This blog, written anonymously by a nanny, is part of an ongoing series of blogs written by caregivers across the country as they share their experiences of navigating the pandemic. If you have a unique point of view on the pandemic and how it has affected your career or job, please email shenandoah@adventurenannies.
“I need you to run to the store again today to pick up some more tomatoes. We are hosting a last minute birthday party tonight for the twins and their friends.”
It was mid-April, and in my memory the start of a true divide between those who take the coronavirus seriously, and those who don’t but haven’t openly admitted it yet. This two-fer grocery store trip request combined with the hosting of a birthday party was the first of many unnecessary risks I would be asked to take in my time working as a nanny during the onset and spread of Covid-19.
Before I delve into the details of the last six months employed for a family with starkly different values than myself, I feel the need to set the tone. This is not a bashing-piece; this is not an I’m-better-than-them piece; it’s not even a look-how-reckless-these-folks-are piece. This is my honest account of working as a household employee during a pandemic, and how the divide in opinion over a factually, actually deadly virus plays out not just around the world, but in a single home.
“I’m going to meet with my friends tonight, can you make sure my swim stuff is clean please?” B requested too-loudly of me over his blaring Beats headphones.
“Oh good, have fun!” my employer muttered, absentmindedly scrolling through her phone as she sipped her coffee from the breakfast nook.
It was June, and a dear acquaintance of mine had recently died of coronavirus, leaving her family reeling in her absence. I spoke to my cousins on the phone daily who hadn’t left their house in months; a regular conversation among my group chats with friends centered around creative ways they found to get groceries without going to the store. Everyone I knew was scared, and tiptoeing, and mourning… and when I arrived to work each day without the burden of normal LA traffic, my employers were living as though nothing was going on.
“Is Gjusta back open yet?” the father asked as he strode through the kitchen. “Our friends from Oregon are flying in early tomorrow morning and they love their breakfast rolls.”
I did the math in my head as I pulled out my phone to cancel on my neighborhood girlfriends yet again (today is Friday and so if B is seeing his friends today, that brings me to two Fridays from now when I can have that picnic safely without putting my friends at risk– But if their friends are flying in on Saturday from Oregon that brings me to the following Monday before I’ll know for sure…) I had gone through this math weekly since March, and had never actually managed to see my “pod” of friends who weren’t spending time with anyone but each other. Like so many during these dark months, I was scared – for my own health, for the health of those around me, and for the financial risk that came with doing what felt safe.
As a career nanny there is a terrific dialectic within any job. You get to be barefoot most of your workday! You’re moving and wiggling and playing a lot. Unlike a corporate job there are terms like “naptime” and “snacktime” and “let’s go to the park” time. Also unlike a corporate job, there is no HR department, and boundaries can easily get blurry. It is common to end up working extra without being paid, or asked to do things totally out of your scope of responsibility because you’re there and it seems like no big deal to the teenager who feels like he can boss you around. Like any job, I have always taken the good with the bad, and done my best to put my foot down when I needed to.
But how do you put your foot down when the floor on which you are placing it does not exist in the minds of your bosses, when it is ‘fake news’, some type of elaborate hoax, or nothing worse than the flu? By July the family for which I nannied had gone from quietly avoiding the topic of pandemic to outwardly ranting about how ridiculous it was; a ploy to get Trump out of office.
With a family and kids of my own, I could not afford to quit my job in a time when the world was on pause. I also could not bear another night wondering if my children and wife were going to get sick because of the abandoned caution of my employers. This time (specifically the month of July) epitomized the reality of household staffing for me, and the truth that nannies, housekeepers, assistants, etc. are truly at the whim of the folks for whom they work. I’ve worked for a multitude of families with different beliefs, political views, and religions, and have never had an issue keeping my personal beliefs separate from my professional relationship with families – but it had also never led to me knowingly endangering myself each day that I arrived to work.
In the COVID-ransacked months that I worked for F and M, I was asked to go grocery shopping 4-5 times a week. I helped host parties, I made travel plans for them and their visiting family, and I wiped the butts and noses of the twins and snuggled them to bed each night. I was, by no choice of my own, a threat to anyone who was avoiding this virus. I was, technically, a threat to everyone.
Thankfully, with the approach of the new school year, I had the opportunity to leave this position (after two wonderful years and six very NOT-wonderful months) for a job with a family who was (and is) taking this pandemic seriously. Before starting with my new job I brought up the topic of my own safety and the safety of my family. The reality that if I didn’t advocate for myself nobody would had become painfully clear over the previous six months, and I am glad to say that so far my new employers have stayed true to their word in regards to safety.
I don’t have a moral to this story, as the story is continuing for us all. Something we initially thought would be contained in a matter of a few weeks has stretched on for six months with no clear end in sight. I suppose if I could decide on one conclusion it is this: Whether you are an employer or the employed in a staffed home; whether you believe that COVID-19 is a true threat or a fabricated one, we are all humans going through a time of great unrest and unknown. We must meet each other in the middle with communication and respect. And nannies, if your bosses aren’t willing to do that, it’s time to look for another job. We’re in a damn pandemic for goodness sakes!
Stay safe and stay healthy, everyone. And try to avoid the people who are flying family in from other states and attending high school house parties 🙂