This is a Writers' Other Jobs post from Kathleen O'Neill.
Before I became a nanny, I had never expected to become a victim of one of J.K. Rowling’s Unforgivable Curses. As far as I was aware when I posted my babysitting profile online, I liked children and I thought that children liked me. Hiding behind a bedpost, however, with shouted Avada Kedavras only narrowly missing my chopstick wand, any hopes to be a modern-day Mary Poppins had well and truly evaporated. Instead, I had become the target of an ongoing, anxiety-ridden power play. Knowing the importance of Harry Potter to the child left under my supervision, I was left to dodge imaginary enchantments with a growing unease. Was this really a game of pretend, or was I blindly accepting a nine-year-old’s equivalent of a death threat?
There’s a guilt that comes with hiring a nanny. Whether it’s deserved or not, there’s an unspoken desire and need not to be one of those parents. Of course, every word of this could be untrue. For all I know, I could have completely fabricated this statement from the depths of prejudice. After all, I’m not a parent and I was far from the best nanny. But from my own experience, gathered from entering into the intricacies of a strange household’s daily goings-on for the course of a year, I think it is fair to say that there were some vibes that were harder to miss than others. I was expected to fine-tune each of my senses to focus entirely on a small child. And then, once the front door was closed to mark the end of another shift, I had to be gone. It was the line of professionalism that I struggle the most to realise. I was paid to be in their family for a few hours every other day. Familiarity, however, was not necessary.
Image source: Flickr / merwing
My charge was an only child. Tall for her age, creative and quick, she is termed, to the delight of her parents, as ‘gifted’. But for me she was hard and competitive. In an effort perhaps to overcompensate for their hours apart, my charge’s parents were a constant presence. They were always at home—always just out of reach for their daughter behind a closed door. I was the companion she didn’t want; definitely not to be confused with a friend. Despite my best efforts, we were never going to be that pair—the type trademarked by Brittany Murphy and Dakota Fanning making pinkie promises in the playground. I was no Scarlett Johansson serving peanut butter and chocolate spread for dinner. Our relationship would always be a battle, made only more nervous knowing that her parents were just metres away. If we had a disagreement, even over the smallest thing, off she went to knock at that door. I was not paid, according to her, to contradict. If she wanted to wait fifteen minutes to catch a tram two blocks down the road, we waited. I cringed as I watched my Myki credit slowly dwindle. She was nine and I was nineteen, both still growing into a new phase of life and lumped hopelessly together.
Although this piece could easily be consumed by anecdotes of tantrums over chess games, bike crashes and, of course, the inevitable scene when the child reveals your true value, there are only so many years that you can hold a grudge over a job that you were never really suited for. After a time, the weekly routine began to blur of its own accord. I became overly friendly with their off-centred cat and began to hoard handfuls of Shapes when no one was looking. It wasn’t that I didn’t care about the job and my confused role as the adult that was always almost-in-charge. I just stopped waiting for the emotional reciprocation. Only-just moved out of home from Brisbane, I had fallen into babysitting in Melbourne because I hoped it would bring some sort of support—a chance to saviour the small comforts of a family unit. By the time the penny dropped, I was quick to numb myself to the actual situation at hand. I detached myself from the Hollywood fantasy and chose to watch my employers from the outside. One by one they became characters in my mind and suddenly manageable. As a writer, it was the only way I could make the most out of my budding anxiety and total insecurity. But I never wrote openly about them.
Waiting outside the school gate, I usually positioned myself beside the discarded scooters and dogs tied along the fence. Always early, I gave myself time to watch the clusters of parents mill inside the playground and slowly shift towards each other. In those moments, passing the time before my charge found me, I used my phone to chart my thoughts. I typed endless reels of lists. I categorised my feelings neatly into things to do and assessment to consider, too shy to discover the truth if I wrote full sentences. This was my way of writing in between the lines and along the margins.
I chose to hide behind the act of writing. I pulled my subconscious away from dread and the weight of responsibility, and for a few moments each afternoon, I would prepare for the school bell’s ring.
Writing became my Expelliarmus, if you will.
Kathleen O'Neill is an Arts student at the University of Melbourne fast approaching graduation. An avid knitter in her spare time, Kathleen has also published her work with Dumbo Feather and Farrago.
Sam van Zweden was Writers Bloc’s Online Editor from 2013 - 2015. A Melbourne-based writer and blogger, her work has appeared in The Big Issue, Voiceworks, Tincture Journal, Page seventeen, and others. She’s passionate about creative nonfiction and cross stitch. She tweets @samvanzweden.