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Jul 16 2012

Do Kids Raised by Nannies Really Turn Out OK?

By at 12:42 pm

nanniesThe NY Times Magazine cover article this past weekend was called, The Other Mothers of Manhattan.” In my opinion, the photos were romanticized and at the same time, bleak, and the essay was trite and superficial. Well, you want to know what I really think, right?

Yet again we read a piece from the points of view of the mothers and the nannies. What always seems to be missing in these articles is the point of view of the children, arguably the most important actors in this story. The grown–up children, I mean–people who were raised with nannies, who by now have some perspective on the experience. Wouldn’t it be interesting and important to hear from them?

Or, I should say, us. Read the rest of this entry →

Mar 1 2012

I Just Got Dumped

By at 11:30 am
I was dumped

I thought we really had something special.

I was recently dumped. It’s the first time in years I’ve gone through a breakup, but it turns out I’m handling it exactly the same way I would have back in the day.

Namely, I’ve been driving around, blasting melodramatic music (now its Adele instead of Tiffany or Joe Jackson or the Smiths or whoever made me weepy at the time, but same difference), rehashing the details in an effort to figure out what wrong, and web stalking the other woman. Yep, there was another woman. And, according to Facebook, she is cute and blonde. Bitch.

There’s just one difference between my heartbreaks of long ago and this current one: I’m not mourning a guy at the moment. I’m mourning my nanny. Read the rest of this entry →

Nov 2 2011

The Nanny Share Nightmare

By at 3:11 pm
call me note

This nanny-share business is a lot like dating.

D.C. is blessed with a large number of online parent networks—hyperlocal and greater DC listservs that make you feel like you’re not alone in this grand experiment of raising a child and give you great advice on questions big and small. I’ve always felt a real bond with these people.

Until now. After a long, hard summer, I’ve come to the conclusion that a large segment of the parents in D.C. are psychopaths. Or at the very least, not looking out for my family’s welfare. In the slightest.

We spent our summer desperately searching for a spot in a nanny-share for our little boy.  I never dated much (I was more of a serious monogamist), but now I think I understand that unique hell. The feeling of possibility at the beginning. That wonderful moment when you realize you might just live happily ever after. The weeks spent building and strengthening the new relationship. And then…sudden, crushing, rejection.

There was the family that spent weeks talking and meeting with us only to reveal that we were only one of several families they were talking to, and we hadn’t made the cut. Read the rest of this entry →

Aug 2 2011

How I Afford to Stay Home

By at 10:24 am

I loved Mayim’s piece on choosing to be a full-time presence of her children’s lives and I agree that the adulation celebrities receive every time they do something “normal” like raise their own children is really a result of their place at the top of the tax bracket.

I’ve never heard it said that the “American Dream” is to make millions of dollars filming a made for TV movie while your children are at home being potty trained by your nanny who also cooks for your sexy husband and lives in your amazing house. Nor do I think it’s the wish of any parent to have their child’s face plastered on tabloids (next to a comment about your thighs) each time you take them to the park. So, I guess it is noble when a celebrity tries to shelter their children from the reality of being famous and allows them to grow up in the arms of their Mama.

I think the real American dream is to be able to support your family and to allow your children every opportunity you had growing up and then some. I’ll admit to wishing we had more money and I think every working Mama wants more time with their kid.  In a time where two-incomes are no longer a luxury, they are a standard; we are all akin with sacrifice.

I fully intended to go back to work after my son was born but after moving for my husband’s job we quickly realized that his schedule was hellacious, we weren’t on “the list” at a single daycare, and finding a job in this economy proved difficult. That and I had morphed into an attached parent who breastfeeds around the clock and refuses to let my baby cry for more than a minute at a time. When we sat down and crunched the numbers me going back to work would barely pay the bill for someone else to raise our son, so we decide to make some sacrifices that would enable me to see him wake up sleepy-eyed from every nap and be present for each milestone. Read the rest of this entry →

Jul 27 2011

The Nanny Wars

By at 11:50 am

"If I spent every second of my life wearing a newborn like an albatross, it would eventually be two of us who would be incontinent, drooling and crying." Photo Flickr/dontcallmeikke

I went to a breastfeeding group for new moms the other day. It was arguably a poor decision: after all, I’m an “old” rather than “new” mom, and I’m anything but a zealot when it comes to breastfeeding. I feel that people who attend such things are generally either first-time moms or people who are much more staunch advocates of breastfeeding than I am.

“What is most important more than anything else,” the lactation consultant told the small group, “is that you take care of YOU. If Mommy isn’t happy, no one is happy.”

Well, that was certainly an idea I could get behind. But when one mother voiced the apparently-controversial opinion that an ounce or two of formula here or there wasn’t going to hurt her baby, and even had the support of her pediatrician, the lactation consultant all but tsk-tsked.

“You know what you should do? You should WEAR your baby,” she told the mom. “Wear your baby–carry her around all the time, be with her all the time, nurse her all the time. That is what your baby needs.”

Um…what about the Mommy happy thing from a few minutes ago?

Because I know myself, and I know that if I spent every second of my life wearing a newborn like an albatross, it would eventually be two of us who would be incontinent, drooling and crying. Three, if we count the albatross.

So much of mothering these days is rooted in self-righteousness. “Well, I only fed my baby breastmilk.” “Well, I never let my baby watch television.” “Well, I always hold my child any time he cries.” The emphasis on the “I” in such sentences carries with it the implicit, if unstated, rebuke of “and if YOU don’t do this, you SUCK as a mother, and possibly as a person as well.”

When I read the Vogue profile of Sarah Jessica Parker quoting her as patting herself on the back that she didn’t have a live-in nanny, I thought, “Girlfriend? PLEASE.” [See Mayim Bialik's take on the same article here.]

“We don’t have any live-in help. We’re pretty hands-on parents. That’s something that’s important to both of us, and we don’t shirk it, because what’s the point in having a family if you’re not going to really participate in it, you know?” Parker said to her Vogue interviewer over breakfast in a West Village restaurant.

Now, I could be bitchy and point out that she could have had breakfast in her home if she wanted to always “really participate” in her family…but that would go completely against the point I want to make, which is that of COURSE she has help, because no woman who has her own career does it entirely on her own without help, whether from a live-in caregiver or a day care center or a relative or what have you. And none of that, by the way, means that the parent in question is in any way inadequate. Read the rest of this entry →

Jul 26 2011

Just Like Sarah Jessica Parker, I Don’t Have a Nanny

By at 11:10 am

Mayim and Sarah Jessica Parker just hanging with the kids. (Note: Just in case it's not obvious, we added Mayim to SJP's Vogue photo spread.)

In a recent issue of Vogue magazine, Sarah Jessica Parker was quoted as saying she does not have a live-in nanny. What followed in many people’s minds and blogs was a deluge of “Wow! That’s sooo amazing! I really admire her, she is sooo awesome!” We see this quite a bit in our celebrity-infused consciousness and culture: amazement and what looks like tremendous gushing admiration for celebrities who do such things as “raise their own children,” as Deborah Kolben recently snarled–er, noted: What is so praiseworthy,  about celebrities raising their own children!?

Well, as a celebrity who a) raises my own children with no live-in nanny, part-time nanny, babysitter or housekeeper; b) talks about raising my own children without any of these things, and c) has sometimes received praise for not having any of these things, I thought I would respond on my behalf.

I don’t think that the reaction of astonishment and praise for celebrities doing things like not having a live-in nanny is simply because they are celebrities. I think it’s because they are wealthy. A lot of people think that if they had the money for a live-in nanny, they would hire one. You can take this train of thought as far as you want to: maybe if you had the money, you would hire a night nurse when you have a newborn. Maybe you would hire a live-in chef. Maybe you would also like to have a personal trainer on hand and a personal assistant to do all of your shopping, errands, dog-walking and the like. Maybe you would never work again if you didn’t “have to.”

Many celebrities can afford to do all of these things, and, interestingly, not all of them do. Why don’t they? In theory, I could afford a live-in nanny I suppose. Maybe not a very fancy one, but for the sake of argument, let’s say I could afford one. I don’t. Why not?

Well, I want to raise my kids myself. I don’t want help from someone else or input from anyone other than my husband, who is home with our boys when I am working (I was the primary 24/7 caregiver for the first year of both of our boys’ lives). I like nursing all night, waking up at 6 am to feed my sons and try and keep them content. I like the challenges because I like the results. I like knowing exactly what they are interested in, what foods they like and don’t like, and I love being there if they fall, get discouraged or punch each other. I love holding them when they cry and seeing their joy when they build something awesome with LEGO. I love being the one to hear my almost-talking Fred utter phrases he has never said before. I don’t want to hear about any of this from anyone else, and there is nothing I was put on this earth to do more than to be the mama of these souls. I am devoting my life right now to being the best mom I can be to them in all of my imperfection and struggle and that is a decision I make independent of how much money I do or don’t make.

I don’t think I am better than anyone for making the choice not to have a nanny, celebrity or not. My husband and I made the choice that was right for us, and everyone gets to make the choice that’s right for them. Full-time parenting sans nanny should  not be a luxury or anything special or praiseworthy to partake in. Northern European countries such as Sweden and Denmark acknowledge that full-time parenting is the best thing for babies, families, and society, and it is facilitated by the government offering paid maternity and paternity leaves extending into a child’s toddler years. Our country could learn a thing or two from these countries.

But until we do, in this culture, we all make decisions based on what lifestyle we want. If you want to have a lot of expensive clothes and expensive cars and a house with a hefty mortgage and you also want to travel a lot without your children, I suppose you will make life choices that allow that to happen and that’s fine for you even if it’s not fine for me. My desire to be the primary caregiver to my children without paying someone else to do the things I can’t or don’t want to do is a choice I would never back down on, even if I won the lottery tomorrow. If I had to move out of Los Angeles, live in a studio apartment with them in the cheapest part of this country, sell my car, and stop eating out or shopping at specialty markets to support being their mama this way, I would do it in a heartbeat.

And there’s not many times in my life I will ever get the chance to say this, but here goes:

This is how SJP and I roll. So do millions of celebrity, non-celebrity, rich and not rich parents all over this world. So if SJP and I are going to get praise, let’s all share it.

To all of you who stay at home: You are sooo amazing and you are really awesome.

There. Doesn’t that make you feel like a celebrity?

Check out Mayim at Perez Hilton’s birthday party and read about how Chelsea Handler mistook Mayim for a lesbian at the Horrible Bosses movie premiere.

Jun 21 2011

Finding the best childcare…in the White House

By at 12:08 pm

I’m supposed to have a baby in two weeks, give or take the vagaries of a uterus that on previous occasions has summarily refused to discharge its occupants. Or maybe I’m misreading the situation – maybe the former occupants of said uterus somehow knew that the most organized their mom would ever be would be when they were on the inside rather than out in the cold, harsh world where Mommy forgets to buy diapers.

Either way, the point is that while the baby nurse has been selected and will be here to help us out during the first week or so after the kid’s birth (thank God!), after that, it’s a mystery to me how I’m going to work the whole work-life-other kids-husband-balance schtick. I am thinking I’m going to need to bring in someone from the outside, i.e. some form of child care provider.

Weirdly for me, this decision is fraught with gratuitous angst and guilt. There are lots of reasons for this, though none of them have their roots in my own personal history, oddly enough. My mother got her PhD while raising four children (whoa), and doing so necessitated a
babysitter a few days a week. Those days were when I got to color on the walls with impunity (at least until Mom came home again). When we were all very young, we had live-in helpers on occasion who varied dramatically in quality (I was particularly freaked out by Dorothy, the one who could turn her eyelids inside out).

So I’m not under any illusion that childcare other than one’s self is necessarily a bad thing. My mother’s example illustrates, in fact, that to realize one’s self as a person as well as a mother, one occasionally needs, if possible, to have some time without dealing with other people’s poop. Forget about realizing one’s self – sanity is also good.

But I’m not so great as “the boss.” I’m one of those people who feels, when approached by helpful salespeople in a store, that I wish they would go away and leave me on my own to not find my size in peace. I like my privacy, and I hate confrontation. This is why I was so torn when I found the person I’d hired to help me with kid 2, back in the day, with her hands in the proverbial cookie jar, i.e. busily extricating a few twenty dollar bills from my wallet. I genuinely wanted to believe that she had dropped her earring in there.

Trusting someone else with your kid is no joke. That is why I am relieved to have finally solved my childcare dilemma. I found a great person to take care of my baby. You may know him better as President Barack Obama.

Check out the video above.

Michelle is holding the random baby and the baby is crying its head off. Suddenly, when the President takes the baby, it is mysteriously silenced.

That is good enough credential for me. So since putting the baby down for a nap will be no effort for him at all, I’m counting on the President to teach my other two boys civics and to hold policy debates with them in his free time, so that I can go to do my work guilt-free.

I love this country.

May 26 2011

Who Takes Care of Your Kids?

By at 9:04 am

Violet Jones helped care for Renee when she was young. Here she is in 1988 at Renee's daughter's bat mitzvah.

Unlike the time in which I raised my children, it is pretty much impossible for a family today to survive on one income. Child care options are tensely examined, researched and chosen, often with reservations, second thoughts and regret. It is incredibly stressful for you young parents.

The choices seem to boil down to care giving at a day care center or by a nanny. Each option has its advantages and disadvantages. But what I react to, based on what I read and observe, is the sense that the people who are doing the care giving are grossly underpaid, often overworked, and sometimes, most terribly, treated poorly.

Two recent, prominent articles in the New York Times discussed Ai-Jen Poo, a woman considered to be the Norma Rae of nannies, who leads a coalition fighting for the fair treatment of domestic workers. The article mentions, “the professional couple bringing in six figures a year…( and) the nanny or maid without whom the couple would not be able to practice their professions.” On average, the article notes, the nanny’s salary is less than $15 per hour with no benefits. Even more troubling is the lack of respect and dignity these workers, who give their hearts to the children for whom they care, often endure.

One family I know pays $12 per hour which seems to be the going rate in the neighborhood. This made the nanny ineligible for Medicaid. The family made the illegal, but, in my opinion, the ethically imperative  choice to partly pay the nanny in cash so she could keep her (meager) medical benefits. (We do have to wonder: Can someone really live in New York City on $12 per hour and be expected to pay for private health insurance?)

I have no experience hiring a nanny. I was lucky to have been a happy, full-time stay-at-home mom until I went back to work in a home-based business when my youngest was 5-years-old, and back to my profession in an office when he was 8.

But I grew up in an unusual 1950s/1960s situation: My parents had full-time help. And my mom didn’t work outside the home. Violet came to our household when I, the eldest child, was a year old and left when I went off to college. She worked five days a week for 12 hours a day and until after lunch on Shabbat. She cooked, cleaned and took care of the three kids. She picked us up from the school bus stop, took us to the park, and gave us dinner. I have more memories of being with her than I do of being with my parents. I have so very many good memories.

I learned a lot from Vi and from how my parents treated her and expected us to treat her.

This was before the civil rights era and Vi was a black, religious Roman Catholic from St. Thomas, the Virgin Islands. I was not allowed to call her our “maid”–she was the “person who helped my mother” or the “woman who took care of me.” I was not permitted to have her “clean up after me.” She was treated with all the respect and dignity due a human being, especially one so important as to be taking care of the kids in the family. She knew all about us, but we knew very little about her and, as an adult, I have often wondered who was taking care of her daughter while she was taking care of us.

In a very real sense, Vi was my most important teacher and the moral center of my childhood. I learned tolerance and gained understanding about different races, classes, and religions. I knew about Lent, the Pope, and the changeover from the Latin mass. I saw the Daily Tribune (a tabloid) in her bag and the Times on our table. Vi taught me how to sew a hem to shorten my dresses to mini-skirt length. She taught me how to dance, shmoozed with all my friends, and evaluated my boyfriends. I stayed in touch with Vi until several months before she died (that’s another story.) She was at my, and my siblings’, weddings and at my son’s bar mitzvah (as our guest at a hotel in the Catskills.) I do not underestimate the impact she had on my life and I always tried to let her know how important she was to me.

I believe, inferring from my parents’ values and behavior that she must have been paid fairly for the times. I am quite sure that she was treated better than one would have expected in those days.

The point I want to make is that how we treat our help, the people who work for us, influences our children from the minute they become part of our households. How we speak to our nannies and day care workers, our cleaning ladies and housekeepers, what we say about them, what we expect, is absorbed by those little heads from a very young age. Especially when you share child care responsibility with someone, when you entrust your most precious child to someone, that someone deserves the utmost respect, dignity, gratitude, and appreciation. And a fair wage.

Our children’s caregivers are essential to their well-being and to the smooth functioning of our households.

They should be our heroines.

In grateful memory of Violet Jones 1923-2001

We all have opinions about who should raise our children. Read here for one mom’s search for Mary Poppins and go here for a dad’s take on why nannies are for people who shouldn’t have kids.

Feb 24 2011

Dad at Work. Mom at Home. Ugh!

By at 12:41 pm

I'm never home. My wife is home all the time. How do we find balance?

I grew up as a feminist in a really conservative neighborhood. At some point, I started wishing (okay, fantasizing) that my wife would want to have a job and that I’d be at home, taking care of the kids, writing stories in between nappy-changings. I’m a writer, right? So I can basically do anything.

Now we have two kids under the age of 3, we’re stuck in the middle of a harsh reality: One of us has to be at home full-time, and one of us has to work. It’s like that Star Wars scene where Luke and Leia and the robots are stuck in a trash compactor and the walls are closing in and there’s some sort of monster in the water: You’ve got financial pressure on one side, and you-need-to-take-care-of-the-kids pressure on the other.

Some people get a nanny, and that’s great, but that presupposes that your job is paying you enough money to cover your own expenses as well as somebody else’s. It also presupposes that you think that your time is best used with your clients or you bosses or your email account, and not with this miniature human which you have brought into the world.

So, yeah. It kills me to sit at the desk where I’m sitting now, staring at pictures of squirming babies and not having them squirming up to me. But I know it’s also killing my wife. Our older kid is in creche (you’d call it daycare, but she’s from Australia) four hours a day, from 9:00-1:00. Which still leaves one baby at home full-time, and a hell of a lot of hours with my wife alone with both kids.

To put it another way: She’s got way too much time with them. And I’ve got way too little time.

There are solutions, of course. We could both get part-time jobs (unlikely, since you sort of need to be full-time to make health care affordable…plus, uh, I really like my job and my bosses are reading this, um, hi bosses!). We could switch off day-jobbing, which doesn’t work for most people in the 2011 workforce. Or we could keep things going the way it is: Where I’m the fiscal provider, and I leave home every morning and come back just before bedtime, giving baths and reading stories and being just a ghost in the house for most of the rest of the time.

One more thing. Weirdly, I started writing this post exactly the way it reads now, with one extra word: I mentioned that I was Hasidic. I was nervous about posting this. I imagined all of Internetland rolling their collective eyes, saying to themselves: There he goes, one more misogynist freakin’ workaholic himbo who thinks that all mothers should be barefoot at home while he does all the working. And then, when I started actually being a Hasidic father, realizing that every family goes through this. As someone who didn’t grow up religious, I would go into these households, see the woman taking care of kids, see the man not there, and automatically assume it was sexist. I still think that sometimes. And then I’ll be hanging at some of our progressive friends’ houses, in Williamsburg* or Park Slope, and I’ll see the same arrangement (husband in absentia, wife in loco parentis) and I’ll think: Wow, how quaint! or It’s so cool how some couples manage to split the division of labor. I think I’m suffering from having a Progressive Double Standard, which is weird, because, in the example, I’d be the non-progressive person.

OK, now my head is spinning. I’ll leave you with that — I can’t think about it anymore. I have to get back to work.

* — That’s tweed Williamsburg, not fur Williamsburg.

Feb 15 2011

Are Nannies For People Who Shouldn’t Have Children?

By at 12:53 pm

The ultimate nanny, Mary Poppins.

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).


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