My youngest child, Moira, has become a handful. I'm not sure when it happened, but it sure feels like it occurred during the night a few months back while I was sleeping. She has always been a pretty laid-back, easy-going kid. A bit of a homebody, but that was okay with me, and certainly her father, whose lack of impartiality where she is concerned is alarming. Moira, or Mo as she is known to most, is 11. She turns 12 in a few short weeks. She is spunky, witty, smart, fashion-minded (whose mind, I do not know) and a pain in the butt.

I think the biggest change I have noticed lately is she has become more aware of what her peers are doing or wearing - consequently feeling the need to conform. This causes a number of arguments, the most recent over bathing suits. She thinks she needs a bikini, her father and I don't. She says all her friends are wearing them. Her dad says, "You might as well wear a bra and bikini to the pool." She says, "Maybe I will." Her dad says, "Bikinis are skanky." She says, "Are you calling my friends skanky?" He says, "That's not what I meant, and you.. just forget it."  There's more, but you get the point.

She spends a lot of time away from home now. The kid who used to have to be convinced, every single morning, that she should go to school will now go on vacations with her friend's families and forget we exist. I know she's just growing up and exerting her independence, but I can't help but feel left behind. Does she love her friend's mothers more than me, or are they easier to love because they don't have to dole out punishments or chores?

I shouldn't complain. I was lucky enough to be able to stay home with my children for most of their younger years. I have spent, and try to continue to spend, quality time with each of my children. This doesn't make it any easier to let others take the responsibility of caring for them. My two youngest children went to daycare for only a week before I couldn't stand it any more. Thousands of women and men don't have it as good as I did. They hire nannies or take their kids to daycare to help them raise their children while they provide for their families and build careers.

Every mother has a moment, or two, or two thousand, when she wonders if she is good enough, if she spends enough time with her child, if she is doing it right, if her child loves her and likes her. That is one of the reasons I found this essay by Mona Simpson so fascinating. It talks about nannies and the people employing them. It touches on the special bonds these caregivers make with the children they help to raise and the space a parent puts (sometimes inadvertantly) between themselves and these employees (it's hard to think of them this way).  Simpson stirs up some interesting thoughts about paying another person to love your child.

"We don’t like to mix love with money. We want love to come as a gift that offers as much pleasure and reward to the giver as to ourselves."  Simpson writes about the sensitivity woman have when it comes to admitting how much time they spend working for their career and working as a mother. She points out that we want our children to be well-cared for and loved, even when we aren't present to offer those things.
"Even more than we want good love for ourselves, we want it for our children, those vulnerable satellites of our hearts that we send, unsteady, into the world." 
The relationship can not be easy between a parent and a nanny. It's a mixture of employer/employee and skinned-knee bandager/bedtime story reader. You are paying for a service that is unlike any other. You are paying someone to try to love your child the way you do. From a parent's point of view, it's not always possible.
My favorite line in Simpson's essay says it all. "You can pay a person who almost certainly will not love you but, with any luck, may love your child."

And while I am not paying my daughter's friends and parents to love her, I am entrusting her care to them for a small while. I am confident that they do not love her like I do. Mostly because I love her in spite of her flaws, and fortunately for them, they don't usually have to see them. For now she is still mine and I can still try to mold her and shape her into the beautiful person she is destined to be, but it is not long until everything I say becomes stupid or insulting. I am bracing for it, and when it happens I will come here and cry my eyes out to you.

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