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Published: Sunday, 1/23/2005

The 'real' Nanny

BY RHONDA B. SEWELL
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Jennifer Kimmet loves to watch the Fox reality series Nanny 911, but she knows that it's the extreme of what she does.

"The difference is, I don't have a problem child and I'm not British," said the 26-year-old Toledo nanny hired by Charles and D'aun Norman before their now 3-year-old son Chase Tyler was even born.

Ms. Kimmet has cared for her charge, a part-time preschool student at Maumee Valley Country Day School, whom at times she affectionately calls "Mr. Chase," since he was 6 weeks old.

Her 8 a.m.-to-6 p.m., five-days-a-week, with overtime, position is not the profession of old, symbolized by the umbrella-toting Mary Poppins character.

Ms. Kimmet doesn't wear an uptight uniform, nor corset, and only carries an umbrella when it rains.

The Toledo woman's career is in the spotlight. The newest reality shows, Nanny 911, which began last November, and Supernanny, (ABC) which debuted Monday, expose American audiences to a child-care profession most often associated with the United Kingdom. Even the runaway ABC primetime soap Desperate Housewives dealt with the issue of a nanny in a recent episode, when Felicity Huffman, who plays Lynette Scavo, the mother of twins, fired her attractive nanny after Lynette's husband accidently saw the professional child care worker in the buff.

The most famous real examples are Norland Nannies, the graduates of Norland College in Bath, England, which offers a rigorous, academic program for students entering the profession.

"They [Norland students] study diaper rash for a month," says Pat Cascio of Houston, the mother of four daughters who was a nanny for 23 years. She is president of the International Nanny Association [INA] and says the reality TV shows, although admittedly extreme, serve as a beacon of education for the public on the role of nannies:

"I think it's super; for once it shows our profession in a positive sense and explains that nannies go into this profession as a career choice," says Ms. Cascio, who adds that nannies can make as much as $60,000 per year. Those who care for celebrity children can make even higher salaries, she adds. Ms. Kimmet and the Normans declined to reveal their payment arrangement.

INA is a nonprofit educational association for nannies and those who educate, place, employ, and support professional in-home child care providers.

Former Perrysburg resident Johnny Beechler of Newport Beach, Calif., a Fox casting associate working on the Nanny 911 show, agrees that such shows enlighten viewers as to the role of a nanny.

"It's not unusual for this type of reality show. I think it's a great way to get a neutral third party in to get help for a family. Who better than a nanny - they've been there assisting parents for years. They have learned what works and what doesn't work," said Mr. Beechler, 26, a graduate of St. John's Jesuit High School.

The British or European nannies on both shows are called in to private homes to tame problem American children (and sometimes parents).

Local nanny Ms. Kimmet, a former early childhood education student who attended Monroe Community College and worked both as a day care instructor and as a baby sitter, said she chose a career as a nanny to work one-on-one with a child and for financial reasons.

It s a very personal career choice. You work very closely together with the child and the family, says Ms. Kimmet, who also studied numerous nanny Web sites and read the book, The Professional Nanny by Monica M. Bassett (Thomson Delmar Learning, 1997) before deciding on her current career. (Ms. Bassett is the founder and former president of Nannies of Cleveland, Inc., Child Care Education and Services.)

The Normans are the only family that Ms. Kimmet has worked for as a nanny.

[Chase is] like my child, but I know he s not. But I love him and care for him as if he were my child, says Ms. Kimmet, who added that most nannies expect to straddle the line between employee and honorary relation to the family.

She is invited to most birthday parties and school activities, and on other important dates in young Chase s life. In addition to her child care duties, she also performs light domestic work, such as doing the family s laundry and the dishes.

I m not a baby sitter who watches the child for a few hours. This is my career. My commitment is not only to Chase, but to this family . . . Nannies are involved in the child s lives and serve as a role model that will influence them the rest of their lives. I take my position very seriously, says Ms. Kimmet.

Chase s parents, Chuck and D aun (pronounced "Dee-on") Norman, both in their late 30s, work as audit partners at Ernst & Young. They say that hiring Ms. Kimmet as their nanny was a must to maintain their busy careers.

It gives us the flexibility to manage our schedules at work as well as home, and there s the quality of care and the learning he gets with one single care provider, says Mrs. Norman, adding that she and her husband work an average of 50 to 55 hours per week.

Mr. Norman responds more candidly on the couple s need for a nanny:

It s the only way we could survive, he says.

The couple, married 14 years, ran an ad in the newspaper seeking a nanny and hired Ms. Kimmet before their son was born. They say a co-worker with a nanny helped with their decision to seek this specific type of child care.

In literature, film and television, Americans have long been exposed to the profession of nannies. There was Julie Andrews 1964 portrayal of Mary Poppins which captured viewers with the memorable phrase Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious. A year later, Andrews stared as Maria in the musical The Sound of Music. Andrews played a governess, not a nanny, who is charged with caring for and teaching her charges.

The year 1993 had its fill of nanny roles with the release of Robin Williams female housekeeper/nanny in disguise in the film Mrs. Doubtfire. and the debut of Fran Drescher s television role as Fran Fine in The Nanny (CBS).

In 2002, two former nannies, Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus, climbed straight to the New York Times bestseller list with their book, The Nanny Diaries: A Novel (St. Martin s Press), which revealed the wacky nanny-family relationships set in Manhattan s upper echelon.

Cassandra Eggers, 33, of New Hampshire, owner of the Web site NannyLocators.com, says often the nanny profession is confused with other child care roles such as that of a baby sitter, au pair, or governess. A baby sitter is not usually a professional, and only watches children for a few hours. An au pair (which means on par, or equal) is usually a foreigner hired through an agency who comes to live with a family for the purpose of child care and domestic duties.

A nanny is a professional. She is not a baby sitter, where mom and dad go out for three to four hours and she watches the children, says Ms. Eggers, who adds that while she enjoys the new reality nanny shows, you can t fix a family in a week.

Ms. Eggers adds that the profession is no longer gender specific. An extremely small segment of the profession is one held by male nannies who are referred to as mannies.

As for Ms. Kimmet, she says she is happy with her career choice, however currently trendy it is on television.

I will work as a nanny as long as Chase will have me and needs me, she said.

Contact Rhonda B. Sewell at: rsewell@theblade.com or 419-724-6101.



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