The time I caught my nanny drinking on the job

wine glass filled with water

By Jennifer E. Rizzo

When I came home from work that Friday night, I thought I finally had control over my life.

I had been trying to keep a vise-grip on that control ever since I became a mother. Despite my son’s special needs, I desperately wanted to keep working outside of the home; I tried working part time, starting my own business, working from home…you name it, I attempted it. I now realize that struggle was making me miserable.

I had recently returned to corporate America full time. When my new company offered me enough salary to cover the cost of a nanny, I thought I was set. My professional life post-kids, was finally going to make sense.

I now know that when it comes to being a mom, you should never, ever, think you’re set. Because that’s like a written invitation for disaster. But this was back before I was as smart as I am now. 

When we first hired our nanny, who I will call Samantha, she seemed great. She was in her forties, responsible, had good references, and the kids liked her. She accepted our offer and everything seemed like it would be okay. I also liked her, and thought perhaps a friendship would develop.

Six weeks later, when my husband Kevin and I walked in the door, I could tell right away something was wrong. Kevin went straight into the kitchen with the groceries, so he wasn’t with me as I spoke to Samantha. Her speech seemed strange, and her eyes looked funny. The kids were crazy and screaming, and it was (as usual) chaos, so it was hard to nail down in my mind what was happening. But then I realized she smelled funny. When she stood up, I thought I saw her stumble.

She left the house, but I remained rooted to the sofa. I hadn’t confronted her because I didn’t want to frighten the kids. When my husband walked in, he took one look at me and knew something was wrong.

I took a deep breath and whispered, “I think Samantha was drunk just now.” My lips felt numb and my hands tingled. This person had been driving my children around all day, and I had no idea at what point she had started drinking. Had she been drinking and driving?

We couldn’t reach her until Sunday, as she had left her phone at our house. Although I was an HR professional and had fired dozens of people, Kevin and I agreed he would handle the conversation. We knew he would be more calm than me. Beyond feeling horrified she had endangered my children, I also felt betrayed on a personal level. And I was saddened that, once again, we had no childcare. I was stripped of any control I had.

On the phone, my husband told Samantha our suspicions, and she admitted to drinking on the job. She said she usually never drank at work, but that she had gotten some very bad news that day. Kevin told her this was inexcusable, and asked her not to come back to work the next day. I said nothing, because I couldn’t.

Once, at an HR conference, I heard Dr. Srikumar Rao give a lecture based on his book Happiness at Work. He said that the secret to happiness is giving up the notion that you actually have any control over your life. Initially, this concept was difficult for me to swallow. But after I found Samantha drunk on that Friday night, Rao’s words made sense. I had done everything I could to make sure Samantha was dependable. I had interviewed her several times, checked her background and checked her references. But, in the end, hiring her was a mistake.

I had always thought that if I could just find the right nanny, my life would finally be perfect. I could go back to work, be successful and know my kids were taken care of. But I hadn’t thought about the fact that a nanny meant another person in my life. Another unpredictable human being who could complicate things, mess up, and end up not working out. In the end, when we did, several months later, find the right nanny, I had trouble giving her full control over the kids schedules and lives, which was what she needed to really live up to her potential. In the end, the truth was that the “perfect” nanny wasn’t really that perfect after all.

Because there is no such thing. No perfect family, no perfect babysitter, no perfect career. Life is messy, and I don’t have control over it. I can, and should, try to protect my kids against danger. But at the end of the day, becoming a parent is the ultimate surrender of any control one ever had in life.

The week after we came home to a drunk nanny, my son was diagnosed with autism. I had worried about this moment since he was born. I always felt in my bones that some day, a doctor was going to tell me my baby was on the spectrum, and in truth, I wasn’t sure I could handle that news. But when the neuropsychologist looked me in the eye and told me Sam had autism, I was surprised by how calm I was. What I had worried about for so many years had just happened. And here we all were, just fine. And we would stay that way, even after I gave up control.

Jennifer E. Rizzo is a freelance writer and mother of two humans and one dog living on Boston’s North Shore. An avid ultramarathon runner and lover of crafting, Jennifer can usually be found shirking household duties and instead choosing to knit, bake, paint, read or run. You can find her on Twitter or Instagram at @jennifererizzo. 

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