Saturday, February 13, 2010

The Nanny Search

My mat leave ends in six weeks and I'll be going back to work, albeit with certain allowances: I'm allowed 1.5 hours a day to breastfeed Baby, and since I live right across from school, that'll be easy. My teaching schedule is likewise brilliant in that it has many large open periods each day, so I won't be rushing to get home, feed and be back, all within a 40-minute period. Instead, it'll almost be like working part time.

But I will need a nanny, there's no getting around that. So how to find one?

Many working women in Turkey leave their children with their own mothers, and I envy them that. I've observed the way these older women eagerly await the day when their daughters will have babies so that they can have someone to care for again. This is in stark contrast to my mother, who would not be at all interested in looking after her grandchildren full time; she's raised her own four and moved on! She's now involved with the career she had to put on hold for twenty-five years; why would she want to give it up all over again?

And then of course there's the small problem of geography; my mother lives in Canada.

But back to reality. There are no nanny agencies in our city; indeed, there are no nannies per se. Since taking care of children is such a ''natural'' thing, any woman is considered capable of doing it. Women whose own children no longer need them full time, or else women who don't have grandchildren, are happy to look after someone else's as a way to supplement the household income.

So my nanny will be entirely capable of changing Baby's diapers, comforting his cries, and feeding him the bottles of expressed milk I'll leave for him. But finding someone who also excels at the other aspects of childcare -- playing with him, stimulating his developing mind and body with cooing and talking, using his Fisher-Price Circus Gym to full effect, giving him tummy time each day -- will be a bonus.

But we still have to find someone, and there are no job ads. Instead, everything is done by word of mouth. Luckily, a little investigation has yielded lots of interest.

The first candidate cold-called me; or rather, her sister-in-law called me. The connection is vague, and my husband still doesn't get it, but I'll try to make it clear: the nanny's sister-in-law goes to a hair salon where I've on occasion gone to get my legs waxed; the owner of the salon told this other customer of hers that ''a foreign teacher at the American school'' was having a baby and would surely be looking for a nanny. Now, I need to add that I don't know the owner of the salon, nor did we ever speak about me needing a nanny. Anyway, this other salon customer tracked me down through the school, and I agreed to meet her sister-in-law.

I had some doubts right away. Why didn't the nanny call me herself? And could I trust someone I didn't know, or who didn't have the reference of someone I knew? But she actually turned out to be quite good, and we would have hired her, had she the reference of someone other than a hairdresser I didn't really know!

The second candidate was referred to us by someone who knows someone, which was an improvement over the previous nanny. But, in keeping with the rules of irony, I was prepared to hate her. However, she was pretty good too!

My husband and I couldn't believe our luck; two for two!

And then along came a third candidate, this time recommended by our family doctor, whom we respect and trust immensely. Could she be the perfect package, then? A great reference and a great nanny? But she turned out to be mind-bogglingly unsuited for the job.

My first impression of her, over the phone, wasn't great: she called me canim and hayatim, the Turkish equivalent of ''honey'' or ''sweetheart,'' more times than I could count. I realize it's just a reflex of hers, she clearly calls everyone that, but I'm sorry -- you haven't even met me yet, so how can I be your hayatim, ''my life?!!'' And besides -- it's a term of endearment you don't use with your potential employer! I could see this woman wouldn't listen to any of my instructions, and would instead be inclined to do things her way.

But I second-guessed my instinct and agreed to meet with her. I could be petty and list all the little things that bothered me about her. But I'll skip to the whoppers. After reassuring me that despite her tremendous knowledge about childrearing, she'd do things in whatever way I showed her, she proceeded to give me the following instruction: as I put my son to my breast to feed him, I must recite Bismillah al rahman al rahim, which means ''In the name of God, most gracious, most merciful.'' I'd noticed she herself had uttered the phrase as she entered our home, and a few more times before undertaking anything -- changing Baby's diaper, or drinking a glass of tea. But to impose her faith on me was too much; Turkey is after all a secular society, and although there are many religious Muslims, there are also many non-practicing people.

The few Turkish people I told this to were shocked and found the whole thing quite funny. Needless to say, we did not hire her.

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