I recently had to take an emergency trip from my home in Texas to London, where I was needed to help care for my 2-year-old nephew. A co-worker pointed out that this went against the norm. It’s normally the UK that exports its nannies to the US, he said.
It didn’t make sense to bring my daughters with me, financially or practically. I didn’t want them to miss school. We wouldn’t even get to see London because I was going to have to focus on my nephew. Besides, I wouldn’t be able to get them passports in time. I cut it close with my own passport as it was. It had expired, but, fortunately, I fell within the criteria for an emergency travel credential, a passport substitute, good for this trip only. I drove 300+ miles roundtrip while my first graders were at school to obtain it.
I had to figure out how my daughters would be cared for while I was away. Their father lives 600 miles away and wasn’t going to be available. I don’t have any family nearby. What I do have is the village that it takes to raise a child, the people who are more family than family. These are the people who love J and M nearly as much as I do, from choice, not obligation.
I sent out two text messages, one to our babysitter Angie, and one to our former neighbour Heidi.
Angie used to teach at the daycare J and M attended for over 4 years. She’s known the girls for over half their lives, and is a trained childcare provider. She’s creative, funny, and affectionate, but doesn’t accept any disobedience or lack of discipline.
Heidi’s daughter is two months younger than my girls, to the day, and our girls have grown up like sisters, at least sisters where one sister can’t tell the other two apart. Heidi used to be the person I’d call if the girls wanted to play outside while I was in the middle of cooking dinner. As early as age 3, I knew I could trust them to go out the front door by themselves as long as Heidi knew they were out. I’d just usually end up stretching dinner to feed both families. I taught Heidi’s daughter how to bake, and she taught mine how to navigate the swampy area behind our first home. All 3 girls have known all their lives to listen to both sets of parents as if they were their own, and that the different rules of each house started at the edge of lawn and extended from the sidewalk to the back yard.
Both Angie and Heidi immediately said they could help care for the girls whiIe I was away. I went with Angie, because she could come and stay at our house with the kids, minimizing the disruption, avoiding the packing, and saving me having to find someone else to feed the cats and discipline the kitten. Her nannying schedule worked out to be a perfect complement to the girls’ school and after school care times.
I didn’t just want a babysitter for the kids, someone who would just ensure that they were safe and on schedule. I wanted someone who could fill in as Mom while I was away. Someone who would address their concerns about my absence openly and completely. Someone who wouldn’t take shortcuts to get through the evening, but would instead carry forward the work of raising the girls, discussing the choices they’d made during the day, challenging them to be responsible, building their confidence while emphasizing humility. What a gift to have two such people actually available to us on a week’s notice! There are still others in our community who would have gladly done it, had their work or childcare obligations allowed.
While I was in London, I videoconferenced with the girls on Skype every day, some days twice. I could tell that they were comfortable and happy. Their smiles were genuine, their stories from their day those of typical 6-year-olds, and their trust in Angie palpable. A couple of times, they had worries to discuss with me, but for the most part they wanted to hear about my day, be silly with their cousin, and confirm that I was okay before getting back to their busy lives of art projects and games of pretend.
Angie was the first person I gave a key to my home to after I bought it. There is nothing more precious to me than my children. I’d never leave my kids with someone I wouldn’t trust with my house keys. Anyone I can trust with them, I can trust with all that I own. After all, I’m trusting them with my life.
Sadia lives with her 6-year-old daughters in the greater Austin, Texas area. Her trip to London was her first to her home country in over a decade. She was too busy with a toddler and bureaucracy to see much of London. Still, she was reminded that snow needn’t be too deep to crunch underfoot, that people walk on the left there, and that British biscuits are a far superior comfort food to American cookies. She heard a lot more Portuguese and Spanish than was spoken in London in her childhood, and was happy to learn that 11 years had put no dent in her closeness to her cousins or closest college buddy.