Before I had my own, I’ve never been much of a “kid person” per se. I’m not a monster; I like kids plenty now, but through adolescence and early adulthood, outside of relatives, I’ve had very little use for children. Babysitting was like being paid to go to prison for the day. You are confined, essentially, to a padded room where you have no control over your activities, and the prison guard is a toddler, so your orders are being decreed in another language and, if disobeyed, well, you’re going to pay for that. Those Lilliputian gatekeepers are easily provoked and, if not careful, a wooden block or handful of applesauce may be unwarily propelled in your direction. Disadvantageously still, it is incredibly difficult to gauge the trajectory of an object being thrown by a toddler, and they’re stronger than you think. Odds are, that block is going to ding you square in the throat, and that applesauce is almost certainly going to penetrate the eye. The thought of someone willingly looking for a job in the brutal industry of childcare has baffled me. Babysitting here or there fine, but a nanny? Who would ever want to spend so many hours with someone else’s kids? I questioned the character of any such masochist.
After Calum was born, nearing the end of maternity leave, I was faced with the daunting task of finding someone to care for him, which was kind of scary given my reservations about people who really don’t mind the earth shatteringly foul scent of someone else’s baby’s poop. A lot of my friends had found great nannies, but I’m going to say we got incredibly lucky. I didn’t have to look too far either because my sister in law’s nanny had a friend who wanted a job and, after the interview, I decided she was nice and way more qualified than I was to look after Calum, since she’d already raised three sons. Her name was Servia, and she was hired.
Servia is very shy, so it took us a while to really get to know each other. She’s from the Dominican Republic and her English is decent but far from perfect, so I used to skip some of the get-to-know-you-better conversations that would have been slightly laborious and that, admittedly, I didn’t have time for before work or energy for afterwards. We were always very civil and amicable, though, and I trusted her. After months of exchanging pleasantries of how many ounces of milk Calum consumed, summer came. My job offers a very generous amount of summer vacation, so I was able to have Servia around to help out some days I was actually home, which gave me the opportunity to sit with her and chat. She’d often start out by saying something about the baby. “He’s so activity now!” she would proclaim in acknowledgment of how much he was finally moving around.
Little by little, we dug deeper and deeper into our pasts, sharing stories, and I’ve uncovered so much more about her than I could have ever imagined. When Servia was living in the Dominican as a young woman, she worked in a military sector of the government to safeguard against the illegal deforestation of the country’s protected lands. She was the only woman in her group, and they used to wander the forests at night carrying M-16’s, looking for people breaking the law. When I asked her if it was scary, all she said was she hated having to go to the bathroom with all the “mens”. Servia, standing next to me, comes up to about nipple height. Never in my most outrageous dreams did I imagine this tiny woman who takes care of my kids and wears two, sometimes three, pairs of pants in the winter months to keep warm, would also be trained in using an assault rifle.
Servia left her job with the government in her native Dominican Republic to attend graduate school in Mexico for a degree in Agricultural Engineering. Not far into her education her sister, who was living in New York, became pregnant and asked Servia to come to the States to help her with the baby. Her sister told her she knew a “coyotaje” who could take her over the Mexican border and that this coyotaje had a place where she could stay in Los Angeles for a couple of days before flying to New York. The night of the border crossing, the group of people with the coyotaje got caught and were all taken to a Mexican jail. The people detained were not asked to present a single piece of official paper, or at least Servia wasn’t. She lied and told them in her best Mexican accent that her name was Maria Lopez from some random Mexican town, and they believed her and released her to go right across the border without further question or consequence. This is the part of the story that doesn’t make sense to me but, in any event, I’m glad she’s here. She went that night to the apartment of the guy hosting the illegal immigrants in Los Angeles and waited for her plane ticket to New York her pregnant sister bought her to arrive in the mail. Her first night in America, the son of the man who was housing her came into Servia’s room and tried to rape her. She told me she said to him over and over, “You don’t want to do this to me. You have a mother and a sister who you love. You would never want anything to happen to them like this.” By the grace of God, he stopped, asked her please not to say anything to his parents, and left the room. Servia did tell the parents in the end.
Six months after her arrival in New York, Servia had met her husband and become pregnant too and, since then, in New York she has stayed. She is now a legal citizen of the US and works, usually, six days a week between my house and cleaning houses for a few other people in Westchester. Her husband works seven days a week. She has an incredible work ethic, and we are so lucky to know her. When Calum was diagnosed with Leukemia, she came unannounced to the hospital where we had been initially admitted. She was the first visitor we received, and I missed her because I’d gone home to collect some clothes for Mike and I. Mike told me when I returned to the hospital that she had come, and he cried when he hugged her.
She is loving, attentive and engaged with the kids and she never stops helping around the house. In general, I would say I am a pretty bad manager because I have high expectations, but hate asking for more help. With Servia, I have literally never once wished she would step up her game. In fact, I’m often asking her to stop doing so much. Sometimes she even gets mad at me when I do certain chores. If she comes in and catches me cleaning out the fridge, for instance, she will sort of give me the eye like, “What, I’m not good enough for you anymore?”
We have great conversations when we both have a little extra time and I am pleased to know she has let down her guard around me and opened up so much. Once in a while, she will even criticize something I’ve cooked. She doesn’t like spicy food and even anything with extra garlic will set her off. She calls me “Cayleen”; “Cayleen,” she will say to me, “I try you turkey chili. For me, I don’t like too much.” Alrighty then, Servia, noted. You could say we’ve gotten pretty comfortable with each other.