When my kids were little, we were lucky enough to have nannies to help care for our children. When Annie was a baby and I went back to work, we hired Sandy, a heavy-set Italian woman who spent hours strolling Annie around Boston’s North End. Later, when we moved to the suburbs, there was Monica, then Anna from Iowa, then Olga, then Andrea. Our last nanny was Beth. Unfortunately, Beth turned out to be a kleptomaniac. After Beth, we were done with nannies.
But I loved each of our non-kleptomaniac nannies for their loving hearts, for their energy, for the endless hours they spent reading to my kids, for their careful driving, their patience, and for a few, even for their faith in God.
It was Anna from Iowa—our second nanny, who recently thought of me, found me through betterafter50.com and wrote me an email last week. With a few strokes of her keyboard, she brought me back 25 years and gave me a gift that I will treasure.
Anna came to Boston just before her 21st birthday to help care for two-year-old Annie and very pregnant me. She had a perky blond ponytail and a personality to match. She was, of course, young and innocent and beautiful, and worst of all to my 8 1/2 month pregnant body–thin. When she first came to us, I remember thinking, “How am I going to get this beautiful blond out of my house?” But even as a two-year-old, Annie knew “cool,” and she fell in love with Anna, and so did we. Eddie was born shortly after she arrived.
I thought 21 was plenty old to take on the responsibility of a two-year-old and a newborn. What did I know? I was only 30. I didn’t know then that 21-year-olds still need parenting themselves, and I gave her none. I just saw her as an adult, and she acted like one. These were the days before cell phones and Skype, so when Anna left Iowa, she really left Iowa. I can’t believe her mother didn’t call me up and insist on a full report, and I can’t believe it never crossed my mind to give her one.
Anna is now 45 and living a great life in a small town on the Mississippi River, on the Iowa/Illinois border. She is a teacher, a mother of two beautiful teenagers of her own. I have frozen her at 21, but her life has gone on, filled with its own joys–getting her teaching degree, getting married, becoming a reading specialist, having kids of her own and the normal hardships of life–touched by divorce, a close relative with cancer, a few regrets here and there.
That year that Anna was with us, nay–that decade, is a blur to me. When I look back at those years, I think of myself as a tense young mother, nervous, fearful, protective, and unsure. Whenever I was home, I felt I should have been at work. When I was at work, I felt I should have been home. I felt sure that I must have been demanding, critical, unrelenting, and impatient with anyone caring for my children. And I have no doubt that I was, at times.
But unlike me, Anna remembered the details of her life with our young family, and she was kind enough to share her memories with me.
She remembered Mike teaching her how to use a stick shift on a busy street in Boston just after she arrived (amazingly, she didn’t take the first plane back to Iowa.)
She remembered that she had a routine every morning: “Open the blinds, make the coffee, unload the dishes, make OJ, bring in the newspaper, fold the clean laundry.”
She remembered our house security code, which is still our house security code–maybe it is time to change it?
She remembered taking Annie for walks in the deer park near our house (before we knew about Lyme Disease) and watching LA Law with us at night.
She remembered Annie at two, with adorable red curls, insisting on only wearing skirts and leggings–and freaking out when she had to wear socks, because she didn’t like toe seams #firstchildsyndrome.
She remembered one of my brothers taking her out on the town with his buddies for her 21st birthday, and a make-out session in our driveway where she was sure we were watching (we were not).
She remembered learning Jewish expressions, all new to her at the time. She remembered a family hike when the leaves were changing, a ski trip to New Hampshire.
She remembered that we jammed to the Carpenters on the stereo.
She remembered that we had a whole house intercom, and that one night Mike and I came home from a lovely evening, and “celebrated,” forgetting to turn the intercom off in our bedroom. Beam me up, Scotty.
She remembered our favorite dessert, “Cindy Cake,” a chocolate chip cake made with Dunkin Hines yellow cake mix, vanilla pudding, chocolate chips and sprinkles, and a sweet and sour chicken recipe that I taught her to make with apricot preserves, French onion soup mix, and red Russian salad dressing (and I wonder why my daughter doesn’t eat processed foods.)
She remembered the bottle of Opium perfume that we had in the downstairs guest bathroom, though I had to remind her why we had it there. (When Annie was toilet training, she didn’t like the smell of her own pee, and the only way we could get her to “go” was to spray Opium perfume on her wrist #firstchildsyndrome.)
She remembered my mom as a fireball, gorgeous and elegant.
Most importantly to me, she remembered me smiling.
“You and Michael were like my big brother and sister that year. Flying out to Boston and being your nanny was the best thing I could have done at that point in my life.”
I had no idea.
Anna gave me a gift this holiday season of remembering me fondly, of bringing memories to life that were long buried. If you can do the same to someone who touched you many years ago, I guarantee it will be a success, and it doesn’t cost a thing.
Thank you, Anna.