Tag Archives: tragedy

Rising From the Depths in the name of Bipartisanship

Seaside Heights, NJ Halloween 2012

Reporting from Montclair, New Jersey (which did not get hit as hard as Seaside Heights, shown above):

On my run this morning, the cold sushine revealed huge trees, uprooted, having ripped out yards and yards of pavement.  Yellow police tape draped over dangling power lines, neighbors and dogwalkers, grateful to see one another, embracing, bonding over the no-power experience, laughing with the relief of having survived to see the sunrise.  We’re all managing to stay in touch somehow, finding friends in corners of town with power, who invite us to a “charging-up” get together:  bring your devices, a load of laundry: enjoy a cup of hot coffee, a few hours of heat.  Last night we stayed with friends–which is how I’m able to post this.  On my run, I went to our street to see if PSE&G had turned anything on.  No.  Only the loud hum of someone’s back up generator.

Rumor has it that school won’t be in session until Monday at the earliest.  Though Tuesday is election day–hence no school–and Thursday and Friday are the NJEA teachers conferences, AKA no school.

The kids have been great.  Up at their usual hour, playing with legos, building forts out of the living room furniture, gathering with the kids on the block to scooter around the cul de sac.  They’re all cautioned to STAY OUT OF THE BACK YARDS, many of which are full of downed powerlines.  They listen.  The smallest ones don’t go out without adult supervision anyway.

My friend and I have been ignoring the guidelines about dairy products in non-working refrigerators and using our milk anyway.  It’s still cold–how would it get warm when our homes are cold?–and it smells fine, so we drink and serve it.  Ditto the yogurt.  (Not so the eggs, of course.)

There is a spirit of good will all around, the way disaster often brings people together.  We may be on opposite sides of a contentious election season, but I have extra batteries to share and you’ve just helped move those branches off my driveway and we’ll both write checks for hurricane relief as soon as the postal service resumes.  What we are is human and in this together.  Our hearts break when we hear the stories of people who have lost everything in the floods or fires, the young couple out walking their dog, crushed and killed by a fallen tree.  We do not care whether they were Democrats or Republicans.  We don’t care whether they supported Romney or Obama.

Disaster teaches us to value what we have, to treasure what matters most and to appreciate one another.    The only way to survive, and rebuild in the aftermath is for us all to come together and put aside our differences.

The fact that New Jersey Governer Chris Christie and President Obama have done just this, sets an example for the rest of the country and makes me proud to be an American.  The press is billing this the Jersey “Bromance.”   To me, they’re a little like the Odd Couple: Obama, neat, reserved, fit, if a little too lean these days: Christie: with his shoot-from-the-hip bluster, a bigger-than-life persona and voice to match.  Call the relationship what you will, it is so gratifying after all the partisan us-versus-them mentality of the campaigns, to see these two together, on the same team.  All over the internet are photographs of the Governor and the President shaking hands, sharing a laugh, deep in conversation (where it appears they’re listening to one another), joining in group hugs with citizens whose lives and livlihoods have been compromised by the storm.

Chris Christie, President Obama and FEMA Administrator, W. Craig Fugate (far left) greeting some of my fellow New Jerseyans.

As they tour the state, investigating Sandy’s damage, they have put aside their differences and praised one another, forging a positive working relationship that has some scratching their heads, others breathing a sigh of relief.

Since Obama’s election in 2008, there have been plenty of Republican politicians and pundits whose first priority has been to make him a “One Term President.”  We have just a few days left to see whether or not they have succeeded in making Obama look bad at the expense of the country.  One thing is clear: Chris Christie–despite having been a harsh critic of the president’s in the recent past–is not playing their game, or any other frankly.  He is trying to save his state and the hardworking people in it–as well he should–and to do so, is welcoming the participation of the federal government.  A big faux pas for a Republican possibly seeking higher office come 2016?  Maybe, but I suspect Christie doesn’t care.  I also suspect, and hope, that the average American respects the common-sense joining of forces for the greater good more than petty party loyalty.

There is no doubt that Hurricane Sandy has wreaked havoc on our area, leaving untold tragedy in her wake.  But let there be a sliver of a silver lining to the pain.  As the tristate area cleans up, re-starts and revives, let’s all take a moment to asknowledge the American values of cooperation and partnership.

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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.