The Mommy Diaries  
  Raising kids in New York is challenging enough, but it gets even more complicated when you add a nanny into the mix. Finding the right match can be comical—and sometimes downright harrowing.  

We fired our first nanny after two weeks. She wept. Feeling guilty and foolish, and on a steep learning curve, we were determined to give our next nanny a month’s trial. We fired her the day before it was up. I would like to say we fired both of them because they weren’t up to the task in some tangible, specific way, but the truth is more complicated, and I can’t explain it better than this: They spooked me.

It took only a couple of days for the first, Sofia’s, eccentricity to become fully apparent. She had an obsession with birthdays. She could never mention anyone, anyone at all, without including the exact date of his or her birth in the sentence. My husband became “Peter December 4th”; our son, “Thomas January 29th.” Her extensive family, about whom she talked a lot, were all referred to by name and date. It may not sound like much, but I was swimming with hormones and it was driving me crazy. I also feared it was a sign that she was crazy.

We had hired Sofia through an agency, and I couldn’t face explaining why it hadn’t worked out, so we hired Alicia from an ad in the Irish Independent, even though, during the interview, I’d had reservations about her long nails. They curved like silver dough hooks from each finger. “Jesus Christ, she’s going to circumcise him!” whispered Peter, as we spied on her changing Thomas for the first time. But the nails were not the problem.

It turned out that Alicia also had an obsession. She took notes. Detailed, eerie notes, which she jotted down in school exercise books. She would present them to us upon our return and await our comments. A typical entry might read: “8:29 p.m., the baby is crying; 8:31 p.m., the baby is still crying; 8:32 p.m., I comfort the baby by stroking him; 8:34 p.m., I walk with the baby in his bedroom; 8:37 p.m., I put the baby down; 8:38 p.m., the baby is still crying.” The entire evening would be recorded, including the precise times she switched on the television, used her cell phone, ate pizza.

“You know what freaks me out about this?” remarked Peter, as we mulled it over one evening, having told her several times that such detailed notes weren’t necessary. “They’re like coroner’s notes, the sort you go back over to establish cause of death.” He paused: “It feels like they’re written to be read out in court.”

We gave Alicia two weeks’ pay and promptly hired our housekeeper, largely at her suggestion. “You know my own kids are in school,” she said. “And you said how well brought up they are!” The last bit was true, at least: Theresa’s three girls, ages 10, 12, and 15, were delightful. She’d brought them with her occasionally during the year she’d been working for us. What she failed to tell us, in case we might have seen it as an obstacle to hiring her—and which we only discovered by accident six weeks into our new arrangement—was that she also had an 18-month-old son whose own child-care arrangements were somewhat precarious.

There was another surprise: Without her apron on and her hair tied back, she was a dead ringer for J.Lo. I wasn’t so concerned about Peter—he was too sleep-deprived to focus on anything other than a looming book deadline—but our doormen were quickly beside themselves. One in particular fell victim to her charms and took to hanging around the lobby hoping to hear the distant squeak of our stroller. For her part, Theresa would alternately flirt wildly with him, or, equally wildly, accuse him of sexual harassment—which soon brought another member of her family into our lives: Mario. They weren’t married, but Mario was the father of Theresa’s son.

An ominous, brooding presence who claimed to be in construction, Mario took to hanging out in the lobby, too, to make sure Theresa went straight home.

Mario eventually began calling us late at night to tell us, among other things, that Theresa was a liar, that she was having affairs with some of our local shopkeepers, that he had beaten up one of her lovers and was on the run from the police, and that we should fire her. We didn’t (well, not at his prompting), and we never told her about his calls, but over the next few months, her life began to implode. Her ex-husband filed for custody; one of the girls was expelled for stealing money; Roberto, her little boy, escaped from his baby-sitter and went missing, instigating a police search; and Theresa became less and less reliable. Some days she would arrive seriously late, others she would have to leave early, after receiving an urgent call about the girls or Roberto. We wanted to help, but what she needed was a new boyfriend and a social worker. After eighteen months, we called it quits.

That was more than a year ago, and things have settled down since we learned to rely on personal recommendations from other parents. But I’ll still occasionally bump into a local shopkeeper who recognizes Thomas and demands to know where Theresa is. “Do you remember me?” he’ll say, as Thomas smiles back diplomatically. “I was the one who used to give you all those presents.”

From the Fall 2003 edition of the New York Family Guide