It’s my older daughter’s birthday, and we had a party last night. First we put the kids to bed. Then we got out the chips, cheeses, crackers, a bottle of tequila and some awesomely spiced popcorn, invited some friends over, and we partied.
My wife works as a personal chef — and because of her somewhat strange position as a member of the staff of some very stately (read: rich) New York households, she gets to bond with the rest of the staff. Occasionally she even makes friends with them. Yesterday in the office we got into a discussion about nannies, and it’s somewhat weird to be talking on one hand about these people who have nannies — a distinctly upper- and upper-middle-class feature of life — and on the other hand, being on the same working level as nannies.
One of our friends who came last night is a manny. If you didn’t know, that’s Manhattan rich-people slang for “man nanny.” According to him, having a manny is much more trendy than having a nanny. For one thing, according to him, you get to employ a sensitive guy, with all the New Age Bonus Points that come along with it. For another, having a dude looking after your children feels a little like having your own private security guard.
Well the tequila somehow evaporated and the popcorn went, too, and the CD was on repeat, so we didn’t really notice how late it was getting. Before I knew it, my mouth was open and I was saying the exact same things as I was saying in the office, but in less conflicted terms. “It’s such an example of the economic injustice in this country,” I slurred. “Not only do people make enough money being stockbrokers or lawyers or whatever to be filthy rich themselves, but they make enough money to pay for someone to take care of their kids. As if their own damn careers are more important, are financially valued more, than the people whose job is to mold their kids’ minds and mold their bodies.”
“Exactly,” said our manny friend, settling into the sofa, comfortable and relaxed. Maybe we were drinking two different tequilas.
“What do you mean, exactly!? You’re being bloody undervalued. These people think your profession is basically a joke.”
OK, here’s the truth: I was jealous. I spend 10 hours a day away from my kids, 90% of their waking hours. I’d love to be able to afford to hire a nanny. But more than that, I’d love to be able to quit my job and hang out with my kids all day.* But we have to keep working. My wife, a chef, works nights. I work days. Together, we probably don’t earn much more than a full-time nanny…but that’s what I get for not majoring in financial stability or whatever.
“It’s not,” he said. “And I’ll tell you why. Because most of these rich people who have kids and never see them, they shouldn’t have kids in the first place. Or, if they do, they sure as hell shouldn’t care for them. About two in 10 nannies really, really know how to take care of kids. But a way smaller percentage than that of parents are really good at taking care of their kids. You know how there are half a million yoga classes in New York? There’s more classes for how to take care of your dog than how to care for your kid. It’s really a blessing for everyone involved that they only see their kids for an hour a day.”
On the other hand, there are nannies. And mannies. All our manny-friend’s stories about his day at work sounded like…well, like preschool. You hang out with a kid and play games and run around the city and jump on the bed while listening to the kid’s parents’ albums. If that counts as doing what you love, then our manny-friend has tons of it.
“Wow,” I echoed. “Hanging out and playing with kids all day. I could do that. I’d be so good at it.”
“No, you wouldn’t,” said my wife. “You hate everyone’s kids but your own.”
I tried to protest. But she knew me, and she knew me too well.
* — Note to my bosses: I really do like my job. Please do not fire me. All I’m really saying, if you read between the lines, is that my kids are cuter than you (although you are all very attractive people).