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As much as I admire Scarlett Johansson, The Nanny Diaries was as rife with stereotypes about wealthy, morally bankrupt employers,  unrepentantly neglectful of their children as it was about self-abnegating Jane Ayre-knock-off nannies packing self-appointed halos the size of potty seats.

It was about as palatable as The Princess Diaries meets The Devil Wears Prada, and as close to reality as most Hollywood films.

The truth is, my experiences of babysitters and nannies over the last seven years has left me with a burning existential question.

How is today’s liberated army of young women, between the ages of 16 and 25, going to navigate the vagaries of an unforgiving world without (in many cases) knowing how to boil water, sew on a button, fold a sheet,  or balance a checkbook?

Ironically, I can only conclude that at birth, their parents handed them a written guarantee that they would grow up to either become self-made millionaires , or have the good fortune to marry one. Nothing short of extreme wealth would pay the retinue of domestic staff required to maintain their households.

It was only when I began hiring babysitters that I had an inkling that the women’s liberation movement back in the 1960s might have thrown the so-called baby out with the bath water in their zeal to break free from domestic bondage.

Frank and I knew that to keep our marriage alive and our sanity intact, “Date Night” would have to be religiously observed. Unfortunately, we had no family within 2000 miles of us, so help from relatives was out of the question.  We needed Childcare.  What we found was infinitely more gripping.

This was to be the beginning of an accidental survey of a hitherto undiscovered youth subculture hiding in plain sight, right under our noses.

The ragingly salient characteristic of our potential caregivers—the one that just leapt out and grabbed you by the neck with frightening immediacy during interviews—was their sense of entitlement.

To paraphrase Donkey (http://en NULL.wikipedia NULL.org/wiki/Donkey_%28Shrek%29) in the 2001film Shrek (http://www NULL.amazon NULL.com/gp/product/B00009ZYC1?ie=UTF8&tag=flopowmom-20&linkCode=as2&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=B00009ZYC1), they were “positively reekin”’ of it.

Too often, we were rendered speechless by their indications—demonstrated in the delightful minutiae of word and deed—that they were doing us a favor by deigning to be paid to look after children.

The only hiccough in their whole performance was that, upon further investigation, it was soon revealed that a (likely statistically significant) portion of them couldn’t look after themselves, let alone manage the rigorous demands of childcare.

Frankly, it cut too close for comfort, all too often, to the nanny interview scene in Mrs. Doubtfire (http://www NULL.amazon NULL.com/gp/product/B000QQLVPQ?ie=UTF8&tag=flopowmom-20&linkCode=as2&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=B000QQLVPQ) where Miranda (Sally Field (http://en NULL.wikipedia NULL.org/wiki/Sally_Field)) is subjected to a virtual laundry list of “I Don’ts” by the sort of caregivers who will take knee-jerk offense if you dare to ask them to throw the kids’ dinner plates in the dishwasher.

In fact, these girls should just come to interviews with lists around their necks like kids with allergies at a summer camp:  “I don’t cook meals, I don’t do dishes, I don’t do homework, I don’t stay late, I don’t do crafts, I don’t pick up a broom, I don’t make beds, I don’t take the toys out of the bathtub, I don’t brush teeth,” and so on.

In 1974, my freshman year at high school, courses in Home Economics and Typing were compulsory for girls. You were expected, not only to learn how to cook, but to understand culinary and applied domestic science—the structure of grain, what makes bread rise, and how to thread a needle without stabbing yourself to death.

In typing class, each desk had a manual typewriter (http://en NULL.wikipedia NULL.org/wiki/Typewriter) and every student had to learn standard QWERTY (http://en NULL.wikipedia NULL.org/wiki/QWERTY) keyboard positioning and skills with mind-numbing repetition. (I dropped out when the girls started comparing typing speeds as if being the fastest really meant something.)

Perhaps the backhanded thinking of the day was, just in case you couldn’t land a husband to cook for, you could always get a job in the secretarial pool.

Sometime over decade of the 1970s, these courses faded away with all of the unseemliness of any other practices that dared to smack of domestic bondage.

But like Newton said, for every action there is an equally powerful reaction. Today’s young women have all the competence required to depend upon someone else. For everything.

One day, after one such interview, Frank turned to me and mused: “Snowflakes!”

“Pardon?” I asked.

“Precious snowflakes, that’s what they are.”

That’s right, Frank. “Snowflakes” can’t take the heat in the kitchen.

The guarantee that I wrote when my kids (male and female) were born was that they would go to college knowing how to roast a chicken, sort their laundry and iron a shirt, amongst their other achievements.

While no college grad ever won the Nobel Prize for deducing how to fry an egg, mine won’t have to marry someone to do it for them either.

The upshot is simple: bring back the “Home Ec” and the Typing classes and make them compulsory—for everyone.


There’s a useful read on how to choose a babysitter in this About feature. (http://childcare NULL.about NULL.com/cs/occasionalcare/bb/babysitter NULL.htm)

Consider registering with an online babysitting service that has already completed background checks (still take refs though!) such as Sitter City. (http://www NULL.sittercity NULL.com/)

The Busted Babysitter Hall of Shame

Twenty-eight year old Katya, who had become a trusted friend of the family, didn’t turn up (nor call!) as planned to help set up on the morning of a 4th birthday party because she didn’t want to part with her boyfriend on a second date that spilled over into the weekend.

A 16 year old girl who came recommended by the local church who didn’t read the instructions on the shells and cheese box and forgot to add milk to the powder so it looked like macaroni apple crumble.

“Lazy Beatrice” who was a maestro at implementing the “less is more” theory when it came to work—we would find snack-sized “squares” cut out of the watermelon. Her last job had been a car park attendant and each of her shoes was a different color, one bleached by sitting out in the sun.  She had the gift.

The 18 year old high school drop-out who didn’t have childcare experience, so showed up at interview with references from her sister and a friend of the family.

The nursing student who turned up one Sunday so hung over that she gave our children her iPod to play with, just to keep them quiet.

Alyssa, the straight-A high school senior who we were about to hire until we heard from a friend’s daughter (at the same school) that Alyssa was last seen at a teenaged birthday, high on coke and making out with another girl, after having sent nudie pictures to a class mate’s cell phone.

Sara, whom we interviewed for a full-time nanny position and who accepted the job. After getting in her boyfriend’s car, she was never seen again. One of her referees said that she had disappeared from her job also, after the boyfriend had demanded all of her time.

Twenty-three year old Prudence, who  (while studying to be a paramedic) came regularly to work in her self-selected “uniform”—a full décolletage so proudly displayed that we were surprised  9 month old Alex didn’t go for a full-on latch.

The 17 year old “Glitter Girl” who decided to do crafts and uncorked five whole jumbo sized jars of brightly colored sparkles which were released as liberally as confetti at an Italian wedding. This was 3 years ago. Some of our clothes, their toys, and even large parts of the house we were renting are still aglitter to this day.

Lana, the university student who said she was available Saturdays and Sundays, except every time we called, she had plans with friends or family.

Janet, the 23 year old whose mother still drove her to and from babysitting jobs, was described by one of our friends as “touched”. We believed him when we arrived home after the second date night to find her hysterical with rage about our “horrible child” who was then 3-and-a-half years old, sitting wide awake and calmly at the top of the stairs.

We never discovered what he had done.

Notes for this blog:

Ref: Scarlett Johansson (http://en NULL.wikipedia NULL.org/wiki/Scarlett_Johansson), The Nanny Diaries (http://www NULL.amazon NULL.com/gp/product/B000VKL6TI?ie=UTF8&tag=flopowmom-20&linkCode=as2&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=B000VKL6TI)

Ref 2: The Princess Diaries (http://www NULL.amazon NULL.com/gp/product/B00006L948?ie=UTF8&tag=flopowmom-20&linkCode=as2&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=B00006L948) meets The Devil Wears Prada (http://rcm NULL.amazon NULL.com/e/cm?t=flopowmom-20&o=1&p=8&l=as1&asins=B000J103PC&fc1=000000&IS2=1&lt1=_blank&m=amazon&lc1=0000FF&bc1=000000&bg1=FFFFFF&f=ifr)

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