Before I started working for Hanley, Inc. I used to listen to moms talk about their kid’s endless scheduled activities and think, Can’t they just be kids? But now I see the other side of the coin. Because she’s forced to interact with other kids at school, Hanley is good at sharing. She watches other kids and learns from them. She assimilates. She is the Borg. It is useless to resist her. I see her with other kids her age and can’t help but think she’s very advanced. I’m probably biased. I like to think I have something to do with how she’s turned out. From the start, when she was four or five months old, I refused to “baby talk” around her, and at two and a half she speaks in complete sentences now. Whether or not that has anything to do with me, she’s a smart cookie, and I think it’s great that when we go home after school she says, “May I please have some water, Uncle Tim? And may I have four animal crackers?”
Usually when I pick her up from school I’m confronted with scorn and derision, because how dare I take Hanley away from the fun and important work of gluing macaroni to paper, or whatever game she’s playing with her little friends at that moment? However, last Tuesday I entered her classroom and Hanley was already at the coat rack, trying to jam her left foot into her right sneaker. As soon as she saw me she exclaimed, “I’m going to the pool for swim lessons today!” and she ran to me with one shoe on, ready to go. “Yes, you’re going to have a swim lesson today. Regardless, you still need both shoes. Please, go put them on.” “I need both shoes. Put them on!” she shouted, and ran to get them.
It may seem silly to give a two and a half year old swimming lessons, but with as much as we went to the community pool this summer, and because a few of her friends have swimming pools at their homes, and given her eagerness and fish-like love for the water, H’s parents decided that swimming lessons would be a good idea. Nobody expects her to be doing the back stroke, but if lessons improve her chances of not drowning, then it’s already a win, no? Yes. With that, she was enrolled at Saint Street Swim for lessons.
I picked her up at 3 PM and the lessons were at 4 PM, which meant that every five minutes I heard, “May I go to swim lessons?” Which is Hanley-speak for “Are we there yet?” Our usual routine is A: Pick up H from school. B: Go to Hanley, Inc. C: Give H sippy cup of water or juice and X number of animal crackers or ginger snaps. D: Occupy H with snack and books and/or crayons and paper. E: While H is busy, I let LLoyd out to pee, then lock him in an upstairs bedroom while I then let the other two dogs out to pee. F: Realize I have to pee. G: Let dogs back inside and then decide what H and I will do for the rest of the day.
However, on this particular day I also had to get H in a swim suit and get somewhere on time at the start of rush hour. Luckily, H was pumped to go swimming and was ready to leave in no time. However, on our way back downstairs from her room she paused at the top of the staircase and zoned out on something. She didn’t move for almost a minute, and since I was so harried, I snapped and said, “What the hell are you doing? Let’s go already!” Yeah, I know, bad manny! She came to and booked it down the stairs. I put on my swim suit and then looked up the address of where we were going on Google Maps. I had just figured out the best route to take when Hanley ran up to me and said, “What the hell are you doing? Let’s go already!”
We arrived at Saint Street Swim without incident and on time and met Hanley’s mom in the parking lot. Hanley immediately went into “mommy mode,” which is when she’s at her most annoying. This is when mommy enters the scene after an extended period of time and Hanley shrieks, “Mommy!” and gets really excited. Which is wonderful and as it should be. However, within seconds it escalates into a frenzy of excitement and shrill noises, like a cocker spaniel being restrained from reaching a rasher of bacon tied to a kitten riding a squirrel. Then mommy has to hold Hanley. If she’s not held long enough, Hanley cries. If Hanley is put down, she cries. Then we have to negotiate with hand holding, snacks, or episodes of Wonder Pets. During these “mommy mode” moments, I’m rendered powerless, because I cease to exist to Hanley. Rather, she pretends I don’t exist, because I might actually make her behave like a rational human being. It’s as though she’s caught on that her mother’s time with her is limited and mommy wants that time to be as nice as possible and will do and give anything to make that happen, so Hanley’s figured out a way to work that to her advantage. Are toddlers that calculating? Maybe not. But the furtive glances in my direction before she begs her mother to hold her while simultaneously begging for snacks, sucky rags, and Dora seriously make me wonder.
At this moment we had none of those things, but we did have a swimming pool to our advantage. Hanley’s mom put her down and explained that I would be going into the pool with Hanley during her lesson while she watched from the sidelines. You could almost see Hanley’s head split in two as she was torn between the pool and her mommy. As we predicted, the pool won and she reached for me fairly quickly. At the appointed time we waded into the pool and met our teacher, Miss Jessie, and the two other toddlers and their mothers who were in our class. I’d explained to Hanley beforehand in the car that she had to listen to our teacher and do everything asked of her so she could learn to swim safely, and Hanley had responded in the affirmative with a loud, “We have to listen to the teacher in the pool!” As soon as we met Miss Jessie, Hanley was raring to prove herself a worthy pupil. Whatever was asked of her, Hanley did. Swim through a hoop with her face in the water? No problem. Go underwater to retrieve a ring? Hanley retrieved three. Climb along the edge of the pool and then get out on her own? Hanley was finished before she even began.
She’s so eager to please,” Miss Jessie said. “I love it. Most kids aren’t so brave.”
“She’s a good egg,” I agreed. “Plus, you’re not related to her, so that helps.”
At one point in the lesson Miss Jessie asked Hanley to “swim to Daddy while I work with one of the other kids,” and Hanley started looking around wildly and very confused. I laughed and said, “She’s looking for her father. He’s in Boston.” Miss Jessie and the mothers (which would be a cool band name) stared at me for a beat, until I said, “I’m Hanley’s nanny.”
“Oh!” they chorused. Then they all spoke at the same time. “I had no idea.” “You’re a manny!” “That’s neat.” “That’s funny, because I thought she has your eyes.”
“She has your attitude,” Miss Jessie said.
I guess that’s a compliment.