Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Critical Mom's Turkey

This one is perfect for Thanksgiving--and would be good for Christmas too,  but I'll present some alternatives with Duck or Goose.

First, get a good turkey--fresh or organic ("Bio" in Germany) tastes better than frozen, which tends to have drier meat.  Let's say you buy an 8.3 kilo (17 pounds, in the States) turkey.  Wash it in cool water, pat dry, and put in a big roasting pan.  Salt and pepper it--for best results, use sea salt and freshly ground pepper.  Now stuff it--the Fannie Farmer Cookbook is full of good recipes for stuffing, and here's my version of one of them:

(1) In a large pot or wok melt a generous amount of unsalted, fresh butter.  Yes, butter.  Today you are not worried about cholesterol, and no substitute will do. 

(2) Wash and chop in small pieces a big bunch of celery (this will be about 10-12 stalks or 4-5 cups or a bit more).  Don't bother with the flowery part at the end--we always toss that part to the guinea pigs.   Dump celery in pan and keep on low heat, stirring occasionally.

(3) Dice a large onion and add to mix.  Stir occasionally.

Meanwhile, you've let the oven heat up to about 180º C (about 350º F) and in it have placed a pack and a half of very ordinary supermarket white sandwich bread.  For Americans, Pepperidge Farm bread is a good choice.   Once the bread is dried out, put it in the food processor; process until you have crumbs.  You need five or six cups of crumbs.  Add to the mix of celery, butter, and onion.  Stir and let the flavors blend for a few minutes.  Add a cup (or more) of instant chicken broth.  Stir.  Now  stuff the turkey with this mixture and sew it up with ordinary twine, so that it stays inside the bird and does not dry out.  Leftover stuffing should be put in a baking dish and warmed right before you serve it.  
Once the turkey is stuffed, rub the whole bird with butter.  Put strips of thin bacon--you'll need at least a pack, maybe two--across every surface of the bird.  Put in oven at about 165º C (or around 330º F--or put it up to 350º F) and bake.  A bird this size takes around four hours and you should baste it occasionally, and kick up the heat at the end.

Let's say you want to do something like this, but with duck or goose:  I'd recommend substituting apples and raisins for the celery in the stuffing.  Or a few sausages.  And instead of bacon, you might want just butter or a little orange juice on top.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

The Critical Mom's Guide to Firing the Cleaning Lady

Not that I want to fire mine!  She is the proverbial treasure.  Also a friend.  She's the mother of one of my children's classmates, and happened to ask me one day whether I knew of anyone who needed a cleaning lady.  Which I did not, at the time, but I wasn't altogether happy with the cleaning lady I had.  Alas, no cleaning lady is perfect.  Perfect would involve reading my mind to the extent that she knew not my secrets--no, none of that--but could experience my tastes, so that she knew exactly which shirts go on a hanger, which get folded (it's obvious, damn it, the idiot!! I mutter under my breath, feeling guilty, because she's so nice and helpful and what would I do without her?  But obviously this blouse is something I wear to work, so has to be on a hanger so it doesn't look all mushed up, and that other old one is just a shlumpy thing I wear around the house, and why can't she tell the difference?)
No, perfection is not one of my very good cleaning lady's traits.  But what's great is that she does exactly what I ask her to do, cleaning-wise.  She doesn't decide to go vacuum the stairs to look busy, when I've said please go clean the bathroom.  
So when Cheryl, my current cleaning lady, asked if I knew anyone I regretted not being able to hire her on the spot.  I waited until I felt exasperated with the cleaning lady I had at the time, who didn't know how to roll a pair of socks (she tied them in a knot instead).  Also when she couldn't find the mate to a sock, she just put it with any vaguely similar sock.  Also she loved to leave a bucket filled with wet, dirty cleaning cloths in our closet, despite my telling her that after every cleaning I soaked them in chlorox and then washed them.  She loved to clean with rancid old cloths that she'd stuck in that bucket . . .  and that was the last straw.  But I still hadn't figured out a way to fire, let's call her, Esmeralda, since she was so nice and her daughter had played with my daughter.  But one day Esmeralda took a vacation and in the course of that vacation my living room got so dirty that a mouse took up housekeeping there . . . my husband set traps and once swung a dead mouse at me as he was disposing of it and I screamed, "Eeeek!" just like Blondie Bumstead.  Yes I did.
And then I hit on a brilliant idea.  I didn't want to say, Esmeralda, here's twenty euros, we just can't afford a cleaning lady anymore because she'd know that was lame.  Also we'd pulled that one before with bad results.  On a previous occasion, we'd had a cleaning lady--let's call this one Hortensia--who liked to chat in the kitchen and have a cup of coffee while goo-gooing with our then two-year-old before she would get down to any kind of work.  Once she finally got going, I'd be sitting in my study typing and hear crashes and slams straight out of Dagwood and Blondie coming from the bathroom, and go in and find her slamming our stuff to the side and also throwing away tubes of ointment and toothpaste that were less than half full.  I remember thinking she must have broken something, going in and not finding any broken item but seeing her scooping up our half-full toothpaste tubes and telling her to take them out of that plastic garbage bag and put them back on the shelf, please.  She did, with a leer, "Oh, your nice things."  (Translation:  "You are a slob and I like to clean, and you should like to clean as much as I do, because cleanliness is next to Godliness or it's a good substitute for sex, which you, I believe, have too much of.") I was slightly afraid of her, and although she could remove all the various bodily secretions spewed by small children, she wasn't much good at anything else.  And then one day, as I was typing away, I heard another crash in the bathroom and a muttered, "Ach Scheisse!"  ("Oh, Shit!") and I didn't dare go in, somehow, I hated her so much by that time.  But then I did go in and found that the adorable swimming fish-and-ducky soap dispenser that we'd gotten in New York at the wonderful and now-defunct Lechter's had a huge crack in it--and we had to throw it away.  So with her we pulled the, "Hortensia, thanks, and here's an extra twenty euros, we won't need you more."  Now, Hortensia had always thought she was doing us a big favor because she was older than we were or God knows why, and she lived in  our neighborhood and she informed all the old hags her age that we had fired her, so that whenever I was walking the kids home from day care, Hortensia's hag friends would come out on their lawns and point and whisper and I'd give them the biggest smile I could muster, say "Guten Tag!" cheerfully and watch them shake their heads and all but spit on the section of lawn I'd just passed.  And I almost forgot the best part.  A week or so after we'd fired her, my son, then three, was at the playground with our wonderful former au pair, who'd come out of retirement just for us (she was at university by then) to take care of him so I could have a relatively calm week at home with his newborn brother.  The au pair informed me that when Hortensia walked past the playground, our firstborn went up to her, greeted her (she had, after all, goo-gooed with him a great deal when he was a baby) and said, "Hello, Hortensia!  You're not coming to our house anymore because you broke something really expensive from New York!")  In perfect German, said our au pair grimly.  With his friendliest smile.  "I didn't know where to look!" she offered, explaining that she'd collared him and led him off to another part of the playground, a good thing, since ole Hortensia would surely have vented her considerable frustrations on her or on our son.  
But the next cleaning lady we wanted to fire (I'm leaving out the ones in between who were okay, more or less) was Esmeralda, and I was desperate about how to do it, since I wanted to start Cheryl.  Finally I hit on this:  "Esmeralda, our niece is coming to live with us because she's going to university here, and she'll be cleaning and babysitting for us in return for our giving her the room downstairs.  You've been so wonderful!  Here's thirty euros."  The end.  And we thanked her for the phone number she offered so that we could call her when the niece was done with school and oh, yes, thank you Esmeralda, whom we never did call.  
And Cheryl is great--downstairs right now getting things ready for our belated Thanksgiving.  And she and I share recipes, too!

Saturday, November 24, 2012

The Critical Mom's Cranberry Relish

With apologies to Fannie Farmer.  This recipe is very close to the one in her cookbook.  But just one little addition or two  . . .

Two cups washed fresh cranberries
One cup sugar
One teaspoon nutmeg (FF left this out!!)
One hunk fresh ginger--as big as you dare
A dash of cinnamon (as long as your husband likes it)
One large orange.

Dump all ingredients in food processor, after washing the orange and slicing it into three or four pieces.  Naturally, leave the peel on.  Process until it is a mush with a few red dots.  Stir.  Pour into bowl or container--cover it with plastic wrap or a plastic top--and let sit for at least an hour, or overnight.  Serve with turkey.

All this is a bit late for Thanksgiving unless you're celebrating it tomorrow the way we are, because Thursday is not a holiday in Deutschland.

It's good by itself.  It's good with chicken.  I'm sure you'll find lots of things with which it can be served.  Mmmm, mmmmm good.

How to Give Your Guinea Pig Antibiotics: The Critical Mom Tells All

Well, you can try letting the children do it, but a few precious drops will spill.  Or you can try getting your husband or oldest son to hold the piggy still and gentle press her jaws open.  Or you can let her think she's bigger than you.
This is easier than it sounds.  You get an old towel and set her atop it on the dining room table.  Then you crouch down in front of her so that her nose is higher than yours.  She looks sweet, maternal, bemused.  What are these folks up to?
Here's what I am up to:  I am sinking the little plastic plunger--imagine something that you could use to squirt liquid down Barbie's throat--into the little brown bottle of liquid antibiotic.  Incidentally--a thrilling cultural fact--German medicines of all kinds tend to come in little brown bottles.  So that when I gave my best friend, who is American, some eucalyptus bath oil, she thought it was this other stuff she saw me squirting down the throat of my then three-year-old ("But it was the same!  I know it was because it was in a brown bottle!!" said she.  Who then complained of burping eucalyptus oil all day.)  But actually my three-year-old had been swallowing something quite different, a terrific cold medicine called Umckaloabo, whose virtues are detailed elsewhere on this blog.
Anyway, the piggy seemed pleased by my head being lower than hers, so that she continued to look down at me with a superior air while I snuck the dropper up toward her mouth.  As I poked it at her lips, she pulled back in distaste, but then opened for the nanosecond required because she wanted to yawn.  I seized my chance, she swallowed the stuff, and the whole operation took less than five minutes.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

American Music, German Schools, and The Critical Mom

 My fifth-grader came home alerting me to his teacher's insistance that the refrain goes, 
You can hear the wizards blow, a hundred miles
 "Actually, Mommy, the way she sings it is, "Yow can heah ze wizzuds blah-oh, ze hundred miles," 
the last word barked rather than lingered over.
 This gal has a Ph.D. in music and in all fairness conducts the school orchestra with such verve 
that people who are not parents of the musicians actually pay to hear it play.
 But really.  Gandalf and Dumbledore take note:  "You can hear the wizards blow a
 hundred miles!"  Let's hope they're at least blowing whistles, not passing gas. 

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Critical Mom and the Guinea Pig's Paw

I thought that Sunday could remain uneventful.  Lazy all morning, I had just pulled myself together sufficiently to begin dragging myself upstairs in the direction of my computer and of the midterm exams that still do not exist but which must be contrived sometime between now and next week.  Half-hearted about contriving midterms as always, I felt not entirely annoyed to hear a yell of "Mommy!  Come quick."  The guinea pig, who within the last week produced a brood of three, bringing her total of progeny to 36, had a swollen paw.  I looked her over--her eyes remain bright, she's eating, and she's still nursing that brood, but the paw looks twice the normal size, too pink, and probably painful.  
So it was that we bounced from website to website, tram schedule to tram schedule, until finding an animal hospital open on Sunday afternoon, to which we hastily repaired.  I decided to bring the whole family:  the husband, Harry, in his own carrying case away from the Mom with the swollen paw and the nursing brood.  The vets looked her over and gave her a shot of antibiotics, a shot of painkiller, and a bottle of oral antibiotics to be administered by dropper.  Quite a to-do developed about whether to give an antibiotic and which one, since the piggy is nursing.  (My kids have just named the babies, too--all boys--Barack, Maravolio, and Solomon.  The middle name seems vaguely based on Shakespeare but mostly on Tom Riddle.  Barack, like his namesake, is feisty, but I see no signs of wisdom in our little Solomon.)
"Well, I had antibiotics when I was nursing," said I, receiving a grin reserved specially for idiots from the vet. 
It turns out to be easier to pump the antibiotics down our hapless guinea pig's throat than it ever was to pump them into my children when they were little--I remember that on several occasions, two strong adults were needed to hold down my oldest while the third, me, forced open his mouth and squirted in the bubblegum-flavored amoxicillin.  He liked the vanilla kind, but hated the bubblegum kind, a matter that could not be taken up with our druggist after the fact.
Tomorrow it's back to the vet with our piggy, and I think the antibiotic is at least preventing the problem from worsening, but the foot looks anything but good.  Stay tuned.
Update:  Ginny the piggy is back home, foot bandaged.  The vet pushed out some pus, cleaned the wound, smeared on a salve and a bandage that reminds me of Cassius Clay's boxing glove, but Ginny can walk on it.  She hardly complained.  I remembered the time  all three kids had to be immunized.  The pediatrician said she'd start with the boys, since my daughter was so little the needle might hurt, and then the boys wouldn't want their shots.  So, first the big, husky ten-year-old gets his shot.
"OW!"  The eyes rolled in agony.  "Wow, that really hurt!" he yelped.  Same deal with the big, husky eight-year-old.  Then we came to the little, skinny five-year-old girl, who smiled sweetly and did not complain at all.
"Girls," smiled the pediatrician.  "I should have realized!"

Saturday, November 17, 2012

The Critical Mom's Chicken-Avocado Salad

This one is great served over Thai red rice, but any rice will do.

You will need:
Garlic--several cloves.  (Me, I always think the more the merrier, but at least six)
Boned chicken cut into strips
Olive oil
A red bell pepper or two
A nice ripe avocado
Salt--a Caribbean seasoned salt is good, or Lawry's salt, but any old salt you like is fine.  I like a dash of Mrs. Dash--either the original or the onion blend
OPTIONAL: Tabasco sauce

This recipe is good when you roast the bell pepper, but you can stir fry it with the chicken if you like.  To roast:  cut in half or thirds, put with outer skin up in a pan under the broiler until the skin turns black.  Remove from oven and put in a paper bag for a minute or two.  Take out of paper bag, and peel off the black skin.  Set aside.
Cut the garlic up and mix it in a bowl with the chicken.  Add a little olive oil, stir, set aside.  
In a wok, stir fry the chicken and garlic.  Put in a bowl, add pepper, avocado, sliced tomatoes, stir.  Pour over rice.  Enjoy.

David Petraeus's E-mails and The Critical Mom

At times like these, I think of Emily Dickenson:

I'm nobody! Who are you?
Are you nobody, too?
Then there's a pair of us — don't tell!
They'd banish us, you know.

How dreary to be somebody!
How public, like a frog
To tell your name the livelong day
To an admiring bog!

How nice I find it to be nobody.  How embarrassing to be public--as big and ugly and real and loud as a frog croaking: "David slept with Paula! David slept with Paula!"  And just think:  suppose I were to get nasty e-mails from some unidentified and seemingly unidentifiable person.  And suppose I were to contact the FBI and say, "I think I'm being followed!  I think I'm being stalked!  I'm getting threatening emails suggesting that I'm having an affair with a guy who is really just a casual acquaintance!"  They would surely reassure me--by yawning as I was speaking to them--that I am nobody.  They would politely listen, then ignore me, or they would tell me that they'd look into it, or they would ask me to call my local police precinct.   
A friend and I disagree on the David Petraeus case.  She thinks his sex life has nothing to do with the investigation, but that his failure to hide his IP address, his choice of a G-mail account, are all signs that some military secret could be revealed.  
How public, like a frog.
So far, since they are not asking him, in the Benghazi investigation, about his affair, and since they are not publishing those e-mails, I'm assuming that David and Paula were sending each other the same blandishments e-mailed by nobodies who are carrying on an affair.  Photographs of David Petraeus strongly suggest that even if you startled him out of a deep sleep, or whispered sweet nothings into his ear while he was dozing--"Dearest, what was that top secret code you used for the totally classified !@#$%^&UIO plan again?" he'd sit bolt upright and remain silent.  Before you knew it, he'd clap you in irons.  Even if you got him drunk, he'd hold his liquor, get you into a full nelson, and James Bond you out the door.  A soldier is a soldier is a soldier, and you only get as far as he got by remaining closemouthed.  Unlike me.  I like to write.  Love to talk.  Blah, blah, blah, and again, blah!  And everything you say spreads like a bacteria.  "Two may keep a secret if one of them is dead," Ben Franklin observed.  Now, my friend who believes--as indeed many do--that the Petraeus investigation concerns national security--said that the fear of his being blackmailed is realistic, and that looking into her own past, she'd find nothing that would put her in any danger of blackmail.  The critical mom can't say the same.  Not that she's committed any crimes, if memory, an increasingly unreliable source, still serves.  But embarrassing?  The contents of my mind are embarrassing.  Maybe I should stick with my journal and my fountain pen.  No need for IP code hiding and all those technologies I can't even remember.  Just the metal filing cabinet and my key.  But I'm flattering myself.  If I hung every bit of my dirty laundry out to dry, could I get more than the 36 readers I've had today?  Or my total record, 448?  And would any of them give a damn?  I'm nobody!  Oh, joy!

Friday, November 16, 2012

The Critical Mom and the German Mommy

I ran into a friend at the church on the German version of Hallowe'en, which is called "Martinstag," or Saint Martin's day.  Saint Martin is a Sir Walter Raleigh of sorts; Raleigh, you recall, is the one who spread his fancy cloak over a puddle so that Queen Elizabeth could walk without getting her Manolo Blahniks in the muck.  Naturally she chopped his head off.  St. Martin handed the poor guy his cloak, and in celebration, German schoolchildren sing catchy tunes while walking through the streets with lanterns, and back in the schoolyard get rewarded with waffles and Bratwurst.  
The friend, who has a small child, came with a quiet young man who had an ascetic, soulful look, and who was introduced as a "visitor."  The "visitor," it developed, was without means, and wants to travel around the world.  So he rings doorbells asking for room and board, in return for which he says he'll garden, do repairs, babysit, perform any household chore.  And he was interested in organic and symbiotic farming, too, said the dewy-eyed mother who was relieved to have somebody else holding the heavy two-year-old for a moment.  And I looked at the young man with the hooded, unreadable eyes and thought "he's probably harmless."  And then I thought of Etan Patz, apparantly murdered by his babysitter's boyfriend.  And of Yoselyn Ortega and the Krims.  And of growing up in New York and seeing all the things that make you realize why you should not talk to strangers or invite them into your home five minutes after they ring your doorbell and give you their spiel.  And then I thought of my friend, the mother, who grew up in the Balkans, probably during the wars.  The rules are different in wartime, I wanted to scream, when I saw her on the tram today.  Instead I said nothing.  The visitor was, after all, gone, the baby is still alive, no stolen silver has been reported, but oh, Dorothy, I don't think I'm in New York anymore.

The Critical Mom's Coconut Chicken

Here's what you need:

A big, deep pot--enough for several chicken thighs and sauce
Vegetable oil
about 6 big garlic cloves
1 red bell pepper (but you can substitute zucchini or another vegetable)
3-4 chicken thighs
1-2 cups of chicken broth (made with instant bouillon)
A handful of fresh cilantro
1 piece of fresh ginger about the size of a big clove of garlic
1 can (400 ml or for Americans, 14 ounces) coconut milk
3-4 fresh limes

Put about two tablespoons of oil in the pot and let the oil heat.  Meanwhile, press the garlic hard with the heel of your hand (the fast way to get rid of the shell) and drop it into the pot.  You can slice it in half if you like; no need to dice it.  Slice the pepper into a few pieces and drop that in, too.  Stir until you can smell it all cooking--a minute or so.  Add chicken thighs and brown them.  Dump in the chicken broth and the coconut milk.  Grate the ginger into the mix.  Stir, let boil, then turn down heat and let simmer for about half an hour.   Chop the cilantro coarsely and add.  Squeeze in the lime juice and stir.  OPTIONAL:  a chili pepper or two.   Let the whole thing simmer, covered, for another 15 or 20 minutes, or until the chicken is oozing off the bones. (so total cooking time is 45-60 minutes, depending on how big the chicken thighs are).

This is very good served over Thai sticky rice, but any rice will do.  If you use Thai sticky rice, it's best to soak it for about half an hour, drain it, then cook as you would ordinary rice. 

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Savita Halappanavar, Irish Abortion Law, and The Critical Mom

I'll never forget a flight from JFK to Dublin in 1985, when smokers could still puff away behind a plastic curtain threaded across the very back row of economy--which is where I was sitting.  Slightly sick to my stomach from stale smoke and stiff legs in my anything-but-roomy seat, I didn't think I could get more uncomfortable until a conversation started between the two other passengers between whom I was sandwiched.  In the window seat, to my left, sat an earnest, bearded fellow who abruptly inquired, "What's the saddest thing that ever happened to you?"  Before I'd decided whether to ignore him or to retort, "Kindly inform us, first,  about your saddest moment," the gentle, fiftyish Irish lady beside me with the West country accent gave him a thorough, poetic, answer that I felt he had not, and would never, earn.  I don't think she recognized that he was casual, impersonal, arrogant.  She just answered his question:
"Well, I think it was when me mother died," she began, and proceeded to tell us, lyrically, and in a way that made me extremely sad, although she seemed to accept the story with equanimity, how her mother had died giving birth to her seventeenth child.  At the time, our Irish storyteller remarked, she herself had been eleven years old.  The nuns laid out the dead mother "very pretty, with the baby in her arms," she continued.  And, she confided, with a quiet acceptance that shocked me, whenever the doctors or the nuns were faced with the choice between saving the mother's life and saving the baby's life, "of course they always saved the baby."
"Because the baby was not yet baptized, and without baptism the poor little thing would go straight to purgatory."
Here's how the Irish constitution begins:
In the Name of the Most Holy Trinity, from Whom is all authority and to Whom, as our final end, all actions both of men and States must be referred,
We, the people of Éire,
Humbly acknowledging all our obligations to our Divine Lord, Jesus Christ, Who sustained our fathers through centuries of trial,
Gratefully remembering their heroic and unremitting struggle to regain the rightful independence of our Nation,
And seeking to promote the common good, with due observance of Prudence, Justice and Charity, so that the dignity and freedom of the individual may be assured, true social order attained, the unity of our country restored, and concord established with other nations,
Do hereby adopt, enact, and give to ourselves this Constitution.

No pregnant woman in the middle of a miscarriage stands a chance, with this constitution, under Irish law, as long as the baby still has a heartbeat--even when medical tests reveal with 100% certainty that the fetus cannot survive and, far more important, when the mother wants the abortion, whether the fetus will survive or not.  Savita Halappanavar began bleeding, but because the non-viable four-month-old fetus still had a heartbeat, she was sacrificed on the altar of the Irish church, dying of blood poisoning.
Medically trained herself, Halappanavar knew the risks of heavy bleeding during a miscarriage, and wanted to live.  The baby, she knew, could not survive.  She was doomed.  She could have been me--like her, I wanted my firstborn child, as I wanted all my children--but I was a good ten years older than she was on my honeymoon.  Ironically, my husband and I chose Ireland over Greece, thinking that if anything went wrong with the pregnancy I'd get far better care.  I was high-risk by virtue of my age, and wanted the best medical care available.  I was extremely lucky that nothing went wrong on that wonderful trip.  During a second pregnancy that did miscarry, I was fortunately in New York, where a D&C stopped heavy bleeding and probably prevented massive infection.  Without that intervention, who knows whether I'd have been able to conceive my second son or my daughter?  Or whether I'd be alive now?
Among Ireland's greatest charms is its folklore--leprechauns, elves, fairies, changelings.   But the superstitions belong in folklore, not medicine.   Savita Halappanavar was a Hindu, and her husband asked the hospital--who said, "It's a Catholic thing; we can't do abortion," why Catholic theology was being rammed down the throat of a Hindu mother.  It's high time the European court of Human Rights challenged Irish abortion law, and it's high time the Irish re-examined their ideas about Jesus Christ--who would never put any woman through the hell experienced by Savita Halappanavar. 

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Critical Mom and Paula Broadwell

A Broad with Brains.  Is what they're saying.  I'm not the first blogger to let Fatal Attraction float to mind, but Paula Broadwell does seem to have hero-worshipped David Petraeus and charged after him to tell him she was turning her dissertation about him into a book. 
"Go for it," he amiably--cluelessly?--advised.  Opportunity only knocks once.  He could turn water into bottled water!  A month after breaking his pelvis he was back in the swim!  She was embedded with him.  All in!  Doesn't that innuendo just send a chill down everyone's spine?  Then the two of them running together, doing push-ups together, trading sweaty towels together, swatting each other's bottoms with sweaty towels and then one thing led to another.  And she'd worked so hard to get him, done her damndest to seem spontaneous, and now she had him.
Various newspapers have charts, complete with arrows and pictures, guiding you through who said or did what to whom.  But the cast of characters is as old as the hills:  The hell-hath-no-fury scorned wife.  Gang way, Maenads.  When Holly Petraeus gets done with her husband, the vultures won't find any meat on his bones.  Paula Broadwell, a fount of talent, ambition, and despair.  A woman who's graduated seventh grade should know better then to think she can force a man to pay attention to her, love her, by any means--least of all sending HANDS OFF THE MERCHANDISE e-mails to Jill Kelley, whom she thinks she saw playing footsie with Petraeus.  Hasn't Paula Broadwell read The Rules?  Ellen Fein and Sherrie Schneider, come in please!  Send this woman a Saint Bernard with a message in a bottle around his neck:  "If he doesn't call, he's just not that into you.  NEXT!"  And if he's not that into you, find somebody more interesting for your next biography.  I can't believe how stupid smart women are!  
And I can't believe that America can't mind its own business.  The disclosure-of-classified- information-excuse is a red herring.  "National security" is just another word for Puritanism--the idea that we all have to be in each other's business all the time to make sure people will pay for enjoying sex.  Don't forget that mass hysteria was the Puritans' favorite indoor sport, starting with the Salem Witch trials.  Or that this hysteria tends to return, cyclically:  McCarthyism, Anti-Japanese furor during the Second World War, Anti-Arab discrimination ever since 9/11--no, we're still knee-deep in the world Hawthorne documented, adding the "w" to his own name to distinguish himself from his Puritan ancestor, Hathorne, one of the most evil judges in the Salem Witch Trials.  Hawthorne diagnosed our national problem very well:  Young Goodman Brown is still wandering through the woods expecting a devil to jump out from behind every tree.  In the form of some breach of national security.  As if David Petreaus, even in the throes of that proverbial post-coital cigarette, would ever have lost control enough to blab big time to Paula.  No, the man's far too puritanical for that:  look at that ramrod straight posture!  His whole problem was that he couldn't lose control enough for his mental health, but Paula's fixed that.  So the scarlet A has been sewn on David Petraeus, but I hope he lands on his feet at Princeton, and that Paula, Jill, and Holly find happiness.   But good luck, since "puritanism is the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy," H.L. Mencken said.  The generational differences in the pursuit of that forbidden happiness are obvious, but each path seems doomed.  Appearances may be deceiving, but Holly Petraeus, who was a beautiful young girl, does not impress one as someone for whom lust is, or ever was, a priority.  Let me imagine:  she was brought up to accept sexual advances from her husband, but the "lie back dear, and think of our great country," tradition ran so deep in her bones that pleasure never entered her head.  Or quickly evaporated in the wake of what God and Country told her were the meaning of life:  husband, children, home.  Now the other two ladies have been reading their Cosmopolitan and know where their G-spot is; they also know, as good Puritans, that whenever you enjoy yourself you better be looking over your shoulder, 'cause you're not living in Germany, where a scandal means cheating on your dissertation.  We Americans never left the world of Hawthorne.  But girls--you're overachievers and I know you'll land on your feet too!  David's only got a scarlet A--ya'll should try for an A+ now, ya hear?  

P.S.  At an election party in Berlin for the German T.V. station  ZDF, they ran out of Obama buttons and could not sell the Romney ones.  So Obama won Berlin, too, not just Florida.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

The Critical Mom's Apple Pancakes

This is a good one for weekend mornings.

You will need:  flour, baking powder, salt, two eggs, butter, milk, and apples.

In a large bowl mix two cups (the size of coffee mugs) of plain white flour.  (You can also use whole wheat flour, but the pancakes will have a heavier quality) plus a teaspoon of baking powder and a half teaspoon of salt.  To the mixture add:  two eggs, two cups of milk, and about three tablespoons of melted butter.  Mix well with a whisk or spoon--you don't need an electric mixer.  Set aside the bowl.  Get out a large frying pan or skillet and heat vegetable or corn oil in it.  Wash an apple and cut thin slices right into the pan.  You don't need to peel it--just wash it.  Pour in a ladle of pancake mixture and cook at moderate heat until the pancake begins to bubble.  Flip it over and cook a little more.  My children like pancakes really golden-brown but some may prefer them less well done.  Serve with maple syrup or powdered sugar.

P.S. If you prefer the flat, European variety of pancake, just leave out the baking powder.  I like them fluffy.

The Critical Mom and the Crazy Lady

If she was.  That's what I don't know.  I was standing on a tram platform on a cold, windy day with my daughter.  We were on our way to the local ballet school for her lesson and mine.  For the first time, it was cold enough for scarves and gloves.  But under the shelter, which offers protection from rain, not cold, a young woman sat crouched on the bench, wearing a sundress.  No shoes, and barelegged.  I glanced at her through the corner of my eye.  A wandering schizophrenic?  You know how schizophrenics are . . . always wearing coats and scarves when it's 100ºF (38ºC).  And when it's freezing cold, they wander around half-naked.  Which was what she was doing, or so I thought.  But then I saw how she was crouching on the bench, apparently conserving body heat and incidentally putting her feet in a slightly warmer place than the frozen concrete of the tram platform.  She stared straight ahead, her jaw set, with an expression suggesting to me that she was willing herself to endure the cold, or that at least in her mind she was traveling to a warmer place.  I thought to myself as I pulled my coat around me that a saint would take off his or her coat and wrap it around the woman.  I had on a nice wool shawl, which I fingered, considering removing it and wrapping it around her.  Everyone else on the platform was looking the other way . . . I was actually--but unbelievably--hoping that some tram platform cleaner, or a nun, or a social worker would run up and offer help and a hot bowl of soup.   I looked down into my ballet bag and considered giving her the sweatshirt I wear for warm-ups.  Clean but worn, it's one I've had for years and about which I'm sentimental, since my husband gave it to me.  What if I gave it to her and she started screeching paranoid accusations and came after me with a knife?  And my daughter was there, and when I said, "Listen, I think I'll give that lady my sweatshirt," she said, "Mommy, I'm scared."  I told her to stay where she was, walked a few feet down the platform--but I could still see my daughter, standing a little ways away-- and asked the lady--auf Deutsch-- if she'd like a sweatshirt.
"Ach, schön!" ("Oh, nice!") she exclaimed animatedly with an expression of delight--as if I had handed her my coat--and put it on immediately.  So maybe she wasn't crazy.  Maybe she was an illegal immigrant whose shoes had been taken so she wouldn't run away from the sweatshop or the brothel.  But she had the guts to run away, and the night got colder, and I hope she managed to avoid freezing to death.
Or maybe she really was just a wandering schizophrenic.  But one with the sense to put on a sweatshirt.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Regarding Yoselyn Ortega: Comments from the Critical Mom

Since I've gotten replies regarding my views of Yoselyn Ortega, I'm posting again on this topic:  my response is too long to post as a reply.
I'm not sympathizing with the nanny!  To say she's unhappy is not to sympathize--I'm pointing out that people who kill are not happy people.  They are usually desperate people. I agree with your descriptions of her as a narcissist and a psychopath and a sadist.  I agree that no one could have foreseen a murder.  But I don't agree that no one could have foreseen that Yoselyn Ortega was going to do something bad--and probably to the children.  I don't agree that when the mother and the nanny are having heated arguments things are likely to be okay with the kids.  I do know what it is like to have a situation in which the kid likes the nanny and you don't anymore--then what?  But this is different.  If reports are true (and who knows?) that Marina Krim and Yoselyn Ortega were arguing heatedly and that Yoselyn Ortega, leaving for the day after the argument, said "goodbye," and that Marina Krim ignored her, then I think that's already putting the children at a disadvantage.  The mother's relationship with the nanny defines the nanny's behavior toward the children, at least, the mother must assume that it does, because the mother has the power to hire and fire and the nanny's livelihood depends on the mother's good will.  If the nanny is behaving in some undesirable way already--here it seems to have been, before these murders--acting apathetic and feeding the kids junk food, then the parent has to say to him or herself, okay, SHE'S WATCHING MY KIDS.  Yelling at her, if that is what happened, will make her do something bad to the kids--she won't take it out on you, the employer, if she's desperate for a job and if she is a sadistic narcissist.  She's going to take it out on the kids.  Not necessarily murder them--the murderous nanny is a breathtakingly unusual phenomenon, more common in fiction than in reality--the New York Times called her "unique." But in a situation where the mother feels angry at the nanny, disgusted with her performance, and wants to tell her "shape up or get out"--which had already happened, apparently--then that "shape up or get out" is exactly the mistake.  In this situation, the mother could do the following:
(1) "Yoselyn, you need a vacation.  We'll pay.  Here's ________. Go see your family."
(2) "Yoselyn, things aren't working out.  Here's ____________."

Or just fire her.  But you can't leave anyone with the kids if you think that person is no longer good with them.  I know what happens--you hire someone, they're great for a year or two, you get fond of them, and then something goes wrong in their lives and they're really a different person--now they're depressed, stressed, forgetful, apathetic.  And you want to be fair to them.  But the mother can't close her eyes to the change in personality or behavior and hope that things will improve, nor can she tell the nanny to shape up if she's already got the feeling that the nanny is in a state of permanent sulks or very cold or very sad.  The mother is always in the position of evaluating the nanny's personality.  
I once had an au pair who was a very sweet, young (sixteen years old) girl whose family wanted her to learn English with us.  She sat in her room painting her toenails and I said, "Look, you've really got to go upstairs and tell the boys to get out of their pajamas and into their clothes."  They had told her they were fine and she took them at their word.  She really did not understand that her job entailed standing in the doorways of their rooms and saying, "It's time to get out of those pajamas and into your clothes--now!!"  Once I really spelled out things, she could function and the main thing is she was SWEET.  If I had felt that she really resented me for telling her what I expected, or was angry or depressed, I'd have talked to her at some length just to figure out what I was dealing with. 
I'm not blaming the Krims when I say they failed to see how unhappy a person Yoselyn Ortega was--and is.   The failure of imagination to see Ortega's degree of pathology is a typical failure of normal, happy people.  I don't think the Krims ever experienced pathological people before.  As I said in an earlier post I myself grew up in a family filled with crazy people.  Just about every pathology you list above was there.  And that kind of experience, growing up in a family like mine, gives you a watchfulness, an almost compulsive sense of needing to observe people, that the Krims, with their more normal background, just did not have.  I could say it takes one to know one, but I'll promise you I'm not a murderer.  But I sure have wanted to kill someone.  A thin line of "decency" or "civilization" or "self-control" luckily keeps me and most people from acting on the occasional impulse to kill.  Then there's the lie-down-with-dogs-get-up-with fleas phenomenon in the blanket term "dysfunctional family," so I can say that I saw my father railing that "the communists" were bugging his light bulbs, but I'm not paranoid, except when I am really looking over a person whom I might hire to care for my children.  I saw my mother flitting around pretending she was Peter Pan, grinning like mad when daily conversations revealed she was almost desperate enough to kill herself, and I'm not suicidal, but there's a certain weariness in a person's face that tips me off, if I'm considering hiring them to care for my children.  I've seen my brother holding long conversations with persons that neither I nor anyone else can see, and I don't have imaginary friends myself, but I do always imagine what's going on in someone's head when I'm talking to them.  I'm always expecting the worst, and reminding myself that actually the world can be a pretty good place.  But If the world is pleasant most of the time--if you grew up with parents whom you loved and who listened to you--you don't question things and you don't observe things, unless you're a born poet.  The Krims have met evil face to face for the first time in their lives, and my heart goes out to them.  Thank you for your thoughts, and I'd be interested in hearing from you again.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

After the Election: The Critical Mom

In our small German city, the networks were beating the bushes for Americans to interview, which is how my husband and I ended up on local TV--me looking frumpier than Angela Merkel on a bad hair day. The interviewer wanted to know what I thought, but he wanted to know it auf Deutsch, "Because zen I don't have to over-voice it," he added, in English. 
"Dub it," I corrected sourly.  And told them, auf Deutsch, that we'd gotten up at 3:00 a.m. to watch the polls and that naturally I'd voted for Obama.  Cut to my husband, who discoursed authoritatively, the lucky native speaker--and he's really good-looking, too.
I was relieved when my part was over; I had the usual problem of sounding like an ungrammatical four year old with an accent that--after this election--would not have to be lied about.  I'm happy that I don't have to insist that I'm Canadian, when people ask.  Germans tend to think that I'm English or American, and now I can reveal that I am indeed American--I'm confident I can even do so for at least the next four years.  Yes, my fellow Americans, I denied my country of origin repeatedly during the Bush years, and was all set to do so again should the Age of Romney (known, in some alternate universe, as the Last Age of Humanity or The End of The World) have dawned.   
That evening, the three kids, my husband, and I all crowded around the TV at 7:30 in the evening and saw how forty-five minutes of interview could be boiled down into four minutes.  Gone were the parts where I told them I was so nervous watching those exit polls that I baked a New York state cheesecake--even though I said it auf Deutsch--because I looked directly at the camera instead of conversing with my colleague and my husband.  Hadn't understood those auf Deutsch instructions again.  I usually understand around seventy percent of what people say, but only under stress-free conditions.  Gone were the parts where I told the interviewer--slipping into English--exactly why Romney's humorless, business-oriented, heartless leadership would have been all wrong.  Gone even the part where I walked down the hall and entered my office--because I fumbled with the key.
All this gave me a genuine admiration for people who stand in front of a camera, smile, look good, and make sense all day long on a campaign trail.  Wow.  I saw myself up there on that screen and wanted to shout:  "Sit up straight and don't look so crabby!  And couldn't you have combed your hair?  And of all days to wear your glasses!  AND YOU LOOK SO OLD!"  A phrase I could not stop repeating to myself, so that when my daughter was hopping around saying, "Mommy!  You were on the news!  You and Daddy were on the news!"   I couldn't help mumbling, "But I looked soooo old."  
"Aw, Mommy," she said, waving her little hand, "Everybody has times like that! Don't worry."  It made me think of our good luck: first, our luck with this very close election, since whatever happens in the next four years, we know it could only have been worse with Romney, whose most telling failure is his utter lack of humor (after Hurricane Isaac saying he was grateful to be on dry land, or cracking that no one ever asked to see his birth certificate).  Obama may make mistakes but he loves a joke at his own expense--calling a voter in the west sometime on election night, he said the guy "didn't know who I was."  He loves his wife, loves that America fell in love with her, and says so.  It is just his honesty and freedom of emotion that Romney looks down on.  A lack of humor is the last thing we need in these increasingly desperate times.  Good leaders usually have a good sense of humor.  Think of Churchill's hilarious quips about everything from Hitler to his own old age (when someone told him his fly was open, he said, "dead birds don't fall out of nests.") 
I felt lucky as well that my husband and children are with me and doing so well.  I thought again of the heartache of the Krim family and then of how in the past mothers lived through crises we don't want to imagine:  Mary Rowlandson, the seventeeth century colonial American settler was kidnapped with her young daughter by American Indians whose land had been stolen.  Rowlandson's relatives were tortured and disemboweled before her eyes and her daughter, who was the same age as Lulu Krim, died slowly of her wounds during their captivity in the woods.  And I thought of Mary Shelley, daughter of a brilliant feminist who died of sepsis after giving birth to her (and whose grief-stricken father was unable to love her) enduring during her fifth pregnancy, at 22, a miscarriage that nearly killed her--she'd already written Frankenstein, and she'd already lost babies to illness, dystentary and everything that a quick call to the pediatrician could fix today in a minute.  Her heartbreaking journal chronicles dreams after the death of a baby: "Dreamed my little baby was alive.  Awake and find no baby."  Not to mention the utter failure of Percy Shelley as a husband and father--and it was just her luck that he went and got drowned.  How did these women cope?  In the only ways possible:  Rowlandson convinced herself that her tragedy had meaning--the meaning seems bizarre today, namely that God had planned every horrible event in order to make her a better Christian--but that belief sustained her to a ripe old age.  Mary Shelley, as we all know, wrote and wrote and wrote, making enough to send her surviving son to the best British boarding school.   Faith if you can manage it, work if you cannot:  these are the keys to survival.  I urge all my readers to support the arts education LuluLeo Fund founded by the Krims in memory of their children.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Victorious President Obama and The Critical Mom

"I saw Mommy vote!" said my eight-year-old, remembering me laboriously filling out the ellipsis in black, putting the paper ballot inside an envelope and that envelope inside a mailing envelope--and I hope it got there and was counted.   My vote for Obama was predicated on hope, not absolute faith.  But Romney's concession solidified my sense of having cast the right vote:  he remained cold and formulaic, with a revolting touch of sentimentality, namely that his wife "woulda made a great first lady."  Sentimentality, Oscar Wilde remarked, is the bank holiday of cynicism, and the District of Columbia recognized this, voting overwhelmingly for Obama.  I thought back to John McCain's concession four years ago, so heartfelt and sincere:  "He is my president," he said.  The concession speech is invariably revealing, because it's delivered under unimaginable pressures, and the grace of John McCain's speech broadcast his character--a man who believed what he was saying and fought for it with all his energy--a man I could respect, although I'd never vote for him.  Had Romney won, America might never have had a chance to recover from disastrously oligarchic--nah, plutocratic--tendencies fueled by the Reagan administration and pumped up by the Bush dynasty.  It could have been even worse.  What if Rick Santorum  had stayed in the race?  We might have ended up with a dystopia straight out of Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale--in which women are deprived of the right to earn or keep money, or even to learn to read, and are designated asexual wives or raped handmaids.  Now, with a still-young leader whose sense of honor carries the day, perhaps there's hope.  But the utter division of the country--the nearly fifty-fifty split--bodes no good.  My husband and I were up at 3:30 a.m. German time, imagining that we'd know for sure by then.  No dice.  Wolf Blitzer was hoarsely delivering an analysis of a Florida poll as a 49% lead for Obama clicked--at that moment--into a 50% lead for Romney.  "Whoa!" said Blitzer, whose sly asides conceal not at all his enthusiasm for Romney's defeat:  "I'm not saying this to rain on Romney's parade," Blitzer zinged at one point.  By six a.m. German time we were no further ahead--it's only now, at 9:10 a.m. German time, that the numbers are finally settling into place and establishing how close an election we experienced.  
Now it's noon here, and I'm thinking back to the debates, and the way Democrats chewed their nails and made excuses like "Obama's not a debater--he's a great speaker!"  But what if the chilly remoteness we saw--they said he was "wooden," they said he was sleepy, they said the Denver altitude did him in--what if all that "woodenness" was strategy?  What if Obama's debate demeanor was his sly way of mirroring Romney's real attitude?  What if Obama wanted to say, "Okay, I have to stand up here and debate you, but I'm not going to engage with you because you're a fake.  Instead, I'll stand up here and mimic the way I know you feel about the American people instead."  Hey, maybe every move was calculated.  Maybe the October 15 New Yorker cover showing Romney debating to an empty lectern was broadcasting the message:  Obama's too busy running the country to take time out for an opportunist like you.
Last thoughts:  Loved the tweet asking:  "What's Herman Cain thinking now?"
P.S.  We should all celebrate by enjoying this video:

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The Fight with Yoselyn Ortega and the Critical Mom

Friends have told me of summers spend slaving away as au pairs, sent to wash stacks of laundry and hang it all out on the line--while watching four or five children.  One told me of feeling sad at being far from home and being told by her employer: "I don't want to see your unhappy face!  You go in there and smile at my children."  This particular friend, because she was young and less disturbed than Yoselyn Ortega, swallowed her sobs, grit her teeth, and pasted on a smile.  Can't we assume that the children for whom she cared would have been happier if she had not been forced to fight her sorrows alone?  If the nanny has an unhappy face then she's an unhappy person taking care of your children.  If only for their sake, you owe the nanny a conversation and an attempt to discover why she's unhappy.  You owe her even if you're not interested in the nanny and don't give a damn about her.  You owe her because you want her to feel interested in your kids.  Believe me, if you don't give a damn about the nanny and how she feels, she'll figure that out and why wouldn't she take it out on your kids?  The happiness of the nanny decides the happiness of the kid--or if not, then you're lucky.  I can't understand why anyone would want a woman who's an emotional wreck to take care of their children.  The latest tidbit about Yoselyn Ortega is that she had an argument with Marina Krim the day before the murders--that they were yelling at each other, the mother demanding that Ortega "interact" more with the children and not feed them junk food.  These are red flags.  If you're yelling at the nanny, you're yelling at the person who is supposed to protect your treasures.   Not at someone who is doing faulty work on an assembly line and who can be bullied into picking up speed.   
Why is it not obvious that a mother has a vested interest in keeping her nanny happy?  The first thing you look for is a cheerful person.  Competence comes next.  The first thing you notice is the moment when the nanny isn't her happy self anymore--In I Feel Bad About My Neck, Nora Ephron develops a theory about babysitters--that after a few years they wear out the way anything wears out.   Childcare wears you out even when you love your children and they're the light of your life.  They're still the ones you yell at when they forget to flush the toilet for the thousandth time, use cuss words you told them not to say, or throw a towel on the floor after using it once even though they know they are supposed to hang it up.  Usually we don't murder them for things like this--and usually neither would the nanny.  But we don't want to take any chances with a babysitter who feels undervalued, underpaid, or exploited.   No matter how irrational the demands of Yoselyn Ortega, they should have been taken seriously for the sake of the kids.  The Krim children are the victims of parents who failed to see that a nanny could possibly be as unhappy as Yoselyn Ortega.  A profound failure of imagination fueled this tragedy.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Yoselyn Ortega and the Critical Mom

No second chances--no "okay, we'll pay you more, and you do a little housework, or we'll have to let you go."  Which is the latest morsel of information on Yoselyn Ortega and her motive for apparently murdering her charges.  No.  When things go wrong with the nanny, you offer her a vacation or you say, "Here's ___________."  Fill in the sum.  And say goodbye.  This is the point where you know that SHE WILL NOT IMPROVE.  And you don't owe her more than a generous severance pay.  The children always come first.   You can't defer to their remaining affection for the nanny when your hunches tell you something's off.   If there's any moral in this sad story, maybe it is that the parents felt that they had to be decent to the woman who had worked so long for them, who had seemed so wonderful, loved the children.  It's the very decency of the Krims that destroyed them.  
Nannies, au pairs, almost always feel exploited.  Sometimes they feel that way because they are young and far from home.  Sometimes we ask too much of them.  Sometimes their lives implode and we don't see it.  But from the moment that their discontent becomes evident, we have to address it.  My first au pair, the one who became a friend, looked sad and grumpy at one point, and I asked what was the matter.  At nineteen, and because we had been friendly though a local swimming club, she didn't like to tell me.  She just said, "Oh, nothing," and after talking to my husband, I said, "I think you need a vacation--it's an enormous change coming here to New York after growing up in a small German town."  And I sent her on a visit to my best friend, where she walked in the woods, met American teenagers her age and made smoothies with them, and got enough sleep.  I asked my friend to do a bit of sleuthing and find out what was bothering her, and my friend did find out:  the au pair felt exploited, felt that we were asked too much, but felt better after the end of the vacation.  She found out some au pairs were making more than she was making--and it turned out they were working longer hours, too.  But she seemed happier after her vacation and the rest of her year went without incident.
Our second au pair seemed unsure of herself before she started working for us.  She loved the idea of going to New York for a year, but I had the uneasy sense that she had vague dreams of glamor and no idea what working long hours with an 18-month-old would be like.  The mistake I made lay in imagining that she would get used to New York and to me and to her work.   Instead, every attempt I made to ease her transition--buying her classes, access to a swimming pool--made no difference.  She grew increasingly non-communicative, her face discontented.  I arranged for her sister to visit, and things went better for a while, but eventually I grew afraid that she would harm my son, and since she kept saying she was lonely, I got friends to come over and stay "just to help you out," but she wasn't fooled.  "They're checking up on me!" she yelled.  I said I thought she looked worn out, and just wanted her to have some help.  That must have felt like a big insult, and she stomped out, after throwing her swimming pool card at me.  My son walked after her, saying "Bye!  Bye!" and she ignored him.  A day later I got a phone call from a lawyer who lived around the corner, and with whose family she had moved in, asking what was going on--she said we were exploiting her and had thrown her out!  I told him I had been afraid for my son's safety.  How old was my son?  When I told him, he burst out laughing:  no wonder I was scared.  We arranged for me to bring over her mail, and I arranged for friends to stay at my home and babysit until we found someone else.  We were extremely lucky.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

The Nanny Murders, Again

None of us can banish this tragedy from our minds.  Not just because of the murder of innocents, the senselessness of the murder, the trust invested in the nanny who betrayed the children, the mother, the father, and herself.  We know how much fatigue we can take before bitchiness, then psychosis, sets in:  we know we yell at the kids because we haven't had a good night's sleep.  We all know we would never kill, but we hate being reminded that the ghost of hostility toward our own kids ever flitted through our dreams.  We can assume that the nanny had a psychotic break--we can assume that when she killed, she thought she was killing a devil, or she thought she was protecting the children from a devil.  Or we can assume other things.  Scenarios develop every few minutes, each with a degree of plausibility, each unsatisfying, because the explanation will never make up for the crime.  Conspiracy theories have appeared on blogs:  the CNBC executive father went after the "banksters" who then went after his kids, mind-controlling the nanny, or making her take the blame for some intruder who got away, the theory goes.  Sometimes I think the parents were too normal.  If like me you've grown up in a home filled with crazy people--the father who thought the light bulbs were bugged, the mother who pretended to herself that she was a naughty little girl and you were her mommy, the brother who saw and spoke with people from space ships that no one else could see or hear--then you hone your observation skills to the point of paranoia.  You're always watching.  You're always interpreting.  You're always ready to conjecture that a change of mood could mean the worst.  Your vigilance, your readiness for crisis, erodes your ability to enjoy life, but the habit of ever-focused watching and analysis readies you for the real emergency, incidentally weeding out bad nanny candidates.  But if you've grown up in a normal, loving home, perhaps you cannot imagine the worst.   Your imagination takes you as far as fatigue and menopausal woes and money troubles, not as far as the violence that can erupt as a result.  If you haven't seen it, lived it, you have--in some ways--fewer protections.  These murders have had the side effect of reminding me that perhaps I did gain something worth having from growing up in my crazy family.   One of our au pairs was unhappy from the beginning of her stay, and two weeks into her tenure--after she'd come home at four in the morning and I'd told her this would not do, she'd said "You're not my mother!"  I said, "No, I'm not.  I'm my son's mother, and I don't want the person who is taking care of him while I am at work to be exhausted."  She laughed.  She saw my point.  But the problem was that she needed her mother, and instead of being her mother--which she absolutely did not want for me to be, and which I had no wish to become--I was asking her to engage in activities performed by mothers when I was at work.  Which continued to make her wish for her mother, or wish (in spite of herself) for me to be some form of her mother.  I sent my friends over to protect my son while she was still working for me, and she stomped out.  Good riddance!  Her predecessor had worked out wonderfully, but that girl always seemed very heads up to me, and we're still friends now that she has three children of her own.