Sunday, October 28, 2012

The Nanny and the Critical Mom

"This woman is unique," said The New York Times.  It's more likely that a mother will kill her children than that a nanny will murder her charges.  Reading the story of the nanny who apparently knifed the children--a six-year-old and two-year-old--in the bathtub--it occurred to me that the murderous nanny appears in novels, films and stories more than she appears in real life.  In The Turn of the Screw, Henry James's ghost story, a child dies in his governess's arms, and it's not even clear whether she's killed him.  How the nanny who killed the Krim children didn't get stopped is a question I'll never stop asking.   Did the parents not notice changes in moods?  Did the children say nothing?  I have a long history of hiring babysitters and au pairs.  So far, they've always behaved just as I expected they would.  There were women who applied for the job--and some men--whom we never hired.  First I thought we'd go through agencies, until a former student who had worked for one of the most expensive American agencies told me no one ever checked her references.  That, on top of being told by a woman at one agency I called--who confided, "Listen, I'm leaving tomorrow to start my own agency," that all kinds of stuff, from stealing to prostitution, happened all the time.  That checks by the agency were invariably superficial.  That I'd do better checking things out myself.  And just as I was starting to phone every name on the list an au pair candidate had given me, our friend who'd worked for the American agency weighed in with another story:  the family who had hired her had just received another au pair from the very same agency.  Who left the baby locked in the car while she went to the gym, then absconded with the family's credit card.  And was on a plane back to Poland the next day, and thank God the baby was okay after his three-hour sojourn in a car in sub-zero weather in Chicago.
No one knows enough about what drove the Krim's nanny to murder their children.  Will we ever?  The report that stays with me is that the nanny looked sick and distraught before the killings, and that for days she was visibly losing weight.  Did the family notice this?  Did the children?  Did the people to whom the parents recommended the nanny and who did not hire her, finding her "a little grumpy" have a reasonable hunch that something bad might happen?
This case has made me review everyone we ever hired to care for our children.  I remember the more comically unsuitable rejects--websites with apparently desperate Russian men who described themselves as follows:  "I Boris.  I truck drive.  I like kids."   A crazed mug--Tony Soprano on steroids, or Jack the Ripper with huge, poorly sewn scars across the neck and forehead, stared out of the ad, and I'd click on the next one, hoping to find something better.  And I'd find glamorous sex kittens with silicone lips purring: "I require _________ (fill in the outrageous sum) for my services, because I am well trained."  It was enough to make me check the website:  had Google somehow accidentally jumped me to a porn site, or to one for mail-order brides?  But no, it was the same standard "" site I'd been combing all morning.
We're all waiting for the one clue that will make sense of this, but none of the clues add up to murder:  "Oh, the babysitter looking wierd and losing weight," or "Oh, the babysitter having money worries and requesting extra hours."   That might have been enough to make me want to replace her.  But not enough to make me suspect her capable of doing what this nanny did.   If Sherlock Holmes could appear and find a fingerprint proving that no, she didn't do it--she was threatened, there was an intruder who got past the doorman by swinging through the window, he was a drug dealer, he did it and the nanny only felt responsible--well, then, the world could make sense again.  But the hurricane, the monster hurricane following these murders feels like nature in revolt against the unnatural behavior of humans.

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