Reading about the Krim tragedy — two children were brutally murdered by their unhinged nanny — spiked my blood pressure. First, from descriptions of the gruesome scene Marina Krim stumbled upon when she entered her bathroom and found her son and daughter dead in the tub, her nanny nearby with a knife to her throat.
Second, from the reports of trolls blaming the debacle on the Krims for many vile reasons and assumptions: they apparently are wealthy; they used a fancy nanny agency; they used an agency that perhaps didn’t use credit checks; the mother chose to go out on a weeknight; the fact that they used a nanny at all.
Since my divorce in 2003, I have depended on babysitters to watch my children while I worked, first part-time, and now, full-time. And when I mean depend, I mean capital, neon-letters DEPEND.
During the years before my second marriage, I was truly at the mercy of my childcare provider. I did not have family nearby, nor an ex-husband of whom I could ask, “hey, could you take the kids for a few days until I find a good sitter?” I could not afford to take a week off work while I canvassed nanny agencies for Mary Poppins.
I also could not afford the fee nanny agencies require, so I hired nannies via word-of-mouth or CraigsList.
That’s right, CraigsList. Hit me with your best shot, trolls.
The Hand That Rocks the Cradle
The nanny-employer relationship is fraught with psychological landmines. Some of them are class-related. Many nannies are from lower-income brackets and work in the homes of wealthy parents, a dynamic that inevitably breeds resentment. Some nannies leave their children in their country-of-origin due to economic necessity, then care for children who have advantages their own kids will never have.
Some nannies have grown weary of the grind and low pay of nannying, but lack the job skills required for a more lucrative career.
But the deeper issue is this: nannying stirs up primitive emotions, unprocessed wounds from childhoods marked by physical abuse or other forms of raging family dysfunction.
Or any trauma, for that matter. Remember Rebecca DeMornay in Hand That Rocks the Cradle? She lost a pregnancy, was rendered infertile, then became a nanny in order to usurp another woman’s family, even going so far as to breastfeed her employer’s infant.
While the film’s plot was extreme, it did justice to the intrapsychic maelstrom that can occur when a caretaker’s id runs amok. And the Krim trolls have it wrong: many nannies do manage to hide their red flags.
Nanny Fiasco #1: Maria
When I was married the first time around, I had a devoted full-time nanny, for no good reason other than my husband’s family had always had full-time nannies, and I felt I should follow along. My split from Prince appeared to trigger Maria’s own divorce trauma (her parents had a nasty divorce and she took her father’s side).
Maria continued working for both of us — until I learned she shoplifted with Franny in tow, stuffing some pillows in the stroller’s bottom carrier. Not only was she apprehended after her five-finger discount, but she passed off Franny to friends when she went to jail, telling them to lie to me about what happened.
Maria had worked for me for years before this happened. Had she been stealing all along or had the disruption of her surrogate family (Prince, Luca, Franny, and me) caused her to blow a psychological gasket?
Nanny Fiasco #2: Claude
Thinking I needed a man in the house, I hired a manny named Claude, whom my kids adored. Claude grew up rarely seeing his father, who had a second family somewhere else. He and his brother and mother grew up in relative poverty. Because of his dysfunctional childhood, Claude was very protective of me and did his best to counteract all the mud Prince was slinging my way, the mud that splattered on to Luca and convinced him the only parent who mattered was Prince. Claude was a good role model, I told myself, and he was helping Luca.
Then Luca confided in me, shaking and teary, that Claude had showed him internet porn and told him to keep it a secret.
Claude had come with impeccable references. But the problem is that references don’t come with references. Meaning: who are these people exactly? They could be friends posing as former employers.
And sometimes references you know turn out to be wrong. Case in point: a former neighbor implored me to hire a young woman she knew, singing her praises to the rooftops. I hired her, and this “phenomenal” woman ended up divesting me of my diamond earrings, going so far as to wear them to work and claim they were hers.
But back to Claude: I will never know what psychological demons were lurking in his closet because he was gone the next day. The police were notified but were unable to track him down. After I fired him, he vanished into the ether.
Nanny Fiasco #3: Cynthia
Cynthia arrived with glowing references and a gleaming new Jeep. She aspired to start her own daycare agency, or run a preschool.
So the last thing I expected was to get a call from the nanny for one of Franny’s preschool buddies after she discovered my kids had been left to their own devices at the public library. Cynthia had apparently gone off to do…well, whatever.
When I called her, apoplectic, she seemed genuinely befuddled as to why I was axing her for leaving my kids alone.
“But they were safe in the library,” she said.
Who knows what went down in Cynthia’s childhood? Maybe her mother disappeared for days and left her to tend to youner siblings. But whatever happened created an emotional disconnect as vast as The Grand Canyon.
And Then There Was Leslie
Interspersed between the Ticking Timebomb Nannies were some good ones. But none of them lasted more than a year. Elena needed more money. Sylvia got pregnant. Juana moved back to Honduras.
And then there was Leslie.
Leslie came to us courtesy of CraigsList. She was a breath of fresh midwestern air: a hard worker, honest, punctual, enthusiastic, whip-smart. She was athletic, artistic, and kept the kitchen spotless. She was a physically stunning young woman who didn’t take her looks too seriously, despite having passed up law school to try her hand at acting.
Leslie had a closeknit family back in Ohio and it was this secure base, I believe, that enabled her to give her all to someone else’s family. Leslie had no compartmentalized pathology to ooze out in insidious ways.
As together as Leslie was, her older sister, back home in Ohio, was troubled. Leslie’s sister Melody had had behavioral problems from day one and was in and out of rehab. Leslie had grown up helping her parents manage Melody — an unfair job for a kid, but one that gave her great coping skills and an affinity for helping troubled children.
Before Luca went to boarding school, life at home was unpredictable and chaotic. Sometimes Leslie would call me at work during one of Luca’s tantrums and ask for direction. But as bad as things got on som days, she never once threatened to quit, and in fact, seemed personally invested in helping Luca.
So when she announced that she’d had it with acting and had been offered a job in another state working in the finance industry, we were all devastated. Leslie had become a member of our family. When we took her out for a goodbye brunch, I felt as if I were sending my eldest child off to college.
Soon after she left, Franny and I visited Leslie in her new city. Franny and Leslie’s niece Maya had become pen pals, and they got to meet for the first time.
While the girls ran down the grassy slope of a park, Leslie confided that she was having second thoughts about her job.
“I’m making a lot of money,” she said. “I already have a retirement plan. But the industry kind of grosses me out.”
A few months ago, Leslie called to tell me she had quit her finance job and moved back to Ohio. She had lost two friends to sudden, freak illnesses and was in the throes of an existential crisis.
“The things I saw my bosses do, it just made me sick. I don’t want to get to the end of my life and think, all I did was make money. I want my life to mean something. I want to help people.”
I just finished writing Leslie letters of recommendation for three different graduate schools. She plans to get her Masters in Counseling and work with kids. I have no doubt she will be a phenomenal therapist, and a lifesaver to families in turmoil.
I cannot imagine the guilt and second-guessing the Krims are most likely heaping upon themselves, which is why I hope others will keep their judgements to themselves. Those of us who must work out of the home, and who do not have Grandma nearby to help out, have no choice but to hire nannies to watch our children.
What happened to the Krims could happen to any of us. That devasted family just lost their round of Nanny Roulette.
Although our family has had our share of nanny debacles, things could have been far worse. I am grateful that my years of having young children brought Leslie into our lives, but I am sooo looking forward to the day when I no longer have to call a potential nanny’s references, and wonder if I should believe what I hear.
What about you? Any nanny nightmares you’d care to share?