Tag Archives: Moms

Someone Else’s Nanny

My children’s babysitter, Monique (whose name I’m changing here), came
to me with just one reference, and no background check. All I had to go on was
a good feeling about her in my gut coupled with a sense of total desperation about finding a sitter.

When we lived in Brooklyn, until Zoe was a year old, I had enough family around to watch her when I worked. When we first moved to Montclair–I was working three days a week then–I was fortunate enough to find a sitter—a cousin of a friend’s sitter—who came once a week. My mother came out another day and my husband was home when I worked Saturdays. Then that sitter left me to become a crossing guard, explaining she needed five full days of work.

I needed help quickly. Someone who could work two long days a week but didn’t need five, who could manage a newborn and a highly opinionated preschooler, who could read with inflection (that was a must for me, since I had strict TV limits), who played games and could run around after Zoe with ease.

I found someone quickly, though it would turn out to be a dead end.  Candy was the daughter of a friend’s babysitter, twenty years old, with a one year old son–but assured me she had plenty of childcare for him.  I had misgivings about her age, but my daughter loved her and the girl seemed to have a lot of family support around town.  I hired her on a trial basis, and everything worked out well for about a week.

Then, five days before I was supposed to start working, Candy informed me that she couldn’t come anymore because her own childcare had fallen through.

Trough an agency, I hastily interviewed about ten different women, all of whom seemed far more interested in newborn Theo than talking, walking Zoe.  Then, on Candy’s second last day, she brought home a woman she’d met in the playground.   (A stranger, which shed light on Candy’s judgment, frankly.)

“This is Monique.” Candy said. “She’s a baby sitter.”

I barely looked at Monique, because I’d been up all night and had interviewed three  sitters already that day.  I was also nursing every two hours and coping with a jealous two-year-old who thought it was high time we sent the baby back to the hospital where it came from.

I said to Monique,  “Look, why don’t you come back Monday?”  Meaning–but not communicating well enough to convey–that I’d interview her Monday. Instead, Monique thought I’d hired her.   She arrived Monday ready to work.

I said we’d try it for a day, since I’d be home. But I stressed that I needed, above all things, for her to win over Zoe. Well, Monique did it. She was bright and energetic and attentive. In no time she had my daughter giggling, asking for another story. (Yes, Monique read with inflection.)  She was also wonderful with baby Theo, with whom she fell in love immediately.

It was a happy story. Monique wound up caring for my children, two days a week (the other three, she cared for the children of a friend) from eight until eight, for six years. She stopped only when I went on my hiatus to write. Monique still sits for my kids sometimes, still does my daughter’s hair if ever I need it braided (like we did for sleep-away camp). I consider her a big part of my childrens’ early years, a wonderful influence, someone we care for, who cares for our children. I was lucky, so lucky to have met her, and so were my kids.

We were all lucky.
The most important thing you do as a working mom–responsible for finding responsible childcare–once you have chosen that special person who will make your complicated life at all possible–is take a huge leap of faith . Every day that you leave your children, you must make a choice to trust this person whom you’d never have met if you hadn’t been looking for childcare.

This is a truth between nannies* and moms: if not for the children, if not for the mutual need for work—their lives would likely have never intersected.  Nannies and moms tend to differ in childcare style, culture, class, education level, and also frequently race. With all those differences, not to mention the odd check-and-balance of power (Mom has the money; Nanny has the kids), there is much room for tension and even conflict.

In such a complicated relationship, trust is paramount. And I mean Trust as a two way street. Mom trusts that her children will be safe and cared for and (best case scenario) truly loved by the nanny. Nanny trusts that she will be compensated for hours worked, warned if those hours are going to be drastically increased or cut, respected, treated like a valued human being and not taken advantage of.

Trust, respect, balance. Only when all that’s  in place can a mother breathe easily and finally begin to relax into the rhythm of her life.

And then …

A news story breaks, horrifying and gruesome.  About a nanny on the Upper West Side of Manhattan who was found, her own throat slit, apparently by her own hand (which still held the blade) and the two small children left in her care, both fatally stabbed. About their mother, returning home with their  sibling in tow, who found the above scene.

I can only imagine what must have gone through that mother’s mind, the disbelief, the anguish, rage and profound despair. As a mother myself it is impossible to think of this mother’s feelings without tearing up. The father, too, who was away on business, and who—hearing about the tragedy—could not immediately put his arms around his grieving wife or bewildered, surviving child.  (Of course, the therapist in me cannot help thinking of that surviving child herself, wondering how her life will be, how they’ll wind up parenting her—the whole family reeling with grief, guilt, fear and other residue from the trauma.)

I wonder too about the nanny in question, the suspected murderer, who was loved by the family, who loved the children. The family had visited the nanny’s home in the Dominican Republic and had met her extended family—an experience cheerfully blogged about by the mother. I can only imagine the brutality of learning that someone you thought you knew–someone you trusted with your heart and soul–is the ultimate monster.

But something else gives me a great sense of foreboding about the case: the implications for every other nanny in the tri-state area. Going forward, what will life be like for these women?

As noted in Saturday’s New York Times, nannies will hereafter be under intense scrutiny.  I can only imagine the mistrust, the questions forming that no parent wants to ask, but has to for the safety of their children. This was a family who thought such a thing could never happen to them.  Yet it did, which makes it seem like it could happen to anyone.

How then, does a good nanny prove she is who she says she is? How can she convince them: that will never be me, I will never lose my mind, I will never put your children at risk.  How can she make them believe?

For now she can’t. Good women will be doubted. Mothers will hesitate before hiring. When they do hire, they will still be wary, thinking: It was someone else’s Nanny, but it could have been you. Could still be you. Suspician and resentment, and finally guilt–because no one wants to feel these things–will pervade the playgrounds of New York, where both nannies and moms can be found. The aftertaste of this unspeakable tragedy will haunt them for months, years, to come.
*Where I live, in Montclair, NJ, I have never heard a mother refer to her kids’ baby-sitter as a nanny.  I use the word here because it is the word used in the New York Times describing the case.  Monique always prefered “babysitter.” Nanny, to her–to us–felt too formal and old school.

Blog vs. Book Part 2

Unlike some dedicated bloggers who announce their hiatuses (hiatae?) in advance, I just up and took one without planning to, without any word at all.  Though I thought I’d start blogging in earnest again as soon as I’d completed a draft of my novel, once I had that draft in hand (in my docs) my momentum picked up, rather than slowing.   A draft is only a draft, after all, and a completed, submission-ready novel is quite another thing and I wanted that other thing ASAP.  I became obsessed—remain obsessed (as I think you have to be to finish any book) with that goal of completion.  (I know: many novelists say you’re never really done; there are always possible revisions to make, but I’m talking about that stage when you can finally query an agent re: “my completed novel.” )

Once I’d finished what was really a second draft (meaning the first draft with all notes-to-self replaced by actual writing, a real ending and finally, finally, a title (more on that in a moment), that goal seemed imminently doable.  The next milestone—right before the point where you can revise with intent to query—was the “done-enough-to-give-to-beta-readers” point.  I can get there by the time my husband gets back from his business tripI can get there before my daughter leaves for sleep-away camp (and my son needs me to actually hang out with him).  I can get there by the time my mom gets home from Russia (she’ll be so proud of me and so surprised that she’s got a new book to read!).

It became a race against the ordinary events in my life, a race against myself, my stamina, the clock, sleep.  As a writing mom with kids home for the summer, work is all about brief periods of intense focus, then lots of big vats of pasta so my kids can have all their friends over and won’t miss me if I need to keep writing.  But when I’m done writing for the morning or the afternoon, my kids have me.   We make up dumb songs, tell each other stories, dance around the kitchen, swim, read to one another and, of course shop (which is sometimes fun with kids, other times not, but it’s important for kids to learn to take the good with the boring).  In other words, even when my writing takes center stage, kids are top priority.  For example, my daughter had a bad scare when she was convinced that a cookie crumb was lodged in her lung; believe me, I dropped everything to make her tea and hold her hand while she coughed tearfully away.  A blog, on the other hand … well, a blog is not your kid.

To be perfectly frank, this blog, the blogosphere in general, dropped completely off my list of priorities.  And, unlike past occasions, I didn’t feel a lick of guilt about it.  Partly that’s because I believe my fellow bloggers–those I follow and who follow me–would not only understand, but would be cheering me on as I’d cheer for them.  We’re a group of supportive women (mostly) and men (still a nice handful) who respect one another and know that each of us is an adult (mostly) and that we all have goals that may sometimes take up all our energy.   (Though it’s only been ten days since my last post,  it feels like much longer; I haven’t been reading, commenting or even going on She Writes.)

All that said, I’m returning to this blog after an unannounced hiatus, because it matters to me.  The blogs I follow matter to me.  I am curious to see how they’re all doing, what’s up with my fellow novel-writing bloggers, what’s happening in Australia, Lebanon, Alaska, Calgary and The Blue Ridges (for a few examples).  What people are thinking vis à vis gun control, post Aurora; about the Boy Scouts’ sad and curious choice of encouraging homophobia.  I’m eager to see how the new bloggers I know are doing and enjoying the colorful visuals of the photo-blogs I follow.  (Please check out my blogroll in the lower right hand corner!)

Please note that I have added a second Novel Excerpt page for anyone interested in checking out my new Y.A. baby:  Twice the Dazzle.  It took finishing the book to come up with a title I felt was right!

Thanks for your patience and all your support in the past.

Lisa

P.S. If you didn’t catch the original Blog vs. Book post from March 15th, you can read it here.