Week 2 and Strike 1 with Sheila as my girls’ nanny. During her second week of work Sheila told me that one of their cars died and that she would need to use one of our cars for work. Before I could blink, my husband and I were juggling our two cars, our separate commutes to work, and Sheila’s needs in taking care of our children. In retrospect, I can’t believe that we started talking about buying a third car so Sheila could take care of all six kids! Clearly, we had lost perspective.
One evening I mentioned to my husband that I had a funny feeling about Sheila, and that perhaps she was an alcoholic or something. He couldn’t believe that I could say something so horrible when I had no facts to base it on. He was right, it was just a hunch. But somehow I knew something was not right, I just didn’t know what it was yet.
Before we knew it, the families were merging. Her kids’ toys were at our house, ours at hers, and she was asking to borrow things like heating pads, and an ipod charger. Although her children were nice, this was becoming more complicated than what I had signed up for.
Then one school day, Sheila didn’t show up for work. I tried to reach her and left messages on her cell and home phones. No answer. I took my girls to school and wondered if I’d need to pick them up at noon. Given the drive time between our home, school, and my office, and since I couldn’t reach Sheila, I decided to work from home. At about 10am my home phone rang. It was Sheila and she sounded horrible – she slurred her words and sounded out of it. Sheila was surprised that I had picked up the phone. She explained that she had been out with her girlfriends the night before and had eaten a hamburger and had gotten food poisoning. She had gone to the ER last night and had just returned home. I had never heard of staying overnight at the ER from dinner-time till 10am for food poisoning. It seemed odd, but what was I going to say other than I hope you feel better soon, and next time, please have your husband or son call to let us know that you will not be coming to work. I was suspicious of Sheila’s story, but my husband convinced me to give her the benefit of the doubt since I had yet to find any good live-in nanny prospects.
Sheila continued to push the boundaries. She called in sick again (no hospital this time) and explained that she had a bug. Again, her speech was very slow and her words were slurred. Over the last ten years, I’ve never had an employee call in sick to work and sound this way – something wasn’t right but I still hadn’t found a new nanny.
This time we went from Strike 1 to Strike 3 in one fell sweep. Sheila came to work one morning and was really out of it. Her eyes were at half mast and her words were running together. My girls asked me what was wrong with her. That was it – she was done. My intuition was right and Sheila clearly had some sort of drug or alcohol problem. I did my best to keep my kids away from her and whisked them and our dog out of the house. From the car I called my husband. Someone else had to pick up the girls that afternoon – there was no way I wanted her driving them, not in any car, and not in ours.
My husband called Sheila to see if he could find out what was going on. She claimed to be fine. Balancing work and home got dicey since we both had meetings and deadlines that at the time, we felt couldn’t be missed. My husband called Sheila’s husband to learn more, and he offered to pick up our kids from school and help take care of them for the day. (He was a temporarily unemployed school teacher who we had spent some time with him, so we made an exception). Ugh – what a mess. My husband went home early and let Sheila go. She was very angry and upset. Although she was still out of it and slurring her words, she thought that we were being unfair. It was a sad state of affairs, but we needed to do what was best for our family.
Unfortunately, letting Sheila go wasn’t the end. Several days later we received a call from one of our credit cards to asking us to verify atypical charges. Turns out Sheila used our credit card to pay some of her bills, buy tickets for her family to the circus, and make a couple thousand dollars of other purchases. Since she wouldn’t return our calls, we ended up reporting her to the police at which time we discovered that she had a narcotic problem and a criminal record five feet long!
In retrospect, I realize I should have had the difficult conversation with Sheila as soon as I was unhappy with how she was managing my children with her own. Perhaps I would have ended up letting her go sooner and been stuck with no help again, but I certainly wouldn’t have had to be concerned about my girls’ well-being. Balancing the demands of work and family will always have its challenges, but I’ve learned I need to take care of my family first, or I won’t have the mental capacity for much of anything else. Stay tuned for Chapter 4 of Nanny Nightmares...
Mompreneur Musings & The Quest For Balance talks about the challenges I faced while running Zoe Foods for 10 years, and my current search for a new career that will also allow me the time to focus on being a mom to two little girls, a wife, a friend, and a daughter. I am trying to create more balance in my life, knowing now that balance among career, family, and self occurs over one’s lifetime rather than in each day. Please join me on my journey and share your own experiences.
Keep dreaming, keep believing, keep achieving.