If we really want to fix the teenage pregnancy problem, I think we should require all teenagers, male and female, to be live-in nannies for at least two weeks as part of their high school education. I’ve never watched the Teen Mom shows on MTV, but I believe they were originally intended to show young people the reality of teenage parenthood, yes? Instead, they have made “celebrities” out of these kids, splashing their drama all over the tabloids and totally shooting to shit the whole plan to make too-soon parenthood look like a bad idea. While it may have been a nice attempt in the beginning, it’s not working. What would work? Showing kids the reality of parenthood. From the ages of 18-24, I was both a live-in and live-out nanny. The years that most kids spend partying and getting into mischief, I spent helping raise babies. I also think that is what broke my biological clock.
Being a nanny was the hardest and most wonderful job I have ever had. I moved in with the first family when I was 18; the older son had just turned three and the mom was six months pregnant with the younger boy. I was quite spoiled up to that point; my mom did all the cooking, laundry, grocery shopping and most of the cleaning. While I had chores growing up, nothing I did prepared me for caring for a house full of people and babies. It was a huge dose of reality, one that I definitely needed and one that has definitely made me a better person. Some nannies care for the children only; that was not the case here. Because the dad traveled extensively for work and the mom was getting more pregnant every single day, I ran the house and everything that entailed. I learned so much those first few months, but the most amazing thing was how much I freaking adored the little man in my care. My heart had to grow bigger to contain my love for that kid. When his brother was born, it grew bigger still. Meeting the little nugget that had been punching and kicking my hands through his mom’s belly for all those months, I can’t even describe how in awe I was. I never felt like the “help” as the nanny; I was a part of the family. The mom used to refer to me as her wife, and would say everyone should be so lucky as to have a wife like me. We went through some amazing experiences, as well as incredibly hard times, together, struggles that will leave us forever bonded to one another.
Being a live-in nanny is rarely a 9-5 job. I woke up for middle of the night feedings, I went weeks on end without a day off, and during a particularly rough patch, had the older kiddo sleep in my room every night for weeks because his parents would often have really loud arguments in the middle of the night. If he was with me, when the yelling would startle us both awake, I could gently cover one of his ears and sing a song or tell a story in the other to drown it out so he couldn’t hear the discontent around him. I would have done anything to protect them from pain, from knowing too soon how hard the world could be.
The second family I nannied for was a completely different situation. While the first family I lived with was quite wealthy, the second family was run by a single mom fresh out of a 10-year-long abusive marriage. I had moved to LA to go to school and live with my best friend, envisioning making up for the years of responsibility by partying my ass off. I also moved down there with no job and very little money. I met Karen, the single mom, at a bar through a mutual friend. We hit it off, chatted and drank all night, and by the end, I was her nanny. So, the plan to be carefree was pretty much out the window, but I was happy to have a job. Soon thereafter, I was as attached to the two new kids as much as I had been to my prior charges. Karen and I were a team in every sense of the word, shaping the brand-new life she had started for them and doing our best to create the loving and stable environment they deserved and had been lacking when their father was a daily presence.
I lay all this out in an attempt to show that I have substantially more parenting experience than most people without children. I have gone on field trips, thrown birthday parties, mediated sibling disputes, folded countless onesies, and changed hundreds of diapers. I love kids; I would rather spend time with my two- and four-year-old nieces than pretty much anyone else on the planet. My friends call me the Baby Whisperer because I have the uncanny ability to calm the most pissed-off infant on the planet or to make a tired and cranky three-year-old switch into a lovable little sweetie. Can’t get your baby to go down for a nap? I got this. Trying to get through a peaceful dinner at a restaurant with a toddler who hasn’t napped? I’m on it. And yet, no desire to have one of my own. I hear people talk about how they always knew they wanted to be a mom, or that they definitely want at least three kids, and I just marvel at their assuredness. I honestly cannot summon up the desire to procreate.
I don’t know what the future has in store for us. Jon isn’t itching to knock me up, either, so it isn’t a huge issue at this point. But sometimes, perhaps when I am feeling particularly full of myself, or when I am filled with rage when members of NOM use their children in ads against gay marriage spewing lies and hatred, I wonder if we don’t owe it to the world to have a kid, or to adopt one. I really, truly don’t mean that to sound as utterly arrogant as it comes across, so please hear me out on this. We see people on the news and in our lives that are raising their children with the same closed-minded, bigoted ideas they have. We see stories of child abuse and neglect, children struggling in school and in life because their parents just don’t care. We see cruelty and pain every single day, parents who resent their children or who are just tired of being parents, thrown into a responsibility they may not have wanted for any number of reasons, be it religious or parental pressure, or lack of access and education on other options. I know I would be a good mom; I trained hard under some amazing women, and while financially it might be a challenge, it wouldn’t be insurmountable. I know what raising kids entails; aside from actually carrying and birthing one, I don’t have to take anything else on theory; I’ve lived it. There isn’t much that could go down that would come as a surprise. We have a huge and wonderful immediate and extended family and any kid brought into it would be adored and doted on. We are relatively intelligent and intellectually curious, always trying to learn new things and voraciously consuming information, traits that we would do everything in our power to instill in a child. Couldn’t one of our spawn cancel out a least ten Tea Party members’ kids?
I guess instead of doling out advice or projects this week, I’m kind of looking for some, or maybe to help others who might have similar thoughts feel less alone. I know parenthood and the choice not to be a parent have been discussed around these parts, and it is really interesting to see how the Persephone community handles the discussions. It can be such a contentious issue, but I love that it has been discussed here with such respect and compassion towards both sides. People often feel very strongly one way or the other; does anyone out there feel kind of ambivalent about the whole thing, like me? And lastly, please tell me someone else out there has had the “owe it to the world to breed” thought, or else I am going to feel like an asshole. Well, more of one, anyway; we all know I’m already kind of one. Anyone?