Look Who's Talking

Two former nannies write a fictional tell-all

Sylvia Ann Hewlett's book about the conflicts of career and family, Creating a Life: Professional Women and the Quest for Children, sparked a recent media blitz that has made me and many of my about-to-turn-30 female peers hyper-aware of the ticking of our biological clocks. And while I certainly wouldn't knock parenthood -- Mother's Day is this week, after all -- making babies before you're ready is a sure-fire recipe for disaster. Thankfully, a scathing new comedy of manners, The Nanny Diaries, comes to our rescue. Relentlessly skewering the child-rearing practices of the upper-class elite, the novel exposes the intricacies of contemporary child care -- which should set a few of those clocks back. If all else fails, according to this fictional tell-all, single women who desperately want kids can become nannies; it's the closest thing to having one of your own.

Written by Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus, former professional caregivers who purportedly worked for more than 30 New York families between them, the novel spares no juicy details in chronicling the lengths to which Manhattan's well-heeled moms and dads will go to avoid raising their own children. Miramax has already bought the book's film rights, and Julia Roberts' voice can be heard on the abridged audiobook. The story's a tart response to complaints about finding good hired help, illustrating that taking care of someone else's offspring is more than a full-time job. Apparently it's a profession that requires recruits to whip up coquilles St. Jacques, masquerade as Teletubbies, and enforce strict dietary rules that prohibit their charges from consuming "anything starting with the letter M."

Few are more fit for this thankless work than Nanny, the appropriately named heroine who signs on to care for 4-year-old Grayer Addison, the only child of Mrs. X, a trophy wife who maintains an impossibly busy schedule (though she doesn't work, cook, or clean). Whether deflecting her son's embraces with the "Spatula Reflex," a clever maneuver intended to keep Grayer's hands off her designer attire, or sending Nanny on a quest for imported cleaning agents, Mrs. X is someone you love to hate, and her husband isn't much better. The saving grace is Grayer, a lovable tot force-fed kale and beets and shuttled from ice skating, French lessons, trips to his Ayurvedic practitioner, and "nonstructured outings" to the trading floor of the New York Stock Exchange, the French Culinary Institute, and the Swedish Consulate.

Negligent parents should think twice before abusing 
their hired help, thanks to former nannies Nicola Kraus 
and Emma McLaughlin.
Joan Lanier-Austin
Negligent parents should think twice before abusing their hired help, thanks to former nannies Nicola Kraus and Emma McLaughlin.

With a family so droll, it's not surprising that the book slows down a little without the Xes. Nanny has a life of her own that includes a romance with a "Harvard Hottie," but much of it pales in comparison to her employers' soap opera. She's as addicted to finding out what will happen next at 721 Park Ave. as we readers are. That said, the authors have done a fine job of relating the mysterious lifestyles of the rich and ridiculous. Though McLaughlin and Kraus assure us that the book is a complete fiction, it doesn't take a genius to figure out that somewhere on Manhattan's Upper East Side, an uppity matron has her panties in a knot.

 
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