Greg Schichtel is the coolest guy at Newton’s Cabot Elementary School. He looks pretty ordinary—faded blue T-shirt, a pudgy belly, dark brown hair that sticks up when he’s sweaty. After five minutes in his presence, though, you know he’s not ordinary at all. He’s the leader of the Blue Team on Color Day, cheering Matt Waxman and the other third graders to victory against the Reds and the Whites. He’s also the inventor of Terminator, the most popular after-school game in Cabot history. He’s the king of the hallway, where big kids try to impress him with loud jokes and the smallest girl quietly slips her tiny hand into his without saying a word.
He’s not a kid, however. He’s not a teacher or a principal or a parent. Schichtel is a nanny.
A little-known anomaly in the childcare world, male nannies, or “mannies,” make up only about 5 percent of the 300 nannies placed each year by the Boston Nanny Centre, Schichtel’s agency. In fact, says Rebekah Zincadage, the company’s director of placement, most families don’t even know there is such a thing. And though most of her clients are willing to consider mannies, she says, some are immediately suspicious. “Since the first day I placed a male,” Zincadage explains, “I’ve been asked, ‘Why would he want to be a nanny?’”
Schichtel, now 33, had two simple reasons: He needed a job, and he’s good with kids. He admits he was surprised when the Boston Nanny Centre chose him. Although he baby-sat in his Needham neighborhood when younger, he went into communications as an adult, working at a mom-and-pop video store and reporting for a local cable station. When the store felt the squeeze of the national chains, Schichtel started looking into other options. At the urging of his wife and friends, who knew about his popularity among the under-12 set, he applied to be a nanny. That was four and a half years ago.
The Waxmans were his first assignment. “When Greg showed up,” Matt Waxman (Blue Team, Grade 3) recalls, “My mom yelled, ‘He’s here!’ I said, ‘He? You mean she!’”
Once he got over his surprise, thought, Matt says, he quickly warmed up to Schichtel. Naive adults might assume this happened because Schichtel was, like Matt, a guy. But Matt, who’s not bogged down by such archaic, gender-stereotyped notions of male bonding, reveals the plain truth (which would have been obvious to anyone under 4 feet): “Greg plays with us. Our old nannies didn’t play with us.”
Jacob Waxman (Red Team, Grade 4) concurs with his brother. “It wouldn’t change a thing if he was female,” says Jacob. “He’s just a good person.”
The key to Schichtel’s goodness, to his popularity, and to the measure of respect he gets from kids—who display an extraordinary level of exemplary behavior in response—is his approach. When citing his personal childcare tenets, Schichtel lists the encouragement of imagination; a dedication to consistency; and, most important of all, involvement. Schichtel hangs out. He acts goofy, he plays pretend, he runs around, and he gets dirty. In a society that places increasing pressure on children to pad their junior resumes with extracurricular activities, he helps children to exist in that sadly forgotten realm: childhood.