The Nanny Diaries by Emma Mclaughlin, Nicola Kraus
Trade Paperback, 306 pages
St. Martin's Press, 2002
One young woman to take care of four-year-old boy. Must be cheerful, enthusiastic and selfless—bordering on masochistic. Must relish sixteen-hour shifts with a deliberately nap-deprived preschooler. Must love getting thrown up on, literally and figuratively, by everyone in his family. Must enjoy the delicious anticipation of ridiculously erratic pay. Mostly, must love being treated like fungus found growing out of employers Hermès bag. Those who take it personally need not apply.
Who wouldn’t want this job? Struggling to graduate from NYU and afford her microscopic studio apartment, Nanny takes a position caring for the only son of the wealthy X family. She rapidly learns the insane amount of juggling involved to ensure that a Park Avenue wife who doesn’t work, cook, clean, or raise her own child has a smooth day. When the Xs marriage begins to disintegrate, Nanny ends up involved way beyond the bounds of human decency or good taste. Her tenure with the X family becomes a nearly impossible mission to maintain the mental health of their four-year-old, her own integrity and, most importantly, her sense of humor. Over nine tense months, Mrs. X and Nanny perform the age-old dance of decorum and power as they test the limits of modern-day servitude.
At the beginning, The Nanny Diaries seemed to promise a humorous look at life as a nanny working for a wealthy, self-centered socialite. And while it really was quite funny in several places, it's not a comedy. It really should have been marketed not as humor as much as social satire. Truthfully, it was even a bit depressing at times. The anger boiling under the surface in some sections was palpable. I also found myself getting a little frustrated with Nanny. I wanted her to get a backbone, stick up for herself, set some boundaries and tell Mrs. X that she was hired to be a nanny and that's it - no extras. I wouldn't have lasted a month as a nanny for the X's. I would have quit. Seriously. I know she loved Grayer, her charge, but at what cost? Truthfully, Nanny could have reported these parents for their neglect for several incidents - and she should have. The ending was a bit anti-climatic for me. I really wanted Nanny to have her say. Still, The Nanny Diaries was very well written and I actually enjoyed it. (I haven't seen the movie and have no idea how the book compares to it.)
Every season of my nanny career kicked off with a round of interviews so surreally similar that I'd often wonder if the mothers were slipped a secret manual at the Parents League to guide them through. This initial encounter became as repetitive as religious ritual, tempting me, in the moment before the front door swung open, either to kneel and genuflect or say, "Hit it!" opening
She is always tiny. Her hair is always straight and thin; she always seems to be inhaling and never exhaling. She is always wearing expensive khaki pants,Chanel ballet flats, a French striped Tshirt, and a white cardigan. Possibly some discreet pearls. In seven years and umpteen interviews the I'm-momcasual-in-my-khakis-but-intimidating-in-my-$400-shoes outfit never changes. And it is simply impossible to imagine her doing anything so undignified as what was required to get her pregnant in the first place. pg. 2
We will dance around certain words, such as "nanny" and "child care," because they would be distasteful and we will never, ever, actually acknowledge that we are talking about my working for her. This is the Holy Covenant of the Mother/Nanny relationship: this is a pleasure--not a job.... The closest we get to the possibility that I might actually be doing this for money is the topic of my baby-sitting experience, which I describe as a passionate hobby, much like raising Seeing Eye dogs for the blind. As the conversation progresses I become a child-development expert--convincing both of us of my desire to fulfill my very soul by raising a child and taking part in all stages of his/her development; a simple trip to the park or museum becoming a precious journey of the heart. pg. 3
Nanny Fact: in every one of my interviews, references are never checked. I am white. I speak French. My parents are college educated. I have no visible piercings and have been to Lincoln Center in the last two months. I'm hired. pg. 4
There are essentially three types of nanny gigs. Type A, I provide "couple time" a few nights a week for people who work all day and parent most nights. Type B, I provide "sanity time" a few afternoons a week to a woman who mothers most days and nights. Type C, I'm brought in as one of a cast of many to collectively provide twenty-four/seven "me time" to a woman who neither works nor mothers. And her days remain a mystery to us all. pg. 26