It Takes a Village, and That Includes Nannies


I was raised by nannies. That’s not to say my parents weren’t incredibly supportive and always there for me when I needed them — they were, in spades — but they both worked full-time, which they couldn’t have done if my younger brother and I didn’t have someone to watch over us during the day. So we had nannies; live-in help when I was very young, and after-school care until my brother was 7 and I was 11.

I loved most of my nannies. They were like family. I’m Facebook friends with a few of them, and one still called me every year on my birthday until recently. But a few of them acted inappropriately. When I was 8, I was obsessed with my nanny, a singer who played me Alanis Morrisette tape cassettes before any of my friends knew who she was, turning down the sound in the car when she sang, “Are you thinking of me when you fuck her?” She used to take me to hang out at a smoky karaoke bar after school, on the condition that I didn’t snitch to my parents. My mom didn’t tell me why she fired her until years later — it was because she once showed up to our house smelling like alcohol. Another nanny lied about her references — my parents only found out she had never babysat in her life when one of the women she had listed called and confessed that she had never actually been the nanny’s employer. The last nanny I ever had casually asked me if I was smoking pot yet and my mother officially decided that I was old enough to take care of myself.

It goes without saying that none of these anecdotes come anywhere close to what happened last night, when a mother came home to find her nanny stabbing herself in the neck, her two young children already killed with the same knife. But it makes me think about how my mother didn’t really have time to figure out how much she trusted the women who drove my brother and I to school and gave us homemade presents on our birthdays and made us soup when we were sick and told us stories about their own lives. She called references, of course, but she mostly trusted her own instincts. “You do as much due diligence as you can,” she told me when I called her today to ask if she felt guilty leaving me at home with women who were, at least at first, practically strangers. “I didn’t feel bad if I had confidence in them,” she said. “But how can you ever totally trust someone with your children?” I asked her. She didn’t really sympathize with the scores of worried mothers out there (on UrbanBaby, at least) who can’t justify childcare any longer. “You can get a pretty good sense of someone from background checks and your own observations,” she said. “I never thought any of your nannies would potentially kill you. Some of them just turned out to be idiots.”

And some of them — most of them, really — turned out to be truly amazing women who changed my life for the better. One of my earliest memories is of my longest-running nanny, Hada, comforting me when I was bullied by a kid in my preschool class. Lucy, who I met when she was a counselor at my summer drama camp, let me tag along with her to rehearsals and taught me how to swing dance and let me sing the same Broadway tunes to her over and over and over and over again. I wouldn’t have made it through math class or my first heartbreak without Cynthia, one of the smartest and most graceful women I’ve ever met. Two years after she stopped working for us, my entire family went to her wedding.

I was a nanny for a short time after I graduated from college, and it always surprised me how quickly parents granted me access into their homes and around their children, given that all they knew about me was that I was a normal-looking college graduate who could make their kids giggle when I came over for the preliminary visit. Often they didn’t even check my references — and these were the kind of parents who made sure their kids had organic toothpaste and knew how to compost. (Berkeley parents, naturally.) I held their kids’ lives in my hands, and I was just a confused, broke, and occasionally hungover 21-year-old. Why did they trust me? Because you can only control so many aspects of your life and of your kids’ lives, especially when you have to make it through the day.

Life is scary, and it’s important to be cautious, but there’s no actual way to guarantee that tragedy won’t strike. My parents wouldn’t have been able to continue working full-time if they hadn’t let strangers — who, more often than not, turned into unforgettable close confidants and role models — into our house and our lives. Can you ever really trust anyone to take care of your own children? Maybe not. But you can’t not, either.

Image via Skovoroda/Shutterstock.

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