Christina Franks

Also known as Reprobate Mum, Christina’s blog documenting the trials and tribulations of bringing up children on the autism spectrum has attracted over 100,000 views and attention from across the world. She lives in East London with three children, a pug, and her somewhat beleaguered other half.

A former journalist, she’s written for the Sunday Times Magazine, Marie Claire, La Reppublica, The Huffington Post and Mumsnet as well as a host of other online publications about everything from relationships to money, parenting to sex and mental health. She has other draft works in progress, including a parenting guide for rebel parents, and a novel about social media entitled ‘Status Anxiety’.

Contact details

Christina Franks 07866623464

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The nanny


The nanny enters my house wafting strange perfume. She waves proprietorially to my daughter. Lana hides her face in my shoulder, then looks back, gleefully shy. Peepo.

It’s 8.55 am. The house is, for once, calm. Unusually, I’m in no rush. Jonah and Ava have left for school. Thankfully, I don’t have to take them anymore. They’re too old, too self-sufficient for that.

  I’d asked Karolina to come early so I can show her where things are – the nappies, the snacks – to talk through the routine again, and get another feel for how Lana responds to her, and vice versa, before I leave for work. It’s my first day back after maternity leave, but it’s not Karolina’s first time – we had a trial morning at a children’s centre earlier this week, where Karolina hovered over Lana like a drone. She seemed far more cautious than I ever am – kids learn more from their stumbles and spills than from flashcards and pricey baby classes. If anything, middle-class London kids suffer from too much parental interaction. And with two under our belt already, Tom and I have already done our fair share of all that.

Lana seems to like Karolina, though, for all her kooky in-your-faceness. Heavy on my hip, she lurches towards her as I usher her in the door. Karolina tickles her tummy and Lana emits a cautious chocolatey sound – a squeezy toy wheezing wetly. Still on the doormat, Karolina takes off study Caterpillar boots. This pleases me more than it ought. 

It seems she’s forgotten I’ve gone off perfume though – a hangover from my pregnancy. I mentioned it when she first came to meet me, almost a year previously. I was huge and about to pop, anxious about the impending loss of freedom another baby implied, especially now I’d got my life back in order. Karolina wafted headache-inducing knock-off Chanel, and I felt a sudden aversion to the scent of another female in my home, synthetic hormone disruptors all over my baby. If I mention it again, perhaps she’ll take offence and leave me in the lurch like Claire did. I smile warmly. Does she want coffee? She doesn’t – she only drinks water. Great, I grin back, thinking how much caffeine I’ve imbibed this morning. No wonder she has such luminous skin. 

It’s hard to tell how old Karolina is. She seems about my age, but then, in my head, I’ve felt about 33 since I was 25 years old. Now, pushing 40 and the giveaways – the greying roots, the stray hairs in strange places, the post-baby bulge – are harder to hide. To be honest, Tom’s seen me in some right states since Lana was born. And ten and a half months on, my office trousers tell me I’ve a way to go to lose the baby weight. In any case, Karolina’s attractive, an 8-and-a half to my fading 7, even with the office-ready face I applied this morning while Lana watched telly in her bouncer.

 I show Karolina what she can make Lana for lunch, and what’s in the change bag – don’t wourry, she says, soothingly. I check before we go out. I try to tell her what’s on at the local children’s centre, but she’s still playing ‘peepo’ with Lana, who’s now bucking away from my grasp with a dribbly beam.

 Can I hold hare?

 Um, sure.

Karolina takes her with a series of exaggerated coos and clucks to which Lana responds delightedly, gripping hold of her hair. I think maliciously of the handfuls of mine Lana’s pulled out, already shedding in clumps since her birth. I gather my coat, gloves, laptop – hurrying discreetly out the door. Lana waggles her little paw to tell me to go already, and I sense the clear cold stab of Karolina’s vindication.



Now I’m back at my desk, it doesn’t feel so weird. To be honest it’s a relief to drink coffee without stopping to change a nappy or fetch a placating rice cake. Here, my tiredness is met with benign sympathy from disinterested colleagues rather than a screeching invocation for another rendition of Horsey horsey. It’s not like I don’t love spending time with my daughter – it’s just, I don’t want to spend all my time with her.

Before Lana, I hated my job: the petty power battles and grating habits of those I sat next to seven long hours a day. The stench of their desk-bound lunches and their tiresome vocalisations felt insufferable. Mostly, though, I was just angry to be here, in this particular job. Lana exists because I got passed over for a promotion after a year of running the department. I got drunk with an old work mate, one of the few that became a friend, and we kept on drinking with Tom back at home. One thing led to another. Maternity leave was, in some respects, an act of revenge.

Now, busying myself with online training, I take quiet pleasure in sifting up half remembered knowledge to tick-box questions I’d once found inane. Months of contorting myself into child-sized seats in children’s centres or feeding my daughter for what felt like hours at a stretch, means that sitting in an office chair all day no longer feels inhumane. Even the knowledge I’m working for next to nothing doesn’t bother me much anymore. 

It had bothered me a lot. It was the point we got stuck on, Tom and I when deciding what to do. We’d only just stopped forking out for childcare. The fact we were still eligible for childcare vouchers decided our second daughter’s fate. That was fine when we were looking at childminder prices. But nannies are in a different ballpark, especially when you consider she’s only doing for years with my first two, for free. Not that I begrudge her. I mean, not much.

 I’ve made her life easy. Lana’s routine is shipshape.  A 2-hour nap; no fuss at mealtimes – at least not yet… holiday pay, sick pay, pension – more per hour than I’ve ever made…  But what choice do I have? After Claire let me down, it was too late to find a nursery. And the other childminders I saw were all a bit… well, you just wouldn’t. 

It’s been hard, going back to square one, after the last ten years of playing catch up with my peers who weren’t crazy enough to have a child straight out of uni. But with the money Karolina’s asking, going back to work didn’t make any sense at all.

 So Karolina’s a gift from the ‘rentals. Our parents. Lana’s grandparents. Well, I say a gift, she’s more like a bribe, though who’s bribing whom, exactly, I’m not entirely sure. Of course, we accepted. I mean, neither of them has spent more than a couple of hours with their granddaughter since she was born. My dad’s too busy dividing his time between his Korean wife and his Thai girlfriend. And Tom’s mum spends more time in Sydney visiting Tom’s brother and family than she does at our place in Tower Hamlets – She doesn’t like driving in London, despite our house being a straightforward 45 minutes up the M11.  And with my mum sunning herself in Florida half the year, I haven’t exactly been inundated with offers of help. 

It’s not like I didn’t know what to expect when I got pregnant with Lana. But the resounding silence after she was born spoke volumes. I know Tom and I had had our problems since the older two were born – I mean, bringing up two kids on the Autism spectrum was always going to have its challenges.  I could understand why the grandparents found being hands on hard – they aren’t always the easiest kids to interact with. 

What I found hardest of all was what I saw as the ‘rentals lack of interest. After all, I’d practically been brough up by my grandparents. This time around, it was Tom and I that travelled to his mum’s the day after giving birth – a journey not unlike to the one I’d made ten years earlier after Ava was born, but that time is was because my own beloved grandma, who was my defacto mother after Mum walked out, had a heart attack the day after Ava was born.  This time, Tom’s mum just didn’t fancy driving to Tower Hamlets. But unlike my birth with Ava, a golden goddess in total control as she emerged into a glistening pool amid glinting September sun, with Lana I was more like a manatee, pasty and puffy, flailing around in the murky pond hastily assembled on my kitchen floor, the swampy waters a touch too warm after Tom and the panting midwife had failed the fill the darn thing in time. That’s what ten years between babies will do to you.

And, of course, my own mother was in Florida, having just left for the winter weeks before Lana was due. She’d first moved out there the year Jonah was born. But then, she’d spent my whole childhood as far away from me as the court order allowed.

Knowing this, the first thing I did, after the pregnancy test and the tearful reveal to Jonah, first home from school; and the row that night with Tom, was to research childcare. That night, sleepless at 3 am, I got on the list of ten different nurseries, and emailed may more, knowing full well I wouldn’t want to use any of them. Later, I chatted up childminders on email, and popped round for coffee, mentally ticking off those with staffies, glottal stops, fast food restaurant memorabilia, air fresheners and massive tellies. In the end, I manage to upset the two I liked when they found out I’d been talking to both of them. Who knew childcare would be so political?

By the time Claire, the childminder I spent months finding and securing in order the return to work, let me down – I knew I’d probably pushed things when I texted her three times that first morning to check on Lana and to tell Claire I’d bring her lunch if she refused to eat – I felt I’d been let down by everyone. Especially Tom.

A text interrupts my reverie. Karolina, letting me know Lana’s done a poo, and eaten most of her lunch. I’m genuinely pleased for them; happy Lana’s happy; that Karolina seems to be sticking to the schedule; happy to be able to shovel a handful of mixed nuts into my mouth without Lana insisting she eat all the raisins. 

Skimming the contents of my inbox, I aggressively delete emails from the last ten months: meeting invites from long dormant projects; invites to leaving drinks from colleagues I’ve never met; and, more ominously, notifications of structural changes that, so far, I’ve escaped unscathed. Thank god for ‘protected characteristics’ – my maternity leave has, at least, taken me over the 2-year limit where I can be sacked or made redundant with impunity.

Scrolling Facebook on my phone, sipping scolding peppermint tea, Karolina texts again – the dog has woken the baby – should she get her up?

It’s only 1 pm – barely halfway through Lana’s nap – though my tits are already telling me otherwise. 

When Lana was newer, I would go to her, allowing her to snuffle onto my breast in the dark, sating her restlessness before calmly putting her back into her cot for the rest of her sleep. Sometimes, she’d yowl, incensed to be put down, grasping the air and kicking froggy legs, puce and terrifying in her fury. Sometimes she’d scream for what felt like hours. I’d count down the minutes till I could shush her, often giving in entirely to my red-faced captor, her torture of noise only bearable in the knowledge that it would soon pass.

Now, Lana’s old enough to settle herself. She needs to learn to self-soothe, I tell myself. Crying for a few minutes won’t do her any harm. 

 In truth, we’ve only just succeeded in getting Lana to sleep through the night, and that’s thanks to the routine I’d painstakingly written down. She had clear instructions not to get Lana up till 2.30. I text back to that effect. There’s no way I’m going to let Karolina stuff up my sleep again just because Lana’s testing her resolve. I’m paying through the nose; she could stomach it for a few minutes. But then, Claire had sacked me for being too prescriptive. I couldn’t afford to lose Karolina too.

I text her quickly back: Just do whatever you think. 

Leaving work early and cycling through the October mizzle, I make it back just after Lana’s usual feed time. The house smells different. I check the floor, the area round Lana’s high chair. It all looks clean enough: toys tided away, bowls in the dishwasher. She’s emptied it too. I’m impressed. Dawdling in the downstairs loo, the eerie refrain of Icey wincey spider crackles over the monitor. Frowning at my tired reflection, I hear them descending, and gather myself.

‘Back early?’ Karolina states as I exit the loo, ‘Mummy’s home, look’, she chatters conversationally to Lana, who starts to squall.

‘Oh yes, first day back. Don’t want to push it too hard. Besides, I was hoping to be back in time to feed her…’

‘Don’t wourry, I already done it’…, Karolina says, passing Lana to me, who makes a grab for my earrings.

‘You’ve already been fed?’, I singsong back to her, taking hold of her restless little paw. ‘Maybe you still want some mummy milk?’ I put her onto my lap on the sofa, hoping for two minutes of peace when I can just breathe in her fuzzy baby head, and hold h 

Two hours stretch ahead of me till Tom gets home. When I was on maternity leave, I would walk the dog to pick Ava up from school. At 11, she doesn’t need me to pick her up anymore, but it helped fill the time – even if the conversation was a little one-sided. If it was nice out, we’d go to the park. I’d push Lana on the baby swing for as long as she was happy; as long as I could hold out before the pressure from a waiting toddler and its proprietorial parent grew too great. If I could persuade her to come along, Ava would wander aimlessly, a will ‘o’ the wisp turning circles, kicking up dust; sometimes she’d swing upside down on the roundabout. She’d never join a familiar face or find a friend to giggle with. She only ever has one – her latest, Shamina, an opinionated 11-year-old in the throes of early puberty, wasn’t someone I relished bringing home for tea. Mostly, unless I bribed her with ice cream, Ava just clamoured to get home. My shy, sensible elder daughter longed for peace and quiet, or rather, crisps and YouTube after a day at school. I’d let her go, mourning the indefinable passing of her childhood, for all its cliquey playground misery, often feeling as though something wasn’t clicking with Ava, as I battled on through the long hours of Lana’s first year.

  I strap on the harness. Just as I’ve managed to insert Lana, Jonah falls in through the front door, bag and blazer akimbo.

Sorry…. I need the loo.

Oh, hi Jonah. How was school?

Uh, good… good.

 The toilet flushes.

Er… How was work? I always feel flattered when my 13-year old makes an effort to ask about my day as he disappears into the kitchen looking for snacks.

It was okay really. Not as bad as I feared.

Um, that’s good.

Yup. Got any homework?

Meh. Dunno. Some stuff. I’m on top of it.

Okay. As long as you’re sure.

` Uh huh. See ya.

I slump a little as Jonah bounds upstairs. I know he’d help if I asked – his schtick is silly faces, or building complex towers for Lana to destroy – though I can usually only count on ten minutes’ engagement before he gets bored and drifts back to his devices.

I’m gonna take this one out, I call up the stairs.

K, he hollers, two floors up.

Staring at our reflections in the hallway mirror, baby beaming at herself, kicking her feet, I smooth down whispy post-partum hair, decrease my forehead and wipe my eyes. I’m a rain-soaked tent, breaking sweat at the lightest effort; tearing up at the most innocuous remark – the thought of Dumbo’s mother locked in a caravan made me weep with impunity – just the thoughts, mind – I wasn’t watching it at the time. It’s ridiculous, what the hormones do to you but then, my body has always felt more in control of me than I am of it. Get a grip, I think. Ava won’t welcome me showing up unannounced at the school gate now she’s getting the bus home. Besides, it’s getting too late. The dog makes pleading eyes at me Reluctantly, I grab the dog lead. A windy walk to the swings will have to do.


Later, after a bleak half hour in the park next to the gin distillery, and another at home, cobbling together something everyone would eat while herding Lana from hissing pans, Tom arrives home, damp from his own drizzly cycle. Lana pads up to him on pudgy knees, trails of spittle on the floor. He lifts her high in the air. She screeches in pleasure, a peal of tinkerbells.

How’d it go?

Oh, ya know. It was fine.

How was she when you got back?

Uh, okay, I think. I don’t think Karolina took her to the play session I mentioned. And she tried to get her up early. And, ya know, texted when she’d done a poo.  But okay I think, all things considering. You?

Yeah. Busy.

He grabs a square of chocolate out the fridge, kisses me on the forehead and hands Lana back,  heading upstairs to change of out his bollock-hugging cycling shorts and sweaty tee-shirt. I raid the fridge, baby on hip, looking for something to feed her for dinner, before bath, story and bedtime eats up the rest of a long afternoon.


Ordinarily, she’d pad around on the floor while I made the beds, and jumble my shoes from their neat row while I pulled on sweatpants, or unravel the toilet roll while I cleaned my teeth. 

She’d be there, making dribble puddles on the mat as I practised yoga poses that made me sweat more than they ought, crawling between my legs as I downward dogged. I would kiss her candyfloss head between push-ups. Eventually Lana would start to carry off the remotes from the coffee table or otherwise draw my attention, so I’d roll her onto my tummy to attempt a hip lift: London Bridge is falling down: her pristine goo drips onto my chest in glossy trails.  Row, row, row your boat: I’d manage a few half-assed sit-ups before she’d wriggle away. 

Today, she lay still on my special goosedown pillow and allowed me to sort the contents of my work bag without wheeling about in a death dance with the edge of the bed; or making a beeline for the phone wires, which she had a penchant for chewing. I carry her limp frame downstairs and put the telly on. She sits in the dog’s bed twiddling some teething beads through an entire 5-minute episode of Peppa Pig. When I sit her in her chair for breakfast, she barely acknowledges the banana I give her as I warm her porridge.  

She seems a little off colour, I say when Karolina arrives. Don’t worry, she says, and the to-do list ticking through my head since the early hours fades into background noise. I grab my stuff and make for the door; feeling a pang of guilt as Lana whimpers but Karolina distracts her by whirling her around and tickling her until she erupts in giggles. I head out onto the street, shoehorning my things into a cavernous bike basket, and take a deep breath. Job one done.

The cycle to work is ferocious. Numbnuts in Lycra cut in front on the crowded cycle lane – it’s a shock after the fluffy, fuzzy mum world I’ve left behind. Surely the route’s busier than I remember – or maybe it’s just the time of day? – it’s earlier than I’m used to, now I’m squeezing four work days into three-and-a-half. I huff up the hill to Southwark bridge, gulping traffic fumes as I cross the Thames. I’m more out of breath than I remember, too.

In the Ladies on the way to my desk, I smooth my hair and pat my damp face – pale under the fluorescent light; a pump of synthetic air fresher wafts into the air: a potent reminder nothing’s changed much since I left. I walk past a woman I half remember and she double takes into the mirror. I joke about not being quite as big as I was last time I saw her – but still a way to go, I add, rubbing on hand sanitizer for good measure.

You look great! she says, but I don’t remember her name.

Today, no one asks how I am as I grab a hot desk and search for a cable that fits my laptop. I tell anyone who’ll listen that my daughter was up all night, eliciting a few sympathetic grunts, but it’s very much business as usual. The morning ebbs away in a series of technical hitches as my laptop updates itself of my renewed presence. I have a lot of time for phone scrolling and coffee drinking and this feels like luxury. It’s still too soon to have any real work yet, and long-shelved colleagues from other departments greet me with hugs as I struggle to retrieve names from the dusty file of my brain. It’s the longest I’ve not thought about my daughter since her birth. And I find I’m rather enjoying it.

Around mid-morning, Karolina texts me a photo of herself next to Lana, toothy in a plastic Noddy car. They are in what looks like a church hall – nowhere I recognise. I feel momentarily sad that Lana’s first time behind the wheel is not with me. But then I revisit mornings spent in musty assembly rooms, fending off the God squad and snot-ridden toddlers squabbling over too few sticky toys, and feel nothing but relief. On Tuesdays, weekend hangover still in full force, the bleakness of full-time mothering would descend like cold fog: the penny-pinching decisions to go somewhere serving free tea and biscuits; the march home through steel cold streets to make it back in time for toddler lunch-and-naptime; my own collapse on the sofa having cleaned mashed potato off the floor on tender knees; the desperate hope little Ava would nap so I too could catch up – a Saturday night spent clutching onto my youth and downing vodka; the crushing disappointment when she didn’t. And then there was the afternoon routine – the school pick-up tantrum from Jonah, despite greeting him with a homemade muffin; the playground snub from alpha mum Kate – whose Year 2 mum-pals ‘the Julies’, had purposely missed me off post parent-teacher drinks Whatsapp group – and still there was dinner and bedtime to get through. 

Looks like you’re having fun! I message, along with a starry face emoji, resolving to be more engaged next time I take Lana to the children’s centre – not to just make idle chatter with familiar faces while she plays. In any case, most of my new mum-mates are back at work now too. I was mildly jealous when Jane and Becca, my ante natal crew, made plans to meet up on Fridays – their own mutual day off. Monday, it seems is no one’s first choice. After painful negotiations about flexible working with my line manager, I’m now stuck with it because Karolina isn’t available then.

This has also created a problem with my colleagues – there’s a Monday meeting they’re keen for me to attend – I tell three people separately I no longer work that day. It’s suggested, laughably, that I dial in any way from home. Lightly, I try to convey the chaos that would ensure if my daughter was present during the call, but my humour is rebuffed with an earnest discussion about how and when they could move the meeting. When younger, I might have tried to meet their request, people-pleasing and placatory in my professional duties. When I returned to work when Jonah was six and Ava was four, I would get in early and stay late to overcompensate for the demands and pulls of parenting, rarely taking a lunchbreak and always staying for after-work drinks. These tactics, cooked up in the economic firestorm of the financial crisis, wore me wretched. 

The team here is politely friendly, but disinterested: not incestuous like my previous workplace – a heady lifestyle agency whose ‘work hard, play hard’ mantra meant sucking up low pay and long hours in exchange for free fruits and beer on Fridays. Oh, and putting up with Gary the letch giving promotions based on how fit he thought you were.

No one tries to flirt with me here. I work in a large corporate by design – My job’s anything but cool, but I get a solid pension and leave on time. But it’s also the sort of place where career ambitions go to die. We’ve all sold out – given up the dream to fund our liabilities. No one presents for more than their allotted hours, and no one goes for drinks after work together. And thank god for that.

Liz, a spinsterish woman who was hired in my absence, with yellowing hair and psoriasis patches in her nose creases, mentions how frequently the meeting has been moved.

It’ll have to be moved again, if they want me to attend, I say, rising above her earnest power mongering. There’s nothing I can do about my childcare.

She glowers behind her half-moon specs, but later, offers me a biscuit to make up. I accept it with a smile. My blood sugar’s getting low, and there’s no sense making enemies. We’re all of us old enough and ugly enough to know what the game is – to look as busy as possible while avoiding as much work as we can get away with. Especially now I’m only working four days.

Luckily, my boss gets it. A slender woman with corn rows and a repressed, toothy smile, Diane garners respect by virtue of her height, making me feel about eight when I talk to her without heels. But I like her. Mainly because she leaves on the dot of three every day to pick up her own kids, and is too busy juggling her own set of balls to worry much about me.

I leave shortly after she does. After all, it’s only a ‘Keeping In Touch’ day – a chance to get my ducks in a row before my official start – and still get paid. I need the money too. I’m almost at the end of the cash I saved to cover my maternity leave, with the cost of Karolina already mounting – between her and the cleaner, I’d be left with pretty much nothing if the ‘rentals hadn’t stumped up some cash.

The mid-afternoon autumnal sun glints off the river and bounces around the metallic cityscape as I cycle over the bridge towards home. Giddily, I hang up my coat, dumping my bag, laptop and an accumulation of outerwear on the stairs. I glance at the digitally superimposed time on the living room clock, a squat block of wood stood on the buff grey shelving unit we’d had made by a friend. Clocks with hands still bamboozle me, and I’m hopeless with left and right. It’s no wonder my older kids are so malcoordinated.

I hear Karolina in the bedroom upstairs on the baby monitor, making an array of whirrs and clicks I’ve learned are part of her baby whispering schtick. Cluck, cluck, she goes, mwah, mwah. I breathe for a second, flicking at a crust of food on the sofa’s plush grey velvet. Mwah mwah.  I begin the long ascent to the third floor, carting the faux leather Mulberry containing my laptop, makeup, keys and phone; and the other a more practical tote stuffed with a rain jacket, laptop raiser and my empty soup container, which I will have to take back down. Kicking off my shoes at the first-floor bedroom, I heave the bags onto the liberty-print coverlet of Tom’s bed.

‘Has she had her milk?’, I call up, breasts pinging in anticipation.

Myum, Myum. Brrrr.

 I pad up the stairs, entering through Ava’s bedroom, which is divided from the smaller baby room by double doors. As a ten-year-old, she was surprisingly okay when I told her had to give over the spare half of the room to her new baby sister. A year on, with puberty approaching, she’s becoming a little more defensive about her space, shutting herself away and watching YouTube Videos on the noise cancelling headphones I gave her in the run up to Lana’s homebirth.

On the other side of the door, her shrieks escalate. I straighten Ava’s quilt, pull back the curtains, and plump up the beanbag, still imprinted with her morning’s YouTube-athon.

Myam Myam. I pull back the sliding doors. Karolina has her face close to my daughter, who is naked from the waist down, supine, smiling, her chubby legs splayed. Karolina looks up, startled. Lana’s lying on a cushion, the change mat discarded to one side. I hustle myself back out, embarrassed, pulling the doors shut firmly.  

I try to rationalise what I’ve just seen. Was Karolina grabbing a nappy from under the cot? Was she kissing Lana’s tummy – unsettlingly overfamiliar to witness from a virtual stranger? Was she, in fact, filming her for some Eastern European paedophile ring? I don’t remember seeing her phone, though from the number of texts I’ve received, she must have it on her. My mind raced with terrifying possibilities.

Sorry, didn’t mean to disturb you, I say through the door. Karolina doesn’t answer. 

To be continued…