December 7, 2009
This is the first image that shows up in a google image search for “nanny.” Don’t let this be you.
For a less serious topic, I thought I’d tackle the most difficult sartorial aspect of my job: the plumber’s area. My job involves a lot of bending over and squatting. As in, I’m ALWAYS bending over and/or squatting. The worst part about this isn’t even the potential embarrassment, as I’m usually in the boys’ home, but the fact that it creates a DRAFT. A DRAFT DOWN MY BUTT. Now, I’m one of those people who “runs cold” (in fact, I run practically hypothermic), so this isn’t just inconvenient, it harshes my mellow to an obscene degree.
I currently have a work-uniform that breaks many laws of fashion, but I don’t really care. I view my work clothes as akin to scrubs for doctors: purely utilitarian. I have given up on trying to be cute, which I could kind of get away with with the Schmoops who were pretty benign in terms of mess and time spent chasing/carrying, but no more. The boys are rough, messy, and require every ounce of strength and energy I have. I can’t afford to spend one iota of that energy on getting dressed in the morning. So… I commit the sin of bib overalls. “Plumber’s Area” is pretty apt since I look like I’m going to get down to some hard labor on the construction site. I care not, I built entire cities out of blocks!
Yep. Waffle shirt, hoodie, overalls and red Mary Janes. (Mine are Dansko and super-comfy.) Inside the house, I even wear fuzzy slippers. Warm, cozy, and best of all: I can get painted on, barfed on, pooped on, and my clothes all just go right in the wash when I get home. (I carry a change of clothes in my car consisting of an extra shirt, yoga pants, and socks – yes, socks, you have no idea how quickly they get besmirched in the event of all out mess, especially where bodily fluids are concerned. I highly recommend ALL childcare workers have a change of clothes handy as both times I’ve been puked on, I didn’t have a spare set and ended up using a blanket as a skirt while my pants went through the wash.) My plumber’s area is protected and I have umpteen pockets for clean/dirty tissues, that thing that the child just gave me that he wants me to hold on to, chapstick, and a pen in case I have a SPARE MOMENT to write something down.
If you don’t want to go for the overalls, I recommend a long cardigan, which is a look that I rocked pretty much all last winter. I had to run around the city of Boston all day long with kids in tow, and this was my default back then.
Yeah, I really am “Red Sonika.” My closet palette is all earth tones with red (and the occasional pink) accessories. My winter coat is red. My purse is red. My wallet is red. My iPhone case is red. The staples of my wardrobe are grey, brown, and green, with hints of orange. I refuse to own anything blue or purple as going into “cool colors” isn’t my territory. Since making these arbitrary sartorial decisions, shopping is much easier and I don’t ever have to think very hard about “does this match?”
On my off days… I’m a little more fashionable in a very boho kind of way. I like to think of my style as “urban bohemian” – also very feminine with a few tomboy accents.
Since it is effin’ freezing out here most of the winter, all outfits are topped with one of my excellent coats. At least, I find them excellent as they are both a) warm and b) not totally butt ugly, a combo that is surprisingly hard to find. Don’t worry, my fur coat (which is more awesome than the one pictured) is totally fake. I like to refer to it as my “No Animals Were Harmed in The Making Of This Coat. Coat.”
And there you have it. Polyvore proof that I am one of the most sartorially boring, if also totally obsessive, human beings alive. But I am also WARM.
December 4, 2009
I think that this Muppet cover of Bohemian Rhapsody probably appeals to adults more than children, but it’s going on my iPhone Muppet playlist for those tense moments when nothing but a good Muppet will do.
I couldn’t wait until Monday to share this with you. Enjoy.
December 3, 2009
Now you’ve got your good jeans on, you’ve set a date and time to meet the parents and the coffee shop and you’re getting prepared to answer the serious questions. Hooray!
I stressed this before, but it bears repeating: nanny interviews are not like other job interviews. You can not game them. There are no strategies to employ. There are no right answers (though I can think of some “wrong” ones off the top of my head). If asked what your weaknesses are, the right answer is NOT “I work too hard.” (My weaknesses? I’m stubborn and bossy. These actually DO come in handy as a nanny, but just about nowhere else. Yeah, it’s ok to say “Well, I’m bossy, but it helps in redirecting problem behaviors with kids.” but not… “I try too hard to make people happy!” These people are potentially trusting you with their children, you need to be HONEST.)
So, you need to come up with honest answers, without crossing the line into total oversharing weirdo answers. Yes, you’re still trying to create the best impression you can, and yes you want to tailor your answers to the situation so you don’t sound like a robot (though a robot nanny would be pretty badass), but you’ve got to be 100% sincere about your answers. One of the first, and most important, things you’ll be asked about is your discipline strategy: if you’ve always handled discipline via time-out and the family indicates that they use re-direction… if you imply that “Oh yeah! I always re-direct!” you’re going to have shot yourself in the foot if you actually land the job and have to follow through on a totally unfamiliar discipline strategy.
If you don’t know what I’m talking about here and you’re not an Early Childhood professional, don’t worry. If you ARE looking to become a nanny – or a babysitter – or a preschool teacher – read up on discipline strategies ASAP. Know what the different tools are and the pluses and minuses. Know what the research indicates is most effective. Know what is absolutely not effective in any situations. If you don’t have a lot of experience with discipline strategies, that’s ok, and tell the parents honestly that you feel that you would be most comfortable taking their lead and working with them to learn how THEY set and implement limits with their children. For me: I use a combo platter of positive re-inforcement and re-direction, which I could talk about endlessly, but the point is that I don’t use time-outs and that my limited experiences with families who use time-outs exclusively hasn’t been positive for anybody. The kids end up confused, the nanny ends up frustrated, and the parents are left with a mess. There are plenty of families using all sorts of disciplinary strategies, you WILL find one that you fit with. Recognize that if your answer sounds “wrong,” the solution isn’t to change it to what you think the parents want to hear, but to enjoy the rest of the interview, hope for the best, and keep looking for a family that you truly connect with.
The other biggie that you will surely be asked is your child-rearing philosophy. Again, you need to have one first. Read up if you don’t have direct experience. Research popular philosophies such as Montessori and Waldorf education. Think about your own childhood and values. You don’t have to have a fancy-pants answer for this, but you have to have an answer beyond “I think children should be reared!” Again, I could yammer on about my own child-rearing philosophy, but it boils down the idea that children learn best in situations where the education is organic and I try to create as many opportunities for learning as possible while making children feel comfortable in an atmosphere with positive re-inforcement, predictable scheduling, and consistent limits. (If none of these terms sound familiar to you – do more research!) One interview “cheat-sheet” site says:
It is important for your answer to demonstrate a respect for the family’s child raising beliefs and values and the ability to be flexible in your child care approach according to this. A rigid personal philosophy can only lead to problems. Focus on how you are constantly learning about child-rearing.
I DISAGREE COMPLETELY. No, you should not be too rigid in your philosophy unless the children you’re caring for are your own, that’s true. On the other hand, if you have solid beliefs about child-rearing that you’ve developed through experience and education, you are selling yourself short if you pay lip-service to what you think the family wants to hear. Again, you are not trying to get ANY job, you are trying to get the job where you and the family “click.”
The last point I’d like to make is that by the end of the interview, the last major decision that you have to make is whether or not you’re willing to do housework and where you draw the line at “light” housework. This is fine to handle on a case by case basis, but understand that it’s the nature of life that if you agree to take on X amount of housework, there will come a day where you will be asked to do one extra chore. The best way to deal with this if you’re absolutely not ok with doing anything beyond normal child-clean-up is to hold the line firm that you don’t do housework. The other option, if you really connect with the family, is to suck it up and recognize that your ideal job involves sweeping a few more floors than you had planned. That’s totally up to you, but know ahead of time that you will eventually need to do more than what’s outlined and that’s not the family trying to take advantage of you – that’s the nature of life and having kids. Some day, mom won’t have time and there will be a huge mess. It’s just how it goes.
Try to have at least a bit of fun at your interviews. Let your enthusiasm for your work and your love of children show through. Do remember that you’re talking about serious stuff: the interviews I can look back on where I know that I “bombed” and I would like to go back and staple my own mouth shut were the ones where I tried so hard to create a connection with the parents that I made a joking comment that while not totally over the line, obviously did not help anything. There’s another one of my weaknesses: trying to use humor to compensate for my own flaws. Don’t force a connection that isn’t there. Be polite and amiable, but stop yourself before you start saying things that feel out of character or strained.
4nannies has an excellent run-down of questions that you should be prepared to answer. Yes, it’s overwhelming, but honestly, if you’re not prepared to be overwhelmed, Early Childhood work probably won’t be a good fit for you in the long term. I do absolutely 100% LOVE my job and wouldn’t want to do anything else, but I’m overwhelmed at least six times per day. (I’ve also done enough interviews that I could answer these questions in my sleep, and probably have from time to time.)
December 2, 2009
So, you’ve wowed your potential employers with your resume, you have clean background checks and your First Aid/CPR/Vaccination records in hand and you’re ready to start interviewing! Hooray! Now to ace the interview… Or… not.
The first thing you need to keep in mind about nanny interviews is that you can. not. game. the interview. All of those strategies you hear about for other interviews – know about the company, ask why the position is vacant, etc. DO. NOT. APPLY. If you know anything about your employers beforehand, you’re kind of a creepy stalker person. Do not ask why they don’t want to continue with the childcare they have now. They will tell you if you need to know, otherwise you’re inviting them to smack talk their previous nanny/day care/grandmother, and that’s not the way to start off a working relationship. You may want to dress to impress… but my best interviews were conducted wearing jeans. Nice jeans. And loafers. But still – I was dressed so that when the four year old child I work with now asked me to paint with him, I was ready. Slightly worried about my shirt, but ready. Don’t go in your sweats, look nice, but do not wear a lot of make up or anything that you can’t bend down or pick up a child in. Not that you’d have to do those things on an interview, but you need to be able to. My go-to outfit is jeans, ballet flats or loafers, black t-shirt dress or white button-up shirt, pearl necklace, beaded earrings, and a bracelet. I do wear a small amount of perfume and make-up on interviews but never on the job. (I’m all up in a baby’s face all day long. He really doesn’t require that I smell like roses.)
If you have a visible piercing, TAKE IT OUT. If you have a visible tattoo, COVER IT UP. I used to have a lip ring (back when I taught preschool) and have since removed it and found that parents do indeed take me 900x more seriously without it. Don’t do anything to give even the subconscious impression that you are going to leave work and go to a biker bar. Again, whether or not parents should care whether their nanny whose idea of a good time is a crossword puzzle has a giant nautilus tattoo is irrelevant – the salient factor here is to create the best first impression possible, which involves mitigating any factors that could potentially make a parent uneasy. If you have pink hair, don’t go out and dye it just for an interview if you’re really dead set on keeping your hair pink, but recognize that it will make the process more difficult to find a family who wants a pink-haired nanny.
The nanny interview process is more like dating than it is like other job searches. You’re looking to find a family that you have chemistry with, and that’s not something you’re going to be able to do via a kickass resume (which you should have) and a snazzy cover letter (which should be able to write in your sleep blindfolded with both arms tied behind your back). The process TAKES. TIME. Be prepared. If you have a definite end date for your job, start your search for a new family at least three months ahead of time. Keep in mind that most families start their interview processes at least six weeks in advance and that a family that really wants YOU will make arrangements for childcare until you are available. (Don’t push it, but if you know you’re going to end in March and you interview in January, the family will find something to do in February – just don’t keep them waiting until April.) If you’re working a job where you haven’t given notice, or you don’t have a specific end date, start your search with the time frame in mind that this will take at least two months. I did at least two months of solid interviewing before landing either of my jobs. (And ironically, after I accepted my positions, I was offered other jobs that I’d interviewed for. Such is life.) This is the bare minimum. If your job ends before you’ve found a full-time gig with the right family, temping is a good short term solution to ease the stress of “ZOMG. MUST PAY RENT.”
I can see the gears in your head wondering how you’re going to take time off work for interviews while you’re still working. Simple. You interview on the weekends. This is often better for families looking for prospective nannies as they don’t have to find childcare to cover the interview period or take time off of work themselves. A lot of families also conduct interviews in the evening for the same reason.
If you can, do two interviews. Interview the first time outside of the home with one or both parents, but without the children. It is so overwhelming for everybody to have a new grown-up in a room and try to figure out the chemistry between prospective nanny and children and still get the important interview questions answered. My Boston work-family interview was conducted with mom & kids and went just fine, but I’ve been to plenty where it’s been an absolute zoo. And of course, if the kids go mental because it’s raining or they have a stomachache or they’re overwhelmed or anything, the parents will be less likely to hire you because they may believe (rightly or not) that you were creating the disturbance in the force. If you have a first interview with just the parents and then kids go batty when you meet them at the second interview, it will be easier for the parents to judge if you don’t have the right chemistry with the child or if the child is simply upset because life is hard. The second interview should be held in the home, if possible, so that you can see the kids in their “natural environment” and so that the children aren’t disoriented by a strange place in addition to a strange person.
Remember that you’re interviewing with the parent, not the child. Tempting as it is to suck up to the child or just spend the whole interview playing, your relationship with the parent is what’s important at this stage. You and the child need to be able to understand and trust each other, but right now, you have to be sure that the parent will be able to trust having you in their home every single day taking care of their children. It’s easy to forget what a HUGE responsibility this actually is, and in the interview stage, your job is alleviate any fears that your parents might have from whatever horror stories they’ve heard or experienced.
Take your time. If you have experience, a clean background, a love for children, and patience, you WILL find the right family. Don’t push it and don’t take the first job that comes along if you feel like you and that family would be more like oil and water than salt and vinegar. Remember that no interview is a “failure” and there wasn’t something you necessarily could have done better (unless you’re five minutes late because you didn’t have the mom’s cellphone number – not that that happened to anyone I know), it just wasn’t the right family. Interviews are exactly like a first date, except that instead of dating, you rush right into being “married.” As a nanny, you’re not a part of the family (and shouldn’t be, unless you actually ARE family), but you’re a part of the household and that’s a serious commitment.
December 1, 2009
Dinosaur nanny is the consummate professional.
“Professional professional” is a phrase I lifted off of the “Job Title” field of one of my friend’s LinkedIn pages (not that I’ve ever figured out how to actually use LinkedIn – can someone explain it to me? It seems exactly like FaceBook for Jobs, you just end up connecting to people you already know.) and I think it’s a really descriptive phrase for what I’m talking about here – being professional ABOUT being *a* professional.
I definitely consider myself a “professional” or a “career” nanny – that is, this is what I do, this is what I want to be doing, and this is what I intend to do in the future. I’ve always wanted to work with young children, and this is the niche that I’ve found that suits me the best. This isn’t to fill a gap while I look for another job, or something to do until I got to grad school. Not that those are bad things, but that’s not the place where I am at. People have actually said to me “Oh, nannying! I should try that, I love kids!” (People have also said to me “Oh wow, I don’t know HOW you do that!” but that’s another matter.) So, I’ve put together this little bullet-point list for getting started on becoming a professional nanny, as opposed to a casual nanny. Later, I’ll tackle interview strategies – though that could really be an entire book.
(Note: This is nothing against the casual nanny – you ladies & gents are awesome!)
- If you are not already working in childcare, get into it. Babysit on weekends. Volunteer at a preschool/daycare center – even better, sign up as a sub if you can. Start building solid references ASAP.
- This is actually the most important piece of getting a childcare position, any childcare position: Make sure you can pass criminal background, credit, and driving tests. If you have so much as a speeding ticket on your record, you need to recognize that whether or not it’s actually fair, your chances of getting a childcare position are very slim. I used to work in a preschool setting and have had to go so far as to not only have a criminal background check, but to have my fingerprints put on file at the local police department. You absolutely, absolutely must have a clean criminal and credit checks to work in a preschool – and a clean driving record if you’re going to be a nanny. Whether or not you should have to pass a credit check is another matter entirely, but I have had to submit to them more than once and can tell you that it’s a crucial piece to landing a job. I can’t stress this enough: if you can’t pass the background check, you won’t get a job. Background checks for nannies are more rigorous than anything other than perhaps FBI clearance, no lie.
- Be aware of everything you’ve ever written online, ever. I’ve had interviews where potential employers have asked me about information that I had no idea I had ever posted publicly. Thankfully, this was nothing that hindered me from potentially getting the job (or I wouldn’t have gotten the interview in the first place), but it was enough to make me go back through every site I’d ever posted to and edit/cull some details from my archives. There’s a lot that you can find out about me online, and I’m fine with that, but if you’d rather not have your employers know about what you had to drink at your best friend’s birthday party, get that picture off of Facebook RIGHT NOW. Don’t think that someone couldn’t access something, but rather go with the assumption that if it’s online, anywhere, even if you think it’s private, someone will find it. As I say, you could probably find out any amount of incriminating information about me, and this is totally my choice to live openly and accept that what I say online may be a filter for possible job situations in the future. I’m fine with that since if someone has a problem with my online persona, they probably wouldn’t connect well with me as their nanny anyway. Make sure that if you do choose to keep information public, that it is an accurate representation of who you are – even if viewed in the worst possible light. Again, people check into their potential nannies with a fine toothed comb. This is much more serious and exhaustive than a simple Google search. I have no idea how some people do this, honestly, but I wouldn’t be surprised if some light hacking skills were involved. (Again, whether or not it should happen is another issue, the fact is that you need to be aware that it does.)
- If you are male, you have a much lower chance of being hired as a nanny than if you are female. I’m very sorry. This is absolutely totally bogus, but I have seen ads placed for nannies that specify that they are only interested in hiring a woman, and most are written with female as the default pronoun whether or not the implicit statement is made that they’re only looking for a nanny with two X chronomsomes. Consider teaching instead.
- Decide if you’re willing to be live-in, or being live-out is a must. If you are willing to live-in, you have an extra market of potential jobs to tap into, but you’ll do so at the cost of some of your privacy/personal freedom.
- Decide if you want to go through an agency or if you want to do the legwork yourself. An agency will take care of background checks and screening for you, though you may have to pay a slight fee for this. Agencies will have extensive screening processes where you will have to answer questionaires with the most intrusive questions you can possibly imagine. I have actually refused to sign up with several agencies due to the invasiveness of their questions. You will have to provide a full medical history if you go through an agency. You will have to write more about yourself than if you were applying to grad school. However, you will be in the market for higher paying jobs and you won’t have to go through the hassle of checking pages upon pages of ads every single day and pushing your resume upon every family that posts to Craigslist. Speaking of: I’ve heard moms talking about how they wouldn’t get a nanny off Craigslist EVER since they would never even get a couch off of Craigslist. Don’t look down on Craigslist or Sittercity or other sites: I got both of my positions in the past two years via Craigslist. Yes, there are some flakes, but there’s absolutely no reason not to use every resource at your disposal when job hunting. You do have to be vigilant about updating your ad and responding to positings if you choose to go this route, but for me, it definitely paid off.
- Get your immunization records and make sure you’re up to do date on everything you could possibly be immunized for, ever. Get a TB test and a certificate of your results and test date.
- Develop solid references. Your employers will not only want to know about your work habits, but about your character. Get the best references you possibly can – childcare references are a must, but a good character reference or two will go further than your old boss saying that you were never late to work.
- Get infant-child CPR & First Aid training and keep records of your certification. (I lost mine, and totally should get re-certified anyway. It hasn’t been a big deal, but it’s something I absolutely want to rectify.) Some parents absolutely require this, some are more flexible. In any case, it will show a solid commitment to the job and to the responsibilities involved. It’s absolutely necessary that you realize that you may very well have to use these skills some day and it’s 100% necessary that you are able to stay calm and know how to manage the situation in an emergency.
- Know what separates you from other potential nannies and highlight these skills. For me, it’s my artistic background coupled with my former EMT training, which goes above and beyond basic first-aid knowledge. I stress these things on my resume and in every interview that I have with parents – the bonuses that I bring to the job are creativity and love of art and willingness to get messy with kids and explore art together, and the training to handle full-on medical emergencies as a first responder (I hope I never have to use this training, but having it has served me well in showing that I’m serious about my job.)
- Be aware that if you will have to go on many, many interviews that this system is not unlike dating. Every family has a specific vibe that they want (consciously or subconsciously) from a nanny, and they’re going to hire the person that “clicks” with their family. Don’t get discouraged. Keep putting yourself out there until you find the family that you “click” with. Both times I’ve been hired, I was hired on the spot by families who didn’t want someone else to nab me first – and both times, I went through countless “failed” interviews to get to that point. When a family finds you and wants YOU, you’ll know. Take the chance and don’t look back. Don’t dither over a potentially higher paying job if you click with a lower-paying family. Your happiness and sanity will be well-served by going where you have the best fit.
- Once you land the job, stay positive, and follow the Nanny Guidelines to maintain a happy and healthy relationship with your work-fam!
For a good perspective on the other side of the equation – Nannies4Hire gives a great run-down on what parents should look for in a prospective nanny. It’s uncanny that I stumbled upon this after I wrote my article, since they really hit all the same points.
November 30, 2009
Fun fact: as a kid, I loved Christmas music so much that my parents had to hide my Christmas record (yep! The days of vinyl!) from January to November. I still love Christmas music and have been known not to skip over it if it shows up on my iPod in July. This particular song even gets specifically queued up, even in August.
Since this is a BONUS POST! I’m going to conclude with BONUS GOODNESS! My mama has enjoyed her foray into Tumblr, but found it lacking. Little did I know that she would immediately want to plunge into SRS BLOGGING. I set up an account and gave her a wordpress tutorial over Thanksgiving weekend, and now, she’s broadcasting to the world at MamaPeke. Mark my words: she’s going to have a bigger following than I do.
November 30, 2009
Thing 2 attends an art/music “workshop” on Wednesdays and this past week had an activity that he really, REALLY got into. Man did he ever love it. All of the kids that participated in Paintin’ With Puddin’ were totally, totally entranced.
Behold! Vanilla pudding with food coloring! And some spiky balls!
Something about the thick texture of the pudding was much more appealing than any kind of normal paint. Perhaps the subtle vanilla scent also helped – but Thing 2 wasn’t one of the kids who figured out that the “paint” was also delicious. He just totally, totally loved the texture of the pudding and moving it around the paper with the little ball. He used his fingers a bit, but the ball was the main “brush.”
Here’s his final product:
Verdict: A++ WOULD PAINT AGAIN.