Thursday, June 21, 2012 | 2 a.m.
Minus the magic umbrella, Dawn Schrader is the Strip’s own Mary Poppins. She’s a nanny on demand, part of an elite professional force known as Nannies & Housekeepers USA. Founded locally in 2000, N&H was the national Association of Premier Nanny Agencies’ 2011 Agency of the Year and is touted as the “exclusive and preferred nanny service for major Las Vegas hotels.” In-room care is Schrader’s specialty. She gave us a peek inside the suitcase of fun, the business of making couch forts in VIP suites bigger than her home and the joys of playing for work.
My memories of baby-sitting mostly involve being bossed around by toddlers. I’m guessing you never saw it that way.
I was totally drawn to it. My youngest brother was born when I was 10, so that was like having a doll. I got up; I took care of him; I changed his diapers. I was like a little mom. ... In fifth grade I started watching a 3-month-old. ... It was totally natural to have a child in my arms. Always.
Did you always intend to pursue a career in child care?
I went to school for dental assisting, and I met my husband, who joined the Air Force. So all of a sudden I went from possibly having a career to being a stay-at-home mom and supporting him while he went away. ... I was the one who everybody (on the base) would drop their kids off with. I used to walk my son to school, and before you know it, I’d have 10 kids behind me. I’d go out bike riding and we’d pick up the children on the way, or I’d go to the base pool and fill up my car, as many seats as I had. ... I heard of Nannies & Housekeepers four and a half years ago, and I was like, “I can make money watching children? I am blessed.”
You mostly do hotel nannying, which is available 24/7 for a flat rate of $45 an hour. That’s not cheap, but your repeat customers speak to the quality.
I have some regular families who will request me when they come to town. ... A couple of them work their vacations around my schedule, which is amazing.
N&H puts prospective nannies through exhaustive screening and interviews. Those who make the cut are certified in CPR and first aid and put through additional training before their resumes/references are sent to parents for review before jobs are booked. Among the ranks are many professional educators as well as foreign-language speakers and others trained to work with kids with special needs.
Your profile expresses that, more than anything, you adore spending time with children. Between Sunday school, substitute teaching and nannying over the past couple decades, how many kids do you think you’ve cared for?
It’s got to be in the thousands.
Winning over kids is a skill. How do you do it?
If you’re nervous, they’re going to be nervous. If you’re positive and happy and excited, they’re going to be positive, happy and excited. ... I let them come to me, at their own time. ... And I’ve learned my lesson. You don’t just open the suitcase and say, “Go for it.”
What’s in the suitcase?
I bring a variety of things in my bag, and then whatever they click to, that’s usually what we do. I’ve written stories with them; we’ve colored pictures and created books. ... I’ve made tie-dye T-shirts; I’ve done painting and crafts like stained glass.
And for the ones who can’t sit still?
Beach balls don’t break anything and you can throw them down the hallway. ... And I always leave things in the zipper pockets for emergencies — bubbles, Play-Doh — the messy stuff usually gets their attention. ... What it amounts to is listening and getting down at their level and seeing what they love to do because once you connect, you have the best time ever.
I’m sure you’ve seen some meltdowns and kids with set behaviors who can be challenging. What do you do in those cases?
The key, because I’m short term, on call, is really just making sure the child is safe. If a tantrum happens, there’s not much you can do in one day. But a lot of times, there’s something underneath. Maybe they just need to talk or they need a listening ear or an extra story. ... The key is working together with the parents. If you see them struggling and strong-willed in a certain area, then you ask the parents, “How are you working with this, and how can I help you?”
Parents can be a challenge, too. How do you put them at ease?
Always arriving 15 minutes early; that’s the key. Because then you can sit down with them and go over things. I always give them my cellphone number or tell them they can call the room phone as much as they want. And I notice in today’s world, texting is huge. So I give them my cell and I tell them, “If you want to text me every 15 minutes, I don’t mind.”
How much time do you spend on a job?
Sometimes I’m with children for the whole week if mom and dad are here for a convention, so I’ll show up at 8 in the morning and we’ll hang out ’til 5 or 6 at night. Sometimes I am part of a wedding.
An Australian couple came with a 3-year-old little girl. Her name was Claire, and we were instant friends. ... I actually helped the bride get ready in her wedding gown, and she said, “I don’t know if they explained to you, but you’ll be coming with us.” I thought, “OK, I’m game. Let’s go.” I had my nanny’s uniform on, and I was ready to go. We did the drive-thru chapel, in the limo. ... I was their witness.
What is it like being hired to stay in such incredible hotels? Do you have favorites?
I think all of them, when I go to the hotels, are a treat. I love the Bellagio; I love the view of the fountains from the suites up above. The Wynn is beautiful. I’ve been on the top floor of the Palazzo, and that’s amazing. The Four Seasons is excellent. At Mandalay Bay, I’ve been in some of the VIP suites. They’re bigger than my home (laughs).
Does the job sometimes include room service?
If we get room service, we’ll have a picnic on the floor. Why eat at the table?
Do your clients tend to be famous and wealthy or are they mostly everyday folks spending the extra money to ensure their kids will be in excellent hands?
It’s both. I’ve had some who are more high-profile and then some who are passing through and just want to go to dinner or grab a show. They can call N&H and have an excellent person come and watch their children. It’s not just a baby-sitting service. We engage the children. TV is the last thing on the list. If they want to watch a movie and mom and dad say it’s OK, then that’s fine, but I really try to play. One little girl, we went to the pool; we rode the monorail at Aria; we explored and had ice cream.
I had no idea in-room nannies existed until I stumbled on an ad for N&H. Do other big cities have this kind of service?
I think this is unique to Las Vegas. I have not seen an on-call, where you don’t have to have a permanent nanny or come up with a permanent salary. ... Lexy (Capp, founder of N&H) definitely saw a need in Las Vegas and filled it.
Do you ever get tipped?
I noticed when I moved to Las Vegas, it’s a tipping town. So I have to say it’s been a blessing. Sometimes the gratuity has been very generous. That’s very nice, but that’s always icing on the cake because I really do the job because I love it. The fact that I can do something I love and also provide a service for somebody, it’s like giving back. ... And the gratuity comes in handy to supply the crafts.
Does nannying satisfy any lingering desires to have more children?
Absolutely, because I could have had 20.
Do any of the kids keep in touch?
There’s one girl in particular. She’s in San Francisco, and her parents come maybe three times a year, and we text back and forth. She’s going to be 13 in August. You do form friendships and bonds with the parents and the children. It turns into an extended family.
Do you ever feel like Mary Poppins?
I do. And I always get excited when I meet new people because you never know what’s in store. So that’s the exciting part of it, meeting people from all over the world. I’ve even had some children who don’t speak English.
How do you deal with that kind of language barrier?
Hugs and looking through stories and coloring — it’s all universal.