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My Father-in-Law, the Nanny


Nothing irritates my father-in-law more than watching people waste money. He believes it's his duty to lecture the stranger behind him in the checkout line for choosing the glass cleaner that's not on sale. And he's constantly cramming our fridge with soda bottles he's filled with filtered water from his sink (which, unfortunately, tastes like whatever previously occupied the containers). So you can imagine his reaction when, near the end of my four-month maternity leave, my husband and I accidentally mentioned how much the nannies we'd interviewed were charging.

"How can you pay a stranger to take care of the baby? She's just going to watch TV all day!" Eli said in his thick Israeli accent. "I'll be the nannoo."

Okay, so it wasn't just about the cash  -- he'd fallen madly in love with Benjamin about five seconds after he laid eyes on him. He more than made up for my mother-in-law, who openly admits she doesn't really connect with kids until they hit 2. Plus, he'd had a lot of free time since retiring a few years ago, and he genuinely wanted to make life easier for us.

I thought the offer was very sweet, but the idea of having my husband's family involved in my life four days a week (I have Fridays off) was freaky. Not to mention that Eli refuses to get the hearing aid he needs and thinks car seats are a marketing scam. After five years of listening to him comment on the way I do everything, from throwing together a salad ("That's not how you cut a tomato!") to blowing my nose ("Don't squeeze so hard!"), I had a feeling there'd be many arguments about nap schedules in my future. My husband understood my reservations and left the decision up to me. I knew, though, that he liked the idea of saving money and making his dad happy. Besides, Eli had babysat a few times without any glitches, and he's a great cook. After a few lengthy, long-distance phone consultations with my mom, I agreed to try it out.

Jana Siegal Banin is a former articles editor at YM magazine.

Granddads Do It Better

The morning of my first day back at work was a blur of making bottles, blow-drying my hair, and gathering up stray pacifiers. I was trying to figure out how to lift a carton of grapefruit juice from the fridge without dropping Benjamin when Eli walked through the door. Argh! Hadn't I asked him to ring the doorbell? What if I'd been wearing just a towel?

"Hello, sweetheart. I went shopping last night  -- you won't believe what I paid for this stuff," he said.

My entire body tensed up when I looked into the bags stuffed with scratchy one-ply toilet paper, the wrong brand of diapers, and enough tomatoes to cover every surface in my apartment.

"There's my little monkey!" he said, reaching for the baby. "Give him to me. You go get ready. "

"It's okay, I have him right now. You're going to be with him all day," I answered, hugging little Benjamin a bit too tightly. "See this notebook? It'd be great if you could keep a log of his feeding times, naps, and diaper changes. I wrote down the doctor's info and our work numbers on the inside cover. Oh, and here's a list with all of my instructions."

He barely glanced at the four-page guide I'd spent the better part of the weekend typing up (burp cloths in the bottom dresser drawer, easy on the "Baby Mozart," etc.). Suddenly, hundreds of dollars a week seemed like a fair price for someone who would at least pretend to listen to me.

I spent the first weeks agonizing over whether I'd done the right thing. On one hand, I never had to wonder if the stranger I'd hired morphed into an abusive monster when I left. And Eli was surprisingly meticulous about keeping track of Benjamin's naps and feedings, he hardly turned on the TV, and he went on tons of long walks.

But repeatedly screaming "Did the baby like the cereal?" into the phone until he finally understood what I was saying was frustrating. And since he was staying over on Tuesdays and Wednesdays  -- his commute can take up to an hour each way  -- I felt like our home was being invaded. The worst, though, was the constant criticism. How could I use chemical-laden wipes, he'd ask? Did I want Benjamin to get a diaper rash? I was starting to think it was just too much to handle.

Then, one Sunday evening, as I was battling the Monday's-coming blues, my mother-in-law called.

"I saw the baby this weekend," she said. "He's adorable!"

"No you didn' haven't seen him in weeks," I answered, confused.

"But I did! Eli showed me the video he's been taking of him. It's mostly of him lying there on his mat, but it's very cute. He played it over and over last night."

That's when it hit me: Here's a guy who loves his job so much he wants to relive it on the weekends. The highly recommended sitters we'd met with had seemed warm, experienced, and responsible, but what I finally understood is that while you can pay someone to listen to you, you can't pay someone to love your child the same way his grandfather does.