On the Lighter Side: The Nanny Diaries

The Nanny Diaries
The Nanny Diaries by Emma McLaughlin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

During summers when I was in college, I did a lot of babysitting. One summer, I filled in for a family with three children between au pairs. This experience was eye-opening to me. Never before had I been asked on a babysitting job to take the dog to the vet, do laundry, or make a salad for the parents to eat when they arrived home. I also wasn’t accustomed to getting paid a weekly rate, regardless of the number of hours I put in. It was also the first time I’d had an eight-year-old charge tell me I was her best friend and run to me when she learned her parents were sending her back to the school where she had been teased about her weight the year before rather than another school where, she was convinced, she would have been accepted with open arms. She was probably putting too much faith in this new school thing anyway, but the fact that it was me she threw her arms around for comfort, it was my shirt she cried into in front of her parents…that was a little awkward for me.

This family was nothing like the ultra-wealthy families in The Nanny Diaries, but the similarities stood out to me.

The second experience I’ve had with nannies was when we lived in Silicon Valley. I would take my daughter to the park and we would be the only mother-child pair surrounded by nannies and their charges. I remember the one nanny whose employers made her give the four-year-old twins she watched snacks every fifteen minutes because apparently the children were underweight. She would basically shove granola bars in these kids’ mouths while they were playing with their toys. They wouldn’t even look at her while she fed them. They clearly weren’t hungry, but she would be reprimanded if the kids didn’t eat. Then there was the woman I knew who had a full-time nanny and a backup nanny, and she was a stay-at-home mom. I wasn’t really close friends with her.

When we first watched the movie version of the book, my husband kept saying, “That has to be an exaggeration!” and I kept saying, “Maybe, but it’s not that far from reality if it is.”

And then there’s my third experience with nannies, and that’s as a parent. I don’t really consider the caregivers I hire to be nannies. I generally hire them for just six hours a week (three hours two afternoons a week). But according to this book, they are nannies, and I fit into the Type B category of nanny-employers, the mom who’s with her kids all of the time and just wants a couple of afternoons a week off. Seeing these categorizations made we squirm just a little bit, as did the authors’ rather negative descriptions of the parent-tot music classes and the instrument lessons the children take. I do music classes with my kids, and my daughter has played the flute since she was four. I’m not anything like Mrs X about these things (and I’m certainly not doing them to help with kindergarten admissions), but it still hit a little too close to the mark for my comfort.

I can see Mrs X’s fear about the closeness between her son and the nannies, too. I have similar trepidation and ambivalence about my kids’ relationships with non-parental caregivers. In theory, I want them to be close to other adults, and I certainly want them to feel excited and happy to be with their caregivers. But I don’t know…I feel just a little weird if they like their sitters a whole, whole lot. I feel like I must not be doing my job very well if they don’t prefer me over all others. And of course they do prefer me over all others and just happen to love their sitter, too. I just feel a little jealous. I suppose if I actually were as uninvolved and self-centered as Mrs X, I might feel even stronger jealousy, along with resentment and fear around this closeness.

Overall, though, I thought this was quite a fun little book. It was a quick read, but well-written (although the copy-editing in the last two chapters was a little hit-or-miss, to the point that I actually had to re-read a couple of sentences to try to catch the meaning through the typos). The depth of the relationship between Nanny and Grayer was heartrendingly clearer than in the movie.

Nanny’s friends were a little flat, as were her parents, but the characters the authors spent lots of energy on were more well-rounded, like Nanny’s grandmother, Grayer, and Mrs X. The Harvard Hottie was a little too good to be true, though. This guy just never seemed to mess up. Even when Nanny got annoyed at him, it was her fault for misinterpreting an otherwise caring and thoughtful remark from him. I found that a little irritating.

And I was kind of grossed out when they shared the tub of ice cream. I mean, sure, kiss a guy, but share ice cream from the same container? Yuck! That’s almost as bad as sharing a toothbrush. *shudder*

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