"Why don't you two get to know each other a little . . ." This is the cue for the Play-With-Child portion of the audition. Despite the fact that we all know the child's opinion is irrelevant I nevertheless become psychotically animated. I play as if I'm Christmas and then some until the child has been whipped into a foaming frenzy of interaction, with the added stimulant of a rare audience with mother. The child has been trained in the Montessori approach to fun--only one toy is pulled from its walnut cubicle at a time. I overcompensate for the lack of normal childhood chaos by turning into a chorus of voices, dance steps, and an in-depth understanding of Pokemon. Within moments the child is asking me to go to the zoo, sleep over, and move in. This is the mother's cue to break in from where she has been sitting with her mental clipboard and Olympic score cards on the edge of the child's bed to announce that it is "Time to say goodbye to Nanny. Won't it be fun to play with Nanny again?"
The housekeeper, who has been folded into a child-size rocking chair in the corner this entire time, offers up a dejected storybook, making a meek attempt to match my display of fireworks and delay the inevitable crash. Within seconds there is a replay of a slightly more sophisticated version of the Spatula Reflex, this time encompassing a maneuvering of both mother and myself outside the room, punctuated by a slammed door, all in one seamless motion. She runs her hands through her hair as she leads me back into the silence of the apartment with a long, breathy "Well. . ."
She hands me my purse and then I stand with her in the foyer for at least half an hour, waiting to be dismissed.
"So, do you have a boyfriend?" This is the cue for the Play-With-Mother portion of the audition. She is in for the night--there is no mention of a husband's imminent arrival or plans for dinner. I hear about her pregnancy, Lotte Berk, the last Parents' Night meeting, the pain-in-the-ass housekeeper (left for dead in the Child Zone), the wily decorator, the string of nanny disasters before me, and the nursery school nightmare. Completion Phase III: I am actually excited that I am not only getting a delightful child to play with, I'm getting a new best friend!
Not to be outdone, I hear myself talking--trying to establish my status as a person of the world; I name-drop, brand-drop, place-drop. Then self-consciously deprecate myself with humor so as not to intimidate her. I become aware that I am talking way, way too much. I am babbling about why I left Brown, why I left my last relationship--not that I'm a leaver no, no, no! I pick something, I stick with it! Yessiree! Did I tell you about my thesis? I am revealing information that will be dragged up repeatedly for months in awkward attempts to make conversation. Soon I am just bobbing my head and saying "Okay-ay!" while blindly groping for the doorknob. Finally she thanks me for coming, opens the door, and lets me press for the elevator.
I am caught mid-sentence as the elevator door starts to close, forcing me to shove my bag in front of the electronic eye so I can finish a meaningful thought on my parents' marriage. We smile and nod at one another like animatrons until the door mercifully slides closed. I collapse against it, exhaling for the first time in an hour.
Minutes later the subway barrels down Lexington, propelling me toward school and back to the grind of my own life. I slump against the plastic seat, images from the pristine apartment swimming in my head. These snapshots are soon interrupted by a man or woman-sometimes both-shuffling through the car begging for change while gripping their worldly possessions in a shredded shopping bag. Pulling my backpack up onto my lap, my post-performance adrenaline leveling out, questions begin to percolate.
Just how does an intelligent, adult woman become someone whose whole sterile kingdom has been reduced to alphabetized lingerie drawers and imported French dairy substitutes? Where is the child in this home? Where is the woman in this mother?
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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