From diapers to diamonds: Confessions of a Stockholm 'manny'
9 Sep 2013, 07:33
Published: 09 Sep 2013 07:33 GMT+02:00
Sperry’s journey from a Midwestern farm to the glitter of Hollywood and then to Sweden is a rags-to-riches story with a difference. Or, as he puts it in a forthcoming book: a diapers-to-diamonds story.
However you want to describe it, Alex's career is unlike almost any other, and he now finds himself as one of Stockholm’s few nannies and even rarer "mannies", an existence that carries with it the highs and lows of working as a surrogate parent to children of the super-rich.
Sperry's career started at 16, when his mother put him in touch with a family who was expecting twins and thought they could do with an extra pair of hands.
"Aside from a little bit of babysitting, I had no experience with children," he recalls.
But six years later and with two more children to look after, Sperry realized that he had stumbled across a career that, with a little bit of luck, could take him closer to the glamour he had ambitions of reaching.
"I went to Los Angeles after high school and left my name with a number of agencies. While I was there, I got to go to one interview with a producer and his wife at their $30 million mansion," he says.
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"They didn't offer me the job but I did see that the opportunities were there so I decided to specialize in multiples."
Three years, one set of triplets, and another set of twins later, Sperry finally made it onto the books of the A-list employers to whom he had hoped to serve. Now 28, he spends most of the year in his current employers' 325-square-metre villa in Stockholm and four months in LA during the winter.
At the moment, Alex "lives in" – in his own apartment across the road from his clients – but is soon to move out to his own place in Odenplan.
"The great thing about this job," says Alex, "are the perks. I have no expenses."
The other incredibly rewarding thing is sharing those special moments with the children. However, having a front row seat to children's developmental milestones sometimes requires some diplomacy.
"It’s a very sensitive issue," he explains. "Not all parents want to know that you were the one who was there for the kids' first steps or first haircut, but at the same time the parents don’t have time to be there."
His current family is an international couple, one of whom is a Swede, and their two small children. Unlike some of his US employers, the Stockholm couple is very modest in their living habits, despite the billions at their disposal. Here the staff consists of a weekly cleaner and Sperry, so he performs multiple roles.
"I worked for a billionaire family in LA and they had six nannies, 24 housekeepers, and three chefs; a much bigger staff. Here it’s just me, so I am housekeeper, estate manager, and personal assistant," Sperry says.
Sperry's day is a long one. Work starts at 7.45am with the morning routine of clothes, breakfast and the school run. After 9am there is a little downtime between errands before picking up the kids from school at 4pm. Sperry then takes them to the park or a museum before returning home to prepare dinner at 5.30pm. The family eats together at around 6 and then the kids get a bit of screen time before bed.
Sperry stays until around 9.15pm, cleaning up, folding laundry and planning the coming week with the parents if they are at home. If they are away, he is on duty 24/7 and days off are rare. There are times too when he wonders if it is all worth it.
He laughs as he remembers struggling to feed one-month-old triplets at two in the morning, using a sort of reverse milking machine system of his own making.
"I thought, I am 20 years old, it's 2am, and I'm feeding your three kids while you get your beauty sleep. How do I not lose my mind?" he recalls.
The upside is that Sperry has flown private planes all over the world, stayed in the best hotels, been on the most extravagant vacations and seen the kind of life a farmer’s son from Missouri can only dream of. All at his employer’s expense.
When it comes to working as a nanny in Sweden, Sperry thinks there are big advantages, although nannies in general seem to be few and far between, something he attributes to the availability of great childcare provision and generous parental leave arrangements.
Sperry also enjoys the fact that the sight of a man cooing with an infant or romping with toddlers doesn't prompt quizzical stares from passersby in Stockholm.
"It's much easier to blend in here," he says. "There are so many dads pushing prams and having play dates that a male nanny doesn't stick out at all. In LA, dads just don’t seem to take care of their kids."
Sperry's dream job, however, is one with a royal twist that he thinks would go a long way toward changing people's views about "mannies".
"I would love to work for the royals, Kate Middleton and Will, or Daniel and Victoria, just to explode the image of the typical female nanny," he says.
Tara Sonnorp/The Local