Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Rob Lowe, I feel your pain!

I read this morning's stories about Rob Lowe's nanny woes with more interest than I would have just three years ago. No, not because I cover these kinds of stories for a living. Besides, trying to find out what church Beyonce and Jay Z got allegedly got married at in Scarsdale had already taken up too much of time over the past four days. And not because I remembered the last scandal involving the actor all those years ago at the Democratic National Convention in Atlanta.

I was drawn into the story because I can relate. I am the mother of a 3 year old and I have been to the depths of nanny hell more times than I thought possible.

When I think back to those days when I was an innocent interviewing babysitters (Who are we kidding? These people aren't nannies any more than I'm Lois Lane) before my husband and I left for China to adopt our daughter in November 2005. I put an ad in the local paper which yielded a handful of incredibly diverse -- and totally unsuitable -- candidates. Although my ad clearly said I was looking for someone Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. until 6 p.m, virtually everyone that came through the door tried to negotiate different hours. The most otherwise qualified of the bunch asked -- with a straight face -- to go home every day by 3:30 "because my husband expects dinner on the table by six." Sure, why not? Needless to say I went to China without having hired anyone. I was blissfully unaware of how difficult the nanny game would prove to be.

We when returned, a family in our building called us to say that their 'nanny' who I'd seen every day for years, was available because the husband had lost his job. I interviewed her -- or rather we chatted -- and she was hired. Looking back, I had it made -- until things fell apart. For about nine months she was never late, my daughter was always clean and happy and my house was immaculate (although I never asked her to do the household duties she took on). I overlooked the non stop ringing of her cell phone. (I was too timid to say anything). Then things changed. Her young daughter who had been living elsewhere had to come stay with her for good and the stress of taking care of her own family for the first time in many years was taking its toll. I would have loved to have known because I would have welcomed cutting her hours -- I was paying for full time help which I couldn't really afford at the time because I was told you could never find quality part time help.

I will never forget the night the whole thing fell apart without warning. I was on my way to ABC's holiday party and had this sinking feeling that something was going to happen. (After that night I became a true believer in mother's intuition). Since I had never asked this woman to work a minute past six o'clock, I chalked it up to my 'hovercraft mother' tendencies. (My husband had taken to using that oh so endearing term to describe me.) The evening train from Scarsdale to New York was late for the first time in about ten years. 'It's a sign I shouldn't go,' I thought. But I felt like an idiot. I went to the party.

It turns out I was right. When I got home my husband was sitting in my baby's room with my daughter's back to the door. "Something happened," he began. I could barely breathe as I raced towards the baby. When I turned her around she had a burn about the size of the my pinkie nail on her face just below her lip. When I asked my husband how this happened, he said he asked the babysitter but she literally had run out the door muttering something to the effect, 'The baby burned herself.'

I tried her cell phone for hours until she finally picked up. She started screaming, "I did nothing wrong!" I told her in no uncertain terms that was expected at my home tomorrow so we could discuss the incident. I couldn't sleep that night. Was this the first time something bad had happened to Madeline? Was she always neglectful but had just never gotten caught? I was sick with worry and guilt.

The next morning when she arrived, she was silent. She offered no apologies for the second degree burn that had now blistered on my baby's face. No explanation other than to say that her husband didn't like her working extra hours. From what I could piece together she'd been on her cellphone, taken the food out of the microwave and just given it to Madeline because she was too busy talking. Then, she admitted that the food was too hot. Clearly, I said and then asked, 'Don't you test the food before you give it to her?" I asked. "No," she responded. "Madeline always tells me when it's too hot." My daughter was 18 months old!

I should have fired her on the spot. I still can't figure out why I didn't. I think was in shock over the whole thing. Christmas was weeks away and I thought you just don't fire people at Christmas. I am cringing as I write this, but I gave her the requisite one week pay for a Christmas tip because as some friends told me, "She'll take it out on your baby if you don't." Then, a few weeks later as I was getting ready to go to a meeting with a new editor at Redbook, I got that feeling again that something was wrong. Eight o'clock came -- no sitter. 8:20. 9:00. 9:30. No word. She wasn't coming back. She'd burned my baby, never apologized, taken my Christmas tip and vanished. I packed up my daughter and went to New York in a snow storm to make the meeting.

Still a nanny neophyte, I was incredulous but undaunted. The very next day, I put an ad on Craig's list and got 300 responses. We hired another nanny. She talked non stop about her "other family" who had moved out of state. The mother of that baby clearly did everything perfectly based on the endless stories she repeated over and over again. She refused to do anything I asked without making me feel as if I was requesting she paint our building in the middle of a blizzard. To my great relief, she left after two months. She was followed by a string of part time people until after a visit to my pediatrician examining my daughter for a cold noticed what he was reasonably certain was a human thumb print on the upper inside part of her ear. "Do you have a nanny cam?" my doctor asked. Horrified, but with no proof, I dismissed the girl -- who had the audacity to ask for severance (she'd worked for us less than a month).

For weeks after that, I had my assistant play with my daughter in the other room whenever I had an interview. One afternoon Jennifer Lopez was scheduled to call. She did -- four hours late. When I told her I had to hang up sooner than I would have liked because my "sitter" had to leave. She said, "Oh, I understand. I'm sure I'll have the same problems when I have a baby." That's exactly what I was thinking when I saw the million dollar nursery for her twins in People.

That was almost one year ago, and the misadventures in babysitting just keep coming. Two weeks ago, a girl who swore to me she was fine with the part time hours I was offering (because my full time person who my daughter has come to love over the past year only wants to work two days a week) quit with no notice because she'd been offered a big job in Greenwich for more money. I had my first assignment for a national magazine that I'd been pitching for a solid year the next day. My husband stayed home from work so I could go. My daughter, now old enough to form bonds with her sitters, continues to ask for her.

I have gotten incredibly resourceful. I schedule my interviews whenever I can during her preschool hours or I try to judge when she'll take a nap. Sometimes it actually works. Today I sent her to school with a "bellyache" which would ordinarily keep her home because I was already late with filing my latest story for Variety. Then, bless her heart, she came home and slept for two hours. Just enough time to do my last interview and hit the 'send' button. Whew.

I don't know what happened in Rob Lowe's house but I do know what's gone on in mine. I have put my trust in people to help me care for the most important thing in the world to me -- my child who have deceived and betrayed me. I have left her in the care of strangers who held themselves out to be one type of person and proved to be anything but. I am constantly in rebuild, restructure, regroup mode while I attempt to keep my child happy and my career from imploding. Single male editors do not want to hear that you can't make a deadline because of nanny issues. Come to think of it, after the first ten times, female editors don't either.

I am sure there are plenty of wonderful nannies out there. I hear stories from people who have had the same nanny for years -- "they're part of the family." I hate those people. (Just kidding! Not.) I don't want someone to be a part of my family. I just want a nice, responsible person who isn't surgically attached to a cell phone to help me care for my daughter without drama. Too much to ask for? Evidently, yes.

Mary Poppins doesn't live in Scarsdale. My guess is she's working for Jennifer Lopez.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

And I thought I was the only one! The guilt is overwhelming as I too have often left my kids with so called "sitters" not even knowing their last name. We hope that, as moms, our intuitive nature is enough to go by.... thank g-d my kids are now old enough to tell me who they like and why!

February 10, 2009 at 10:10 PM  

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