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Part-time Poppins:

Putting on Your Game Face

The Coin Toss

My knowledge and comprehension of football is extremely limited, but after actually sitting down and closely watching a game recently, I couldn't help but see the parallels between a game of football and a nanny's frenetic
morning school-preparation routine.  In both "sports," there are obstacles,
a desired end result, tackles, "two minute warnings," even "Hail Mary
tosses," man to man coverage, blitzes and time outs.  Both sports are played with limited time frames, even though the "clock doesn't run" the entire time.  I can personally attest to the clock not continuously running,
because, according to four-year-old Zachary, "Nintendo time doesn't count when you're getting the game ready."

Click To DownloadWith the coin toss, the beginning is always optimistic, and both "sides" have to see whether they will have the initial upper hand, and respond accordingly. Sometimes the children even want to toss an actual coin in the morning, for one reason or another, and random consequences can be attached to each side of the coin. As a nanny, you have to be able to take the ball and run with it, regardless of the coin's say. Will one of the children hide their shoes in an attempt to stall the inevitable carpool ride to school? Will the nanny drop the ball and pour the wrong cereal? Or, perhaps, will one of the "players" on either side feign sickness for one reason or another? Regardless of who chooses the correct side of the coin, no one ever really "wins" the coin toss in the nanny game, because this race is so fast-paced that a task is often forgotten almost as quickly as it has started, resulting in little players with one sock on and one shoe in-hand, with breakfast half-consumed and vitamins patiently waiting to enter their stomachs.

The usual "game plan" is to have man-to-man coverage, which is where one person is in charge of guarding one particular person. Depending upon the tone of the morning, and each child's individual needs, we often divide the children between each other to get to the conclusion of the "school game." More often than not, the man-to-man coverage alternates throughout the two-hour period, but with the children's stress levels at all-time highs, separation of each child usually eliminates the chance of disputes on the playing field...which are never "pretty," in either sport.

While the usual game plan consists mainly of man-to-man coverage, zone coverage is also used as a back-up and in addition to man-to-man coverage. Zone coverage, in both football and in nannying, is where a particular area is covered, i.e., "You've got the kitchen," or the living room, or wherever; with adults, this is more for preventative measures, but with the children, it is often territorial, i.e., "I have the Nintendo, NOT you! This is MY room to play in," etc. For organizational and emotional reasons, zone coverage can score an extra touchdown...or prevent the other team from entering the end zone.

Now, a blitz is where all of the defense comes toward the quarterback, and while we have no true quarterbacks in our game, we essentially have three people who share this role and who alternate between first, second and third string. The children's parents, James and Colleen, are the veteran quarterbacks, but even with their excellent planning and experience, we remain a coachless team and rely on each other's judgment and instincts. The children's blitzes are in the form of verbal avalanches and multiple requests, which can be just as disorganizing as an actual football blitz, especially when noise fills every corner of the house and temporarily disables your team.

Shortly after the coin toss, "first and ten" is the "first down" when there are ten yards to go. In nanny terms, this is a good situation where the offensive team is brimming with optimism. That optimism may wax or wane, however, by the time the game reaches half time.

Half Time

Half time is that blissfully exquisite moment where we collectively take one large breath and allow ourselves to be entertained by something. Without the benefit of half time, in whichever form it may be in, the pace of the game can exhaust even the most diligent and skilled players. Half time is that moment of opportunity for both teams to size up the competition. Should the game plan change, or is it still the correct course of action? Should the positions stay the same, or should there be a change in players?

The unfortunate consequence of half time, however, is the fact that each team must remain sharp for its inevitable end. Actually relaxing during this "breather" can defeat even the most accomplished team. I have learned that in the sport of football, a quarterback sack is where the quarterback, the lead offensive player, is tackled before he can do the play, and if I am playing the quarterback, and I relax and lose concentration for just one fleeting moment, then I am susceptible to Catherine pulling my leg and tripping me before I can safely pass off the lunch bag to James or Colleen. While Catherine doesn't yet know that she's a real player in this game, as most one-year-olds don't, it doesn't make her any less of a player...or any less of an obstacle when she does find the fabric of my pant leg and unintentionally pull me down.

Half time can also be deceptive, though, as it can alter the dynamic of the players or the level of the game's energy. Half time is only that, however: the halfway point of the game. All is still possible, even if breakfast hasn't been eaten, vitamins remain untouched, lunches aren't completely packed, homework looms ominously over the players' heads and shoes, socks and jackets are missing in action on the playing field.

The Hail Mary

The Hail Mary, as I understand it, is a long pass up in the air where there is no time left on the clock and the game is up for grabs...the one who catches the ball is the one who wins, and all defenders and offensive players go to the end of the field. Regardless of most of the events from the beginning of the morning, it is still possible to prevail and ensure that the children arrive at school on-time and with all tasks successfully completed.

Even after an unsuccessful "third and long" (desperation play) such as the children not brushing their teeth at all, thus leaving me at a loss to try to gain some yardage for a first down, I try not to drop the ball and before the defense picks it up, because then, according to the terminology of the big game, I'd have a fumble. And even if I don't have a fumble, interceptions are always possible: I can throw the ball to James or Colleen and then the children can somehow get the upper hand by "catching" the ball first. Justin is a fierce competitor at times, and it isn't always easy for me to obey the line of scrimmage, which is the plane that the quarterback can't break.

The Hail Mary pass can make the difference between a win and a loss and can determine whether one of the children has a happy, healthy morning or a morning riddled with unnecessary stress and angst. Even though there isn't a cheering audience for the nanny's game, at the end of the day, all of the players are friends, and we congratulate each other...regardless of whether a Hail Mary was resorted to or not. The next time I watch a football game, however, I'll watch it with the eyes of a nanny...and the heart of a competitor.






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