Tuesday, March 1, 2011

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 match.com 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.

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