Laying out a cup and a glass for the nanny – when it goes awry

When we had a night nurse come support us after Kaia’s birth for three months, she didn’t feel comfortable going through our cupboards to get a glass or plate on her own, so we always left a glass and a mug out for her to use for tea, water, or anything she wanted to drink. Because of this precedent, we also did the same thing for all the trial nannies who came, as well as our current full-time nanny. Apparently, this really upset our nanny on her first day, as she shared this with me yesterday.

“I was really upset on my first day when I came to work for you,” the nanny said to me yesterday. “You left out a cup and glass for me on the counter and said I could use those to drink.”

I was super confused and was waiting for the point. “Wait, so what was wrong with that?” I asked. I really had no idea where she was going with this.

“Because I felt like you were telling me that I could only use that cup and glass, and that I wasn’t allowed to use any other cup or plate or spoon,” she responded. “It was as though you were saying I wasn’t good enough to use the other cups or bowls you had. But then, I realized I had too quickly made that assumption because the next day, you laid out a different cup and glass, and I felt bad for jumping to that conclusion so quickly about you!”

I told her that was completely ridiculous, that I had explained to her that I left them out for her convenience. I even reminded her I told her to use whatever plates or utensils she wanted when she brought lunch and to use our microwave as she needed. But she apparently just tuned out when I pointed out that cup and glass on the first day, which was completely on her.

“You have to understand… I’ve been through a lot as an immigrant to this country,” she said to me. “People have not always treated me nicely, so that’s why I’m quick to judge and make assumptions. I know that’s not always fair, but I do it to protect myself.”

She and her husband had comfortable white-collar jobs in Jamaica. Before coming to the U.S., she was an accountant at a small firm in Montego Bay. She dressed up for work and wore heels. She spent money comfortably and lived well. She called herself a “princess” when living in Jamaica; she didn’t know what it was like to suffer or be looked down upon. Then, she came to the U.S., and everything changed for her. Nothing translated. Getting her papers took forever and was expensive and challenging. She realized that she was never going to become an accountant here and had to quickly find a plan B, and that plan B ended up being nanny work.

“All my nanny families have treated me relatively well, but there are many times when I have wondered what they really think about me,” she lamented. “They look down on me. They don’t think I’m smart or am educated. They don’t consider what my life was before I came here. I actually had a good career in Jamaica. Sometimes, my husband and I wonder if immigrating here really was better for our family.”

It’s a common immigrant story – people who are highly educated in their countries of origin, but that education doesn’t translate well in the U.S., and so immigrants work as cab drivers, nail technicians, or nannies. I feel for her a lot. But I also told her… I don’t honestly think I’ve done anything to make her feel lesser than or unappreciated. If anything, I’ve tried to do more to make her feel welcome and comfortable here. It would be nice, especially now that she’s been with us over a month, for her not to assume the worst of us. We’re all just trying our best to be good people and do the right thing.

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