow, labored breath. A sound that diagnosed me with PTSD and that I still hear. I knew she was waiting for me to tell her that it was okay. I held her and kissed her head and told her, “It’s okay, Hannah. You can go. I will be okay, I promise. You can go.” And she did.
This has been the hardest 2 ½ years of my life. I couldn’t work for a year after her death, and then got yet another retail job because I needed health insurance. Again I was miserable. In going through this with Hannah, and in slowly coming to terms with her death, I have realized that as cliché as it sounds, life is so short. You hear stories like the one I just told you and you just don’t ever think it’s going to happen to you and then it does. Most days it still doesn’t even seem real – and then it will hit me like a freight train all over again. Hannah taught me that life is short and that we really don’t know what is going to happen tomorrow. She also taught me that you can’t pour from an empty cup. In order to take care of other people, I HAVE to take care of myself first. And in teaching me these things, she also taught me to do what makes me happy.
So, I am a nanny. I am a nanny and this is my “real job” and profession and my career. I am a nanny, and I am a damn good one!
Fly high, baby sister.
In Loving Memory of Hannah Louise Morris
December 9, 1992 – July 14, 2013