Lupita Espinoza can often be seen pushing a stroller up one of those steep San Francisco hills that many of us try to avoid. She can’t avoid it, though -- it’s the way to work.
“I am very lucky that I have a nice family -- they have been flexible with me,” she says.
She looks after two children at once, both 3-year-olds, a girl and a boy. Today she’s taken them to Precita Park, near their house, to play in the sandbox. Lupita is the little girl’s nanny; the little boy is her son, Orlando. She brings him along while she works. Since her own child is getting some of her attention, the girl’s parents pay her less than they might otherwise.
“For one child regular is around $17 [an hour] -- it all depends on your experience,” she says. “But I bring my son and I get sharing, I get $12 dollars [an hour].”
Lupita says she doesn’t mind the pay cut -- it’s worth it to have her son with her . Still, the situation does have its drawbacks. For example, when her son has a tantrum while she’s working, Lupita says she’s less likely to be strict with him.
“People around me, I don’t want them to make judgement and say, what kind of nanny is she?” she says. So she’ll let her son’s bad behavior slide -- and he knows it.
Finding a balance
Lupita works five hours a day, 25 hours a week. Her time off normally depends on when the family she’s working for is going on vacation. Most days, she finishes work around 1:30pm. Then she runs errands, cleans the house, and shuttles the kids to and from activities: each week they have ballet, piano classes, Chinese school, English tutoring, martial arts and more.
By around 5pm she’s usually home and pulling dinner together, maybe fish or beans and rice. Tonight there was no time for cooking, so she asked her husband, Herman Matias, to grab some take-out. Her 13-year-old stepson is at his mom’s house, so it’s just her, Herman and the two kids.
Herman sits down at the table, explaining to his son Orlando that it’s tofu in his miso soup, not cheese. He works as an electrician, sometimes 60 hours a week.
“In Mexico, the head of the family is the guy who provides and protects,” he says. “And I feel that way with my family, I protect them, I try to have them live comfortably, try to have fun enjoy life and vacations. It disappoints me that way, because I think I’m doing my best and it’s not good enough.”
He won’t stop her, but he actually would prefer Lupita didn’t work at all. Lupita disagrees. She likes working, and once her son is older she wants to work more. But she says that can’t happen if she’s responsible for all of the housework too.
“He works a lot he doesn’t have time to help me,” Lupita says. “I do everything for my kids: clean, do laundry, cooking. Sometimes I get tired. I want to have a break.”
Herman and Lupita are sitting side by side at the dinner table. They aren’t looking at each other much as they talk about how things could be more even in the house.
“I think we are good,” Herman says. “We spend time with the kids, time as a couple, we do activities together. We don’t always agree on something, but you know.”
When asked if the two could ever switch -- have Lupita work full-time, and Herman watch the kids -- he says no. They do things the way they do because he makes more money. But that’s partly because Lupita deliberately has chosen part-time work with flexible hours. She was a nurse when she lived in Mexico, but she says her priorities shifted when her kids were born.
“Being a nanny is very flexible, and I could be with my kids,” she says. “If I didn’t have kids I don’t care, it doesn’t matter if I work full time or not. But I’m thinking more about my kids, they are very young.”
After dinner, Lupita clears the plates from the table, washes the dishes, and throws the disposable chopsticks into the trash. It’s 7pm, almost time for the kids to go to bed. But she and Herman keep talking.
“I think if we get more income we are going to spend more because it’s easier, you don’t think about it,” Lupita says. Herman disagrees, and the two argue back and forth about the history of their spending.
Although they aren’t seeing eye to eye, after awhile they start to joke a bit about their different points of view. They seem relaxed. They’ve been together for 10 years -- they met when Lupita was 19 years old, and Herman was 29. Culturally they had very different upbringings. For example, Lupita never took Herman’s last name, “That’s not my culture,” she says, getting more animated. “It’s the one thing I have from my family.” Herman shakes his head. “It makes me feel like I’m not good enough a person so she can be proud of me. Sometimes I don’t want to talk about it, it upsets me.”
They try to work through these differences -- they go to marriage counseling sessions every few weeks, and they make sure to schedule a monthly date night, when they might go dancing, see a movie, or have dinner. And with everything else going on in their house, it’s just enough time.
“Sometimes when I come home and sit on the couch and turn on the TV, I automatically fall asleep,” says Herman. “I get tired at work, I have no energy to come home and help.” He looks at Lupita from the corner of his eye. “I was just thinking today that I meant to get you flowers, but I couldn’t. So, I’ll do my best.”
Lupita looks at Herman now as if she’s worried she hurt his feelings. She smiles and looks down.
“He tries I guess,” she says.
After the dishes are put away, Lupita gives the kids a bath and tucks them in. Tomorrow, Herman will wake up early for work, Lupita will make breakfast and take their daughter Elise to school. Then she and Orlando will make their way over to the Bernal Heights neighborhood, where she’s easy to spot: smiling often, calling the children ‘mi amor,’ and pushing a stroller up or down the hill.