Monday, 9th January 2006, 9:48am
An opinion by: Noemi

The Search for Mary Poppins by Noemi Lopinto

I have been in Edmonton for six weeks now, and in that time I have had a car accident, bounced two checks, borrowed money from both parents, lost my dog three times, been burgled, watched my computer die, and paid $1000 to a veterinarian to cure the puppy of the Parvo he contracted (three months after our other dog died). But these are minor insults from the Bad Luck Fairy compared to my search for the perfect nanny.

In August I had hired a young Mexican chick named Beatriz. She was perfect. She was in her mid 20's, young, pretty, and calm. But two days before I was set to start work, she quit. I don't really hold that against her, but it left me in a very precarious situation: ignorant of the city, alone, broke, stressed and needing a qualified Mary Poppins in less than 48 hours. And the wind wasn't blowing east.

So I placed an ad in the paper, which should have read: life saver needed. Must know Edmonton better than I do. Must know how to drive, cook, play and read bed-time stories. Must know First Aid, CPR, knot-making, Karate, origami and have your Certificate of Mental Stability from a reliable institution. (Preferably not a mental institution.) Must work for cheap. Must live downtown. Instead, it said: babysitter needed, for night shifts. Pls call.

People in the west are ridiculously polite and restrained. So it's fairly normal for women to apologise for nothing, self-deprecate, withdraw, mince or grovel as a cover up for some other much more agressive emotion--like anger. Coming as I do from the shoot-from-the-hip, loudmouthed Italian/Jewish mode of expression, I can't quite get used to it. It sounds wrong, like people are hiding something. But it's so damned nice it disarms you and makes you feel like your radar is must not be working right. Until they revealed themselves later, I would feel like an asshole for mistrusting such an obviously law abiding, God fearing, teddy bear toting, Middle Class Married Ms Normal.

Women called me and played the saccharine “I love kids, your daughter will love me like an auntie” tune. I mean, babysitting is not a calling. It's babysitting. And it's low pay. And my kid is cute, but she's just a normal kid, certainly not worth developing into a fetish. One woman even offered to let me underpay her. Even in the West, I thought, that can't be for real. I was right: she turned out to be really, deeply weird. Luckily, she quit before I could even interview her. Her parents didn't want her travelling that far, she said. I live downtown. The woman was 46.

There were three kinds of people who called: unemployed new mothers, seniors, and teenagers. I don't want to hire another mother. I figure she'll have her own problems. Her kids might get sick causing her to quit, or get us sick. She might need more money than I can offer. (God knows she deserves it.) And why would she even bother liking my child, when she has her own at home, enduring the tender mercies of relatives until she comes back?

I don't want to hire a middle-aged lady, because I figure she will be too strict, or not playful enough. And somewhere at the back of my mind is the possibility my daughter will fart, say "fuck" when she stubs her toe, or take the Lord's name in vain and end up spending the night in a broom closet.

And I can't hire a teenager because I work nights, and presumably a teen will go to school the next morning and needs her sleep. And I can't drive her home, and I can't let her go home alone at midnight.

I looked into nanny agencies. I even made an appointment with one of them until the receptionist mentioned the $700 registration fee. And that was just for the pleasure of looking at their files. Many of those agencies have lists and lists of potential nannies living overseas, whom you may sponsor for a few thousand bucks and then drag across the ocean to live in your home with you. After a two-year deadline has passed they are officially eligible to apply for Canadian citizenship. And then, unless your kids are going off to college, you do it all over again. The assumption the agencies make is that you are a two-income family with nothing but disposable income to dispose of. Definitely not my situation.

I turned to the websites, like, or I was hoping for a candidate in Edmonton to turn up. I ended up with my in-box deluged with e-mails from Kenya, Peru and the Phillipines. There is nothing wrong with that, exactly, but I felt sick at the thought of hiring a woman in Africa so she could leave her children to come and care for mine. Another example of the trappings of misplaced bleeding-heart liberalism. She probably needs the job. Her kids might be starving, and better off with an employed mum a million miles away than an unemployed mum close by. But I can't do it. I'd feel like an overlord. And besides, I can't afford most of them.

The nanny agencies and their army of poor immigrant women who “do light housework, and have a driver's license” had the unexpected consequence of turning me into a racist. My desperation for child care was so acute, I found myself approaching total strangers--especially if they were with kids--and asking them if they were babysitting, or knew someone who did.

One day I was eyeing a black woman at the bank machine, about to ask her the same question when I stopped myself. She might have been the bank's president, for all I knew. But because you're in that mind frame where it is suddenly socially acceptable to employ visible minorities to raise your children for you, it's all you can think of when a clean, attractive black woman is standing in line behind you: maybe she needs a job keeping house for me?

So that left me hoping for an older teenager, a young woman or student with a little extra time.

I did find this one kid named Dakota. She's insanely pretty, but only fifteen years old. And she lives in the Edmontonian equivalent of Mars, in a neighborhood so far south of downtown I nearly died of vertigo when I drove her home once. And then there was the small matter of the broken hash pipe I found in her back pack. And the broken window in the back yard, the day she forgot her key. And the giant bruise on her cheek she showed up with last week--the result of a breakup with her boyfriend. All very dicey, but until I can replace her I am stuck between the Rockies and a hard place. Night shifts are a requirement of my new job. Everybody does them, and I am no exception, even if I am a single mother in a strange city with no friends and no family.

Somewhere in the middle of all this was the car accident, the Parvo, the computer meltdown, and the robbery. I placed a second ad this week. Nothing much has come of it, more self-effacing weirdos and, oddly, one man. This at least provided me with a little comic relief, in the form of calling my Mom and informing her I had hired him. After all, when the chips are down, what else is there to do but stroke Mom the wrong way? Back in Montreal, Mom has been sweating bullets vicariously over my situation, imagining weirdo's on every street corner and rapists behind every bush. So last week, when among the Wendys, Lizzies, Emilys and Janices, a hispanic man named Isidro called I immediately called my mother. I am not a sexist, but unless a guy can prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that he was a confirmed homosexual, there is Nooooo Waayyy he is getting the gig. I politely informed him that I was looking for a woman and hung up. But Mom didn't know that.

After I hung up on a disappointed Isidro, I put on my best Delighted Dupe voice, called and informed her that I had hired the perfect nanny for Sadie. “Really?” She said, a whiff of hope in her voice. Oh yeah, I said, his name is Isidro, he's freshly in Canada from the slums of L.A, and he just loooves kids. He loves taking them for rides on his motorcycle, and telling the stories behind his tattoos, and he really needs the job because he's way behind on payments to his lawyer. She almost bought it. She was gasping for breath, ready to blast me will all four lungs and a spleen, when my delighted giggle gave it away.

What?! You think I'm cruel? It's not my fault. This is what Nannies: The Amazing Race has done to me. Blame it on the Bad Luck Fairy. And while you're at it, ask her if she's free evenings. I might have a job for her.



Readers have left 2 comments

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hhmm..sounds like you are falling down Mount Fuji and there is no boulder to stop you..
I love babies and was a childcare worker since I can remember. I was born in Borneo and the families are humongous and I am the oldest so I was always stuck in taking care of all my cousins and nephews. Anyways..moved to edmonton and I took up a childcare worker job for 6 years..I left because the pay SUCKS!! so I took up being a Nursing Aide at the Edmonton General for 4 years..but now I am having back problems..from lifting big, heavy, sick people..( I blame that on the uncontrollable food industry that thinks meat and fries falls in the "Dinner" category ) I am thinking of getting back into call me at 497-7777 if you are comfortable..Thanks Jennifer
Jennifer on Friday, 22nd September 2006, 2:34pm
Your story sounds so familiar to mine... lol... coincidentally, we are from the Maritimes, with no family or friends, and two kids needing an afterschool sitter.... so now I am off to my search, of which I have less than 24 hours to find Mary Poppins! Good luck to you :o)
Michelle on Sunday, 7th January 2007, 4:24pm

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