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Time For Myself

What follows are quotes from a series of letters written by Dinah – who is a top class English nanny – to her husband. Apart from being a real professional in her work as a nanny, Dinah raised her own children prior to and during her work. Dinah reveals her insights into raising children in her anecdotes about what happens while caring for her ‘babies’. Dinah does not attempt to teach anyone about how to care for their child, she is simply telling the story of her work.

In the letters, Liz and Derek are the parents of Cherry, their first baby, and Susan their second. Hazel is the grandmother – Derek’s mother.

Dinah had to deal with grandparents who felt the babies should perform in certain ways, showing mechanical affection for them when they sought it. Dinah describes how children have their own natural love if it is allowed, and if it is deserved.

Liz’s mother keeps saying that Cherry isn’t eating enough vegetables or fruit, that she should be kissing everybody when they want her to and she should be saying goodbye when they go. Liz’s mother keeps saying she should be sitting on the pot by now. Cherry is only 13 months old and she is very loving when she wants to be. She always comes of her own accord to give me a hug when I come to work or she has been out. I have never asked her to do this and that is the difference, she comes and wants to make that body contact with me, she knows she can go as soon as she wants to, where they hang onto her for too long.

Liz becomes pregnant with her second child, and Dinah describes what leads up to the birth.

Liz had been out for the evening and came home at midnight to say she felt that she was having minor contractions, I waited around for an hour and they were every ten minutes so I said she best go to the hospital as she was 5 and a half weeks too early. They kept her in overnight and I slept the night at their place and dealt with Cherry till midday the next day when Liz came home. The Dr said she needed to be careful as it was too soon for the baby to come and to go back to hospital if she started again. They gave her a sedative the night she was in hospital.

She had said to me that she had been sitting for 5 hours that evening and it had quietened down. The next morning I got a 6.30am phone call to say Liz went in again the following night and had given birth to a little girl, Susan at 5.30 am. Could I come in to be there when Cherry woke up.

Liz’s mother came during the day and was very angry with Liz. She told me that after I left they had arrived soon after Liz had come home from the hospital the first time and that Liz was jumping up and down, insisting on dancing with Derek. The more Barbara asked her to sit the more Liz pranced about, the more Barbara was upset and angry. (Barbara has had a very bad asthma attack since then and is in bed herself). Barbara said to me she can’t help Liz look after a premature baby as she is getting to old and ill herself to be of much help.

The Dr said that if this little one had been born in the third world it wouldn’t have survived. Liz was determined to have the child, she seems as if she can only give herself 80%. She is talking about sending Cherry one day a week to a crèche so she can have a day for her appointments etc. like hair, nails, legs waxed, clothes shopping………….Oh well ……….we have seen it all before…………! Silly thing is she is more tied to Susan, as they are going to keep her in at least two weeks after Liz comes home… next Monday or Tuesday … as she will have to drive to the hospital at least five times a day for the milk run and to handle Susan. She has been in 9 days so far and has the bug, so has Derek, so they both know what it feels like, Cherry too. We have been eating and sleeping most of the time till two days ago when I felt a bit better. Cherry is very good and has coped with it all so far. Two nights ago she woke up in the middle of the night and was very clinging for two hours till she went back to sleep. Still her cold medicine makes her sleepy and she is sleeping two hours in the daytime as well as through the nights. She is such a good girl and is no trouble at all.

This is a little note on how Dinah observes the signs of insecurity in Cherry, and how she relates to it.

Hopefully there is only one more week of this hectic work life and then things will settle down. Liz looks very tired now and we hardly see her. Cherry sees her for about ten minutes in the morning before I take her to the park and Liz goes off to feed Susan at the hospital. One of the grand parents takes Cherry to the hospital for a short time in the afternoon to see her Mum and Sister and then Cherry is returned to me. Sometimes Derek comes in an hour before bed time and plays with her. I have her all the rest of the time. She has been very good, only woken up twice in the night which isn’t bad for all the comings and goings that she is having to cope with. But the signs are there that it is stressing her. She hangs onto my finger like glue when she is put down to sleep or gets sleepy in the push chair. She doesn’t want me disappearing while she is asleep.

I gave Susan a bath yesterday and for the first time she wasn’t crying all the time in the water. I started to sing to her and she just looked and looked at me and relaxed in the water. Liz came in twice while I was doing it and it was the first thing she told Derek when he walked in the door. At 7pm I bath Susan and give her expressed milk out of the bottle and at 8 I give Cherry her bath and put her to bed. It is hard for Cherry to see Susan getting the bottle when it is so close to her bed time bottle and I think they are going to have to play with Cherry in her room while I am doing Susan as so far all we have had is tears from Cherry when she comes into Susan’s room. I would have thought that it was very clear for the parents to see what is happening but they don’t handle it or are not two jumps ahead of Cherry in the situation. Liz takes the time to express off the next lot of milk so she is otherwise occupied. Derek came in last night, gave Cherry a hug and then the door bell went so he left Cherry, shut the door on her and went down to the front door. I would have taken her with me, but he didn’t and she was left crying her eyes out behind a closed door. So I still have lots to pass onto the parents about how to have happy children all the time.

Time for myself. Liz is beginning to say sorry all the time now when she asks me to work, the one I feel sorry for is Cherry, she is being passed from pillar to post and has started crying every time she is put down to sleep. All the time I had her she only cried once and that was when Derek woke her and then dashed out of her room, I didn’t know and went in to cover her up before I went to bed and she cried and clung to me for 1 and 1/2 hours before settling back down to sleep. Rosi put her into bed for her afternoon nap yesterday and was very cross because Cherry screamed and yelled and then sobbed, so much so that Derek went in and told his mother to go out of the room and he would see to Cherry. He was telling me all this this morning, he said it upset him to hear Cherry sobbing so much, and that he just hugged her and rubbed her back till she settled down and went to sleep. He then got it in the neck from his mother and he yelled at her saying Cherry had so much to deal with at the moment that it wasn’t any wonder she was crying. It is harder now that Liz is at home as she is there but not there and they gave me some time off so I had gone too from Cherry’s routine with Grandmother, cleaner, father stepping into my place. Liz is so single minded about getting to the hospital to feed and wash baby Susan and doesn’t make any space for Cherry. I have to remind myself it is a job and I can only do so much even knowing what is messing up Cherry.

Susan is better, she is still being given solids but less, L. couldn’t turn around and stop giving it to her…………she got into a situation where she felt it would be losing face to do it, even though the night nurse and I both said that R’s pain, constipation was connected with the food intake. L. instead gave her a laxative to clean her out………….it worked……….and R is happy now. She is still waking in the night and now L. is control crying with her…………..a method she was told to do with Cherry……….if the child cries…for no reason?…………you pick it up and hug it till it stops crying and then you put it back down again………till it starts crying again and keep doing this till it stops crying while laying down. She did this with R for 1 and 1/2 hours two night running………then she remembered that she gave Cherry Phonugan, spelling? a knock out syrup at the start so she is going to do the same to R. All because she doesn’t want to be up at 4 am each morning. R is dribbling a lot and I wonder if she is beginning to feel her teeth pushing in her gums. I said so, so has one grandmother. At these times I find work very hard, I say what I know and then have to hold back as L. is going to do what ever she wants anyway. I do see that I have a good relationship with Cherry and in time with Susan. Cherry always calls out my name when I walk in the front door even though she doesn’t see me at that point. She comes up to me and gives me a hug… where she will point blank refuse to do so with other members of the family. I have never asked her to do so and I think that is one of the good things in our relationship, I don’t crowed her or insist she say things because I want her to…….apart from laying still while I change her nappy………….we still have a struggle with that one.

Dinah was away for three weeks, and here describes her first meeting with Cherry after this absence. The beauty of the description is in the care Dinah shows about dealing with Cherry’s own feelings of wanting contact, or avoiding it.

Cherry just looked at me when I walked in, she came up to me and then looked and looked. She put her hands in the air and wriggled her fingers and then looked some more. Then she went and got a ball for me to play with, so I rolled it for her to go after and bring back. She did this several times and then told me she had a poo. So I followed her upstairs and into her bedroom to the changing table. I lifted her up and laid her down, then she gave me a look that was saying she wasn’t too sure, kind of quizzical expression. I didn’t want to touch her without it being alright by her, so I asked her if I could take her pants down to change her nappy. She smiled so I took it to be OK.

I chatted all the time to her and then she started to play the game of where is my nose, eyes mouth etc. Touching mine as she played it. She brushed my hair, then she sat up and kissed me. She has never said my name yet, as Hazel pointed out she couldn’t ask for me even if she wanted to because she hasn’t said my name. L. watched closely when I was downstairs as she is going away soon without the children and wanted to see what to expect from Cherry when she comes back.

Susan has grown, filled out and really smiled at me and was trying to say something. L. said she has just started that in the last two days. L. looks very tired and D. looks the same. Hazel was pleased to see me, asked how you were and said I had caught the sun on my face. Leann – who took my place – was pleased to see me and went off home soon after I arrived. Her boyfriend drove her to work in the evening, 10pm, to collect her things and as she took them out she was really laughing and said to D. and L………, I’m leaving here, I’m going home. She thought it very funny………. L. said she had worked very hard as L. had been ill and Leann had to do everything. One night M was so tired that she didn’t see that she had put Cherry to bed with her slippers on.

I am giving them. It is interesting that the younger child IS really missing both parents more than the year older one. She shows it in so many ways and keeps calling for them.

Cherry, I think will show it, when the parent come back.

Not how L. saw it at all, as she thought it would be Cherry who was upset. Cherry only showed it when she was talking to the parents on the phone. It was her father she started to talk to and chattered on about things she had been doing, but quite soon she asked to talk to her mother. When she came on the phone she immediately said, ” Mummy come back’ in a very quiet little voice with her head hanging down. I could see she was very close to tears and that is all she would say to her mother, ‘come back”. She sat on my lap for the next hour then we all went up to have a bath and she relaxed a bit, playing in the warm water. With all this going on, how can I not be there as I know how it will affect them if I wasn’t part of their life at the moment, too.


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