The Tribune - Spectrum


Sunday, April 27, 2003

Move over Bridget Jones, Nanny is here
Deepika Gurdev

The Nanny Diaries
by Nicola Kraus & Emma Mclaughlin. Penguin Books. Pages 306. $15 (Singapore).

The Nanny DiariesTWO children, one a demanding three going on 30, and another an infant constantly hankering for his next feed or a nappy change, innumerable sleepless nights, but that hasn’t stopped me from completing a marathon run with what would under normal circumstances be classified as an ‘unputdownable’ book.

Not since Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones’s Diary and Cause Celeb have I come across something that has had me in absolute stitches, making want to laugh and cry at the same time. The Nanny Diaries offers a rare glimpse into the lives of the very rich (not necessarily famous), the childcare options they have, which of course is the best money can buy, how much time the rich and busy parents spend with their
children, which of course is not very much and how they treat the help they get — invariably badly.

That’s not a fantastic plot, one might say, to hold reader attention for a whole 305 pages, but the wit, insights that the author displays make for an interesting read.


The authors have both worked for well-heeled New Yorkers and in this work they fictionalise their accounts to protect the innocent and the guilty living along Park Avenue.

There is the very hip nanny, aptly called Nan, whose employer is the rather mysterious Mrs X, and her charge is what eventually turns out to be the lovable Grayer. Now the child’s only crime seems to be that he happens to be Mrs X’s son, a mother who’s obsession to get the best out her son means signing him for every possible extra-curricular and enrichment activity, ensuring that contact with her son is kept at the bare minimum. Mrs X’s demands from her nanny would be something like this:

* Must love being thrown up on, literally and figuratively, by just about everyone in the family.

* Must be able to miss school and join the family on last-minute vacations.

* On such vacations must be able to take care of all of Grayer’s pals.

* Must be able to work all the extra hours and not expect to be paid from them.

Now, who would pine for such a job, you’d rightly wonder. But Nan does. She is struggling to graduate from university, has to pay the rent for the apartment that she shares with a stewardess, and has to manage to get food on the table. Desperate to make ends meet so that she can land a ‘proper job’ she grabs the opportunity to be of service to Mrs X. But she soon finds out that she’s got more than she bargained for.

To show that she has put in a lot of thought towards raising four-year-old Grayer, Mrs X makes Nan go through ‘the list’ which goes something like this:

"Allergic to dairy.

"Allergic to peanuts.

"Sandwiches must be made facing East.

"All juice has to be drunk out of a sip glass over sink or bathtub (preferably until child is 18).

"All food is to be served on a plastic place mat with paper towel beneath bowl, bib on at all times.

"And (voice drops to a pitch only whales can hear) no food outside the kitchen!"

Well, you get the idea`85These are the lives of the filthy rich, where status is measured by who throws the best (read most expensive) kid’s Halloween party, where kids are forced to wear designer and well-ironed clothes to parties and where whether a kid has the makings of genius or whether he is headed to Harvard or Oxford is decided pretty much by which preparatory school he or she can get into.

It’s a tough world, one might say, because the process of trying to make it to one of the finest schools could entail language, dance and music lessons all in one go for a four-year old. And whatever little time the kid is left with is to be used for other mind-expanding activities such as regular visits to the museum.

Well, that’s the sort of dangerous territory Nan steps into when she agrees to take charge of Grayer. As if that were not bad enough, when Grayer starts showing signs of not making it to the dream school it all becomes Nan’s fault and from then on follow counselling sessions by none less than a professional counsellor.

In addition to playing nanny, Nan also finds herself trapped into having to organise parties for Mrs X. And when the Xs’ marriage moves close to disintegration, Nan realises how attached she has become to their unloved son and how being a nanny to him has become more than just another job.

When the book reaches this stage, poignant satire replaces caustic wit and the glamour of Manhattan’s upper crust is thoroughly punctured. And then you get the subtle message that good and responsible parenting is something that money just can’t buy.

A word about the authors: Nicola and Emma live in New York City and the runaway success of The Nanny Diaries has ensured that they no longer continue to work as nannies. With Miramax having bought the film rights of the book, there just might be endless sunrises and sunsets by the beach for these two promising authors.