Wednesday, March 23, 2011

I'm the Best Baby

There's one thing I haven't made clear, or I've only glossed over it.  I'm really good at my job.  My whole life I've been great with kids.  Even as a kid, I was good with kids.  I think it's because I'm a little on the odd side, some would say cartoony.  I laugh a little too loud and my facial expressions seem to stretch passed the edge of my face.  My wardrobe also has the same amount of colors and patterns as a five year old.  No, seriously.  Here is a picture of my tights drawer:
And this picture was taken over a year ago, so just imagine another year's worth of discount tights shoved in between those nice and neat rows.  But be it my wardrobe or my silly faces, kids love me.  I was often told I should be a teacher, but I never agreed.  Yes, I am marvelous at getting the noisiest kids to listen but the truth is I couldn't see myself in a classroom.  When I became a nanny I realized this was because one of my biggest tools is the world around me.  I don't want to be a teacher (although I'm a damn good one, just ask the 3 year old I watch who can now write the whole alphabet in upper AND lower case) I want to be a show-er.  I don't want to teach geography, I want roll down some hills.  I don't want to teach history, I want to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge!
Speaking of the Brooklyn Bridge (I know, I know, amazing segway), I walked across it on the day I registered Sarah Poppins as a business!  Let's see, where did we leave off...
So after the business cards came in the mail, my boyfriend set up a website.  Don't ask me how he did it, but he set-up the website through blogspot and he did an amazing job.  Seriously, without him I would've had to have hired some sort of graphic designer/website warlock and that's money I don't have.  I bought the rights to through godaddy for a little over $12 and Justin worked his magic so when people typed in they would be redirected to the blogspot page.  I'm sorry if this sounds all over the place, but I'm terrible with all things internet therefore I claim ignorance. 
After my beautiful website went up, I was feeling a little more confident about telling people. One thing I always tell the kids is "If you need help, use your voice."  I figured, why not talk about it and see who can help me?  This is exactly how I learned about registering a business. 
 I think the month was November because it was chilly-but-sunny at the park.  I was talking to a father friend while the young ones played "baby".  This game is ridiculous in the sense that one child lies completely still while the other one runs and fetches a bottle/a new diaper or sings a lullabye.  The whole point of going to the park is to get rid of some energy, this game helps them conserve it!  But anyway, I told my friend about my idea and he asked me if I had registered my business. 
"What do you mean by that?" I asked, trying not to pull out my notebook too eagerly as I rushed to jot down some notes.
"You have to go downtown, near City Hall, and register your business.  That way the tax man can't get you."  I should tell you now that this father friend I am talking about has an Spanish accent so everything he says sounds that much cooler.  
"Good to know!" I thanked him as I jotted down CITY HALL BUSINESS in my notebook. 
Later that night I googled (I swear I practically built my business via google) "register your business in NYC" and I came up with this.  I think most states have similar requirements, something along the lines of going down to the county clerk office and registering the name of your business.  The whole thing costs around $100.  
So I printed out the paperwork, filled it out, and the next morning my 3 year-old sidekick and I packed a bag full of snacks and headed downtown.  The weather was (again) chilly-but-sunny.  I clutched a small bike in one hand and the 3 year old's hand in the other as we emerged from the subway.  
**Let's go ahead and call the 3 year old Sophie because I don't feel right using her name without her permission and since it's too hard to explain to her what a blogpost is, I'll just go ahead and change her name.**
Sophie hopped on her bike and we headed for the court house.  I am rarely in any government building, I even try and avoid the post office.  But I am always terrified of all the security.  I'm always afraid that I'm going to be that person who didn't realize they had a giant steak knife in her purse and then the suits would scoop me up and charge me with terrorism or something like that.  I nervously held up Sophie's bike as we approached the metal detector.
"Should I put this through the machine?"
A nice security officer smiled and shook his head.  He told me I could leave the bike at the front while we went about our business.   So Sophie and I made our way through the bustling court house until we made it to the right office.  Now, when you register a business there is really only one thing that needs to be approved-your business name.  I handed the woman behind the counter my paper work and she looked from the forms back to me.
"Sarah Poppins?  Is that like your name?" she asked. "Because your business cannot be your name."
"No," I replied while Sophie rested on my hip so she could see over the counter, "it's not my name."
The woman reached under the counter and came up with a dictionary.  She leafed through the P's, presumably looking for the word Poppins.
"It's Poppins, like Mary Poppins."  At this point I was very nervous.  I had already ordered business cards, built a website, and told everyone I was starting a business called Sarah Poppins, what if I couldn't use that name?  
"Oh, no, we can't do that either" the woman replied. "It has to be a real word."
I shifted Sophie from one hip to the other.  One thing I've learned is when you are trying to get some sort of service, bring a child.  Their cuteness factor exceeds yours and they lighten just about anyone's mood. "It is a real word. Poppins, it means nanny, or really great babysitter."
"I don't know." the lady replied.  She smiled at Sophie and Sophie shyly put her head on my shoulder.  Just the cuteness I needed.  "Well, you'll have to add something to clarify what it is exactly you are."
"I can do that!" I grabbed a pen and jotted --EXPLORDINAIRE.  The woman looked at the paper and then to me, then she smiled and stamped the page.  
"Pay down there," she said as she waved at Sophie.  
After we left, Sophie and I ate snack bars on the steps of the court house.  I felt like an episode of Law and Order was on the brink of appearing right before our eyes.  
I took this picture
and then we grabbed our stuff and walked across the Brooklyn Bridge for fun.  I felt like I was finally starting to take some steps with Sarah Poppins.  I may not have gone to school for business, but I was determined to start my own.  So start it I must!  

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Starbucks baby

Starting your own business does not pay the bills.  In fact, it does the opposite.  Luckily I don't have too many start-up costs, but obviously I'm still working as a full-time nanny.  I get to work every morning at 7.  I don't mind the early time mostly because I'm so used to it and when the weather is warm I ride my bike up the Hudson River and the view is spectacular.  After the morning waltz of dressing, eating, cleaning, playing, packing lunches, bathroom breaks, and more cleaning, the girls and I put on our coats and hats and gloves and scarves and we walk to school.  By 9AM both girls are in their respective classes and until 12 (when I pick up the 3 year old from preschool) I am free to do as I please.
Before starting Sarah Poppins I spent much of this time at the gym running on the treadmill because I was too self conscious of my lanky, duck-like movements to run outside.  The gym was great for my health but not so much for my physique (because let's face it I'm a solid 124 lbs not matter what I do) or for my nagging feeling of personal dissatisfaction.
Since Sarah Poppins I have spent many of these three hour breaks at the Starbucks on 87th st.  I'm not really a Starbucks kinda girl ($4.50 for a chai latte?!) but the library doesn't open until 10 and nowhere else has free wi-fi.  I don't count the creepy Indian buffet on Amsterdam.
So for close to 3 hours I sit at a round table built for two with my laptop on and my notebook out.  Most of Sarah Poppins began in a regular composition notebook in the form of lists.

  • Lists of questions
    • What do I have to offer?
    • Do I need a license??
    • What would I charge?
  • Lists of potential tours
    • Statue of Liberty
    • Times Square
    • Public transportation
  • And grocery lists
    • A girl's gotta eat!!

The list of potential tours was super easy to bang out, I had been frolicking around the city for years , after all.  My notebook started to look like a disjointed Frommer's guide for kids.  But the list of questions was much harder.  The tricky thing about Sarah Poppins is that it deals with children.  The tricky thing about children is that they are gigantic liabilities.  I may not be business savvy, but it doesn't take a genius to know that you just can't take a kid out and around NYC without some sort of license or some sort of paper that says I'm not a psycho child snatcher.  Right?
So, while sipping my freakin almost $5 latte (I can't stand Starbucks coffee, what else am I supposed to do?), I turned to the motherlode of useful and useless information: Google.  This is when things began to get tricky.  Like I said before, Sarah Poppins is a new idea, nothing like it has been done before.  Sarah Poppins isn't a nanny service because I wouldn't be spending enough time in a "controlled environment" and it isn't a daycare because I wouldn't take more than 4 children at a time (which you need a license to do).  Turns out I'm an Independent Contractor.  Well that sounds just as fancy as a gingerbread latte.
Here's the original sketch
from my notebook
In between chipping away at my mountain of questions, I began to think of my logo.  I shouldn't say think because the image came right away.  I, personally, think it's perfect.  It shows me with my crazy wavy hair wearing a silly hat with NYC buildings stuck in the hat wear there would be feather, or macaroni if your name is Yankee Doodle.  I sent this image to Justin and he came back with this:
Justin's digital Sarah Poppins
The cartoon version of Sarah Poppins really did wonders for my confidence.  Having a solid (and literal) face to my "brand" really made me start to believe that this was real.  
Sarah Poppins was beginning to really move along.  I ordered business cards and Justin set up my website.  I started to make friends at Starbucks.  There's one old man who comes in everyday with a cowboy fringe jacket and he reads mystery novels.  I bring him cashews because they are his favorite.  
And now, on the days I don't go to Starbucks, I run outside!  Now I let my lanky duck run hang out, running from the Upper West Side to the East Village roughly three times a week.  I even ran a half marathon.  
But I'm nowhere near done. I still have many lists to write, many questions to answer, and many $4.50 lattes to complain about.  I don't know what I'd do without these 3 hour breaks.  


Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Great Idea Baby

I have this horrible habit of having great ideas and then doing nothing with them. Or I’ll be really dedicated to whatever the great idea of the moment is for a total of 15 minutes before my motivation fizzles out. When I do dedicate enough time to my ideas I work hard to build a wonderful foundation before abandoning the project all together. This is evident in the books I’ve never finished, the jobs I never completed, and the holes in my self-worth that have left me unfulfilled.

So when I thought of Sarah Poppins my initial thought was to NOT TELL ANYONE. Because, second to my horrible great idea habit is my habit of getting really excited about my great ideas and telling everyone. This sucks because most people try and engage in conversation via previously discussed topics. And there is nothing worse than answering “How’s your book coming along?” with “great, thanks, it’s buried in the non-working laptop under my bed.” And no, I never really say that but I’m always, always thinking it. And then I always, always kick myself for having such great ideas and then doing nothing with them.

So when Sarah Poppins popped into my head I decided this time it was going to be different. This was my goldmine, my jackpot, my way up! I thought of Sarah Poppins while complaining about life to my wonderfully understanding boyfriend. We were chatting via Google video chat because I like to use new technology and I think it’s fun to see my/his face as we talk (because then I can see all my awesome expressions!). He thinks it’s creepy. The conversation went something like this:

Me: “I’m so depressed, I hate my job, I hate my life, blah blah blah.”

Justin: “Well then why don’t you get a new one?”

Me: “Because I’m worthless and I don’t want to do anything else because I really do like my job and I suck at everything, blah blah blah.”

Justin: “So why don’t you find something similar to what you like? What about working for a tutoring company?”

Me: while scrunching my face to see how wrinkly it looks on the screen “Why would I work for a tutoring company when I could just start my own? I know enough people.”

Ping! (or ding! Or zing!! Just insert your own idea noise here)

The light bulb went off. I wouldn’t just be any ordinary tutor. I’d be an extraordinary tutor. And I wouldn’t just tutor about anything, I’d tutor about New York City! I’d explore the city with countless kids, just as I had done for two previous years. I could build a children’s tour guide company. I’d call it Sarah Poppins and I’d become an explordinaire!

I was obviously super excited to have such a good idea. Especially when I started to do some research and realized there is nothing like my idea out there. There’s nothing greater than coming up with an original great idea.

But, like I said, I’m very good at coming up with ideas. Harping from my days on the basketball court (in the eighth grade)—it’s the follow-through that gives me the most trouble.

No Job Baby

Starting your own business is hard.  Especially for an English major.  I'd be a fibber if I said I didn't google "start your own business" just to figure out where to begin and I even had trouble figuring it out from there.  I turned 25 this year.  A quarter-century, five whole hands, a full grown adult.  I'm now at that age where living with your parents is lame, not paying your cell phone bill is irresponsible, and wearing silly bands is creepy.  I only partake in the latter of the three.

I moved to NYC right after college for no reason other than my sister wanted me to and I couldn't imagine a better place to stimulate my post Penn State attention span. I started serving tables at an upscale restaurant in Times Square which, yes, sucked.  Upscale in Times Square pretty much means a cafeteria with cloth napkins.  I served a bunch of cool celebrities, the ultimate coolest being Flavor Flav (he gave me a cash tip and told me I was real), but I bounced out of that job when I realized how much time and effort I was putting in to climbing a server ladder with a middle-aged, bitter Broadway understudy at the top.  Not to mention I was fired for taking off too much time to hitchhike across Sicily, but that's a whole different story.

So there I was, 23, jobless, and in New York City.  I was living with my sister and her husband in a sublet apartment on the Upper East Side, somewhere between 5th and Madison.  I spent my days watching shows like "Most Extreme" on the Animal Planet and walking to the closest Subway because they were the only ones who took a credit card.  I would wander over to the Guggenheim and watch all the tourists and St. Vincent doctors on their lunch breaks, hoping my future insanely rich husband would come and rescue me and my Subway sandwich.  That's when I started to notice all the strollers.

New York strollers are diesel.  No, seriously, I think some of them take fuel.  They are gigantic with features not included in most standard sports cars.  But what I first noticed about the strollers was that the babies in them were different skin colors from the women pushing them.  I'd see a white baby with a hispanic woman, a cute little asian baby with an african woman, a white woman with a black baby, so on and so forth.  Growing up in a mostly white Philadelphia suburb, at first I was very confused by these multicultural pairings.  But then it struck me -- "ohh, they're nannies."

Instantly the images of movies (well, they were books first but I never read either) like Nanny Diaries flashed through my head.  I too could be a young Anne Hathaway (or was it Scarlet Johanson?) making it as a nanny in New York City!  I imagined myself in quirky overalls, like Brittany Murphy in Uptown girls, befriending an uptight child and teaching him/her to open up and see the world.  Why not?  But how?

So I did what any twenty-something person does when they start looking for a job--I turned to the internet.  I soon learned that acquiring a nanny position is much easier said than done.   At first I posted an ad on Craigslist, but after some googling I came across a few nanny agency websites.  Each application is comparable to a profile, or maybe even a reality tv application.  10 pages of essay questions asking things like "How were you disciplined as a child?" or "Where do you see yourself in 5 years?" or "Name three things you like about yourself."  Page after page after page I answered these questions.  And after the application came the agency interviews.  Some agencies were terrible.  And by terrible I mean after spending the better part of an hour filling out the application and another few hours at a face to face interview I would receive a placement sheet with a prospective family only to find that "my perfect fit" was for a 16 year old boy after school from 3-9.  No offense to 16 year old boys, but I don't think we have very much in common.  Plus, how was I supposed to ride all the Coney Island kiddy rides with a 16 year old??

Okay, I don't want to spend too much time on the background story, so to move things along I'm going to go ahead and let you know I found the perfect nanny position.  For the last two years I have nannied two wonderful little girls (now 3 and 6).  And just like I wanted, we have spent the past two years visiting every park, every museum, going to every free concert.  Mainly because we are in New York City so why wouldn't we do every cool thing possible but mostly because I get bored very easily and need a lot of activity to keep myself happy.

As wonderful as galavanting around the city with two sidekicks is, after awhile I became restless.   What was I doing?  How was this any different from waitressing?  The only thing missing (besides the Times Square crowd) was the ladder with the Broadway failure at the top.  I felt restless, unfulfilled.  I largely blame the winter months where these ideas started to brew, but I was genuinely feeling blue.
And one of the best/worst parts about nannying is that there is always an end date.  My two girls would eventually grow too old for me, I'd be replaced by school and after school sports.  Then what, find another family?  Did I really want to do this forever?  I was starting to feel just as helpless as my days in front of the Guggenheim.

And then I figured it out.  It's no secret that I'm not an ordinary nanny.  Most nannies don't go on subways, most nannies don't venture to other boroughs, most nannies don't frolic in the fountain at Washington Square Park.  Why couldn't I take my refined skill as an over-energized nanny and turn it into a business?  If there was no ladder to climb in the nannying world, I'd create one!

Hense the creation of Sarah Poppins.

But how do you start a business when your basic tools include crayons and stickers?

More on that later.