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'Mannies' Turn to Childcare Jobs to Support Creative Pursuits

By Meredith Hoffman | December 4, 2012 6:55am

BUSHWICK — After waiting tables and pouring coffee to afford a room in his Bushwick apartment, poet Alex Morris now starts his work days a bit differently — as a "Dark Lord" locked in pretend combat against a 7-year-old boy.

"We've had epic battles for complete dominion of the universe every day," Morris, 29, said of the inventive conversations he has when he picks up the second-grader and the boy's brother from school.

"He comes out of class and he says, 'Well Dark Lord... just because you have the crystal orb doesn't mean you control the seven galaxies!"

Morris, who "lucked out" into "mannying" — working as a male nanny — is joined by other young Brooklyn men who have recently found the occupation the perfect way to make money while also feeding their creative aspirations. The trend has attracted so much interest that one Park Slope resident even started "The Brooklyn Manny" blog this fall.

Morris, who cares for the 7- and 9-year-old in Brooklyn Heights four afternoons a week, said the four-month-old job has been far more inspiring than he'd ever hoped.

"For people trying to do something in the arts, there's an importance of play and an element of spontaneity — and kids are living that," said Morris, who has an MFA in poetry from NYU and performs his verse at venues around the city, as well as hosting the monthly Southern Writers Reading Series at Happy Ending Lounge on the Lower East Side.

"There's a certain wonder kids have, and as someone in the arts you want that. Adults don't stand around at work having battles."

For Morris — a Mobile, Ala., native who struggled at times in high school when he "made waves" by behaving outside the status quo — stimulating kids' creativity is a key focus of his job.

"I'm trying to support that thing in them that other people supported in me — what makes me an individual," said Morris, praising certain open-minded teachers and family members who encouraged his literary leanings. 

Morris found his current employer through his housemate Brent Piper, a fellow writer who first began nannying seven years ago.

“I wanted a job that allowed me free time to write,” Piper, 31, recalled, saying he had only planned to stay in the childcare field for one year but then connected with families in Boston, the Upper East Side and now in SoHo.

“It doesn’t pay as well as bartending, but morale is better. It’s rewarding,” he said of the occupation, which pays anywhere between $12 and $25 hourly, depending on the family.

Finding — and sustaining — work as a "manny" can pose challenges completely different from bartending, Piper noted, including breaking down stigmas about being a male in the field.

"It's harder to get your foot in the door...people aren't used to it," he said of male nannies. "But when you find a family that has grade-school kids and wants a role model around, it works out."

But Piper is far more than a good example for his clients. The duties of his 30-hour-per-week job include "picking them up from school, taking them to tutors, cooking, making sure they're bathed, putting on diapers, making sure they go to bed, and teaching them manners," he said.

And just like any nanny job, responsibilities depend on the particular parents' and children's needs.

“It’s just an overall good job to learn how families work,” he said.

While Piper said he tries to keep his job out of his writing, Morris has found that “everything you do, whether consciously or unconsciously, you take in,” and that it informs his art.

One 29-year-old Park Slope resident is fearlessly writing the details of his new vocation with “The Brooklyn Manny” blog he started in October.

The blogger and first-time manny Levi Sawyer came from a life in Hollywood working as a model, style consultant and event planner, according to fashion websites and his blog.

But when his cousin offered him a chance "to live rent-free in NYC" in exchange for caring for her 4-year-old and 7-year-old sons, Sawyer jumped at the opportunity to enjoy New York's cultural scene, he wrote in his first post Oct. 10.

“I’ve got a deep appreciation (infatuation) with fashion of many kinds and a somewhat abandoned passion for the performing arts,” he wrote. “Where better than New York city to immerse myself in all things art and fashion???”

Sawyer's blog includes poetic reflections about the city, arrangements and images of his newly purchased jewelry and accessories, and photo shoots of the kids and him in Williamsburg.

"With a snap of a finger it felt like my life was turning into a movie. Every sequence and frame was full of exciting energy, movement and beauty," he wrote of a scene in TriBeCa on one of his initial days living in New York. "The conversations and laughter of pedestrians and the noise of traffic provided the soundtrack."

Sawyer is also taken by the "manny" fad, which he explores on his blog.

“I’m taking this opportunity to explore the nanny community in Brooklyn from a guy’s perspective,” he wrote.

“I’m excited to put on a new hat and confidently go where no manny has gone before. One man, two boys and a whole lot of city to explore!”