“You are a what?” My friend asks incredulously.
“I have become a nanny.”
“At your age? You must be off your rocker.”
No, I am quite sane and have to admit that rejoining the workforce was a good decision. My sojourn in the retirement home was pleasant, but expensive. At times, I felt lonely and missed the daily contact I had with patients as a family physician. My volunteer jobs did not fulfill my need to contribute to society. I am bent by osteoporosis, 82 years old, but still have the energy to hike mountains. When the opportunity arose to look after four-year-old Lilly and six-year-old Ruth, I hesitated. I did not relish moving to a large city, did not want to leave my friends, and did not look forward to having restricted hours again. After several months of cogitating, however, I decided to give “nanny-hood” a try.
In 1932, the Nazis expelled the great-grandparents of Ruth and Lilly, my father’s distant relatives, from their homeland, Germany. They fled to North America and established a medical practice in Forest Hills, New York. In 1939, they rescued my family from the Nazis by sponsoring the affidavits we needed to emigrate. It is not our relationship, but gratefulness and friendship that has continued our families’ connection over four generations - and now led to this job offer.
My workday starts a little before 7 a.m. each weekday morning and I get home at about 6 p.m. Lilly and Ruth’s parents both work and have long days at their office jobs. Lilly, my little one, is a sprite, slight blonde and small for her age. She has a generous spirit and impatiently awaits the day she will be allowed to go to school. Ruth has remarkable eyes, as blue as the Colorado sky. She is eager to learn and does her homework without protest. We are working on improving her neatness. We go for walks almost every day, study the flowers and trees, end up at the playground and return home for naps. We also play Monopoly, a game I never liked, but which teaches my banker, Ruth, good mathematical skills. After her nap, Lilly snuggles on my lap and either Ruth or I read stories to her. I also like to make up and tell stories. This skill was useful while I was practising medicine. I remember an apprehensive little girl who had to have her hip aspirated. Once she was positioned on the X-ray table, I started to tell her a story about a family of puppies. She calmed down and, by the time the puppies had all grown up, the procedure was finished. At that point, the little girl did not want to go home because she wanted to hear the rest of the story. Now, I tell Lilly and Ruth never-ending stories about Schnippelienchen, a tiny fairy, and her friend Pixie. These two fairies have been long-time members of our family and entertained my grandchildren when they were Lilly and Ruth’s age. My own children could not hear enough about Nixe, a loyal dog, and his adventures. The members of the young audience, the children, are always woven into the story as active participants. I also tell stories about the “olden days” when we had no television, cellphones or computers, but picked blueberries on the heath.
The girls have long hours at school, and I make their free time available for imaginative play. They love being kittens, a game that, in the beginning, involves me because I serve them tiny dishes of milk on the floor. After that, they are off on their own. They build basket beds, have fancy names like Silver Mist and Gold Sparkle, and meow appropriately. They tell each other “I am a studying kitty” and “I am a playful kitty.”
Downsides to the job? I don’t get to see my friends who live an hour-and-a-half away. Public transportation is unavailable on weekends when I am free. Reading and writing are confined to nap time, as they were when my own children were seven and four years old. That means I barely get my papers organized when I hear Lilly calling “Oma, may I get up?”
As so many times in the past, I have to choose priorities: self indulgence and enrichment, going to interesting adult classes, learning more about writing, or being a caretaker. I thoroughly enjoyed the practice of medicine. For me, it was about caretaking, helping people to develop their goals and reach their potential by maintaining good health. Also, in the past, I have been deeply committed to enabling people to become educated. My expectation is that both these passions, caretaking and furthering education, might find fulfillment if I decide to take the risk, give up my leisure, in order to watch over Lilly and Ruth.
What do I hope to contribute to the girls’ lives? I want to teach them to have a thirst for knowledge, to love to read, to be honest and not use force to settle differences of opinion. I want them to be generous, and tolerant of those who are different from them. I would like to instill in them a sense of quietude; a peacefulness that they can draw on when they are under pressure, tense or disturbed. I want them to appreciate art, poetry, music and the mountains as a source of joy and beauty in their lives. I won’t live long enough to achieve all that, but I can make a beginning.
One disagreement the girls and I have is who loves whom the most. Lilly always ends the day with:
“Good night, Oma. I love you. I love you more than you love me.”
This discussion, who loves whom most, can go on for some time and stay unresolved. What a delight to have someone tell me several times a day “I love you” and then give me a hug. There is nothing better! Well worth the free time I gave up. I made the right decision to become a nanny.
DECEMBER 2009 SENIOR LIVING VANCOUVER ISLAND
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