Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Germ Problem

Very wealthy families have gotten a bad reputation, probably well-deserved, for refusing nannies any kind of collective bargaining power or at the very least a real contract. I learned about this in Manhattan--nannies fired for becoming ill without warning and nowhere to go. Of course, I was a babysitter putting myself through college when I lived in Manhattan, so if I lost a job, then I'd eventually find another, and I knew it. I was not, for example, an immigrant from the Caribbean in her fifties caring for three grandchildren at night, at home, and one or two wealthy white children on the Upper West Side during the day, earning less than minimum wage. Mine were never the problems of poverty. The problem that I face, along with the families I work for, is not life-or-death, but rather, logistical. Nevertheless, it is a real problem, and one I have no solution for.

I am in bed as I write this, with a cough that will not let go. My lungs feel shredded, especially in the mornings. It's a virus--I have no fever. But I've been sick for almost a week. Each day, I have hoped I'd be well enough to work. Each day, I have had to tell these families, sometimes much later than I should have, "No, I cannot come today." Now, if I worked in an office, three problems here would cease to exist: I'd get paid sick leave, the company would be equipped to cope without me and I could go back to work still coughing, and just tell my coworkers to use hand sanitizer. But most families don't have a backup babysitter, so they are forced into a kind of scramble for child care when I cancel. I don't get paid when I cancel. I can't "tough it out" for fear of getting the babies sick, too. And I have seen this--babies always have it worse. It's miserable knowing that you may have gotten a child so very sick who cannot even blow his nose yet.

And so, I miss the children I cannot see, for fear of passing on my germs. I earn no money, which is obviously a problem for my family, as my husband's income is not enough for two. And, more importantly, sleep-deprived moms must scramble to make a boss understand or round up another babysitter at the last minute. It's a depressing day, despite an excellent book and very cuddly cat.