Letters

Readers respond to Rebecca Traister's article about nannies and the families who employ them. Plus: A former nanny shares her own story.


Salon Staff
July 27, 2005 10:57PM (UTC)

Read "The Chronicles of Nanny-a," by Rebecca Traister.

I read the "Modern Love" column about the blogging nanny, and my sympathies are entirely with the author, Helaine Olen. The nanny's behavior showed a lack of judgment that would not have been tolerated in any professional environment.

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Who, in their right mind, would give their boss access to their personal blog where they not only freely detail all their indiscretions, but express their unflattering opinions of the boss and her personal life?

Rebecca Traister is guilty of the soft bigotry of lowered expectations: Just because someone is a nanny, should we expect them to be any less professional than a lawyer or a doctor?

-- Mia

Rebecca Traister made some good remarks in her dissection of the recent column in the New York Times, but she missed an important point: both of the women in this column are nauseatingly self-absorbed, and Little Miss Nanny -- whom Ms. Traister is so quick to defend -- was playing a masterful game of passive aggression. She didn't like her employer, didn't like her job, but didn't have the stones to quit or even stand up and make her complaints known. Instead, she posted about her unhappiness in her "private" blog -- after ensuring that her employer would read it.

"I have the right to express myself!" I'm sure she'd claim. But I have the right to say that I find the entire phenomenon of blogging, with its staggeringly adolescent focus on the One and Only Me, to be indicative of an utter disregard for other people, a fraternal-twin to the phenomenon of cellphone users who screech away on the street without any conception that they are forcing others to listen.

Blogs and their ilk have essentially done away with the concept of privacy. When Nanny blogged about her employer, she forfeited any right to take umbrage at her employer's responses. Meanwhile, her employer, by reading the blog, forfeited any right to get justifiably pissed off at what she found there.

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-- Maggie Topkis

I loved Traister's piece on nannies, all of it. I think she missed a salient point, which is understandable since this point is not nanny-centered. I think Tessy and Helaine come from distinct digital generations.

On Helaine's side of this divide, there were no blogs when she was 20-something. On Tessy's side, blogging and text messaging and instant messaging have probably been a routine feature of daily life since high school.

-- Therese Fitzpatrick

Thank you for posting this intriguing and insightful article on the complexities of modern-day motherhood. Rebecca Traister's article serves as an apt reminder that even in the 21st century, women are still pinned down by double standards and old-fashioned views of proper behavior. I hope that publishing articles such as Traister's can enlighten the public.

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-- Alison Hames

Enough already with the nanny stories. This is what, the third or fourth one over the last few months?

Speaking for myself, and God knows how many hundreds of other Salon readers, I ask you this: Why do you keep running stories that are fundamentally irrelevant to the large majority of your reader base? Is anyone other than upper-middle-class white females supposed to care about stories like these?

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-- John Rossini

The sexual foibles of the preening adulterer Jude Law and his nanny are a bogus addendum to Rebecca Traister's account of the nanny who was fired for the weblog she was keeping. That the floozy in Law's bed was also the nanny has less to do with the phenomenon of "punishing women who choose not to stay at home," and more to do with the libidinal extraterritoriality to which celebrities feel entitled.

Also, Tessy was pretty careless to share her blog with Mrs. Olen. Anybody with a job -- as a nanny or not -- runs the risk of getting fired should their employer find out what they are up to. All kinds of concerns run in parallel: "Is she doing this while on the clock?" "Is she hung-over some days?" and so on.

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Mrs. Olen was justified in giving Tessy the pink slip. She's the boss. However, her essay in the Times exposed the prurient interest and the insecurity she felt toward her generational doppelgänger, which led to her discoveries of the more hurtful entries, including one about a fight she had with her husband.

Traister wants to examine nanny-hood and prefaces her article by writing, "These stories highlight an uncomfortable condition of middle- and upper-class life that we don't like to talk about very much," but she is off the mark. Quite to the contrary, Traister gives the reader every reason to believe that racy intrigue and the covetous charade of ridicule and jealousy are the red meat that sustains idle middle- and upper-class life, and that for those who can afford one, a nanny is as convenient a vehicle for indulgence as any other.

-- Christopher Hoerter

Bravo for the article on the newest nanny situation. It was great to read something that looked at more than the fluff and considered the intersection of gender and class in at least one aspect of the childcare profession.

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-- Susan Jackson

As usual, I'm deeply entertained by both Rebecca Traister's writing and subject matter. More entertained actually than by either Helaine Olen's "Modern Love" column, or the nanny-in-question's blog. The employer brought up relatively reasonable doubts about herself and the person watching her children. The nanny seemed incredibly hurt by the episode. Both seem self-absorbed, but not any more than plenty of other people.

The puzzle for me remains why anyone would invite an employer to read his or her blog in the first place, if it contained material that might be deemed a bit too personal or inappropriate. (Yes, the bar's been lowered in this area, but still.) The nanny was naive, and it was she, even more than Olen, who was revealed to have had a blurred picture of the employer/employee relationship.

-- Susan Sachs Lipman

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What a strange piece by Rebecca Traister on nannies. I'll just make two points about the Jude Law affair: First, Jude Law is a cad, but why isn't Daisy Wright somewhat to blame? She did sleep with her (engaged) employer, knowing that one of the kids she was hired to care for might very well walk in on them. Second, there's a cliché about men wanting to settle down and have kids while their female partners insist on having active careers and social lives? I believe the "fable" works the other way.

And what does "Nanny-a" mean?

-- Karen Leick

I just wanted to write to thank you for printing "The Chronicles of Nanny-a." I read both the article in the New York Times by Helaine Olen, and her nanny's blogged response, and the entire situation horrified me and gave me flashbacks. I can empathize in a very personal way.

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Although one could argue that it was not wise for Tessy to share her blog with her employer, it is really beside the point. It was not what Tessy wrote, or when she wrote it, that condemned her. It was that through her blog, she was revealed to be a real person. With sadness and sex and sleeping issues and sometimes poor grammar. If the blog hadn't exposed her, something else would have -- probably the confidential conversations that Ms. Olen talks about in her essay so freely.

When I first moved to New York, I was a nanny. Like Tessy, I had a college degree and worked for a well-off family. At first, the situation was perfect: The parents were nice and thoughtful of my needs as an employee, and they paid me well. I thought the young, hip parents of the children I cared for were something to look up to, something to aspire to. I genuinely loved and respected them. Naively, I thought that the mother was a friend of mine, or like an older sister. Like Helaine Olen, she encouraged a friendly, sort of conspiratorial atmosphere between us. She knew who I dated, she knew about fights with my friends, she knew about problems with my own family. I worked for the family for about two years, in that time getting extremely close to the children and to the parents.

Toward the end of my tenure with them, there was an incident on a trip to St. Barth's, in which one of their friends said something in private to me that was rude and cruel, solely to put me in "my place" as the nanny. (She was offended that I ate at the dinner table with the family and said something I will not repeat.) Her comments brought me to tears, and though I tried to keep my sadness a secret from the family they sensed I was upset and questioned me. I didn't tell them what had happened, both because I was humiliated and because I didn't want them to feel responsible for their friend's behavior. On our way to the airport on our way home, my employers confronted me in the car about my behavior, telling me that in essence I had ruined their vacation with my "moping," and they demanded an explanation. I was surprised and answered evasively, by mumbling some foolishness about "not feeling like I belonged." That was a mistake, but then I was a naive 20-year-old girl.

A week later, they tried to fire me but backed down halfway through, and I kept my job. I stayed with them for the next three months, trying to forget the whole incident. Then the mother unexpectedly told me a few weeks before we were scheduled to leave for their summer home, that she had realized that she really didn't need a nanny that summer. It was to be my last summer with them, as I was going back to school in the fall. She helped me find another job in between, and I accepted her reasoning. Everything seemed to blow over. When I left we had a little party, and we vowed to keep in touch. Throughout the summer I sent gifts and letters, and left phone messages. I never received a response. Once I ran into the mother at the park, but she seemed to ignore me, or not notice that I was there -- even though the kids were tugging at her hands excitedly, trying to come over to me to say hello.

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Finally, in October I sent the parents a letter saying that I didn't know if I had done something to upset them, but that I hoped they would tell me because I missed them all terribly. I still didn't get it. Again, I was a naive 20-year-old girl. Two weeks later I got a response in the mail. It was a printed copy of an e-mail I had sent from their computer to my boyfriend, and it contained some sarcastic sexual comments. Not a filthy love letter, mind you, but like an inside joke that had sexual undertones. (I had permission to use their computer and would only do so when the children were asleep.) I have no idea how they got the e-mail. Like Tessy, I suspect that the mother somehow created a paranoid fantasy that I was making fun of her in that e-mail. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The mother also included a card that stated that she and the family wanted nothing to do with me because of this e-mail, and she added that although I had at one time been "a dear friend," she felt that I had mistreated her children, exhibited sneaky behavior, and generally been a bad nanny. She gave no examples of these charges, but the force of the accusations was damaging enough. She also passed on the information and what she thought of me to mutual acquaintances, including other families that I worked for.

I eventually answered her angrily, making accusations of my own, in a letter I now regret sending. I have contemplated sending another to let her know that I regret the letter I wrote her and still think of her and the children fondly many times over they years, but I have not done so. Perhaps that's because all of these years later, I still cannot think of any of this without getting tears in my eyes.

I finally realized that we were playing a dangerous game, pretending that I was working for them for fun, and that I was a "dear friend" and not an employee. The incident in St. Barth's was the first hint that they too wanted to keep me in my place. They felt that I should have been so thankful for the opportunity to have them for employers that I would never deign to show anything but bright rays of sunshine. It took me years to understand their anger, to understand how uncomfortable they must have been to be hiring someone to love their children in their stead.

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The e-mail is a strange piece of it all, making me think that all along they were secretly distrusting and monitoring me. It's all screwed up, and very unfortunate. I truly loved those children, and still do, and I did truly love the people I worked for.

Since that time, "The Nanny Diaries" has come out, as well as scores of other good nanny/bad nanny stories. But I haven't identified with any the way I identify with Tessy and her persecution and public humiliation at the hands of a woman she, if somewhat stupidly, trusted.

-- Nicole LaRace


Salon Staff

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