three year nanniversary

Three years ago, I got dropped off in front a student housing building.

The truck that I had driven throughout high school, and had now moved me to Pasadena, CA, broke down on the 605 within 5 days of being an Angeleno, so I needed a ride.

I used my key-card to enter the building, and once inside the elevator, pushed the desired level: 3.

A smell from the hallway lingered in my nose as I moved through stories 1 and 2—a mix between stale children’s clothing, played in the day before and still sitting on the floor 24 hours later, and dinner cooking from nearby apartments. When I visit now, that smell hits me square in the face; I remember it so clearly, and it brings me right back.

The elevator opens and I tell myself this is going to be great! I can do this. it’s just an introductory day, I won’t be alone, I’ll have help.

Although my thoughts have a grasp on themselves, my heart-rate is a different story. I’m nervous, and my body knows it. Everything has been so new in the last week, and here I am, starting a job with a family I don’t know, doing something I haven’t technically done before: nannying a 5-month-old baby.

I knock gently, and through the door I immediately hear what later would become a normal and endearing greeting, “Ayden! Who’s heeeeere!"

Ashley opens the door, and I’m welcomed into their small but inviting 2-bedroom apartment. Ayden sits in her high-chair, wearing nothing but a diaper, and her big, brown eyes look at me curiously. To think about a time where I didn’t know what it was like to see those eyes looking into mine seems crazy now.

Ayden is just finishing lunch, a mix of rice cereal and breast milk, and is almost ready for her mid-day nap. Ashley is good about providing context and narrating where we are at in the day. I mostly pay attention and observe.

We all go into Ayden’s room to get her ready for nap-time. I’m walked through diaper-changes, the bedtime routine, and how this whole experience, generally speaking, should go. I listen to the song Ashely plays on her phone for Ayden, and it’s one I would also play throughout that first year. I remember the lyrics, the countless times we sung them, the countless times Ayden cried throughout the duration of it because she knew it wasn’t playtime anymore. Ashley pulls out the book they read before each nap, and I settle on the floor in the front of the rocking chair, absorbing all I can.

She starts, “Little Nutbrown Hare, who was going to bed, held on tight to Big Nutbrown Hare’s verrrrry long ears."

I watch as Ayden sits in Ashley’s lap, mostly staying still but every so often grabbing one of the pages, and feel the attachment forming quickly. My heart-rate is steady, and at peace. I know this is going to work out. I know this is going to be good.

Ashley finishes the book, sweetly whispering I love you all the way to the moon…and back and closes its cover.

She says a simple prayer over Ayden, tells her goodnight, and sets her in the crib. Ayden does well, and we quietly exit.

The next couple hours, Ashley goes over the eat-wake-sleep schedule they have found success with for Ayden, and I take mental notes. We make lunch together, and prep dinner together—Ashley accidentally pours a full cup of oatmeal into the bean salad I’m making, and we laugh, a lot. I remember thinking how much I already liked her, and how comfortable I felt. I stayed and ate with them that night, so I could meet Ayden’s Dada, Emanuel, and so we could all get to know each other better.

Today, I’ve been a nanny for this family for 3 years. It blows my mind. I have watched Ayden grow up, and I have watched her sister Avery grow up, and I have experienced the insane joy that comes from being a primary caregiver. 

The Itzhakian’s took a big risk on me the night they uttered the words I so desperately wanted to hear: You’re hired!

I was sitting in a dimly lit car, and the three of us were Skyping my interview. (WHO SITS IN A CAR FOR THEIR JOB INTERVIEW, C’MON ALYSSA.) Seriously, though, they had no reason to trust me aside from my own claims and my references. I was 350 miles away and we had never met, and all they had was the promise that I’d be moving within the month if I got hired.

When I did, I called Mack immediately and shared the celebratory news: GUESS WHO’S MOVING TO PASADENAAAAAAAAAAAAA.

So on September 12, 2013, I drove from Lodi to Pasadena with my dad and a U-Haul trailer, and on September 19 I officially became Sa.

I was processing this with Ashley last week, and I told her how my experiences with the girls, and with their family overall, have shaped so much of who I am. She knows this already, as do I, but each time I stop to reflect, I am genuinely dumbfounded. A version of myself without the Sa part is unimaginable. I think about these relationships, each so unique yet completely synchronized, and I think about the all-bearing but slow-building nature of them.

Stepping into a family as their nanny means you step in the everyday of their lives. And it’s almost immediate, too. You step into the reality of dirty dishes and dirty diapers. You step into relational dynamics as parents reveal their personalities and process decisions in front of you and with you. You step into honest conversations and opportunities to share, and you realize that so much of this job is what you make it.

Both the Itzhakians and I wanted the same thing from my role as their nanny: a commitment to investing in the life of this family, rather than a temporary babysitting gig that would help move me to LA.

So here we are now, 3 years later. We’ve celebrated together and mourned together, over major things and minor things. We’ve worked together and problem-solved. We don’t fight, but we stay honest with each other. We’ve shared conversations over lego-building and baby-feeding and I wouldn’t have this life—this life as Sa, as #nannyforever—any other way. They are my family, and today I celebrate that enormous, beautiful blessing.

And just for fun, here's something I wrote in Decemeber 2013, after I had a few months of nannying under my belt (it's all truer than ever, too): 

More than anything else I'm doing, though, I love being a nanny. I love being apart of another family and I love being immersed in day-to-day life with them. It feels so purposeful and tangible and bigger-than-me, and those are "job-qualities" I find extremely important. I can't believe I get paid to hang out with a beautiful, growing, learning, baby girl. I can't believe I get paid to foster a relationship with her AND her parents. I can't believe I get paid to cook, to drink tea and eat kettle corn while Ayden naps, to simply go through life with each of them. They are so generous to me, and I just can't express my gratitude enough.