Story by Jill Engledow
From time to time, I abandon my writing projects for a job that pays me to sit around in luxury hotel rooms, watching videos, reading stories and playing with Mr. Potato Head. The videos and stories are often juvenile, Mr. Potato Head keeps losing his parts, and the money is modest. But my life as a nanny has brought me many gentle adventures.
Not that every nanny job is a joy. I’ve had a few little clients I’d sooner eat worms than babysit again. Boys, they were. One especially rowdy kid bumped me on the head with a sliding glass door as he tried to lock me out on the hotel room’s balcony. I still have images of him and his little brother giggling as I struggled to slip through the door. And I still wonder: Trapped on the balcony with no cell phone, how would I have gotten help? Flail my arms at sunbathers on the pool deck far below? Lean as far as I could around the wall to the next hotel room and hope to reach someone to call the front desk—before I took a nosedive off the railing?
Another little darling stripped off his swimming trunks, then led me on a merry chase around the manicured condominium grounds, me wrapped in a damp towel and him in his birthday suit, as I tried to head him off from the parking lot.
Those were the exceptions. Most of the kids are cute and charming. They meet me at the door, wide-eyed, clean and rosy after a day of playing in the surf or swooshing down the water slides. I bring along my “nanny bag” full of books and toys and make friends, while their sunburned and slicked-up parents head off for a fancy restaurant.
My forays into the realm of childhood come through the Nanny Connection, one of two Maui companies that match families with carefully screened sitters. A nanny never knows whether she’ll spend her time coddling a cranky baby, playing Fish with a four-year-old, or reading a novel on an ocean-view terrace while her charge takes a nap.
One couple simply wanted me to chaperon their very young daughter at the resort’s children’s camp so that they could have the room to themselves for a couple of hours. By the time I discovered that the child had been sent on her way without her favorite blanket, it was too late: the Do Not Disturb sign was affixed to her parents’ door. That was the afternoon I discovered what a great place a hotel toy store is for entertaining a bored and fretful child. As she pulled toys down off the shelves and left the merchandise in disarray, I salved my guilty conscience by imagining what she’d talk her folks into buying there the next day.
Most nanny jobs leave me with memories that make me smile.
There was the knee-high blonde who chattered cheerfully in Swedish, quite sure I could understand her; I just looked benevolent and nodded a lot. One evening, I played soccer with two little boys on a green-velvet Wailea lawn as the sun went down. Another time, I divided my attention between my book and the bubbly two-year-old who danced and sang along with her “Barney” videos for the entire time her parents were gone. And I still have a souvenir from the four youngsters with whom I spent an evening making lei from paper flowers and yarn. On a piece of blue construction paper, the oldest girl wrote: “Jill rocks as a babysitter.”
Framed, this accolade now sits on the shelf in my office, along with certificates and awards from efforts that were far more worldly, but in many ways no more satisfying than caring for little travelers.