In case you missed it, here’s the guest post I wrote for Drama Mama’s site on Monday, using “window” as my one-word prompt. It’s about the first (and hopefully the last) time I had to fire someone. Enjoy!
It’s June, 2008, and our nanny has quit in a huff. I like to think I’ve treated her well, but she has missed 15 of the last 30 days of work, and now she sits squarely on my bad side. When she gives me her notice, she blurts some strange story about moving to South Carolina. “I plan to drive back here every few days to visit family,” she says shiftily. “If you see my car in my driveway, that’s why.”
It’s a bold-faced lie. She knows I don’t believe her, and she doesn’t care. My boys watch through the window as she leaves without waving goodbye. “There goes Miss Angie.” H says grimly. “Who’s coming to see us too-mah-whoa?”
It’s a solid question. Who is coming? I don’t know, but I want to find someone exceptional. I hate leaving my boys each day. It wrecks me in ways I can’t even explain. Every morning I slide on my guilt shoes as I hand my kids to someone who isn’t me, then blow kisses as I trudge to my car. I thought I’d get used to the separation, but I never have.
My husband and I schedule a series of interviews. Most of the candidates are qualified, but none of them are quite right. That is, until we meet Sara. I like her from the start. She has great experience and the calm personality we need to counter-balance those times when I’m a spaz. More importantly, the boys seem to like her. “I think she’s the one!” we agree. Still, we have one candidate left, and it’s too late to cancel the appointment.
Ashley arrives promptly at 8:00. She’s very tall and very blonde and very, very gregarious. My boys are mesmerized by that tall, blonde gregariousness, and when the interview is over, they beg her to stay. “Wow, they really like you!” I say. “You certainly have a way with children!” We hire her the very next morning.
From the start, it’s clear I’ve made a mistake. I return home each day to dirt-smeared cheeks and an explosion of toys. “She’s just getting into the swing of things,” I tell myself. “Maybe she’s sorting out a routine. I’ll just have to be clearer about my expectations.”
After a week, the neighbors begin to call. “Your boys were playing by the road today,” Caryn says gently. “I looked for Ashley but didn’t see her. I’m sorry to worry you, but I knew you’d want to know.”
Then this from the boys: “Miss Ashley took us wif her to buy a new phone. We wanted to go into the store, too, but she made us wait ah-wone in da cah wif her new fwiend, Jake.”
Jake? “Who’s Jake?” I ask Ashley the next day.
“Oh, right…” she says cheerfully. “I met him this weekend. He seems nice.”
My head pounds as I climb the steps to my home office. “Let her go.” I tell myself sternly. “Do it today. Do it right this second.”
“And then what?” I think testily. “Don’t be rash. You need a backup plan first.” I walk to my desk and find Sara’s file. I circle her number and reach for the phone. When I start to dial, Ashley knocks on my office door. “I’m taking the boys to the zoo!” she chirps. “My friends might meet us there!”
“Oh!” I say, caught fully off-guard. “You know, Ashley, maybe you should stay here today.”
“Oh, it’s no problem!” She says sweetly. “I’m getting ready to pack their lunches.” As she retreats down the steps, she throws this question over her shoulder: “Do you have a picnic basket? My friends would think that’s cute.”
I follow her down the stairs and into the kitchen, wringing my brain for the right words to end this awful arrangement. I’ve never fired anyone before…how am I supposed to do it? She cuts grapes and folds sandwiches as I will myself to say the words.
That’s when I notice: the house is quiet. “Ashley,” I almost whisper. “Where are the boys?”
“I don’t know!” she answers brightly. “I think they’re outside.”
I drop the pen I’m holding and run to the living room window. Three-year-old H and one-year-old O are standing by the sandbox, throwing sand at one another’s faces.
“Mrs. _____,” Ashley asks. “Is something wrong?”
I turn to her with my arms folded. “We need to talk.”
I call Sara that night. “I know this is a long shot,” I say. “But if you’re interested in the job, we’d love to have you.”
“Yes, I’m interested,” she says sincerely. “I’d be glad to help out. When can I start?”
Now, almost three years later, Sara’s a member of our family. She’s more “Aunt” than she is “Nanny,” and she’s definitely a sister and friend. When I hear the door open each morning, I shout, “Hey!” as she takes off her coat. “What’s the weather like?” I ask. “And did you watch _____ on TV last night?”
We chat as I flip pancakes and she prepares a bottle for her newborn son. We talk about our weekends or teething or our book club or the boys’ school plans until it’s time for me to head to the office.
I shout, “Love you, boys!” as I walk out the door. And sometimes, I call, “Thanks, Sara!” I still slip on my guilt shoes as I go, but at least now I leave my fellas with someone they love, who loves them back.
What I want to say, what I never say, what I wish I could tell her without embarrassing us both, is that I’d pick her again without hesitation. Not only do my boys have a marvelous guardian in Sara, but I have a wonderful friend. It’s a window of opportunity I almost missed, and it took a string of really bad decision making to lead me to open it.
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