Surviving Separation

Thursday night – our first in the new flat – was also our first in a room apart from our (now three-month-old) daughter. For the past three months she’s been sleeping in her own bassinet either within a few meters of us or right between us on our bed (we got the Brica Bed [portable bassinet] which, considering she’s already slept in five towns across two countries, has been great). But now she has her own room. My husband wasn’t so sure about this. That is, he didn’t like the idea at all. Why not just put her bed in our room? What if she wakes up? (she’s been sleeping through the night for a month) What if we can’t hear her? (the two rooms open onto the same hallway). But I persuaded him to give it a three-night trial. After all, I need my sleep too and sometimes our daughter moves as much as a dancing Manhattan traffic cop (who’s just consumed a bean burrito) when she’s in ‘active sleep’.
The first night my husband woke up three times. Once the baby was sort-of awake, but probably could have persuaded herself to fall back into the next sleep cycle. Honestly, I think he was just nervous. It’s a fine line between preventing your baby from breaking and letting them slowly expand their [safe] circle of comfort. If we completely protected her she’d never leave either our arms or the house. And she’d never grow. At the same time, every increase in exposure to the world brings an increased risk. We can’t stand vigil every night for the rest of her life; where do we draw the line, find comfortable boundaries?
The second night I bought a $4 baby monitor app that’s supposedly as good as a $200 video monitor (it basically just uses two apple devices as the child and parent ends of the baby monitor) and set it on ‘medium sensitivity’. Other parents must be paranoid (as I somewhat suspected after reading the reviews…), as with medium sensitivity I could hear her move her feet against the mattress. She somewhat woke at 5 (normal – she actually often feeds around 5, something I’m still trying to wean her out of), and then actually woke at 7. We have so far survived two nights of seperate sleep.
So now we come to the question of whether or not I actually want to hire a nanny. I think I know the answer: no if I’m not going to be working; obviously a necessity if I am. I haven’t heard back from either university on three job fronts since last Monday so I now have no idea whether or not I’ll be working full time this year (typical for Bishkek; I could be called tomorrow and asked to start on Monday and it wouldn’t totally suprise me). If I do work, then we certainly need someone to look after our daughter when both of us are gone. Daycare for babies isn’t an option here – most out-of-home childcare options don’t accept children under the age of 2 and we don’t have something like the wonderful French cres system where trained professionals look after children during the day. Which leaves nannies.
If I don’t work full time – then it’s difficult. Do I still hire a nanny? I have one friend who does consulting work and had a nanny part time, but it’s very difficult to find a quality person who is willing to work on demand, part time, or splitting their time between two families. A lot of non-Turkish expats I know do hire full-time nannies, but I can’t quite see the purpose of that, especially as I only have one kid and she’s not particularly demanding (in fact, she’s sitting quite contentedly in her bouncer as I write this; just woke up from a nap and breaks into smiles as long as I blow kisses her way and tickle her toes). Yes, it is quite difficult to write for more than a few hours in a day or focus on anything for an extended period of time. But for the amount of editing/consulting/grad school applications I do I certainly don’t need a full-time nanny. What would I do with her during the day?
Today I interviewed one nanny. In terms of personality I immediately liked her when I saw her at the playgroup. Calm, clean, a bit of spark and no-nonsense. She likes kids and was good with Tutya. But we definitely have different philosophies. When I asked her what she thought was the most important aspect of looking after a child, she emphasized “safety”, including not letting a child fall down. I’m pretty sure our daughter is going to fall a few times over the next year. I’m not concerned about it. Of course I do want her safe, but I’m not worried about a few scraped knees, bruises or rug burn.
Overall I got the impression that I could trust my daughter in her care – the physical/safety aspect of it wouldn’t be a problem. Tutya would be fed and put to sleep for naps and taken for walks and held and played peek-a-boo with. She would feel safe and secure. But what else?
When I asked her to tell me about a difficult situation or emergency she said that about a year and a half ago a youngchild she was watching had been playing with his toy car on the stone kitchen floor when he fell face down and broke a tooth. His mouth started bleeding and he started howling, so she grabbed a napkin to stop the bleeding and called the father. Fifteen minutes later he arrived and took the boy to the doctor. Apparently she was just shocked and scared, though the boy turned out to be just fine. In talking about the most difficult aspect of her job she mentioned a 4 year old she was previously charged with. When told, for example, that he couldn’t climb up something he would throw enormous tantrums, rolling on the ground and throwing sand onto himself. She said she, per parents’ instructions, did nothing. In response to what she does when a child disobeys her she said that she says “no”, but if he doesn’t listen she just watches to make sure he doesn’t get hurt. I understand that it is definitely in her interests to keep children under her charge from any harm (however minor and instructional), but that’s not what/how I want to teach my daughter. I’m also not sure about someone who freezes in emergencies.
I also got the impression that she views working for a non-embassy family as a sort of social status step down. For nannies, American Embassy Families (AEF) seem to be the golden standard in employment, conferring greater status on those in their service. I think this was especially true when the Manas base still existed outside of the city – anything connected to the base or embassy had this sort of golden shine about it, regardless of the actual details of the job or level of education of the person performing it. Embassy workers do have much bigger houses in Bishkek – oftenalong the lines of suburban American McMansions. In Turkey, it’s common for professors to reside in staff housing on campus. Apartments are usually nice, but decidedly normal and middle-class (most of Turkey’s urban middle and middle-upper class also prefer apartment living to single-family detached homes). Our new flat is in the older staff apartment block and, while I find it a comfortable size (maybe our entry could be a square meter bigger?), it’s decidedly smaller than the AEF homes I’ve seen in Bishkek. I don’t mind (in fact, I’m not fond of large houses with so much seemingly empty space). But I could see how, for a nanny, it would not confer the same ‘status’ as working for an AEF with an embassy-sourced and much larger house.
She did say that she was paid $600/month with one month bonus per year, 300 som per hour for overtime and 400 som per hour on holidays – a bit more than I was expecting ($500 a month is the figure I’ve heard most often and I know non-Americans pay babysitters in the range of 150-200 som/hour). Considering the normal range of local wages, $600 is more than I would want to pay (it’s what senior engineers and architects with decades of experience get at the university). I don’t know what our summer nannies were paid (anyway, it would be irrelevant unless I converted it to today’s dollar), but I do know they were paid less than licensed professionals decades into their careers. Then again our nannies were almost always college students, so maybe that’s not a fantastic comparisson.
So – I don’t know. If I work, of course I will need to hire a nanny and Kundus seems competent, reliable and cheerful. If I left our daughter with her during the day I could spend my time at work knowing she was well taken care of in a safe, secure and warm environment. But I realized a few hours after the interview that, if I don’t work, I have no desire to hire a full time nanny. If I’m home/not away at an office during the day, then of course I’m going to spend a good deal of time with my daughter. Having someone come two days a week – or even two afternoons a week – would be ideal as it would give me a few unbroken windows of time to focus and work.


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