The Internet Matchmaker
Robbie and I have been doing a lot of online dating lately. It started the way it does for many – with a promising relationship hitting a dead end, leaving the Internet as the most likely source for the “perfect match.” The reason behind our dead end? An out-of-state move to Michigan. Long distance. Of course, Robbie and I are not looking for other partners. Not even best friends (see MWF Seeking BFF by Rachel Bertsche). For the last two months, Robbie and I have been in an all-consuming online search for the perfect family to fill the void in our “nanny share.” We’ve searched every online network or forum and spent countless hours emailing back and forth with interested parents. No matter how many “first dates” we score though, we just can’t seem to find “the one.” Because there just aren’t any sparks. Because they don’t laugh at Robbie’s jokes. Because they don’t rave about my chocolate chip cookies. Because we decide we know all there is to know after just one meeting. Or, they decide the same about us.
And now I feel like a hypocrite. For all those first dates through Match, OkCupid or Jdate, when my girlfriends came back to me moaning and groaning, I always said, “You’re being judgmental. Give him another shot. It takes more than one date.” I’ve been there now though and changed my mind. Robbie and I have now been on enough first dates to know in the middle of one whether it may just be the last ever – or whether we will likely have to have another first date again. Perhaps this makes us picky – judgmental even – but if the nanny share search has taught us anything, it is that we must be picky and judgmental, for this is our way of being protective. We have learned this the hard way.
Case in point – hiring our interim nanny (let’s call her Beth) against my intuition. We needed a temporary nanny to fill the void while our permanent nanny, Katy, gave her employer notice and could start. Beth was really great with Aashi and to our pleasant surprise she had our daughter laughing and smiling right away. We happened to interview Beth while Robbie’s parents were in town, and as I was walking her to the door, Beth asked who they were. The answer, “Robbie’s parents,” drew a confused expression, so I went further and explained Robbie’s mixed background. Apparently interested in my ethnicity as well, Beth inquired, “So what are you?” “Indian,” I said. She begged to differ, “But you don’t look Indian.” I simply replied, “No, I think I look pretty Indian,” hoping to bring a swift conclusion to the debate. Unconvinced, Beth persisted innocently and matter-of-factly, “But you don’t have a turban or one of those things on your forehead.” I’m not sure how long it took to pull my jaw up off the floor, but it wasn’t nearly as long as it would have taken to explain anything to her. So instead, I showed her out and marched straight up to Robbie to make my case against hiring her. Realizing that Beth would never need to teach Aashi anything more than sitting up or holding a ball, and considering her qualifications and how happy the baby seemed with her, she got the (temporary!) job. But after two months of listening to her liken Robbie to Jackie Chan and compare Indian classical dance to Hula dancing, we were thankful to part ways when our permanent nanny was available. And when Beth appealed to us to consider her for a permanent position over our permanent nanny, we let her down gently with tried and true excuses, you know, “it’s not you, it’s me” and “the timing just wasn’t right,” never honestly explaining to her that we wanted someone more understanding of our culture for Aashi’s more impressionable years.
And we learned this lesson again a few weeks ago when we met another lawyer couple in our neighborhood with similar scheduling needs and a son around Aashi’s age – specifically, when we had to break up with them – for Aashi’s sake, and ours.
Like so many online relationships, we started off slowly with emails and phone calls before proceeding with our first date. The boy was adorable and the parents were nice, but my gut told me something was off. Maybe it was that the father openly inspected our baby-proofing. (What, our handiwork isn’t good enough for you?) Or maybe it was because I thought it odd that their daycare center – a business intended to watch and care for children – advised the parents that daycare may not be right for them or their son. Whatever my heart told me, my head said, “Give this a chance. You may be losing one wonderful family to Michigan, but you didn’t really know them in the beginning either. Let’s see where this goes.”) So we did. And it was a mistake.
For three days, this family “transitioned” their son into the nanny share by sitting in our home for hours a day; overseeing and critiquing Katy’s every move; running to their son and cradling him with each hint of a whimper; admonishing Katy for using the word “no” with Aashi, instead requesting that she use the phrase “Please don’t do that”; scolding Aashi (who was, at the time, just 11 months old) for not yet knowing what it means to “share”; openly passing judgment on Aashi’s pierced ears; and, literally freaking out each time they thought the kids might be sharing germs. (No wonder daycare didn’t work out for them). No, thank you. Not for us. While on paper our families seemed to have similar needs, it turns out, that our needs in practice were as different as could be. Robbie and I discussed the matter at length and decided it was best to cut them loose. We didn’t need their judgment. We didn’t need their impractical expectations of our child while they babied their own. We didn’t need them scrutinizing our nanny, changing around her expectations, and making her uncomfortable in our home. I might have seen all of this coming through hints from our first date. But I ignored the hints, ignored my intuition. A second, third and even a fourth date later, I found myself planning a massive breakup.
The breakup was less tumultuous than it could have been, and was as pragmatic as I could make it. I wrote an email citing to “family philosophies that are different enough that we wouldn’t be a good fit for each other.” And I honestly meant that. Our ways are right for us, but I don’t claim to know what is right for another family. The mother wrote me back wondering if we decided to dump them because of their son’s tendency to cry. Offended by the accusation that I was blaming a child, I wrote back to her as honestly, but as diplomatically, as I possibly could, explaining through examples how their family approach to child-rearing was just about the exact opposite of ours. Needless to say, a nanny who was comfortable with our approach couldn’t possibly carry out theirs. With that, our relationship ended. A frustrating experience with a very clear lesson: go with your gut.
Robbie’s father loves to say that when he watches our nieces and nephew, he leaves his fingerprint on them. I love that. Of course he means it figuratively, but I always imagine him with his big De Niro-esq figure (and personality) patting the little ones’ heads, telling them his stories, letting them learn from him, and by the same token, Robbie’s mom just by being around them turning every activity into something educational. Unfortunately, we don’t have the benefit of family in Chicago to make sure that “our way” is communicated throughout the day. What we can do for Aashi though is make sure that the people around her share our values, that they carry out the systems that we have in place at home, and that they communicate similar beliefs, or at least an appreciation for them. So if Robbie and I meet someone – nanny or share family – whose fingerprint is so drastically different from ours, I think it is our job as parents to say thank you, but no thank you. And if we have another first date that feels a little off, we’ll trust our instincts a little bit more.
It turns out that Robbie and I recently had a “love at first sight” moment with another family the other day. Like the family in our previous share, this family also has roots in MIchigan (must be a Michigan thing), has a good sense of humor, worries about the same things we do, and seems to roll with the punches when we do too. Here’s hoping that the first date went as well for them as it did for us. If not, then we’ll have to get back on that horse and get back out there, just as I would tell my girlfriends to do.