On Monday, I pulled off the impossible. I got my kids to remain silent about a surprise “thank you” party for our nanny, Guillermina, or as we affectionally call her, “Llulle” (pronounced Joo-JEH).
Because it is summer and everyone is on vacation at one time or another, a group of us families whose children Guillermina has cared for over the years, decided to have the party at my house on Monday after she was done caring for Eli. I tipped off Guillermina’s daughter, Nayely, so that their family could join us for dinner.
The photo cake (pictured on right) was well-hidden in my kitchen and the balloons were in my car. As soon as I saw our friends Amy and Will drive up to our curb with Ari and buddy Jude, I gave the balloons to the boys and told them to go in and say “surprise!” As soon as Eli saw the balloons, she knew the drill. “It is a surprise party for you!” she burst. Nayely was with them, and had a grin on her face.
“What? We are having a party now?” Llulle asked.
Then the other families started pouring in. Later on, DH and I joked that poor Llulle thought she was going home, and instead had to stay for a party. But it was a blast, and Llulle was visibly moved.
As I have mentioned here so many times before that I am sure I have made you all cross-eyed, I grew up in a working class Caribbean neighborhood in North Miami. My Cuban father worked in a mill just north of us in the suburbs and my Puerto Rican mother was largely an at-home mom to four children, although she babysat kids for money, too.
The idea of hiring a nanny is so foreign to us, it is almost cartoonish. Think of the mother in Spanglish who doesn’t work, has older children, and has a nanny anyway. Needless to say, I did not want to become that woman.
You can imagine how fraught my decision was to hire Llulle six years ago, when I found myself freelancing and without family to lend a hand.
I met Llulle through a mom at the park after Amy told me she had to return to work and would need to supplement our care share arrangement by hiring someone. The mom at the park — who was at the party on Monday — had only used Llulle once and had not checked references since she only needed her one day a week. Nonetheless, I went ahead and met with Llulle, even though I was a bundle of nerves thinking of all those America’s Most Wanted skits where the nanny or person you thought you knew ended up being a total psycho.
Llulle was — is — young, attractive and all smiles. She has always had an upbeat disposition, and upon our first meeting, immediately took Ari into her arms. To my surprise, he did not cry, even though he had spent the first nine months of his life with only me and Amy. He even sometimes cried with Markos, wanting me to hold him instead.
Amy and I agreed to hire Llulle for eight hours a week — two four-hour mornings — while we supplemented with care share, by taking care of each others’ boys.
Those first few weeks working with us must have been a nightmare for Llulle. Amy, too, was raised by an at-home mother and had zero experience working with a nanny. We questioned everything she did and asked that she strictly adhere to a written schedule. (There was no schedule with Eli.) Our husbands, by the way, thought we were nuts.
Just when I’d calm down, someone would make a comment that would set me off again. “Do we know anything about this woman?” my well-meaning mother asked. That left me re-examining my decision. I hadn’t actually checked references — besides that one mom — so I began to wonder what if Llulle was a felon? Should I install a nanny cam?
But as time progressed, I became more comfortable with my choices as a mother and learned to trust the “mommy gut,” which is what I was going on in this case.
My friendship with Llulle deepened. I asked her to stay on for more hours. Even when I was supposed to work, I found myself spending my time talking to her instead. She told me about her life in her native Mexico, and I shared my experiences in Miami. We became friends outside of our work relationship. I attended her daughter’s first communion party and she would invite our family over to dinner. I have even left my kids for overnight stays, which I have promised her will continue. And without fail, she is always at both my children’s birthday parties.
“This isn’t the last time we will see you?” Llulle’s husband asked at the party.
“Wait a minute. Llulle hasn’t told you that you are watching my kids over the weekend?” Everyone burst out laughing.
“She is a better mother than me,” one mom at the party joked with the new family she will work with in the fall. (Their daughter attends Ari’s school and they have another baby on the way. I invited them because I wanted them to see firsthand what Llulle means to us.)
We were all in agreement that not only did we learn to be better mothers because of all the tricks that Llulle taught us — like putting a warm garlic clove with a piece of cotton in a baby’s ear to soothe an ear infection — but never once did we ever worry at work about our children. What a gift.
When Eli was born, I had Llulle help me with her at seven weeks and for 32 hours a week. She was always better at putting down my children for a nap, for example, than I was.
(Photo: Eli’s favorite person at birthday parties.)
If I have one complaint — and this is a good problem to have — it is that I was jealous at how close Eli was with her. But Llulle, being the pro that she is, nipped that in the bud with a very thoughtful Christmas card, in which she thanked me for “letting your children love me as much as I love them.” And as I looked around in my crowded living room on Monday — there were seven families total, including 11 kids — I am glad I did. Llulle will always be a part of our family. There is no way my children — or I — would tolerate not seeing her.
I started a tradition within the group of families. We are all close, and the other families always come to my kids’ parties. I took a picture of Llulle with the kids for next year’s photo cake. It was a great motivator to get the kids to sit for the photo since they all wanted to be on the next cake.
“I want to eat myself!” Jude said.
“I want to eat someone!” another kid shouted.
“I want to eat Llulle,” Ari said.
“I want to eat you,” Llulle told Ari, as she gave him a squeeze.
“I love you,” Ari said. I willed myself not to cry.
“Ari, don’t make me cry,” Llulle said, emotion creeping up in her voice.
The mommy gut. Always trust the mommy gut.