Nothing irritates my father-in-law, David, more than seeing people waste money. He believes it’s his duty to lecture the stranger behind him in the checkout line for choosing the glass cleaner that’s not on sale, and he’s constantly cramming our fridge with water bottles he’s refilled with filtered water from our faucet. So, you can imagine his reaction when, near the end of my four-month maternity leave, my husband and I inadvertently mentioned how much the nannies we’d interviewed were charging.
David asked, “How can you pay a stranger to take care of the baby? She’s just going to watch TV all day.” He then informed us, “I will be the Manny.” Okay, it wasn’t just about the money; he had fallen madly in love with little Billy five seconds after meeting our beautiful baby boy. He more than made up for my mother-in-law, who openly admitted she’d done her duty raising six kids and now a visit from time to time would suffice.
I thought David’s offer was very sweet, but the idea of having my father-in-law involved in our lives five days a week was a hard pill to swallow, not to mention he refused to get the hearing aid he needed and took afternoon naps himself. After years of listening to him comment on the way I do everything from tossing together a salad (“that’s not how you cut a tomato”) to blowing my nose (“don’t squeeze so hard”), I had a feeling I would be faced with many future baby schedule arguments.
My husband understood my reservations and left the decision up to me. I knew he was keen on the idea of saving money and making his dad happy, and besides, David had babysat several times without a glitch. After a few lengthy long distance phone conversations with my mom and friends, I agreed to try it out.
The morning of my first day back at work was a blur of preparing bottles, gathering up pacifiers, and blow drying my hair. As I was trying to figure out how to prepare breakfast with one hand while simultaneously juggling Billy in the other, David suddenly appeared, without having rang the doorbell. My first thought was: what if I had been wearing only a towel?
“Hello, Sweetheart. I went shopping last night, and you won’t believe what I paid for this stuff!” he exclaimed. My entire body tensed up when I peered into the bags, which were stuffed with scratchy one-ply toilet paper, the wrong brand of diapers, and enough canned soup to fill my entire pantry. “There’s my little prince,” he proclaimed, reaching for the baby. “Give him to me. You go get ready.” “It’s okay – I have him right now. You’re going to be with him all day,” I responded, hugging little Billy a tad bit too tightly.
I handed David a binder that contained feeding times, schedules, emergency numbers, doctors’ numbers, and CPR instructions. Also included was a complete diagram of where I kept everything, from burping cloths to pacifiers, bottles, wipes, disposable diapers, seasonal clothes, PJs, and shoes. He barely glanced at it. The nannies’ rates suddenly seemed like an extremely fair price.
I spent the first few weeks agonizing over whether I had done the right thing. On one hand, I never had to wonder if the stranger I had hired would suddenly morph into an abusive monster when I left. And David was surprisingly meticulous about keeping track of Billy’s naps and feeding times. He also hardly ever turned on the TV and took lots of long walks.
I would ask, “How is your day?” and he would repeatedly answer, “What did you say?”
When I would call and ask, “How is Billy?” he would respond with, “What is silly?” It was frustrating trying to get to where he finally understood what I was saying. Since his commute was over an hour, he would also stay overnight two nights a week, and I often felt like our home was being invaded. But the worst thing was the constant criticism. “How could you use those wipes? Do you want Billy to get diaper rash?” I was starting to think it was just too much to handle.
Then one Sunday evening, as I was battling the Monday-coming blues, my mother-in-law called. “I saw the baby this weekend,” she said, “He’s adorable!” “No, you didn’t – you haven’t seen him in weeks,” I responded, confused. “But I did! David showed me the video he’s been taking of him. It’s mostly of him lying there on his mat, but it’s very cute. He played it over and over last night!”
That’s when it hit me: here’s a guy who loves his job so much, he wants to relive it on the weekends. The highly-recommended sitters we had met with had seemed warm, experienced, and responsible, but what I finally understood is that while you can pay someone to follow your instructions, you can’t pay someone to love your child the way his grandpa does.
Now, how lucky are we?
Jenna Siegel is a freelance writer