More Adventures in Babysitting

Creepy generic nanny clipart

The imminent departure of our early morning babysitter necessitated a search for a suitable replacement two weeks ago.  About a dozen women responded to our advertisement on a caregiver website.  We set up a few appointments with the white women who applied, and then we received a response from a woman of color, a determination we could make from her profile picture.  For the reasons outlined in my previous posts, we would ideally like to hire a person of color for our children.  We jumped at the chance to set up an appointment with this woman, Miss S, and she graciously agreed to come by two days later.  The morning of the meeting though, she emailed me to say she couldn’t make that evening’s appointment.  I wrote her back immediately, asking if she wanted to reschedule.  We never heard back.  We felt defeated.  Living where we do and our country being segregated in the ways it is–housing, economics, education, health care–we have had to go well beyond our personal boundaries and social circles to find caregivers who will provide a reflection of our kids’ outer and inner selves.  Clearly Miss S did not meet the latter criterion, but we felt like the carrot that had dangled in front of us was too quickly snatched away.

We then met with Miss E, a lovely young Brazilian au pair from São Paulo.  She seemed competent, interacted well with the kids, and even had some experience with African American hair in spite of her light complexion.  Best of all, she is living with a family within walking distance of our home, and she daily begins work with them shortly after our morning stint ends.  We also loved the idea of her speaking to the kids in Portuguese, helping them pick up a few words here and there.

This was followed by Miss M, a white woman from a neighboring town who conveyed herself as both experienced and strange.  We were most put off by her list of references, which included a woman with merely a first name and last initial.  By means of explanation, Miss M said, “She’s Indian and she has a really crazy last name that I could never remember.”  M’kay, thank you…buh-bye.

Then we received an email from Miss N, a woman of color from a town about twenty minutes away.  We set up an appointment with her, and she was lovely in disposition and appearance.  She’s in her 40s and has an eight year old son (her mother has agreed to take him to school if she were to work with our kids in the morning).  She had several years experience working in a preschool, and her references unflinchingly sang her praises when I contacted them.  Miss N was hoping to find a part-time nannying job, and she felt our position was perfect because of our proximity to the commuter rail, which would provide her easy transportation back and forth with arrival and departure times perfect for our kids’ morning schedule.

We were torn between Miss E and Miss N, both of whom seemed especially reliable.  The former would provide our children a diverse world perspective, while the latter would give us that added component of serving as an adult role model of color, something of which we feel our kids can never have too many.  As my husband and I weighed the pros of each side, we opted for Miss N, thinking she had the potential of being a multi-year caregiver if things worked out.

I was sure we’d made the right decision when I called Miss N to offer her the job.  “I’m just so happy!” she shouted into the phone.  She seemed genuinely excited to be working with us and our kids, and we’re hopeful that she’ll be a great fit with our needs, a woman who will care for our kids by providing a structured and positive atmosphere to start their days.  (She also agreed to give us four weeks’ notice if the mere two hours a day and travel time didn’t pan out for her, which we think has been an unnamed deal breaker for others.)

This week we’ll bid adieu to Miss T, and next week we’ll welcome Miss N into our home.  We’ll keep our fingers crossed that the stars will align, that two dads in suburbia will grow increasingly comfortable handing our children over to a relative stranger who will help our kids feel safe and happy.

White people’s babysitting problems


Stinky Black Ears


My daughter’s stinky beautiful black ear

I was happily sitting at my computer this morning, composing a blog post about the start of school tomorrow and ally behaviors, when I heard shrieks coming from upstairs.  Our children are only 16 months apart at age 5 and 6, and they tend to know exactly how to push each other’s buttons.  When we hear screaming from one of them, we typically aren’t jumping up out of our seat to find out who told the other one he/she stinks.  Usually the tears are just as manipulative as the initial aggression.  Once the other is disciplined, the tears stop almost immediately: “You made me cry, and I made you get in trouble.  Success.”

After a minute or two, I went upstairs to find out what was going on.  My daughter was lying face down on her bed sobbing, and my son was hiding in the corner of his room behind the end of his bed.  I decided to start with my son.

“What happened?”


“Why is your sister crying?”

“I don’t know.”

“Well, let’s go ask her.”

As I pulled him into her room, he protested: “I said sorry already!”  Once we got to her room, he started tearing up.  He knew he had done something bad, and he was about to get caught.

“What happened?”

My daughter was still sobbing, and my son was on his way to her level of distress.  Nobody was talking; they probably couldn’t through the tears.

“Go to your room,” I told me son.  This sent him over the edge, and he screamed as he ran to his room, slammed the door, and threw himself on the floor to cry into his rug.

I got my daughter to calm down enough to understand what she was saying: “He said I have stinky black ears.”  She barely could get it out before collapsing into uncontrollable bawling.  This may seem humorous to some, but to a father of a black daughter, this is serious business.  I stormed into my son’s room.

“Did you say what she said you said?”

Through racking sobs: “No.”

“If you said what I she said you said, that is really horrible.  You never make fun of the way someone looks just to hurt their feelings.  That makes you a very bad person.”  Okay, I’m sure that last little bit isn’t going to get me nominated for dad of the year or anything, but our son is smart.  Super smart.  He’s been flirting with this type of behavior with his sister for the past year, experimenting with what he can say that will really hurt her.  He’s even done with me fairly often, and he tried it once on his teachers at preschool last year.  Yes, I was angry, and I needed him to understand the gravity of using something like skin color to make someone feel bad.

“I guess I’m just a bad person,” he cried, throwing himself on the floor again.

“I thought you didn’t say it?”  (Yes, I’m kind of a jerk sometimes.)

“I didn’t.”

“Then why are you a bad person?”

“Because I am.”

I have yet to learn logic doesn’t work on a five-year-old.

“I think even if you said it, you can be a better person if you learn from it.  We all make mistakes, and I need you to know that making someone feel bad because of the way they look is one of the worst things you can do.  You know that now, and I need you to never do it again.”

The crying was slowly subsiding.

“Look at your skin.  Someone could say you had stinky brown ears.  How would that make you feel?”


“Right.  So I need you to think about all of this while I go talk to your sister.”

Round one was over.  Now for the next level.

“Honey, why did what he said upset you so much?”

“Because it was mean.”

“I know, but he says mean things all the time, and you don’t usually get this upset.”

This brought on a new level of hysterics, but through her heaving, I think I could make out the following: “Because he was saying that my skin is bad.”

Oh man.  How does she know this at six years old?  And worse yet, how does my five year old son know that this is the best way to hurt her?  And why doesn’t my husband’s school district get the day off for Rosh Hashanah like us so that I’m not dealing with this on my own?

“You know your brother is only five.  He doesn’t understand anything about what he says except that it will make you sad.  You’re going to run into people who will say things like that to you a lot in your life, and you need to learn to accept that what they’re saying isn’t true.  Someone is probably going to say something like that to you at school, and you should just tell them that it’s not true, and make sure you tell an adult and Daddy and Poppy.”

“But you won’t be there.”

“I know, but you can always tell us later, and we’ll always make sure you feel safe.”  We took a brief pause so I could just hold her, and then: “What could you have said when he said you have stinky black ears?”

“I don’t know.”

“Well, first, let’s see if they’re stinky.”  I bent over to get a whiff.  She smiled just a little bit.  “Nope.  They don’t smell like flowers right now because you need a bath, but I wouldn’t say they’re stinky.  And what about black.  Are they black?”


“Okay, so how about saying, ‘They don’t stink, and yes they’re black and they’re beautiful.'”  The smile was still there, but I could tell she still wasn’t sure.

“Who do we know who has beautiful black ears?”

And she started listing the people in her life that have beautiful black ears: our former nanny, her first grade teacher, a good friend I work with, the son of a lesbian couple we love…and of course Audra McDonald.  I had finally calmed her down; at least that was a small success.

“I talked to your brother, and he’s thinking in his room.  I’m going to go finish some stuff up downstairs, and then we’ll start our day, okay?”


I came downstairs to write this post while it was still fresh in my mind, and also to give myself some time away from the emotional voltage of the situation.  I didn’t want to get more mad at my son, and I thought I had done what I could for my daughter.  Just a few moments ago as I was writing here, I started hearing some whispering upstairs.  My daughter was calling Amir into her room.  Moments later, I heard the music blaring from her room, and right now I can hear the two of them dancing together and laughing.  And now I’m the one who is crying.