HOW NANNYING PREPARES ME TO BE A STAFF WRITER
I’m a babysitter for my day job, and I gotta say, I love it. I don’t love it as much as I’d love my dream job, staff writer on a Parks & Rec/ Brooklyn 99/ Gilmore Girls type of show, but it’s definitely better than working the desk at SoulCycle or selling Rodan and Fields or something. I’ve been a nanny for ten years, from college through graduate school and now in Manhattan. The one big drawback to babysitting is that the skills I’ve learned watching all types of kids don’t necessarily translate to what I really want to do, which is write for television. Hopefully, no one in the writer’s room will need a diaper change, and if they do, fingers crossed that’s below my pay grade by then. It’s not like I’ll do a really great job watching a four-year-old and she texts her other four-year-old colleague at Fox about my exciting new pilot or something. But! Here are some ways I think childcare does apply to a professional career in the arts. Yes, I am writing this blog while the baby I’m sitting sleeps. Gotta write fast!
1. I WRITE FAST.
I try to watch little kids, especially babies, for one big reason: naps. I put the baby down, do whatever the family asked me to do (dishes, laundry, whatever), and then it’s a race against the clock to write as much as I can before the baby wakes up. It’s helping me write faster and be less precious about it, because there isn’t luxury time to meander into a better version of something. I just write as many first drafts as I can during nap time, and when the first cry comes up, the computer closes.
2. I’M NO STRANGER TO TAKING SH*T AND SAYING THANK YOU.
Oh, the number of times a baby playing happily in my lap has had a blowout (diaper overflow) on me, or spit up on my adult clothes after I’ve changed for the day. They’ll just poop or puke on you whenever they want, with a smile. I’ve heard Hollywood can be a tough town and not everyone is as cute as a button. If I’m staffed on a show with a big, demanding diva star, I’m used to doing what it takes to clean up the mess and get the job done.
3. I KNOW THE NINJA WAY TO CHANGE A DIAPER.
The trick is to put the new diaper under the old diaper, use the old diaper as a wipe for solids and toss it, use a real wipe for residue, and then cream and new diaper on, all with one hand while holding the baby’s feet with the other. Um… I’m a fast learner? I can get creative? I’m a great multi-tasker, that’s it. That’ll do.
4. THERE’S NO SUCH THING AS A “BABY-WHISPERER” OR MARY POPPINS TYPE NANNY. THERE’S ONLY PATIENCE.
I know that writing for television takes long hours and lots of teamwork. Tempers get short, people get testy. It’s the same with kids. If they’ve been too long without a snack or nap, they’re impossible. We don’t change all that much as we age. Maybe there are super-nannies who make a million dollars magically transforming horrible children, but that’s not me. The longer I’m in this game, the more I feel like, the only thing that really qualifies me to work with kids is that I always get back in the ring. I’m learning to be patient with them, and give them the same attention and care and listening all people deserve. When kids can see that you’re patient with them, listening, and on their side (and willing to outlast their shouting matches), they often come around quick. I’ll probably be the same in the writer’s room; imperfect, testy myself, but always dusting myself off and getting back up, trying to let patience win the moment. There’s no special secret, it’s just more patience and more love.
5. KIDS ALL THRIVE WITH THE SAME THINGS: LOVE AND BOUNDARIES.
One encouraging thing I’ve seen is that all kinds of families can thrive; both parents working, one parent working, staying home, long hours, lots of kids, one kid. Thriving families all give their kids the same things in equal measure: love and boundaries. Love and discipline. Writing is the same. Love your writing, be in it for the magic and the art and the beautiful surprises, but discipline is necessary to carry you through seasons from love to love. Sometimes you need to put yourself in time-out and finish the draft. Sometimes you need to write when you don’t feel like it, the same way kids need to do their homework or practice piano or go to bed. Love and discipline are the pillars of the happy families I’ve worked for, and writer’s rooms are one big happy family, right?
6. I’LL HAPPILY GET FIRED FOR WHAT I BELIEVE IN.
Once upon a time, I babysat for this difficult kid who had a lot of love but zero boundaries. I was expected to act like this kid’s servant, cook him the food he wanted, let him watch TV the whole day in the other room, whatever. Once his mother asked me to “stop teaching him manners.” I respectfully declined. I didn’t quit that job. I liked the kid, when he wasn’t a brat, and there was a lot of promise in him. But I wasn’t going to be his servant. I didn’t think it was right or just to treat him like a little king. So I kept engaging with the mom, kept trying to come to middle ground. Finally I made peace with myself, saying, “I need this job. I’ll keep doing everything her way that I possibly can without crossing my own internal line. This mom isn’t shy. If it’s not working, she’ll fire me.” And she did. I’ve never been prouder to fail. I am a team player, and a good communicator, and I did my best with that family. But I don’t “play ball” when something isn’t right. I call it out. I hope that’ll help me in television writing, but if it doesn’t, I’ll be okay to fail.
7. #METOO IS A THING IN BABYSITTING.
That’s all I really need to say. It’s easy to avoid creeping on the babysitter. Just don’t creep on the babysitter. Just don’t be a creep, period.
8. I’M A PROFESSIONAL AT TAKING CARE OF THE MOST PRECIOUS THING IN YOUR WHOLE WORLD.
It’s not lost on me that every single day, as a nanny, I am in charge of the single most important part of someone’s life. Nothing is more precious than your kids. And dozens of families have trusted me with theirs. If I was a staff writer on someone else’s show, that’s the showrunner’s baby. And I’m a pro at taking care of other peoples’ babies.