Authors Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus tell us in their Note to the Readers before Chapter One of THE NANNY DIARIES that they have worked as professional baby-sitters for over 30 families in New York City. THE NANNY DIARIES is, however, fiction, they remind you. Despite the disclaimer, one can't help but wonder what autobiographical traces have seeped into the book. DIARIES is a striking, comical social commentary on the wealthy who look down their surgically downsized noses at the apron-wearers and stroller-pushers they've hired to run their households. Are the many references to Bergdorf's and Chanel nail polish and Manolo Blahnik shoes coincidental? I doubt it. Even in the most hilarious of scenarios --- and there are plenty of those in DIARIES --- the high end product-name-dropping rings too true not to be accurate reflections of the skewed priorities set by Park Avenue's finest residents.
But enough of my commentary. Who is Nanny? Nanny is a child psychology major at NYU, attempting to finish her degree and make her monthly rent payments. She accepts a position with the incredibly affluent X family caring for their four year old son Grayer for a few hours a week. What Nanny doesn't realize at first is that she has also signed on for the full-time care of Grayer's mother --- who doesn't clean, doesn't cook, doesn't work, doesn't do much of anything except shop for herself, schedule incredibly complicated days for her son and then neglect him.
If Nanny had read the facetious --- and yet prophetic --- want ad in the inside book jacket, she probably would have thought twice about applying:
Wanted: One young woman to take care of four-year-old boy. Must be cheerful, enthusiastic, and selfless --- bordering on masochistic. Must relish sixteen-hour shifts with a deliberately nap-deprived preschooler. Must love getting thrown up on, literally and figuratively, by everyone in his family. Must enjoy the delicious anticipation of ridiculously erratic pay. Mostly, must love being treated like fungus found growing out of employee's Hermes bag. Those who take it personally need not apply.
Nanny, who does take it all personally, perseveres --- despite the growing demands on her schedule and her heart. An adulterous father (who, we find out later, is a repeat offender) brings added stress to the household, sending Mrs. X. deeper into self-obsession and Nanny into protection mode. You might find yourself asking why the well-meaning Nanny continues to put up with the Xs' disregard for her life beyond their penthouse apartment. Grounded and goodhearted, Nanny stays in an untenable situation much longer than most would because she cares deeply about the fate of her charge. She'll do any number of demeaning tasks requested of her by the lady of the house --- shop for lavender water, or create expensive gift bags, or pick up dry cleaning, or sit-in as surrogate mom at "parent-child" events --- because she sees the neglect of the Xs' son and wants to do something about it.
If Walt Disney could read THE NANNY DIARIES and witness the treatment of the modern day Mary Poppins at the hands of her employer, he'd be rolling over in his cryogenic containment unit. While the job description is relatively the same, Julie Andrews never experienced the atrocities survived by Nanny. If even half of what these former-nannies-turned-authors have written in their fictional debut nearly resembles the true trials and tribulations of those employed by the impossibly privileged to watch their pedigree progeny, then being a nanny has to be the most thankless job going. THE NANNY DIARIES is funny and eerily "true." You will like Nanny and her family and her friends, and you will feel, as she does, very strongly about the little boy surrounded by so much wealth and so little love.
Reviewed by Roberta O'Hara on March 18, 2003
The Nanny Diaries