Even when the facts were piling up right in front of us, we thought there must be some mistake. Our perfect nanny of four years, Maria, who had cared lovingly and tirelessly for our two children, couldn’t be stealing from us.
It unraveled in just twelve hours. One night, my husband was looking over our bank account online and noticed that two unusually large withdrawals, of $800 each, had been made that morning. When he asked me why I’d taken $1,600 out of the account, I told him I’d only withdrawn $300. Or, more accurately, I’d sent Maria to the bank with my ATM card to take out $300. She’d made withdrawals for me several times before when I was low on cash and strapped for time.
When Maria arrived the next day, I awkwardly raised the subject, asking, “Do you have any idea how this could have happened?” She shook her head no and looked wounded: “I can’t believe you think I could be responsible,” she said. I felt ashamed for even hinting at the possibility. I told her we were just trying to make sense of it—that my husband was talking to Citibank, and its security office was investigating. We then clumsily talked business as usual: I would take my 4-year-old to her baseball class while Maria went grocery shopping. The small talk, I’m sure, didn’t disguise what I was really thinking: What’s going on here? Is this a passing cloud or a gathering tornado? I found myself peering into her face for clues: Was she lying to me? If not, had I insulted her irreparably? Either way, it was clear this day was going to be a charade of normalcy.
"Half of me wanted to implore her, ‘How could you do this?’ The other half wanted to threaten her: ‘I’m not the fool you take me for.'"
Maria went off to the market, and my husband called me on the cell phone while I pretended to watch my daughter field grounders: “What do you think?” he asked me, as if I’d had some X-ray into Maria’s head. I told him something felt creepy but that could be because she was offended, not guilty. “I’m on the fence,” I told him. “It could go either way.”
An hour later, I was walking home with my daughter when Maria called on my cell phone, and asked me to meet her alone. I dropped my daughter at home with my husband, who had stayed back from work to go over our bank records, and met Maria on our street corner. She walked up to me with tears in her eyes. “I took your money,” she said.
It turned out this wasn’t the only time. Maria had gone on a spree with my ATM card for the preceding three months. The grand total is still somewhat unclear, but suffice it to say it’s an embarrassingly large sum. I asked her how she’d managed it when, except for the day before, I hadn’t given her my card in a long while. She explained that she would regularly take it from my wallet when my purse was in our front hallway. (I would be working in the back room of our apartment, cheerfully calling out “See you later!” when she took my daughter out for a playdate.)
As Maria stood before me looking shamefaced, I felt like throwing up. I heard myself asking her an overdramatic question—something out of a movie-of-the-week, or a confrontation on the Montel Williams show: “Who are you?”
However schmaltzy the line, I was asking a real question. Who was she, really? I was slapped with the realization not just that a friend had suddenly become a stranger but that maybe she’d never been a friend in the first place. No matter how well she’d done her job, how tenderly she cared for my children, we weren’t equals, and the relationship was probably too imbalanced to be authentic.
I had always been aware of the tricky two-step a mother dances with a sitter: She’s in your home every day, but it isn’t hers; she plays with your children, but is paid to do so; the energy she gives to your kids during the workday diminishes the energy she has for her own when she goes home at night. And every day, she’s handed petty cash for your children’s activities—for groceries, for taxis, for birthday-party presents—all typical expenses, but they add up, and the spigot of twenties must appear limitless.