Nanny in NYC

A modern day Mary Poppins

Friday, March 31, 2006

Fatalism?

I've been enjoying reading the various reactions to "Up with Grups," some of it heartening, some of it not so much. On Alarm-Alarm (a film & culture commentary blog) I read this:
The one place where he might have found some unique material to mine was in the way these Grups raise their kids. But although he takes pains to make his subjects seem like bleeding edge parents who look out for their children’s musical tastes, he ends up exposing the Earth-shattering revelations that… parents want to raise kids with similar values.

Thus, parents who value strong aesthetics, whether in music, fashion, or whatever, will make that an issue with their kids. If these parents are different than a previous generation, it’s only because so many Boomers sought to instill their relativistic, figure-it-out-yourself ethos in their kids by not teaching them anything.


It reminded me a simple truth about raising kids that I think I'd overlooked when I was first reading Sternbergh's article.

My parents, as I've mentioned before, adopted two children after they had me "the old fashioned way." My father is a chef and my mother is a rather experimental cook at home. Both will eat pretty much anything, so they vowed early on not to raise picky eaters. They had various methods from force to manipulation to outright lies. They applied these methods to myself and my sisters, and as a result I will eat anything you put in front of me (except olives, they're the devil). Success, right? Wrong! K. (my middle sister, who happens to be Asian) hates fatty foods, red meat and anything dairy but her first trip to the sushi bar was like a return to the mothership, S. (my baby sister) on the other hand, eats chips, salsa, candy, dessert, eggs, cheese, iced tea, coke . . . and I'm pretty sure that's it. She once screamed when she saw an artichoke.

The point of this story? My parents had lofty goals, but the truth of the matter is that I was bound to be diverse in my palette because of who my parents are, not what they did to me. The same is true for K. & S. My parents probably broadened their horizons a tad bit, but that's all. Most of these things are simply immovable. Your kids are who they're going to be, plain and simple. If you're bound and determined to raise them to have a highly developed "aesthetic" and that is one of your major goals as a parent, and this article leads us to believe it is for Grups, most likely you'll end up with kids who have a highly developed aesthetic--but not because of any effort you put forth but because you made that child and you pass on your values as easily as you pass on your DNA.

There have always been this type of "cool parent" in the world, it's not a new phenomena. If Sternbergh can be believed, however, it's a sensation that is sweeping the nation, and that's what has me a little bit worried. In the blogoshpere, however, these worries don't seem prevelant. What is prevelant is an attitude of "Oh goodness, here's another article trying to make us believe that what a small group of rich, bored New Yorkers are doing will effect us all--but it won't".

That makes me feel much better.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

The "New Adults" or Michael Jackson is Not who You Should Want Your Child to Grow Up As

Did you wonder what caused me to drag out, re-read and then write about a five-year-old article about mildly pessimistic views of the current young adult generation (oh, and by "drag out" I mean pay The Atlantic Monthly Online $2.95)? Well, wonder no longer: it was a recent article from New York Magazine by Adam Sternbergh in which he details his profile of the "new adulthood". Sternbergh refers to this group as "Grups" (it's a Star Trek thing, apparently) and characterizes the typical Grup male this way:
He owns eleven pairs of sneakers, hasn’t worn anything but jeans in a year, and won’t shut up about the latest Death Cab for Cutie CD. But he is no kid. He is among the ascendant breed of grown-up who has redefined adulthood as we once knew it and killed off the generation gap.

I came across the article on the blog of an acquaintance who had luckily cued the text up to page six in which the parenting habits of Grups are discussed. She begins her commentary with this not overly optimistic statement, "I fear I may be glimpsing my future." What is it she's afraid of? The worst case scenario of Grup parenting: Conservative Children.

Overall, one of the great things Grups have going for them is their optimism about parenting.
Here’s the good news about kids: They’re defenseless. So if you want to put a Ramones T-shirt on your 2-year-old, you don’t need his permission. All you need is for someone to have the great idea to make a 2-year-old-size Ramones T-shirt. (And trust me—someone’s had that idea.) And if you want to play the Strokes for your 4-year-old son, what’s he going to do? I’ll tell you what—he’s going to learn to love the Strokes."
But their fears abound. Grups seem to understand the perverse nature of children, and that rebellion cannot be assuaged simply by trying to set oneself up as the epitome of cool.
. . . perhaps we can look forward—at least if Family Ties can be trusted—to a new generation of buttoned-down, high-strung Alex P. Keaton–type conservative teenagers. This is something the Grups have considered. When I asked Hermelin her worst fear, she laughed and said, “Our kids are going to become Republicans.”

It's true that rebellion is a pretty standard part of any American teenager's bag of tricks, but I'm disappointed in that mother for being so unimaginative in her dark fantasies. I am not frightened of an entire generation of Alex P. Keatons. I think we lived through something like that in the early 80's and we managed not to end the world (we didn't do wonderful things for the environment, our national debt, and so on and so forth, but we also didn't cause the planet to explode in a fiery mass, so it's even as far as I'm concerned). What frightens me are scenarios that perhaps boarder on paranoid, and if that's so I apologize, but hopefully you'll bear with me.

Collectively the Grups seem to want to stress to their children that they should do what feels good, but at the same time they are actively dictating to their children what should feel good, rather than giving those kids time and space to discover those things on their own. (This used to be one of the major parts of what being a kid meant, but no more, apparently!). The generation of parents before the Grups began to erode the generation gap by inhabiting every aspect of their kids lives, imposing safety rules, supervising playtime, and structuring activities. Now the Grups seem to want to take that a step further and deny that there is a difference between themselves and their children, disregarding size, of course. Isn't this the height of delusional self-centeredness? As much as I loved the picture of those Baby Bjorn adorned fathers, the mental image that came to me while reading was more like a youth-sucking vampire desperate to remain young and willing to sacrifice his child to that cause.

So, what is it that's more frightening than an army of Alex P. Keatons? A generation who never got to be children. I'm not sure what that will mean when they're all in their 30s and 40s, but Michael Jackson claims he had no childhood and he is not a stable adult, I'm sure we can all agree on that. Maybe I'm being overly dramatic, it's not like I can point to one generation and say "They did it right, that is the Gold Standard for parenting", every generation screws their kids up in some way. I just can't shake the fact that we're headed down a pretty scarry path.

Unlike B. who fears she may be glimpsing her future, I fear that we have no idea what we're getting ourselves into.

My Life's Work

The young men and women of America's future elite work their laptops to the bone, rarely question authority, and happily accept their positions at the top of the heap as part of the natural order of life."
That was the first sentence of an article by David Brooks in The Atlantic Monthly in April of 2001. I am in no way exaggerating when I say that it changed the course of my life. At that point in time I was working as a live-in Nanny, having abandoned any desire of working in the field I had spent $100,000.00+ to train for. To say that I was in an extreme state of limbo is an understatement indeed. I was impressionable and I was looking for a path, and at that time the thing that I was immersed in on a daily basis was exclusively the lives of children. I can't blame David Brooks for the obsessive path he put me on, it was, in many ways, inevitable.

"The Organized Kid", the article I quoted above, details time Brooks spent with students at Princeton and other Ivy League schools interviewing "the young people who are going to be running our country in a few decades." His characterization of those kids is frightening in many ways. Although he paints them as happy, industrious and incredibly driven there are eerie things about this new generation, especially when viewed in comparison with their parents.** In almost every way they bow unquestioningly to authority and the do not protest. These are kids who see themselves as "computers" designed to work & manipulate the information they're given--not question it. "They're not trying to buck the system; they're trying to climb it, and they are streamlined for ascent."

If you've spent anytime around children of the rich and middle class, it won't surprise you that this is the case. Kids today are constantly being monitored & mediated. They're shuffled from one class to the next and then taken to supervised "playdates" where every problem or minor onset of boredom is met with immediate intervention and adult attention. The authority figures in their lives are not oppressive shackles to be thrown off during college years, rather they're helping hands carefully paving the way into a planned and prepared adulthood.

The article is extremely open ended. It offers no predictions on the future of our country when this group who so closely adheres to authority becomes the authority. In my mind, however, it started the wheels spinning with regard to how dramatically a generation can change the way an entire country thinks simply by its parenting style. To my knowledge history has never been viewed this way (at least, that is, the history I can get my hands on in books). Did changes in the way German parents treated their children in the late nineteenth century lead the generation to have a particular susceptibility to Hitler's fascism? Was the fall of Rome precipitated by a shift in discipline tactics with toddlers? I have absolutely no answers to these questions . . . yet.

**It's a great article, and he's got some interesting things to say about the "moral ambiguity" of the "Organization Kid" that I simply don't have the space to go into in this forum. If you're interested in the text of this article just send me a note and I will gladly email it to you, it's simply too long to have included on this page.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Even Better Pic

And they still took him out! Can you believe it? He looks so happy, like he finally found a place where he belonged.

"Please let there be a picture!"

That is exactly what I was thinking after I opened an email that contained this link. When the headline "Boy gets caught in toy-filled 'claw' machine" came up at the top of the screen I could hardly contain my excitement. Thankfully, there was, in fact, this picture (thank you ubiquitous camera phones!):



My favorite part of this story is that the boy was pretty happy with what he'd done, and not so pleased with the rescue efforts.

When the 3-year-old Austin boy crawled through the discharge chute of a Toy Chest claw machine at a Godfather's Pizza here, he ended up on the other side of the glass surrounded by stuffed animals. Rescuers had to pry the door open to get Devin out, though the boy was in no hurry to leave. "When we got it open, he didn't want to come out," Fire Chief Dan Wilson said Tuesday. "One of my firefighters had to reach inside and get him. He was happy in there."

I don't believe in any kind of corporal punishment. However, if I was mom Heidi Haskin, I might be thinking long and hard about that principle when I got little Devin safely home.

Apparently, crawling inside the claw machines is a popular pastime. A 7-year-old in Sheboygan climbed into an even bigger claw machine in 2004. And guess what? There's pictures of that one too!



Parents in the US are so quick to raise their voices collectively against TV shows like Jackass that encourage poor, sweet, impressionable American children to do foolish things. Why is it that no one is up in arms with Pixar over this. These kids are clearly offering themselves up to The Claw who decides who will go and who will stay. No wonder Devin didn't want to go with the fireman.

Discipline

My parents were visiting New York this week, and for the first time I took them to meet "my kids". When we arrived at the G.'s apartment I took my mother into the kitchen where Mrs. G. was giving Drew his lunch. As I entered the room with my mother close behind me Drew spotted us. He froze with a panicked expression on his face, and when I said to him, "What's wrong?" all he could manage to say was "Mommy lets me!"

It only took me a moment to realize what he was talking about. In his hands was a deconstructed PB&J. He had been systematically licking the jelly off the bread. Taking his sandwich apart is something I don't allow (and clearly, Mrs. G. does).

My mother thought this was an absolutely hysterical scene. We've often had conversations about our differing views on discipline. She is what you might call "old school". She believes that a parent's job is to frequently say no. She thinks that limits in general, even if they border on arbitrary, are important for the development of self discipline (or something like that). I admit that she's often made a compelling argument. I've weighed in on the side of moderation.

I've admitted to my mother that I've faced many moments when I'm with the G. children and find myself saying "no" for no good reason. I've tried to train myself to stop and ask why I'm saying no before I actually do. Apparently, with the PB&J, at least, sometimes the answer I come up with is adequate enough. When Drew takes his sandwich apart he makes a complete mess, which is why I've made the mandate against sandwich deconstruction.

Now, Mrs. G, who (compared to both my mother and myself) rarely says no at all, might argue that it's not the worst thing if Drew, or any of the kids, get a little sticky while eating lunch. I'll admit, it's pretty easy to sponge them off when they're done, but the obvious solution to me was to forbid the act in the first place and force Drew to conform to a norm of behavior which he is completely capable of.

I'd like to think that, as the voice in the middle, my way is the best. I am beginning to wonder though, if I really am in the middle. New York parents seem awfully permissive these days, and a frequent complaint of New York mothers is that their nannies are too strict. Wouldn't the alternative be much worse?

Sunday, March 26, 2006

More Cooks & Kids

One of my favorite Brooklyn restaurants is Applewood on 11th Street at 7th Ave. in Park Slope. It's a really sweet space and the food is consistently good. (Although, to be honest, not everything has been great, but atmosphere really plays a part, especially in winter when you can come in from the cold and eat in front of a roaring fire.) It's owned and operated by Laura and David Shea with the "help" of their two young daughters.
The Shea's are devotees of the Slow Food movement, which means all the produce they serve is grown on self-sustaining farms outside the city, all the fish is wild, and all the meat is hormone- and antibiotic-free..


The number one thing that appeals to me about Applewood (other than the fireplace, oh, and the apple puree champagne cocktails) is that the Shea's two girls are such a presence at the restaurant. I really love the idea of growing up in a (mildly) alternative space. For example, I have a friend who grew up on a commune and another who was the daughter of a minister & made a huge gothic church her playroom. Having had the most generic of childhoods I'm kind of envious of these unique situations. When the Shea family began tossing around the idea of starting their own restaurant
Laura could initially only see the negatives for their young kids: the crazy hours, absentee parents, and few chances for family meals. Not anymore. "I've discovered there probably isn't a more nurturing environment to grow up in than a place filled with the sights, sounds, smells, and tastes of food," says Laura, who wore her youngest in a sling every night on the job until the baby was almost 8 months old. "The restaurant is like a first home to our kids because we're here so much, and the staff is like a second family. Now we always tell people it takes a restaurant to raise a child."


Check out this article which profiles the Shea's and other parent/chefs such as Todd English and Michael Chiarello and offers up a lot of their tips for expanding your children's food horizons. (Most of the advice is a bit impractical for busy parents, but there are a few gems.)

Saturday, March 25, 2006

The Top Chef's greatest fear

iTunes totally has my number. I currently watch both Conviction and Top Chef because iTunes debuted their pilot episodes gratis. The truth of the matter is that I liked both genres long before those pleasure-peddlers at Apple offered me a taste for free, so I suppose I can't lay blame with them. Anyway, the point is I'm addicted to Top Chef and I'm not (that) ashamed to admit it.

This last weeks episode couldn't have been more perfectly up my alley. The chefs were tasked with cooking a meal featuring monkfish for a group of 8-12 year-olds--and believe me, I felt for them. Cooking for kids can be extremely tough, and in this case, it wasn't helped by the obligatory beautiful host (Katie Lee Joel, who is very attractive, but who the heck is she?) who really riled the kids up and had them thrusting their fingers down their throats before they even were served.

While I can understand completely feeling intimidated at having to cook for and attempt to please a large anonymous group of kids, I got so upset with some of the contestants' attitudes towards the children. If you know anything about food and eating, you should know that as people age they lose sensitivity in their tastebuds. The reason things like coffee, alcohol, bitter greens, dark chocolate, and rare meats are thought of as "acquired tastes" is not because adults acquire anything that they lacked as children, but rather the opposite. The chefs should have been frightened at the prospect of feeding a group of kids, but not for the reasons they were. Kids will taste every element of your dishes and they're not inclined to mince words about what they don't like.

I'm sure that my little blog is not going to end the very common practice of talking down to children, but I absolutely hate the hypocrisy of people like Tiffani & Steven on this show. It's one thing to lament the fact that this country just shoves MacDonalds and other fast food items down kids' throats to keep them happy, in some ways that's true. It's another thing entirely to waste an excellent opportunity to communicate your love of food because you can't get over your own pomposity.

Ok, I feel a bit better now.

Picture courtesy of Just Hungry.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Any publicity . . .

If you're employed as a nanny and your name is in the news I can guarantee you one thing: It's not good news. Chances are you've hurt or harmed a child or done something heinous that was caught on a nannycam. If you're lucky, maybe it was only morally reprehensible and not plain illegal. (I know I can be very critical of other people's behavior, but for the record: Daisy Wright, I do not blame you one bit.)

It wasn't until today when I saw this little news item that I began to think about how it's pretty much the same for parents. When do they make the news for the good things they do? Sure, there are anomalies but for the most part the stories you see are about all the terrible things parents can, purposefully or not, do to their children.

I'm proud to say that I've never actually left a child in a car. I don't think I've ever left a child behind anywhere (I'm not going to make the ubiquitous No Child Left Behind joke, it's too easy & too sad). But that doesn't mean that I didn't immediately feel a sympathy pain when I read that dad's story. I know that sudden "uh-oh" feeling. It happens with wallets and keys for everyone, I'm sure, but when it's associated with a child it's amplified 100 times over. It usually comes over me at the park when there are hundreds of children running around and I suddenly realize that I haven't seen Sam for a while. Panic seizes me immediately, and even if I find him right away I'm left with this surge of useless adrenaline.

This incident happened on Thursday morning, I wonder if that poor father's heartrate has returned to normal yet. Ultimately I can't blame him too harshly (although I can't help but imagine what might have happened if it was August instead of March). I'm sure his wife is judging him harshly enough for all of us.



Oh, and just 'cause I'm thinking about it, here's a little eye candy for those of us who aren't lucky enough to be Ms. Miller or her nanny:

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Children and Politics

When it comes to the "Nature vs. Nurture" debate, my mother is decidedly on the side of nature. This is largely because she has raised one biological child (me) and two adopted children (my sisters). She's observed first hand that, just like the truth, the genes will out, no matter how hard you may try to bend those genes to your will.

My opinions are a bit more hazy on the subject. Feeling positive about my job, at least on one level, hinges on my belief that what I do matters. I have to believe that I can teach the children I work with, that I can influence their behavior and mold them a bit despite the fact that I did not contribute to their DNA. So, it should not surprise you to find that I am increasingly preoccupied by studies that attempt to show correlations between traits in children and adult predilections.

All of the above is to explain my fascination with an article my friend G. referenced on his blog. The (incredibly unscientific) study followed about 100 pre-school children for several decades and puts forth the position that
"whiny kids tended to grow up conservative, and turned into rigid young adults who hewed closely to traditional gender roles and were uncomfortable with ambiguity. The confident kids turned out liberal and were still hanging loose, turning into bright, non-conforming adults with wide interests."


Now, as a former "whiny kid" and current "liberal thinker" I take umbridge with the study, but it did call to mind a position my father has argued fervently for many years. According to my dad, people who tend toward liberal ideals in politics and religion are often people who feel that we, as a society, are headed toward a more perfect state (in his words: a more perfect union with God). On the other hand, people who tend toward conservative values are those who feel that human beings once had that "perfect union" but are continually slipping farther from it.

Thinking about those two ideas at work on the pre-school playground, it is not a stretch at all to think that the confidant, self-reliant (and, one imagines, more optimistic) children become adults who think positively about the future and their role in the universe at large. Conversely, the whiny, frightened, fearful children are the obvious pick for those who'll grow into Bible-thumping, brimstone-preaching, anti-evolutionists. (Am I betraying my politics too much here?)

Ultimately the whole study is rather meaningless, as my mother would be first to tell you. Anyone who's ever dealt with a whinny kid knows that the kid is whinny, plain and simple. You can't change it. You might be able to get them to whine more politely or quietly or to music (if that's your prerogative) but you can't change the leopards spots, so to speak. The same pretty much goes for dyed-in-the-wool conservatives, and basically we've learned nothing. But you can bet that I'll be making a little mental list the next time I visit Drew's pre-K class. Can I really be blamed if I try to round up all the ones who are crying & encourage them to never move to Ohio?



(Just as a sidebar, I'd like to point out that I do in fact have friends other than G. He just happens to hold the position of my internet/computer/blogging guru and he's the one I argue with most frequently about all topics large and small, so he gets mentioned a lot. I promise to give shout outs by first initial to all my other friends--or at least all my other friends who don't roll their eyes when I start talking about the "kneebiters".)

Monday, March 20, 2006

The Power of Music

Today was the first day of Spring Break. That's a great thing if you're the one on vacation. So, while Sam (8), Jillian (6) and Drew (4) were all home from school in full force, I was feeling about as far from Spring Break as one can get. Instead of sporting a bikini in Cancun (not that that's where I'd be, per se, but go with me here) I was trying to keep all four kids happy while playdates came in and out of the G.'s apartment, making the place seem smaller and smaller as the day wore on.

So, around mid day I decided that we needed to blow off some steam. With 4 kids in a (relatively) small space, one great way to do this is to start yourself up a little dance party. Mr. & Mrs. G recently outfitted nearly every room with those great Bose iPod SoundDocks. They're not paying me for a plug (although I'd welcome it) but I highly recommend that everyone who can also afford to buy half a dozen do so. I simply whip out my own little iPod & suddenly I can play DJ and the kids think I'm the coolest (I take all little ego boosts, no matter the age of those dishing them out).

This wouldn't really be blog worthy, were it not for the fact that today, all the G. children decided that they have a new favorite song. Is it some of the cute They Might Be Giants songs I downloaded specifically for them? No, of course it isn't! It's Outkast. They played "Hey Ya!" somewhere around fifty times between lunch and when I hauled them out of the house with force and threats. Out in the park they were all still singing it. Jill especially got into the act with constant repetitions of "Shake it, shake it, shake it . . ." as she shook her appropriate body parts. Even Luke, who can't really manage to make an S sound yet, was pretty clear when he started singing.

When I was really young the music I loved the most in the world was my Dad's music. Sure, I would belt out the entire score of Annie & I loved these Strawberry Shortcake records someone gave me for my 4th birthday, but what I really loved were The Beatles, Billy Joel, Bruce Springsteen, and even a little Grateful Dead. That music had the appeal that I imagine my music to have for the G. children.

But now that they've taken to it with more enthusiasm than I expected, I must admit I'm feeling a little worried. Perhaps I'm being prudish, but I'm not really sure that the G.s are gonna be so pleased with their new hip-hop children. The song does not contain any actually objectionable language, however, how pleased can they be that Sam is telling every person he's come in contact with this afternoon to "Lend me some sugar, I am your neighbor." Mrs. G. is constantly encouraging me to have music playing for the children, but I'm afraid that after today I will be given a bit more specific guidelines.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Class

I have worked with Manhattan families for over seven years, and in that time I have met only a handful of families I would describe as "middle class". Not surprisingly, I've never worked for a family that I would describe as "working class" as they simply would not be able to afford my services. (Which reminds me, one of these days I must get around to posting about my "prostitution theory" of child care. I need something to spice this blog up a bit before settling back into reality TV critiques and cute Luke stories.) I did, however, grow up in a family that was somewhere smack in the middle of those two categories of class and I frequently find myself comparing the ways in which I was raised to how I observe children being raised in by affluent parents in NYC.

I'm also increasingly fascinated by the ways in which different generations of parents choose to collectively raise their children, and the fluctuating value systems those choices indicate. Last week David Brook's column in the NY Times was about the work of sociologist Annette Lareau. She spent two decades observing American families and wrote about the very different parenting styles of the middle and working classes in her book Unequal Childhoods: Class, Race and Family Life.

I found nothing surprising in her characterization of middle class parents as vigilant schedulers of their children's time. With very few exceptions, every family I've worked for has been almost manic about the need to have their kids attend music, dance, art, swimming, soccer, and every other imaginable class offered for the elementary school set. Ironically, this over scheduling (in my experience) is being done by mothers and fathers who are acutely aware of the stress that this kind of hectic life places their children are under. Brooks said it best when he described this parenting style as one "that many of us ridicule but do not renounce". The working class parents, on the other hand, feel that childhood is a time for fun and (relatively) stress-free living. Because of this feeling there exists "a much starker boundary between the adult world and the children's world." Children structure their own playtime and the adults feel no guilt or concern over not engaging in "imaginative playtime" or calling their kid's friends to arrange playdates.

One of the consequences of these different techniques is that, as 10 year-olds, the working class children seem more like children than their middle class counterparts. They're not carrying around half the stress or expectations, so they seem "more relaxed and vibrant." All that changes, however, when you fast forward 15 or 20 years. Suddenly the roles are reversed. The middle class kids, now approaching 30, are the ones who seem considerably younger. They've gone to college and now have good jobs. Many of them have put off having their own children until later in life and are enjoying a fairly carefree young adulthood. The working class children's lives are not as sunny. Their mid-twenties are spent more frequently dealing with drug problems, unwanted pregnancies, health concerns, and multiple jobs.

Now, perhaps these two outcomes are completely the product of economics and parenting has very little to do with it. It does seem, however, from Lareau's research, that middle class parents are making a collective choice to value an enjoyable young adulthood over an innocent and unburdened youth. When it comes to planning my own children's lives and schedules, I'm not sure that I won't make the same choice myself, despite how much I might have criticized the high powered Manhattan mothers I've worked for in the past.

For those of you (like myself) without a Times Select membership, you can read the text of his column here. (I found it thanks to technorati--kudos to G. & his very blog-savvy buddy for that site tip.)

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Is this the "Backlash"? Part One

A short time ago, after a conversation in which I described this adorable onesie to my friend G. he informed me that he thought the "backlash" was imminent. I asked, "the backlash against iPods?" To which he, very matter of factly replied, "No, silly. Against babies!"

I explained to G. (since apparently someone had to) the inextricable link between babies and certain very popular sex acts, that being my main reason for believing this "backlash" is a figment of his imagination. People will always have babies, therefore babies will always be a visible (and frequently vocal) part of our culture. It's one of those few things about the evolution of human existence that can be pretty much relied upon. (I guess that is, up until the point at which we can grow full grown people like space monkeys, but I'm not going to contemplate that world.)

So, having established that I do not believe there is a "baby backlash" on its way, I was kind of surprised to find myself very intrigued by the writing debut of Adrianne Frost, a former Daily Show correspondent and a contributor to VH1's Best Week Ever (which, in my world, is about as impressive as it gets resume-wise). The book, I Hate Other People's Kids, purports to deliver
"a complete handbook for navigating a world filled with tiny terrors -- and their parents."
While I may trend more towards the parental side in terms of my quickness to discuss Luke's cute antics or even whip out pictures at a restaurant (thank you, iPod, for making that process wallet-free), even I am occasionally annoyed by children in places where I don't feel they belong (a midnight showing of The Hills Have Eyes, for example).

Perhaps this book (and my vocal, child-hating friends) is signaling not a backlash against children, but rather a backlash about the trend of allowing those children free reign--especially in public places. Once, in my past lifetime as a waitress/hostess, I had a rather snippy phone conversation with a mother who told me that she must have a table on the ground level. When I informed her that I could make no guarantees about where she would be seated, she told me that it was dangerous to let her children run around near the steps. She was incensed when I informed her that it was dangerous for her to let her children to run around in any part of the restaurant.

So . . . is the backlash coming? I don't really know, but I've got my hands on a copy of Ms. Frost's book, and I intend to review it in part two of this posting. In the meantime, here is a quote that I know at least G. agrees with wholeheartedly:
"They say Jesus loved the little children, all the children of the world, but he never had to dine with one. He chose the lepers."

Friday, March 10, 2006

The Nanny State

Just yesterday I was complaining about the Supernanny TV trend and my fears that people watching may be unable to recognize that the type of "nanny" portrayed on that kind of show are in fact parental fantasies and nothing like the reality of employing a nanny. So, you can imagine my anguish at finding this article from last week's Sunday Times in Britain about a plan put forward by the UK's "Home Office" to employ an army of "supernannies" to help curb antisocial behavior.

Apparently there is a classification system in the UK which identifies certain families as "antisocial." Not knowing a lot about British politics, I can only speculate on what would qualify a family for that status, but these "supernannies"
will arrive early each morning to ensure the household is out of bed and youngsters sent to school. Their tasks will include ensuring children are properly fed and dressed, and encouraging layabout parents to find a job.
The plan is based on a small pilot program in Dundee in which

"intensive rehabilitation" work with problem families had high success rates.

Those targeted in the scheme were taught parenting skills, cookery, budgeting and anger management. They were also coached in "roles and responsibilities within the family," a technique used by Jo Frost, the star of the Supernanny show.

Which begs the question: how long before Ms. Frost runs for parliament?

I don't believe I have to worry about the merits or problems of a plan such as this, as it would never, ever, ever happen in America. (The National Center for Policy Analysis claims the program requires a cost of $26,000 US dollars per family.) But it does completely prove my point.

The people who will make up this army of "supernannies" are in fact highly qualified social workers with advanced degrees in healthcare, nursing or child welfare services. If the families with whom they work fail to implement changes in their child rearing the consequences will be mammoth, including the removal of the children from the home. These social workers are government agents with an incredible amount of power in the lives of the families they will work with. To call them "nannies" cheapens their roles in the government, their level of education and their effect on the British family.

On the other hand, to have people such as these social workers associated with the word "nanny" is, in my opinion, harmful to those who actually are nannies. It is a challenge to affect change within a family from a inferior position, and frequently that is the role of a nanny. Even Mary Poppins, the character who is constantly invoked by the Supernanny TV shows, worked her magic on the Banks family in a passive way. She didn't come in dictating to Mr. and Mrs. Banks. She didn't coach them in their "roles and responsibilities within the family." She was subtle. Now of course, she was also fictional, but I think that too often we remember her for the fact that she improved the Banks family and forget the ways in which she worked.

Reality TV Rant

Perhaps I am in the minority, but I must admit that shows such as Supernanny and Nanny 911 really sicken me. It's not that I dislike the existence of TV shows designed to empower parents to create more happy disciplined households, but rather I take umbridge with the fact that the vehicle for change is someone calling themselves a "nanny."

It has always been my opinion that, as a nanny, it is in no way my job to sweep in and tell parents what they are doing wrong in their own homes. Each parenting team has a different style (one you hope they've discussed and decided on together) and I simply don't think it is a nanny's job to dictate changes or even to set herself up as a kind of authority or consultant. In these TV shows, however, that is exactly what the "nannies" do, and I worry about what ramifications this will eventually have for the profession.

Perhaps I am being foolish to worry over something as simple as what a person calls their job on a reality TV show. It could be argued that American parents are intelligent enough to distinguish a difference between their expectations for a woman on a highly engineered TV show and a person they hire to work in their home in a very personal manner. I'm just not sure this argument holds much water these days.

One of the most frequent complaints I hear from parents these days is that their nanny is too strict with their children. Usually it's said as an offhand comment, I assume because the opposite problem would be much worse. I know that I have what might be considered a huge bias, but it seems to me that what parents frequently are responding to is not the strictness of their caregivers, but rather the consistency that they are able to employ. Parents, having the enviable weakness of loving their children deeper than any other people on earth, frequently find constancy in discipline a major problem. They see their children in infinite shades of grey. Now, while I've never known a nanny who didn't fall pretty hard pretty quick for the kids she works with, that kind of affection is apples to oranges when compared to the love of a parent for their child. A nanny usually manages objectivity and matters of simple cause and effect much more easily than the parents she works for.

Perhaps the popularity of the Supernanny-type TV show is the fleeting nature of the relationship. Maybe it's a pleasant fantasy for a parent to think of a woman (or man, of course) who would sweep in, give them a few hours of stern dictates and warnings, whip their children (and often their marriages) into shape and then be off like Mary Poppins on the next shifting wind. My hope is that parents don't lose sight of the fact that in reality their relationships with their nannies are ongoing, and therefore much more complicated. The nanny cannot subvert the parents' authority in their own home, that would make for a disastrous long term working environment. At the same time, however, the parents can't expect either that they could seek & employ a person capable of overnight miracles with their children or that they will find a clone of themselves.

The point of this rant: disciplining children, your own or other people's, is tricky business, but these TV shows make it look like child's play.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Since we're talking about great books . . .

My post about Kid Lit got me thinking about other wonderful picture books I've known over the years and my mind immediately went to Would You Rather by John Burningham. A year or two ago I sent my father on a quest into the attic storage of my family's home (not a simple task) to find my childhood copy of this classic when I discovered that it was out of print and copies were incredibly hard to come by.

So, you can imagine how happy I was to see that it has recently been republished in paperback. I cannot stress enough how wonderful and thought provoking this book is.

The book asks the reader to choose between two or three options--but be warned: these options are not for the faint of heart. One sections asks: would you rather be chased by wolves, a lion, bulls, or a crab. I was adamant that I would be chased by anything but the dreaded crab. No matter how many times my parents explained how easily I could outrun the crab as compared to a pack of wolves my decision never wavered. To this day I still am creeped out by any kind of shellfish that isn't being served with butter, but I digress . . .

I am curious about the reception this new paperback version is getting because the tone of the book will not please the type of parent who worries that writers such as Roald Dahl are too bizarre and frightening for young children. It is my experience, however, that kids ponder the macabre frequently. This book allows that kind of thinking to become a group activity.

One Great Site, One Great Book

Luke, aged 19 months, is my constant companion. While the three older children of the G. family (my employers) are off at school for most of the day, Luke is glued to my side. It wasn't my intention to get into a job like this, in fact, when I was interviewing I specifically avoided families with new babies. It is a fact of life, however, that babies happen. From day one the Lukester has worked his voo-doo magic on me and I couldn't imagine leaving him for an older child.

The fact that I love caring for a baby has not done anything to improve my absolute loathing for baby books. Perhaps my hatred for board books comes from the fact that my own mother could not be bothered with them. Although I had as many picture books as your average kid, as soon as my mom thought she could get away with it she switched me to a steady diet of chapter books.

I look forward to the day when I can make the same change in Luke's life, but for now we're kind of stuck with "baby books" because he has quite a passion for being read to. This is why I find it such a joy when we come across a truly great book. Duck & Goose is one of those books. It's a very sweet book about, you guessed it, a duck and a goose. They both find an "egg" but can't decide who has the right to keep it (Duck saw it first, Goose touched it first) they argue, and hilarity ensues.

We've had the book for a while, but it was recently written about on Kid Lit a blog written by a librarian in Green Lake, WI. It's an excellent site and her recommendations are always on the mark.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Fear of Twins

Several years ago when I worked for an consulting firm in midtown, a psychic at the office Holiday party made a prediction with regards to yours truly that included the most frightening phrase in the English language: multiple sets of twins! This one reading has been enough to keep me away from all manner of psychics, fortune cookies, magic eight balls, etc. for quite some time now, but for the most part I was able to put the memory of that ill omen aside.

That was, until today.

In an article about the current "baby boomlet" causing increases anxiety about preschool admissions in NYC I was shocked to read the following:

Part of the problem is that the number of twins and triplets born to women in New York City has increased, according to city Health Department statistics.
In 1995, there were 3,707 twin births in all the boroughs; in 2003, there were 4,153; and in 2004, there were 4,655. Triplet births have also risen, from 60 in 1995, to 299 in 2004. Because preschools strive for gender and age balance in generally small classes and also, some parents suspect, as many potential parental donors as possible it is harder to get multiple slots in one class.


The trend is not isolated to New York, or even just urban areas, but rather the entire country is experiencing a dramatic rise in multiple births. Apparently there are two explanations for the phenomena: the most obvious is an increase in the use of fertility drugs but somewhat surprisingly (to me, at least) the other cause is pregnancy later in life. The likelihoodod of a multiple birth for women in their mid to late 40s is greater with each passing year.

However, even given this mildly starling new info, I still can't give much credence to that psychic's words. One set of twins, maybe, but multiple sets! She was clearly mixing my tea leaves up with someone much more masochistic.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Let's Begin with Controversy

In the summer of last year a controversy began with an article in the Style section of the New York Times. The author, Helaine Olen, wrote about her obsession with her nanny's online journal and her eventual decision to terminate the nanny because of it. Apparently the details in the article made it very easy for readers to tract down the blog in question. The nanny, who called herself "Tessa," used it (understandably) to voraciously defended herself before abandoning the blog for a more anonymous forum.

Honestly, I find it hard (not to mention irrelevant) to take sides here. When I decided to begin blogging about my own experiences as a nanny in Manhattan, however, I couldn't resist the temptation to enter the (albeit almost year old) dialog, as it almost perfectly frames the most common area of friction between even happily employed nannies and the families (most frequently mothers) they work for.

In many ways I identify with Tessa. I am 28 year-old college educated woman and my choice to work as a nanny has a lot to do with getting through a transition period in my life. I absolutely love children and am grateful for the fact that I am able to make a living working with four wonderful kids. That being said, of course there are days when I bitch copiously to anyone of my friends who will listen about children, parents, babies, etc. and vow to never have children of my own (or at least not that many!). I'm also guilty of occasionally being too forthcoming about my personal life to my employer, so I understand the impulse that led Tessa to offer up her blog, despite the disastrous results.

On the other hand I can imagine how Ms Olen felt. Frequently I have criticized friends for blog entries that I believe are inappropriate. It often seems like people who blog about their personal lives un-anonymously manage to conveniently forget that anyone can be reading them. My little sister blogged about her sex life, copious drinking at college, school problems and her financial indiscretions and she was incensed that our mother was reading the blog all along. (A little bird gave her the address.) She did not like her big sister pointing out that she should have known better, but that didn't change the fact that she simply should have known better! There are things that we don't tell our employers and other authority figures, and we shouldn't expose them to those tid-bits of information if we can help it.

What this situation highlights, more than a blogisphere-fueled catty back and forth between disgruntled employer and ex-employee, is the horribly ambiguous relationship that more frequently exist between working mothers and the young women they pay to watch their children. Often, especially in urban areas such as New York, these mothers are women who did not grow up in homes with domestic servants. The admirable impulse to treat the nanny as a member of the family can often become perverted by denial of the basic realities of a monetary relationship.

It is my opinion that there is no perfect mother/nanny relationship. Ultimately there is an inherent possessiveness to motherhood and the nanny will always be an interloper. That does little to change the fact that in New York, and all over the country, there is more and more of a necessity to have that type of interloper as part of the family's daily life.

Over the next few months I intend to try and chronicle my existence as one of those interlopers. My job, in a very unique way, is a balancing act and I will do my best to accurately record my failures and triumphs both for those readers who are nannies themselves and those who employ a nanny.

I welcome your comments and questions.