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October 2 2006

Nanny Diaries

Charlotte Allen

This New York Times article from last week poses this question (although not explicitly): Who are worse--negligent nannies or the neurotic urban affluenzos who hire them?

Here are some excerpts:

"Just a few years ago, giving lunch to a 1-year-old was a simple matter of popping open a jar of the Gerber mush du jour. But many parents now feed their children with the precision of chemists and the passion of Alice Waters, and expect sitters to do the same. Fruit juice, once a childhood mainstay, is now considered a sweet slosh of empty calories, and soft drinks are a potential firing offense....

"The issue is a trying one even for those gifted in the delicate art of parent-nanny diplomacy. The conflicts are partly a result of the educational and economic divide that leaves many nannies less knowledgeable (or neurotic, take your pick) about nutrition than their employers. But it is also partly a struggle over the emotional issues involved in leaving a child in another person's care.

"The result is a state of affairs in which nannies innocently serve children Yoo-hoo, believing that it is simply chocolate milk, or defy parents by sneaking their charges forbidden candy bars or simply notice that a child's dinner costs more than their hourly rate....

"'You have to prepare the meal from scratch," said one older nanny who complained bitterly as she pushed a little boy on a swing set in Prospect Park in Brooklyn, and then asked not to be identified for fear of losing her job. "It's organic organic all the way, but even the YoBaby yogurt has too much sugar," she said, referring to Stonyfield Farm's organic line for babies. "You have to get special organic produce and then prepare each meal." Nannies, she said, must now be personal chefs while also supervising mischievous toddlers, and all without an increase in pay.'...

"Melani Cammett is a mother of two, an assistant professor of political science at Brown, and an accomplished Happy Meal thief. Her sitter, Lena Barros Mackie, has friends and relatives who work at fast-food chains and gave her children's meals to take to work, much to the delight of Ms. Cammett's children. So Ms. Cammett snatched the boxes, 'stealing the candy and editing the contents,' she said, before returning the meals to the unsuspecting children.

"Then she would feel awful. Ms. Mackie 'is a generous and warm person, and I didn't want to insult her,' Ms. Cammett said. 'I feel uncomfortable about the whole thing of having a nanny and housekeeper as it is, so I was very uncomfortable about the class issues wrapped up around nutrition education. Not everyone can afford to buy organic stuff, especially the meats and the milks.'"

Then, there's this father's plaint, from "I Saw Your Nanny," where folks report sightings of nannies who arrange trysts with the kids' father, fake receipts for treats supposedly purchased, and spend outings to the park chatting with other nannies or cell-phoning their pals instead of watching, much less interacting, wtih the kids in their charge:

"Our longest relationship with a nanny -- whom our four-year-old son adored, and, still, years on, remembers frequently -- included helping her deal with the truly bad behavior of her drug-dealing, drug-using partner-of-choice, and her own drinking, which -- while it did not take place while she was with our son (as far as we know) -- did on a weekly basis cause her to 'call in sick', setting off that cascading chain of schedule failures among me, my wife, and our clients that I'm sure other readers know well....

"I am still not done sorting out what I observed about, and learned from, this particular nanny, but I can say this: in our case at least, my son had three parents, and we had an odd sort of intimate relationship with our nanny. The nanny's close and loving relationship with my son threatened both my wife and me, at times, and we reacted badly on those occasions, usually. We didn't want to be usurped. The nanny herself got confused from time to time about who my son's mother was, and felt it was appropriate, more than once, to tell my son that in essence his mother was clueless. Our nanny made rather overt attempts to compensate for what she saw as our 'failings' as parents, particularly our failure to bring our son up within an established religion -- she snuck my son off to the local church at least once a week....

"We've had other nannies since then. Our current nanny likes taking our son to the Dollar Store (every day, nearly), and so our house is filled with plastic toys made in China, and my son's head is filled with all the basic rules of American consumerism. She also likes to spend time with her mother-in-law, who's a professional foster mom specializing in the care of kids whose parents are doing time for meth convictions, so my son runs with a pack of older kids from broken homes (some of whom have two parents in the can), who have taught him about guns (verboten in our house), police, jail visits and other things we'd rather not have him exposed to.....

"My wife -- for whom this is a serious, daily, issue -- periodically decides to boot the nanny-o'-the-moment and immerse herself totally in care-giving. I convince her not to do so. I don't want my wife to make a change, because I want life-after-childhood for her, and with her. Each day, I want her to have a few hours to dream, screw around, plan, create. Otherwise, I am afraid she will emerge from that first period of intense mothering so drained of herself that I will have lost my wife, in some material ways, forever. This idea is intolerable to me, in part because I saw such a terminal exhaustion happen, in my first marriage, with my elder son. He had no nanny. And by age 8, he also had no mother. She had been....evacuated. And in my estimation she has never recovered, may never recover."

I'll leave you, dear readers, to make like the father above and "sort" this one out. Would you like to be married to this man? Would you like a painfully politically correct father for your children who thinks going to church and patronizing the Dollar Store are felonies ("established religion"! "American consumerism"!), booted out the mother of his 8-year-old boy, and thinks it's more important for his wife to be able to "screw around" than to bond with her own children?

Independent Women’s Forum’s mission is to improve the lives of Americans by increasing the number of women who value free markets and personal liberty. Sister organization of Independent Women’s Voice.
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