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. I cite amusing anecdotes from past gigs, referring to the children by name--"I still marvel at the cognitive growth of Constance with each hour we spent together in the sandbox." I feel my eyes twinkle and imagine twirling my umbrella a la Mary Poppins. We both sit in silence for a moment picturing my studio apartment crowded with framed finger paintings and my doctorates from Stanford.
She stares at me expectantly, ready for me to bring it on home. "I love children! I love little hands and little shoes and peanut butter sandwiches and peanut butter in my hair and Elmo--I love Elmo and sand in my purse and the "Hokey Pokey"--can't get enough of it!--and soy milk and blankies and the endless barrage of questions no one knows the answers to, I mean why is the sky blue? And Disney! Disney is my second language!"
We can both hear "A Whole New World" slowly swelling in the background as I earnestly convey that it would be more than a privilege to take care of her child--it would be an adventure.
She is flushed, but still playing it close to the chest. Now she wants to know why, if I'm so fabulous, I would want to take care of her child. I mean, she gave birth to it and she doesn't want to do it, so why would I? Am I trying to pay off an abortion? Fund a leftist group? How did she get this lucky? She wants to know what I study, what I plan to do in the future, what I think of private schools in Manhattan, what my parents do. I answer with as much filigree and insouciance as I can muster, trying to slightly cock my head like Snow White listening to the animals. She, in turn, is aiming for more of a Diane-Sawyer-pose, looking for answers which will confirm that I am not there to steal her husband, jewelry, friends, or child. In that order.
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.
She stands with newfound hope. "Let me show you around. . ." Although we have already met, it's time for the Apartment to play its role to full effect. As we pass through each room it seems to fluff itself and shimmy to add shine to the already blinding surfaces. Touring is what this Apartment was born for. Each enormous room leads to the next with a few mini hallways just big enough for a framed original so-and-so.
No matter if she has an infant or a teenager--there is never a trace of a child to be found on the Tour. In fact, there's never a trace of anyone--not a single family picture displayed. I'll find out later that these are all discreetly tucked into sterling Tiffany frames and clustered artfully in a corner of the den.
Somehow the absence of a pair of strewn shoes or an opened envelope makes it hard to believe that the scene I am being led through is three-dimensional; it seems like a Potemkin apartment. I consequently feel ungainly and unsure of how to demonstrate the appropriate awe that is expected from me, without saying, "Yes'm, it's awl so awfly luverly, shore is," in a thick cockney accent and curtsying.
Luckily she is in perpetual motion and the opportunity does not present itself. She glides silently ahead of me and I am struck by how tiny her frame seems against the dense furnishings. I stare at her back as she moves from room to room, stopping only briefly in each to wave her hand around in a circle and say the room's name, to which I nod to confirm that this is, in fact, the dining room.
The Nanny Diaries. Copyright © 2002 by Emma McLaughlin & Nicola Kraus. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. For information, address St. Martin's Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10010.
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No Man's Land
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Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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