The Krims of New York’s swanky upper West Side thought their nanny was. They had visited her family. She loved their three children. While daddy worked in digital media,mummy taught art classes at kindergarten ,was a good Mum and wrote a blog about it. They were bit players in a gentle Woody Allen comedy. But then the Nanny flipped. Repeatedly stabbing two of the children to death in the bath before turning the vile dagger on herself. Suddenly this is the worst kind of horror movie,the one you are in.
We had ten nannies from the period our kids were born until they were well into secondary school. As the kids spent more time at school they also helped in Vivien’s hat business, something they enjoyed. Mostly Antipodean, we found them harder working and less complaining than the home grown variety.
We found that if they were too good looking ,they were out all night and no good pre school. If they were not good looking they got depressed and moped about the house too much. So one went for a happy medium, We got them from ads in the free press and they mostly had some references which we checked. But did we know them?
Did we know their financial status, about their health if there were any problems,did we have an emergency number,did we know about their boy friends or family, did we talk to them much? Answer to most of these questions mostly no. Did we pay them much more than a cleaner? And yet we were entrusting them with the most valuable parts of our lives.
We had one bad experience. Coming home Vivien found the four and two year old unattended in an overflowing bath. The drunk nanny was in her room with her boyfriend. We did not sack on the spot as we both had important business appointments the next day. We gave her notice,she stayed the month. Last week twenty five plus years on she sent Vivien birth day greetings. We were lucky.
Three of our nannies have stayed in contact. When we went round the world five years ago, we stayed with them in New Zealand and Australia. What we hadn’t realised was how much they loved us. By giving them the “gap like”experience and providing a rock solid base as well as becoming friends we had become part of their emotional network.
But as the Krims show we are entrusting our most loved ones to strangers. Maybe no more than when we put our parents into homes. But its more than that isn’t it. A woman journalist,Paula Szuchman wrote in the Daily Beast ,
I have never traveled with the woman who watches over my two girls, the woman I have known for more than two years, who has helped raise them, teach them to talk, to sing, to love, and to be loved. When she arrives in the morning, she laughs the minute she sees them, and she is laughing when I come home at the end of the day. She takes credit for the people they are becoming, and she’s right to. She would never hurt my kids—in fact, if anyone else tried to hurt them, I believe she would punch them in the face.Which is why I trust her completely.
Yet in many ways, I barely know her. I know her boyfriend’s first name, but nothing else about him. I don’t have her license plate number, don’t know whether she sees a therapist, if she’s having financial problems, or who I should call in her family in case of emergency. I’m not friends with her on Facebook (I don’t know if she’s even on Facebook), and though I read the tweets of hundreds of strangers, I have never seen hers.