“After losing our last nanny unexpectedly, it felt like our lives were about to spin out of control. But then we met Bradley. He came into the kids’ life and has not only been there to make them smile but he has also worked with them to build character and reinforce routines. This has allowed them to continue to grow into two amazing children. Bradley has gone above and beyond in his duties. He works to reinforce their education by developing fun supplemental and co-curricular activities that support their personal and academic growth. He finds a way to make it fun for the kids while also giving them the confidence to try new things. In our home, Bradley is a leader, a teacher, a friend, a guide, and so much more. While that sounds nice, the reality is he has been through a lot with our family. Despite it all, it is easy to say that his humor, his ability to adapt, and his professional communication has been the key to our success. During his time with our family, Bradley has given the kids adventures and experiences that they will remember for a life time. My kids and my family love him and I am grateful daily to have him in our lives.” -Jennifer B.
Strollers and Stilettos interviewed Bradley Blankenship as our highlighted nanny for the month of April. Bradley grew up in Roanoke, Virginia and is a published author with multiple degrees, including a PhD in Education from Indiana University. Read the full interview below!
S&S: Where did you grow up?
BB: I grew up in the mountains of Appalachia in a town called Roanoke, Virginia.
S&S: Why did you end up in Chicago?
BB: I ended up in Chicago because my partner was assigned his medical residency at Northwestern. When he finished, we both decided we liked Chicago and wanted to make it our permanent home.
S&S: What is your alma mater?
BB: My undergraduate is from George Mason University, in Fairfax Virginia. As a fun aside, Last year I was named a distinguished Alumni in recognition of my groundbreaking children’s books. Both my Masters and PhD are from Indiana University.
S&S: What degree(s) do you hold?
BB: I have a BA in Psychology, MS in Education and Student Affairs, and a PhD in Education.
S&S: Tell me a little bit about your professional experience – What have some of your previous roles been?
BB: While my professional background is incredibly diverse, the common thread is youth and adolescent development. I have held both faculty and administrative appointments at the university level. In the Fall of 2004, I was invited to work for the Semester at Sea study abroad program where I lived on an ocean liner that served as a floating university. During my 6 months on ship, we sailed around the world and I had the opportunity to develop and lead service learning experiences in various countries for our students. During my summers in graduate school, I was a counselor for an interfaith cross-country youth bicycle camp where I took groups of 13-24 year olds on multi-week bicycle rides across the country.
S&S: What did you want to be when you “grew up”?
BB: For as long as I can remember, I have always wanted to write children’s books. The fact that I have achieved this goal and continue to write is an amazing feeling! Other than that, I don’t think I had a concrete plan of wanting to be “something.” But I knew I wanted out of my home town and I wanted to travel the world. I wanted to experience all the adventures and places I was reading about in books.
S&S: Why did you decide to become a nanny?
BB: When I was teaching at a university I was approached in regards to being a live-in celebrity home-school teacher. Having run residence halls I was used to live-in positions and, teaching at the university, I had experience developing and teaching different courses. I was challenged with developing and teaching an entire high school curriculum centered around social justice. For 4 years I worked with the family and their two sons while we traveled extensively. The world was, quite literately, my classroom. I was given the opportunity to work with and help shape two amazing students. When my contract ended, I took some time off and volunteered with a local literacy non-profit, helping to develop and support curriculum. When the time came to return to the work force, the idea of going back into a traditional academic role simply did not appeal to me. I enjoyed the individual attention I was able to give to students in a private setting so I decided to change my path and explore working with another private family.
S&S: How long have you been in this role?
BB: I have been with my current family for about a year.
S&S: What is your favorite part of your current position?
BB: I am currently working with 5 year old twins. This is the youngest age group I’ve worked with professionally, and they are so much fun! As an educator, it is exciting to support them in alphabet recognition, sight words, and numbers. I have the freedom to develop and experiment with educational play, tailoring experiences to each kid and his or her respective learning style. I love watching them get excited about learning or mastering a new concept. From a caregiver perspective, I really enjoy the bedtime rituals. It’s a time where we calm down, reflect on the day, and tell bedtime stories.
S&S: Why do you enjoy working with children?
BB: I enjoy working with children because they remind me to constantly see the world with new eyes. They give me new perspectives and remind me that the world doesn’t have to be serious all the time. It sounds cheesy, but I want to be the change I see in the world, and I think that change starts by influencing and shaping the citizens of our future.
S&S: Kids often say whatever comes to mind – Do you have a favorite line from a kiddo you previously worked with?
BB: I have two actually. From when I was home schooling: “Mr. Bradley, I think that it’s great you know a lot of big words, but it doesn’t mean anything if the people you are talking to doesn’t know them. You can say the same thing using simpler language, so why don’t you just do that to begin with.” And from one of the five year olds more recently “I was so scared I thought I was going to toot glitter!”
S&S: Do you want to have a family of your own someday? How many kids do you envision yourself having?
BB: I already have a family of my own. It’s me, my partner, and my dog. Not to mention the numerous families that I have worked with and allowed me to be part of their own. But in regards to whether or not I want my own kids, I think I will cross that bridge when I come to it. At the moment, there are not any plans for kids of my own. I honestly enjoy working with different families and if I had my own kids, I would not have the time, or the energy, to do what I do. There are plenty of families out there that need a Mr. Bradley. For the time being, I’m enjoying those families.
S&S: What are your favorite things to do with kids?
BB: As a story teller, my favorite thing is helping kids create and tell their own stories. I do this by inspiring them with adventures. Whether it’s a new park or a museum, a hike through the bird sanctuary, or a messy science experiment, I try to set the foundation for something magical to happen. We practice telling our stories through play, verbal narration, coloring, or acting it out. Each day and each telling the stories and how we tell them changes. It’s a blast.
S&S: What do you enjoy doing in Chicago during your personal time?
BB: My dog is a therapy dog and I sit on the board of a literacy non-profit that uses therapy dogs to implement a literacy curriculums in struggling Chicago Public Schools. If time allows, I bring him into classrooms to work with the kids. When not volunteering, I spend most of my mornings studying Krav Maga at my self-defense gym. If not there I’m probably cycling, reading, or working on a new book.
S&S: Tell me about a day in the life of a Nanny.
BB: I arrive at the house around 1:00. I first check in to get a lay of the land. What are the tasks that need to be accomplished today, are there any news updates I need to know about, etc. I work around the house until 2:40 when I leave to pick the kids up from school. Depending upon the day, we go straight from school to activities (Swim lessons, Spanish Lessons, Karate Lessons, Tennis Lessons). After activities, we may go to a park or return home. We eat as a family, the kids help clean their dishes and then know it’s bath time. After bath time, they are allowed to have some downtime where they can choose 30 minutes of T.V., books and stories, or letter practice. Then it’s off to bed where we sing songs, read books, and they eventually fall asleep. Of course, as any Nanny knows, there’s never a “typical” day, as a sick kid, temper tantrum, canceled lesson, or some other random event can throw a kink into your perfectly structured schedule.
S&S: What are some of your favorite spots in the Chicago area (i.e. museums, play cafes, restaurants, beaches)?
BB: When the weather is nice we pretend we’re in a magical forest and run through the Montrose Bird Sanctuary. Dinkel’s Bakery has great treats and cake pops. Winamac park is another one of my favorite parks.
S&S: Where do you see yourself in five years – On a personal and/or professional level?
BB: In five years I hope to still be in Chicago, working with youth, and having published more books. I’m also hoping to be more fluent in Spanish than I currently am.
S&S: How did you hear about Strollers and Stilettos™?
BB: I saw an advertisement for a nanny position, and while it wasn’t a position I as particularly interested in, I researched Strollers and Stilettos to get a feel for who they are as a company.
S&S: What was the process like with Strollers and Stilettos™?
BB: I frequently say that working with Strollers and Stilettos is like working with a Match Maker. Working with a family is a very intimate position, and both parties want to make sure that you are a strong fit. Katie and her team met with me several times to get an idea of who I am as a person both personally and professionally. They wanted to know my values, my experiences, and my expectations. Before suggesting a placement, she took time to really understand my situation.
S&S: How did Strollers and Stilettos™ help you with finding a family in Chicago?
BB: Once Strollers and Stilettos understood who I was and what I was looking for, they worked to find the perfect match. I knew going into the match process that my experiences are unique and I wanted to make sure that I worked with an agency that worked with families who would value those experiences. Kate and the Strollers and Stilettos team were great and able to deliver! Before meeting my current family, Katie and her team not only vetted me for the family, but she also vetted the family for me. There had to be a mutual interest on both sides (the families and mine) before we met in person. One we finally met, the fit seemed natural.
S&S: Do you have any advice for families interested in hiring a nanny?
BB: I do. One area that is frequently over looked is professional development. Your nanny is or will be an extension of your family. I’m a strong supporter of ongoing personal and professional development. If you invest in your nanny, you build trust and loyalty. You will get a return on that investment. The personal and professional development you help cultivate, whether that’s culinary classes, financial planning, wellness and fitness, self defense, language learning or first aid will directly benefit your family. When meeting with or interviewing your nanny, see if there are areas they would like to grow in or explore and discuss ways you may be able to help them achieve this growth.
S&S: Do you have any advice for candidates interested in becoming a nanny?
BB: I would say to think of the nanny position as a privilege because you are being invited to join someone else’s family. Having said that, for a successful placement, it is important that you find a fit that mirrors your personal values.