Thursday, July 24, 2014

Zoe vs. the British Nanny

You may have heard of British Nanny Emma Jenner, author of Keep Calm and Parent Up. A recent post of hers went viral in which she lists the reasons she believes modern parenting is in a crisis. I agree with her, for the most part. Zoe, as you might imagine, does not.
Emma Jenner's viewpoint boils down to this question: Who's in charge? Zoe thinks it's her. I'm afraid she's right.

Don't make me say "Rubbish!"

Fear is the first item on the British nanny's list. What are parents afraid of? Tantrums. The ones that start over nothing. The ones that seem endless. The ones that occur at 6:00 A.M. because you used the wrong sippy cup.
Jenner says that when a child objects to the "blue" sippy cup because they want the "pink" one, she often sees terrified parents dump out the drink and start over with the "right" cup. If she was at my house she would see that that doesn't happen. Because I learned my lesson the first time.
Seriously, I do hear what she's saying. And I do hold the line. However, at six in the morning that line sometimes gets dropped. Especially when you live in a Brooklyn apartment with neighbors who've knocked on your door on a Saturday afternoon because your toddler was too loud. So, yes, fear does enter into it.
I know that apartment dwellers do have nannies, but I also suspect that most of Jenner's clients live in houses, and a screaming toddler is a bit different when you live in a house. Jenner says "Remove yourself so you don't have to hear it." Where? The solarium? 
I have walked away during tantrums where Zoe's thrown herself on the floor at my feet. Sometimes she's so caught up in the drama she doesn't notice at first that I've left, and when she does, she stops crying in order to track me down and promptly throw herself down again. 
It is my firm belief that it's my job to raise a good, non-tantrum-throwing citizen, and I think the most important thing her father and I have to teach Zoe is that though she may be one of our top five people ever, she probably doesn't make that list for other people.

British Nanny Warns:
We're raising a nation
of Veruca Salts!

The Husband and I have each had our struggles. I'm more of a sucker than the Husband at bedtime, often going back into her room after she should be asleep to humor her increasingly manipulative requests. In contrast, The Husband puts his foot down much sooner than I do. 
On the other hand, he has done the dumping-out-the-sippy-cup thing a few times because he just couldn't deal at 6 A.M. Early on he also had a tendency to run to her when she fell while I'd be more likely to not react (British nanny approved!). This could be because I was home with her more at the beginning on my maternity leave and knew she wasn't as breakable as she looked. Plus, I'm pitiless, which is why Zoe won't let me brush her hair, running straight to Daddy, who, unlike me, has never broken a comb in her tangles.
In fact, the last time I was filled with the feelings was right after Zoe was born and I was experiencing the postpartum hormone dump, along with a two-month-long period and night sweats (I had to sleep on a towel---please tell me I wasn't the only one). The tearfulness, though, was really disorienting. 
People who know me know I don't really do emotion. The words ghoulish, dead inside, and constitutionally incapable of tenderness have been bandied about. And now there I was with a newborn, home all day, failing at breastfeeding while switching between marathons of House and A Baby Story. No matter which show it would end with me in a puddle of tears. 
It took a few months for me to return to my normal uncaring self, ready to dispassionately observe Zoe flounder about while I debated whether or not to help her eat the TV remote.
Which leads me to the British nanny's next point: Sometimes children cry for things we can't in good conscience give them, or even if we can, maybe we shouldn't. Where to draw the line is different for everyone. Something we often forget in the so-called Mommy Wars.
Whether we're free-range tiger moms or helicopter attachment parents buying the latest Rosetta Stone Junior CD, we're all primed to get into a tizzy no matter which approach someone says is the correct way to mother. Make up your mind, Interwebs! 
Cartesian coordinate plane.
Voted Most Humorless Graph
300 years running.
The only thing that I think is an absolute necessity is a sense of humor. Because some days children will test your patience, and some days you will not be In the Mood. How I will react to Zoe having a tantrum is not an exact science, and yet it can be charted (see chart) to measure my patience level against her tantrum type. 
Let's say that the +6 on the x-axis, aka the Axis of Patience, is Mother Teresa while the -6 equals Mommie Dearest. On the y-axis, or the Axis of Evil* Attitude, we have Veruca Salt on the bottom--representing the depths in purposeful brattiness--and Regan from the Exorcist at the top--the devil made her do it so we can't really blame Regan here. Best-case scenario, Zoe's so upset she's beyond personal agency, but that day I'm Mother Teresa, gunning for sainthood. Worst-case? Veruca Salt meets Mommie Dearest. Sans the wire hangers (because I have no opinion on them either way though I understand they can be a source of contention). Most days fall somewhere in the middle, with everyone just barely holding it together till we can all go to bed.

There's just no talking to Linda when
she gets like this.

However, some days Zoe surprises me with her maturity and understanding. But maybe I shouldn't be so surprised. Ms. Jenner says that we need only raise the bar for our children's behavior and they will rise to it.
Or, like Zoe, they will pull over the nearest piece of unstable furniture in order to climb up to the bar and swing from it till it breaks.
Zoe: 53; Universe: 0
*Deleted because apparently this phrase was already used. Fascists!


  1. "The only thing that I think is an absolute necessity is a sense of humor." Oh, yes...yes...and more YES!! The only thing I am 100% sure about parenting is that just when you think you know what you are doing, they will change something up and you will be unprepared and clueless again. It never fails. You either have to laugh or cry. I tend to do both, sometimes on a daily basis. --Lisa

    Ps. I don't know if my children are in to bar raising. They can limbo *really* well.

  2. Elizabeth CatalanoJuly 28, 2014 at 5:10 PM

    Haha. Yes, some days I must choose to laugh otherwise I'd be a blubbering mess. And who doesn't like to limbo?

  3. Stephanie SprengerJuly 31, 2014 at 1:37 PM

    I had to laugh at your description of being "dead inside." I myself swing to the other side of the spectrum. I'm more of an emotional, overreactive lunatic. After reading my toddler post, you probably know I totally get this. It's so hard to know where the line is with tantrums and power plays-- when do you give in because it means a lot to them and it's not worth the screaming, and when do you stand firm? Got me.

  4. Elizabeth CatalanoJuly 31, 2014 at 3:32 PM

    I hear ya. The problem with me is I don't react and I'm all fine, fine, fine, and then I explode because I remember I'm not a robot, and it gets messy! So maybe I should understand where tantrums come from after all. I am not in control!