I’ve spent the past month searching for a new nanny. Albina, our beloved babysitter, who had lived three doors away, moved. She doesn’t drive, and now lives just far enough away to have rendered me mad with searching for a chauffeur for our nanny, and then distraught that I am not an upper-class lady in Victorian England, able to afford a nurse, nanny, governess, maid, gardener, cook, butler, footmen, and chauffeur, all of whom, I have convinced myself in the course of this upheaval, I need.

One night while lying in bed, after two weeks of conducting interviews, subjecting my daughters to new faces every day, staying home from work, sending friends to spy in the park, and coming up empty, I burst into tears. My husband bolted up in bed and asked what was wrong. “I miss Albina,” I sobbed. We had finally found our groove together, she and I. My children loved her. She took care of our plants. She cooked us home-made blintzes and French fries, baked apples and squash, and a pea soup that my picky daughters would eat when they would eat nothing else. She spontaneously cleaned things – our porch, the garage, the floors. And she was the best newborn care nurse I’d ever met, bathing the children in strange Russian herbs, and swaddling them so that they had no choice but to sleep for hours. My husband tried to reassure me. He had never really connected with Albina; he couldn’t communicate with her in Russian, and found her aloof and reserved. “We’ll find someone else, and the children will learn to love her too. Don’t worry.” And he gave me a kiss, rolled over, and immediately fell back asleep, oblivious to my tortured state, my unappeasable angst.

Last week, I finally hired someone. The kids are delighted. Our new babysitter is Portuguese, but speaks fluent English. I am mourning the loss of a beloved second language in our home, but my older daughter, whose Russian I admit has deteriorated with her preschool attendance, is delighted to have someone she can understand. Our new babysitter brings her toddler daughter on the days she works for us. My need to hire someone, and the fact that she comes so highly recommended from a friend, and that she drives, and can help with carpool, has outweighed this detail. This, for me, was a distressing decision, but my little one asks every day for her new little friend; she loves spending those days with a buddy, someone with whom to play in the park, eat lunch, and color.

Why is it that the transition has been harder for me than for anyone else in my family? Who is our nanny really for?

I work part-time – a decision I made for emotional, intellectual, financial, and sanity reasons. But, despite what I thought before I birthed my children, I can’t help but feel that the primary responsibility to care for their daily needs is on my shoulders. What I’ve realized over the course of the past month, in searching for a replacement for Albina, is that I am, in some strange way, searching for a replacement of myself. I am looking both to replicate myself for my children, and to bring someone into my home who makes me feel cared for. Someone to seamlessly take my place when I rush out of the house at seven-thirty in the morning, and quietly relinquish it when I return in the darkness of suppertime. And more. I want someone who will cook for me when I’m tired and hungry. I want another mother in my home, a mother who fills in my gaps, who has a green thumb and can darn socks, but who doesn’t threaten to replace me. This is a delicate, intricate, trembling balance of power, of identities. It has taken me years to establish. And now, bereft, I am the one in mourning, having lost a piece of myself.

–Maya Bernstein

3 comments on “Searching

  1. nechama tamler on

    beautifully felt and written, Maya. It reminded me of an incident on a Sunday morning about 38 years ago in Buffalo New York. I left early to go teach for 4 hrs at the loval religious school in the synagogue a few miles away. I left our little baby, Dovidel, with his abba (Howie) and rushed off. When I came home, Dovidel was asleep, I ate lunch and then was washing dishes at the sink. I spaced out and was thinking: “I need to tell Mommy that we are out of detergent so she can add it to the shopping list.” I then immediately realized, wait a second here, I AM THE MOMMY. AM I CRAZY OR WHAT??? I was 24 yrs old, far from home (which was California) and far from Mommy but my brain hadn’t quite gotten the deeper significance of my new role. I’ve now lost my mother to the ages and she really is gone and I am a grandmother but in reading your piece, it made me remember that we all need our mommies throughout our lives. and BTW, happy birthday!

  2. Renee Ghert-Zand on

    I know exactly how you feel, Maya. We had an FT nanny when we lived in New York who was a second mother to our boys and who I could trust and rely on completely. Since arriving in California, we have had a revolving door of caregivers, which has been very stressful for our family. Now, for the first time in 15 years I am at home FT with my kids, and I am relishing being the one to pick my youngest up from school (something I could never do in the past), and the one to drive everyone to their activities. This whole working mom balancing act is such a challenge.

  3. Daina Lanasa on

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