Becoming a Nanny: Less Money, More Joy
By SUSAN DOMINUS
That was back when she got to her office in Midtown by 8:30 every morning, eager to keep her benefits and her job managing others’ benefits as a human resources coordinator at a major luxury retailer.
These days, Ms. L., once a financial analyst at Chase Manhattan Bank (a second vice president), a 55-year-old with an accounting degree, gets paid off the books, at least for now, which is why she spoke on the condition of anonymity. She has taken a steep pay cut, and she has one of those really young, inexperienced bosses.
At least the two get along. "She’s so content, always smiling at you," said Ms. L. as she sat in the lobby of an apartment building on West End Avenue, bouncing on her knee a 5-month-old with a pink hair clip. Instead of adhering to the schedule of a mercurial administrator under the gun from all sides, Ms. L. now follows the schedule familiar to so many New York City nannies: stroll, music class, playground schmooze, lunch, nap.
From glossy professional to nanny — it’s not like Ms. L. is a former chief executive waltzing around Manhattan with a sandwich board advertising her services, but it was definitely a career zag that she had never anticipated. Her own daughter, who is 25 and thinking about applying to law school, was horrified.
"She said, ‘Mom, you don’t want to be a nanny,’ " Ms. L. recounted, dangling a pastel-striped toy in front of her ward’s hands. " ‘You’re so smart, you’re so capable.’ She thought I should be in the corporate world."
The same day that Ms. L. heard from her employer that she had been laid off, a neighborhood friend shared that she and her husband had just parted ways with their nanny. Could Ms. L. possibly fill in for a week? She agreed — but only for a week.
The friend, who spoke on the condition that she be referred to only as Ms. G., insisted on paying her. "She told me she was going to keep looking for other jobs," said Ms. G., who is 44 and runs her own business.
Ms. L. said she sent out about 10 résumés, and even got one job offer, but it was in Westchester, and without a car, it wasn’t practical. The weeks wore on, her prospects looked less and less inviting, and she started to realize that she sort of liked this new gig.
"My own son just got married, but it’ll be years before he has children," she said. "Now I don’t mind so much."
Ms. G. said she was thrilled to have a close friend looking after her daughter (and fluffy white dog). "My husband and I walk out the door in the morning, look back at the door, and smile," she said.
SOMEONE once said that the first thing to say to a person who has lost a job is "Congratulations."
It’s a perspective that really works only in boom times, when the newly unemployed may well have been misplaced in their positions, rather than passive victims in a sweeping historical downturn.
Even in this economy, however, there may be plenty of New Yorkers who either have enough savings or are lucky enough to have a partner with a lucrative career — as Ms. L., whose husband is a day trader, does — and have, through the shake-up, gotten yet another luxury: a forced opportunity to re-examine their lives.
"I’m much happier," said Ms. L. "All my friends tell me I seem so relaxed. And I just love this baby."
She said she does miss the snappy feeling of getting dressed for work every morning, and her new, long hours — 8:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. — are filled with some of the aspects of nannydom that are sheer drudgery: changing diapers and washing bottles and singing nonsense songs over and over. Her pay does not reflect her vast professional experience — or her own experience as a mother, for that matter: She earns about $12 an hour, which, by New York standards, is actually on the low end of the nanny scale.
It was a pay sacrifice Ms. L. was willing to make. "I don’t do housekeeping," she said.
She has her limits.
copyright 2009 Tje New York Times Company