I walked into the house yesterday evening to find our nanny seated at the kitchen table, reading a newspaper, as my daughter streaked around half naked, chanting a song about the 50 states.
This scene didn’t faze me; L, who’s been with us for close to ten years, had a long day and needed time to chill. Sabrina was being her usual 7-year-old self. It’s what happened next that shocked me.
“Mommy!” Sabrina said. “You’re the tooth fairy!”
“And why do you think that?” I asked, innocently.
“L told me!” she said.
Ooof. If she’d said that our sitter had just made her a mojito, I couldn’t have been more shocked.
“Is it true?” Sabrina asked.
“Well, yeah, I gave you money when your last tooth fell out,” I admitted, hoping things would end there.
“No, you gave me money all the times!” Sabrina said, triumphantly.
I glanced at L, surprised by the mix of disappointment and fury I felt.
“L, I would have liked to have been the one to tell her,” I said, quietly.
“She started asking me and pressing me on it,” L responded.
“I’m sure she did,” I said, “but I would have liked to tell her.”
“Mommy!” Sabrina said. “Can I get more money? I don’t think three dollars is enough.”
Mommy the Tooth Fairy wasn’t up for negotiating, and I also didn’t want to keep discussing the issue in front of Sabrina, so I said we’d talk another time. Soon after, L left for the day.
I have been mostly hands-off with L over the years. Mostly, I’ve felt gratitude to her for faithfully looking after our kids while my husband and I are at work and making sure they are well fed, clean, entertained and generally taken care of. I have a son with special needs, and L has been exceptionally wonderful with him. Once, I entered her in a Best Nanny contest on a caregiver site and she won.
But last night, I stewed. I thought L had overstepped her bounds. I felt gypped, and lucky that we didn’t celebrate Christmas or Easter, because then I would have had to contend with potential Santa Claus and Easter Bunny outings, too.
Just the other day, Sabrina was a believer. When I dropped her tooth down the drain as I rinsed off dried blood, she made me write a note that said, “Dear Tooth Fairy, I accidentally dropped Sabrina’s tooth down the sink drain. Could you please still leave her money. Thank you.” Then Sabrina slipped it under her pillow. In the morning, she ran into my room yelling “MOMMY! The Tooth Fairy came!”
I always carefully weigh what I do and don’t bring up with L about things that upset me. It’s inevitably biggie stuff, like the fact that she was babying my son and needed to give him more independence, that I air.
Did ratting me out as The Tooth Fairy truly count as a major issue? Yes, I decided, it did. I’m the mom, I thought. I’M. THE. MOM. How dare L decide to tell Sabrina. There are only a few precious, innocent years in a child’s life when Tooth Fairies are real. But now, no more. The thrill was over for Sabrina and for me, too—I’ve always adored how giddy she got about the whole Tooth Fairy ritual.
Even my husband, usually a human marshmallow, was unnerved. “I’m going to talk with L if you don’t,” he said.
In the morning, after Sabrina left for school and while my son was in the playroom, I approached L. “I want to talk about The Tooth Fairy thing,” I said. “Honestly, I didn’t think it was your place to tell Sabrina it was me.”
L explained how it had gone down. They’d been talking about teeth Sabrina had lost, and Sabrina asked if L’s daughter ever got bucks from The Tooth Fairy. No, L explained, she didn’t—in her family, they didn’t believe in the Tooth Fairy. Sabrina pondered this, then pressed her on who exactly this fairy was. “You’ll need to talk about that with your mother,” L said. And that’s when Sabrina made the connection and realized that it was me.
Now I better understood that L hadn’t really outed me. And while I was still disappointed, I realized my reaction had been over the top. If I was being honest with myself, it had less to do with L crossing a line and more to do with my issues about being a working mom. I hadn’t been there when my little girl’s tooth fell out—L was. I wasn’t the one who’d been doing the bulk of the kids’ homework in recent months—L was. I wasn’t the one who baked brownies for Sabrina’s last Girl Scout troop meeting—L was.
There’s been a whole lot of talk about The Mommy Wars in recent years but you rarely hear about The Nanny Wars, this tension that bubbles up between moms and the people we trust to help bring up our kids. I want my sitter to be alterna-mom. I don’t want my sitter to be alterna-mom because I’m the mom. I want my sitter to feel empowered to do what’s right for my children. I don’t want her to feel too empowered. I want her to be in control. I don’t want her to assume that much control. I desperately need her. I wish I didn’t need her.
It’s probably the most complicated relationship in my life.
I told L that I hope she understood my reaction, and she said she did. We joked about how hard it is to put one over Sabrina. I’m still kind of bummed, but I take consolation in the fact that my girl still believes in magic tricks, Katie Kazoo’s power to morph into other people, that my hair is its natural color, and that the world is generally an amazing place where anything can happen.
Photo source: Flickr/edenpictures
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