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The Allergy Blogs • Sam's Story

The Nanny Nightmare

Samantha Yaffe’s frank take on motherhood with allergies.

I’ll never forget the surge of doom that coursed through my body when Dr. Z diagnosed Lucas’s allergies (peanuts, tree nuts and egg). That was more than three years ago when he was a wee 16 months and I still carried my ‘new mom’ status like a badge of honour. Despite a series of reactions, I had clung to the naïve hope that maybe it wasn’t food allergy. That hope – along with my heart – was crushed in an instant.

After a year of mat leave, I was back to my cozy, downtown job. Life was better than ever, and I loved our nanny. While friends went back to work with major trepidation over leaving their little ones with people they hardly knew, I went back happy and unflinching, on account of my trust and relationship with our nanny, whom we’d known for many months.

But going back to work that day of our first allergist’s appointment was impossible. The next day, too. All of a sudden I was full of anxiety. How could I ever leave him again? I didn’t yet trust myself to handle the situation, how was I ever going to trust anyone else?

A couple days later I forced myself back into my office chair. But not before I showed the nanny how to use the EpiPen, which I’d just been taught to use. I then imparted all I’d learned about managing Lucas’s allergies, which at that point amounted to reading ingredients on labels and avoiding all nuts. But the fear, stress and guilt were insurmountable. And it wasn’t a month before I quit my editor’s job to go freelance, so I could be closer to Lucas and deal with his allergies from the front line.

Naturally, my income took a huge hit. This meant I had to give up our seasoned, costly (and beloved), live-out nanny for less experienced but more affordable, live-in help. This is where my nanny nightmare begins.

The new nanny was fresh from Hong Kong. Her English was passable at best, but her comprehension of the language was poor. After three weeks, her voice remained virtually inaudible. Whether she ever understood anything I said was a question mark, which raised other issues. If I let her out alone with Lucas, would she be able to identify an emergency? Administer an EpiPen? Communicate to 911?

She was quickly replaced with another affordable nanny, whose English was slightly better and confidence much higher. Still, no matter how many practice runs we did with the EpiPen, despite clearly stated and repeated explanations on how to prevent and deal with an anaphylactic emergency, and despite the fact that she seemed to understand what to do and what was at stake, this nanny managed to mess up in every way possible. While “do not feed Lucas food from outside the house” appeared to be clear, why did she think taking him to the food court at a mall and buying him French fries was an exception to the rule? (French fries from a food court!!) Did she think that “no sharing food with other kids” meant it was OK for another nanny to give Lucas a cookie? (Note: she allowed this the very next day after the French fries incident.)

Oddly, every time we’d go over the protocols, it was like the very first time she was hearing them (ever see the movie “Ground Hog Day”?). The kids loved her, though: this was a woman who would bury her head in the sand just to make them laugh. But I thought she had to go.

It was back to the nanny hunt. I put the word out to friends, enlisted four reputable agencies and, 40 interviews later, Miss Unlearn Everything is still our nanny.

This is not because she’s improved in a significant way, nor because good help is hard to find. It’s because I have certifiably allergized myself out of the nanny market. Of the dozens of women I interviewed, I met five I was confident and excited about. But at the end of the day, they chose other “lower maintenance” families, as one nanny agent described it.

I hadn’t realized how unmarketable we had become. Why would a top-notch nanny choose to work for a work-at-home mom with two allergic kids under the age of five, when she could work with a single baby or kids who are in school all day or a mom who works far away from the home or – more to the point – a family that isn’t riddled with life-threatening allergies? The answer is: she wouldn’t.

One of the nannies, who had been a nurse back in the Philippines, had the class to call to say how much she wanted to work for us, but she was far too afraid of dealing with the allergies, particularly because both my kids have different ones (Judah, my younger son, is allergic to milk, and has yet to be tested for anything else). She clearly understood what the job would entail, which made me want her even more. In fact, anyone I interviewed who wasn’t the least fazed by the allergy situation was struck off my wish list, the same way we cast off a restaurant when the waiter hastily defines its kitchen as nut-free.

Therein lies the rub: if she has no fears about the job, we don’t want her. If she does, she doesn’t want us.

And so, until I find my Mary Poppins or decide to completely throw in the towel on my career, I’ve resigned myself to our sweet, memory-impaired nanny. Did I mention she makes a mean gnocchi?


Cool News for Torontonian
s: “Loots” at 896 Eglinton Avenue West has just opened the city’s first nut-free ice cream parlour, with 18 original Chapman’s flavours and 25 nut-free toppings, as well as nut-free slushies, blizzards and more!

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