If he ever chooses to be one, my friend Tom would make an outstanding parent.
Nurturing and creative, his nature is to make things better than they are. Whenever I see him, Tom is making something beautiful; artfully embroidered pillowcases suitable for the boudoir of royalty, stacks of swirled multicolor cupcakes whose delectable frosting would make Martha Stewart weep with envy.
In addition, Tom happens to be no slouch in those departments considered by more traditionally conventional standards as "manly." Previously employed by Lowe's Hardware, he knows his way blindfolded around the tool, lumber, plumbing equipment and electrical aisles. Besides making things, he can fix broken things.
During the dozen years we have known each other, I have gotten engaged and married, moved to the RiverDell area and had a child. My daughter, now 7 years old, absolutely adores Tom.
She loves the respectful way he listens to her yak about grade-school dramas, how he styled her hair into a "princess chignon" for her birthday, and most of all the way he patiently applies the most perfect pink nail polish (with glittering stars) to her tiny fingertips.
Recently Tom informed me that his natural gifts with children has led him to consider changing careers to become a "Manny."
When I was in the market for at-home childcare, I asked RiverDell friends and neighbors for recommendations, put up a sign at the River Edge and Oradell libraries, checked out the babysitter list at the local swim clubs. I contacted local churches and temples as well. I called several local pre-schools, such as Stepping Stone and That's My School, hoping that some well-loved staffer might be looking for extra work.
I interviewed, called every reference, did little "meet-ups" with any potential new babysitter and my child before leaving them alone together. I was fortunate to find several people who were not only reliable, safe, sane and fun, but who were also what I believed to be good role models in my absence.
Still, there were failures:
A kind but aging woman whose physical condition diminished soon after being hired... to the point where she no longer lift a small child, much less chase down a fleeing toddler.
A lovely-seeming young woman in the process of getting her teaching degree, who I hired as a mother's helper. She left the baby sitting alone on the street, completely unattended, to come back inside and use the bathroom.
Then there was the highly-recommended but text-addled teen, who my child reported, rarely spoke a word once I left the premises.
Years ago when I cleaned apartments in Manhattan for a living, I often came across maids who became babysitters after their employers had children. While some of them were caring towards their charges, others seemed bored and dismissive. I found it surprising that people delegated their dirty laundry and children to the same person, as if it took similar skills to properly manage both.
In our area, as in most parts of the world, the mother is the primary gatekeeper of hired childcare. It is usually mom who scopes out the possibilities and writes the ad for Craigslist, unlike "Mr. Baxter," the controlling father in Mary Poppins who penned his own dreary list of "proper" nanny qualifications.
But as the story goes, the children write a musical advertisement of their own nanny must-haves: "a cheery disposition, rosy cheeks, no warts....play games, all sorts!" My friend Tom could easily have fulfilled all of their wishes and become a dream "Manny Poppins." But would Mr. Baxter have hired him?
Tom says he is "a little concerned that "people won't feel comfortable hiring a man to care for their children." Celebrities like Brittany Spears, Elle Macpherson, and Madonna are just a few high-profile moms who have opted for a "manny" to care for their children. While still in the minority of the child-care workforce, male nannies and babysitters are growing in number.
But according to several studies, it appears that fathers, more than mothers, have anxieties regarding male childcare workers. Still, for some families a man not only fills the bill, but provides something that may be missing. In the case of single or divorced mothers hoping to offer a good male role model to their children, a manny can bring a very calming, positive energy into the home.
Still, some families, if given a choice, actually prefer the idea of a capable male nanny to ensure their children's safety. A friend of mine who lives in a less than safe neighborhood in an urban area, says she feels a bit of extra comfort having a male nanny walk her kids to and from school.
For Tom there is still some work ahead; cpr classes, fingerprints, background checks and certification. But when asked what he anticipates the most difficult thing will be about his new profession, he says, "Kids change a little bit every day. You have to be attuned and keep up with every new development. Kids are a work in progress."
As I watch him purposefully, patiently stitching a complex detail along the edge of his embroidery, I know that whatever family hires Tom, their children will be in very good hands.