Sunday, January 19, 2014


I promised my husband the next thing I wrote would be light and funny. Could you please write something a bit cheery? he asked.

Yesterday, my daughter, now two years and two months, who still nestles into me for nursing both day and night, who nuzzles my nose and says "You look beautiful in your nightgown, Mommy," who demands that I be the sole interpreter of the narrator's voice in all her picture books, who cries for me in the night, this child held up her hand in protest when I entered the room in which she and her father were at play. Daddy was building a Byzantine structure and they were choosing where to put the elevator or something.

"No MOMMY! Don't speak. It's quiet time! Goodbye!" And with that, she slammed the door. I laughed. I could finish my coffee in peace. It's about time my husband served the sentence of most favored nation status and his crossword puzzles go unattended for a while.


I promised my husband I would write a funny post. It's been two days since Daddy's arms have been the preferred method of transit, Daddy's arms the preferred vehicle in which to dance, Daddy's block building skills the preferred method of construction. As I ponder the chill wind that I can't help feel swirling round me, I think of Dante:
In the middle of the journey of our life
I found myself in a dark wood,
For I had lost the right path. 
That's a real thigh-slapper, I know.

For me, the quote encompasses my daughter's sudden shift in affection. To be sure, she and I still cuddle, and in the last few days it's possible there was an instance in which she needed Mommy more than Daddy to witness a feat like diving off the bed or painting a red line with her watercolor brush. Although I'm not sure that's true.  For two days, she needs Daddy to bear witness to all, and Mommy's input is not only irrelevant but intrusive.

There's something else the quote stirs in me. It refers to "the right path." We've been on the "right path" for so long, my daughter and I. Of course I am as tired as any other parent, as longing for free time and even for time to waste -- especially for time to waste-- but our days have been harmonious. I told my husband today that perhaps I could see it as a result of good mothering, my child's confident rejection of my services, her lack of need to curry favor must somehow mean I am a swell mother who has given her the security to wound me deeply (without meaning to.) I also suspect this is an important act of differentiation from the person she has overlapped with so thoroughly for the length of her whole life.

It also means that her father is a very loving and involved father who builds a mean Byzantine structure and an equally mean fruit smoothie.

Honestly, I am enthralled by her molting the shell we have shared for two years. Maybe I'm rattled not by losing the path my daughter and I have been on since her birth. Maybe I'm scared of carving the path I need to go alone once more.

In the middle of the journey I am in a dark wood. When my child was an infant, we took long, indulgent summertime naps, limbs entwined in a cool room, escaping the heat together. I stared at her silky skin and knew that in the time of my life, I needed to live! (to slightly misquote William Sayoran.) And I did. I smelled her and stroked that cherubic face and exhaled. I did the best I could, but time passes. And thank goodness for that because no one can keep up the work of infant and toddler care forever. We don't have enough resources for that. And besides, we want more. We need to find our old path or our new path, or maybe--a bridge.

We need to find the bridge that connects the two paths. I have no doubt we'll be back on a path together soon enough. But I need a bridgeboth to connect her path and mine and at the same time to distinguish them from each other.

Well, husband dear, are you holding your sides from laughter? Are the tears just rolling down your cheeks? Perhaps, but I suppose not the kind you wanted.

I'll try hard to be funny soon. Maybe for Father's Day?

This time I'll offer instead some inspiration, again, from Dante. He lost the path but after much trial, the wanderer emerges.

E quindi uscimmo a riveder le stelle.

And so we came forth, and once again beheld the stars.

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Tuesday, January 14, 2014

A Challenge for the Parent

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This post is dedicated to Uta Hagen, who, in teaching the art of acting also taught the art of empathy.

I am not a religious person, but as an actor, I do have a bible. It's called A Challenge For the Actor, by Uta Hagen. It's a meticulous guide to uncovering why humans do the things we do, when we do them, how we do them, how events that precede the things we do affect the way in which we do them.

Recently my Facebook feed has carried a steady stream of articles about children and the way adults view them. I've read dozens of articles about how often "discipline" is misguided because at the root, the parent fails to see what the child is experiencing and the "discipline" only confuses the issue and creates further conflict and pain down the road. Parents too often confuse behavior that is a nonverbal attempt at communication with being "naughty." They resort to punitive measures when empathy could uncover the mystery of the behavior if we could only tune into the right frequency -- that of our child's. (My god, what a hippy I've become!)

Eleanor Roosevelt said that the basis of all etiquette, of good manners, is kindness, and if you remember this you will never be too far off in your manners, regardless of the fork you choose at the dinner table. I believe that empathy is the basis of much of parenting, and if you remember this you will never be too far off in ensuring a happy childhood for and a good relationship with your offspring, regardless of whether you err occasionally with too many toys or too much TV or the reverse. Further, you will guide a small person toward being a loving, useful and fulfilled individual and thus be a success as a parent.

"One of the luckiest things that can happen to you in life is, I think, to have a happy childhood."
-Agatha Christie

 There's a consistent chatter that surrounds you as you walk the streets of the city, as you stare at museum exhibits with your toddler climbing over the railing to try to touch the elk or the grizzly bear, among friends at mothers' groups, in the nine thousand books you read or articles you google about milestones and child development. 

"Two years old is the age of bossiness. Two years old is the age of everything having to be in just the right place, of telling people where things should go. My little boy has obsessive compulsive disorder! Ah, she's your boss, isn't she? Oh, he's the one running the show, huh? If you don't establish a firm bedtime, you're sunk. If you miss the window for nap time, you're toast. If you let them sleep in your bed, they'll be dependent and whiny their whole childhoods and possibly their whole lives. They'll grow up to rob banks and threaten kittens if you don't get them in a crib by three months. If a child is allowed to manipulate you by requesting something different to eat, where will it stop? A firm hand in all matters pays off later." 

There is a group on Facebook called "The Dangers of Baby Training." Its mission is mostly to catalog outdated and cruel ideas about how to raise your child, and to offer alternatives. This site finds fault with many methods of "discipline" because at root, the methods lack empathy. (And therefore also fail to assist a child in her path toward enlightenment and happy co-citizenship with her fellow man or woman.)  I think our society suffers from a decline in empathy in general. Or perhaps we've never had enough and there's no time like the present to change that.

What is empathy? There are many dictionary definitions, but here's one from Merriam-Webster that I find most fitting for the argument I'd like to make:

the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts and experiences of another of either the past or the present without having the feelings, thoughts and experiences fully communicated in an explicit manner.
Without the feelings being communicated in an explicit manner. This phrase is the central axis around which empathy with a child is based. Children do not have the complex verbal centers (nor do most adults, for that matter) to translate their feelings and thoughts into words. Thoughts and feelings result from a multitude of incoming data both internal and external and the brain processes this data at lightning speed and reacts.

Back to Uta Hagen, who championed the art of self-observation for the purpose of uncovering the reasons behind our actions and reactions. The great actor and teacher believed we had to empathize with ourselves in order to build the technique an actor needed to re-create behavior realistically. What was useful to her was what she recognized in others as something she herself did, but she didn't observe only others to find the truthful reasons behind behavior.  She first observed herself. She did this through meticulous rehearsal and repetition of basic activities. I'll outline two of her exercises to give an idea of how she did her detective work.

Destination is the first exercise. In it, you must choose a destination, be it a funeral, a wedding or a trip to the grocery store for paper towels. You must then rehearse with all the necessary objects of your daily life the two minutes leading up to your departure for this destination. In this rehearsal, you will uncover things and when you present it to the class, you will uncover more still. For example, the way one buttons one's coat is entirely different depending on one's destination. Destination shapes our speed, our accuracy, what we are distracted by around the room: where is my purse? Did I pack my glasses? Do I have my best man's speech in my pocket? Let me straighten my hair one last time as I button up, that man I flirted with last week is supposed to be at the reception. I'll let you fill in the two minutes of coat buttoning and purse packing before the funeral of a beloved uncle and how it differs from the coat buttoning and briefcase packing that occurs in the two minutes before leaving for a job interview.

Endowment is the next exercise. Essentially, an actor must learn how to endow objects (and other physical things such as weather or the height from which they view a scene) with the properties one would perceive them to have in real life. For example, you can't safely use a genuinely burning hot iron on stage, so an actor must learn to endow a cool iron with burning heat to recreate the behavior of being burned when accidentally touching it in a scene. (As for creating the behavior of surprise, that is a whole other exercise. I told you Uta Hagen was thorough.) Sometimes an actor must behave as though she were madly attracted to another actor on stage. Once a student asked Ms. Hagen what to do if she found her on stage partner unpalatable. She answered thus: "endow, endow, endow." Crude jokes aside, I believe she left it to the individual actor to decide which characteristics to endow her partner with.

There are many other exercises, and they are all building blocks toward understanding the effect our perceptions of reality have on our behavior.

This is a most useful skill when raising a child. Behavior that is mysterious to a parent who lacks this skill will be easily understood by one who hones it. Most parents are loving and want very much to see mostly good in their children, but the specifics interfere. For example, when I was a nanny and now as a mother, I hear the generic "She's just tired" excuse for a child who has thrown her crayons on the floor or announced her dislike of a person she was hugging five minutes ago with no intervening event. Lord knows I have seen the "tired" effect in my own child: when their batteries run low, there is no rational center to withhold the well of emotion that rises in an exhausted brain. But often there are more specific reasons to uncover.

Just the other night my daughter threw her crayons on the floor. It was nearing 10 pm and even though I tend to be nonchalant about bedtimes and sleep arrangements, that night I was worn out. I shook my head and retreated from her room. I knew enough to keep silent; I knew there was of course a reason but I was just too tired to unearth it. I felt a smidgen of anger too. All of her art supplies were so nicely lined up, I was so proud of myself for giving her this lovely work space and for a moment I lost that she was two and perceived instead the ingratitude of a grown person in the act of dismantling the little studio. All my years of training as an actor have made me intimately aware of and comfortable with my many character flaws, those both momentary and those more stubbornly recurrent. I did not judge myself for being angry, I knew that simply seeing her throw her art supplies activated something in my primal center. I did not judge myself for my lack of generosity but I also did not judge my daughter's act, because with lightning speed my brain relayed the message that she was hurting over something and her behavior had a reason.

Fortunately, my husband was less tired and more generous that night. He dug in and pulled out the insight. Apparently, two minutes before the great crayon throwing event, I had casually mentioned that it was getting to be time for going to sleep. I had not made any steps toward preparing for her bedtime, no toothbrushes were offered, no books lined up, I had merely mentioned it was getting late. But this was more than enough to induce panic in my tiny child.

Imagine if you were an insomniac and someone much taller and stronger than you made a decision that you had to close your eyes and fight every impulse in your body to read, to paint, to wander the apartment, to snack, to be simply awake. And in imagining that, suddenly the throwing of some crayons seems like a very mild reaction to such a prison sentence. Imagine that everyone bigger and stronger kept telling you to smile after you had just lost your girlfriend. A child who has just lost her favorite toy is often in just such a position. Imagine that your destination is a fine clothing store where you have a certificate for a free beautiful dress, but someone tells you that instead you must go to the grocery store and forego the dress. Now you can feel how your child feels when his destination is his box of blocks but he is being forced to have his coat buttoned for a mundane trip out, or any trip other than one to his box of blocks. His destination shapes his behavior with regard to that coat. (Ask any parent who is in a desperate hurry about the physical impossibility of compliance in coat-buttoning when a child is at play. The very hurry only exacerbates the panic the child feels.) Imagine that you are on a planet where everyone finds burnt three day old pizza crusts a delicacy and begs you to eat just one bite and just see if you don't agree. You know you are surrounded by madmen, as you know it smells awful and the mere sight is distasteful. A toddler feels this way when confronted with any number of foods we consider delicious. (So do adults, by the way.)

Can a parent endow a succulent roast carrot or a broiled salmon fillet with the odor of a three day old burnt pizza crust? If she can, she can empathize with her child. And suddenly it will become easy to put out a bowl of applesauce in its place, to give up on trying to persuade and instead to respect the space that every person on the planet needs, it will be easy to grant a toddler self-determination.

We must empathize with ourselves first. Uta Hagen said it was only when she stopped seeing herself  as a free-spirited artist hippy skipping through the woods picking flowers and came to terms with the other, darker side of her soul that she learned how to act. We need intimate understanding of and comfort with our less attractive needs, motives and feelings to create the full spectrum of human behavior.

When parents talk about a "bossy stage" they truly are failing to see that we all want things the way we want them (see: Sally Albright.) We are not bossy or high-maintenance. We are people. We want our trousers folded in this way and we don't like it when people put backpacks that have been on the subway on our couches and we want people to love the music we recommend. We order our universes with our specific passions and methods. We have wide varieties of passions, but we all share the having of them.

Children are people with passions and a deep need for ordering their universe, arguably even more than adults have because they feel the imbalance of power in their lives.  They are helpless in the face of authoritarian will. Thwarted desires for order result in non-verbal demonstrations because they don't have the words yet and even if they did, they don't have the control, unless we grant it to them. Sometimes words won't do even if we have them; they can't contain our passion either good or bad. Before my daughter's vocabulary grew (seemingly overnight, those brains grow at an astonishingly fast rate) she used to make a motion with her whole body, a kind of shudder while holding out her arms when she saw a beloved playmate or when she was about to kiss you. Her body was a free-flowing vessel of physical communication. Maybe sometimes, to quote an old song, the words get in the way.

Sometimes they do find the words. My husband went into my daughter's room the other night and asked her why she threw the crayons. She said "I'm mad." Why? he asked. "Because I don't want to go to bed." OK, he said. Let's not, then.

I know when I can't sleep I sit on the couch and read a book or the Internet. My daughter wanted to draw until she felt tired. Convention might have it that she needs to be trained to fall asleep or at least lie in her bed by 8 pm. But human need and social convention are unfortunately too often at odds with each other.

Let us parent according to human need, not social convention.

I am not saying a child needs no guidance. Let's save that for another post. (Although I will say that a child, a social creature from birth, is most absorbent of guidance when she is empathized with and given the space to accept that guidance.) I am also not going to go into the many tools that developmental experts have for deducing the reasons for a  child's behavior, because there are so many wonderful web sites and books already dedicated to this very hot topic now.

I want simply to offer my perspective as an actor who is now also a parent. Let those mirror neurons tingle and the road of communication between you and your child will be a generally tranquil and even idyllic route with lovely scenery along the way.

What does it feel like to have an object placed just out of grasp at the moment you are reaching for it and worse, because you are reaching for it? What kind of outrage might that legitimately stir in the breast of a helpless person? Is it fair to call the ensuing tears a "tantrum" or is it more accurate to say that a child has better access to the wellspring of emotion that ought to flow forth from having her right to hold something she covets denied? Perhaps it is the Hope Diamond and you can't let your child play with it. Fine. Empathize with having something shiny snatched away for no reason that you can possibly understand. Have you ever lost a boyfriend to an unworthy replacement? Then you know what it is to feel that something precious has been stolen but remains miserably in view.

Uta Hagen was once asked by a student how to play a murderer when she had never wanted to murder anyone. How could she possibly relate to such an "outsize" desire, so beyond the realm of the "normal" human brain.  Uta Hagen asked the student if anyone had ever with impunity stolen her parking space in a crowded lot. Of course that student had felt murderous. There is a big difference between feeling murderous and being capable of murdering. When a child strikes you in anger out of a feeling of helplessness she may feel murderous. But you are not in any danger, and not just because she is small and weak. She is not a murderer, she is just playing one on the stage of life.

Our struggles all have something in common. They involve a struggle to cope with the event, to understand it, to fight for normalcy, to regain control over the emotions we are having because we do not yet understand the consequence of such events on our lives and souls. 
-Uta Hagen

 Children's souls have the same need for control as those of adults. Deny them this control at society's peril. Grant them this control and they will use it one day for society's good.

Uta Hagen, actor, writer, teacher, humanist. 


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Saturday, January 11, 2014

Maternity Clothes (A Nanny Says "Goodbye")

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Sometimes the best place to start is not at the very beginning, with all due respect to Maria Von Trapp. Sometimes the event that completes a story is the best way to introduce the story. I'll get to the beginning and the middle soon enough.

I recently pulled out a little Net Book that my husband purchased for me as a Valentine's Day gift in 2011. I wanted very much to write some stories about my life as a nanny. We found the smallest, no-frills baby laptop Staples offered and took it home. I remember shifting on my heels and asking for a seat while the salesman showed us our options. I was aching. My hips were sore. I was tired. I was impatient to get home and go to bed. I no doubt had the flu.

I was pregnant. I wouldn't find out for another week. My husband was about to leave for three months of work in a small town three hours from NYC by train. The morning he departed I started to count the days. Was it really five? A week earlier I had been babysitting for a client I loved and became desperate for bacon at 11 at night. The kids were asleep and I found myself madly frying bacon when their mother was due home in ten minutes. I ate it virtually raw out of the pan. I hate bacon. No bells rang. Perhaps when we want something very much we are afraid to believe it has happened.

The morning my husband kissed me goodbye and headed for a 6am train I was beginning to feel that something was off.  I fell asleep folding laundry. I ate Chinese food and thought I must have developed an allergy to MSG because I was so breathless and thirsty. I felt bricks in my intestines and pain in my joints. My eyes weren't focusing.  I was five days late so at last the potential began to sink in.  By the evening I had worked up the courage to go to Rite Aid. They had a sale and I got two sticks for ten dollars. I called my husband in his lonely hotel room and listened to the day's events. Then I told him of my day. And then of his impending fatherhood.

The next night I ate some ice cream and ran to the bathroom to bring it right back up. My old hip injury flared from the surge of hormones I suppose.  I was too excited and too frightened to sleep. I was breathless because of the drastic increase in blood volume. My uterus, which was later diagnosed as irritable (yes, that's the clinical term and I have to admit a perfectly chosen one) was contracting and aching and heavy. I watched anything on TV. I have no idea. The nights were lonely. I couldn't sleep because my skin crawled. I began losing weight from nausea. I took shards of Dramamine to be able to get a little nutrition in. I listened to Benny Goodman and watched School Ties and any other beautiful movie I could find on cable on a loop to drive the demon of hormonal depression away. Still, every minute was an hour and every morsel of food was a test of my determination. And my husband was so far away...

But I had this shiny laptop. It was lovely and new and I was supposed to write my stories about caring for other people's children. I had envisioned typing at Starbucks or a diner and spreading my notes out the way the cool kids do and clicking away on my tiny keyboard.  But pregnancy made it hard to leave the house. By 16 weeks I couldn't work much any more, my uterus spent so much time contracting. So much for taking ballet classes up until the moment I went into labor--I had assumed this would be my trajectory.  So much for working and earning a living -- I couldn't lift a child much less push a stroller.

So I sat up in bed and typed on the laptop that I had hoped strangers would admire in the local coffee shop. I had wanted witnesses to my being writerly. Instead I had to type whatever I could in solitude and then close the computer and lie in bed watching Judging Amy reruns.

Still, I wrote a fair amount.

I wrote about the families I adored and I wrote about the social problems in the families I had great difficulty respecting or understanding. I wrote about the interior moment-to moment world of being a nanny and I wrote about the children I had loved and those I had found baffling. I wrote about the potential psychopaths and the neighborhoods one was most likely to find them raised in.

I loved a family on the Upper West Side. I was their nighttime babysitter and their wonderful nanny used to pass the children to me at 6 pm on the nights that the parents were going out. The little girl and her brother were imps defined. Their father was Irish, as in real Irish accent Irish and their mother worked in something corporate but was also a painter. On one of my last nights working I lay in bed next to the little girl, whom I'll call "Mary." I was trying to soothe her to sleep -- she was the night owl type. And I felt a kick in my belly. It was an early kick but still quite clear. I told her that the baby had kicked. She asked me if I was having a girl or a boy. Her mother was nearing the end of a third pregnancy and the gender of that child was to remain unknown until his birth. I told Mary I was finding out the next day. She told me she hoped I was having a girl. I told her I was hoping that too.

The next day the technician looked over the heart and the kidneys and the various measurements and said in her thick Russian accent, "You don't want to know, do you, the sex?" Yes, we did! She looked at the screen again and said, "Oh yes, I see. Okay." I thought she must have seen a penis. I thought about all the boys I had loved and cared for over the years. "You see here? It's a girl."

Even after I couldn't work, Mary's mother treated me as a friend. When I was about 20 weeks I made it up the small hill to her apartment building and drank some water to try to slow the contractions. She had a big bag of maternity clothes for me. She had just had her third and final child, whom I had cared for at ten days old, and she was ready to part with the clothes. We went through the piles and she told me to take anything I might want because I could always pass it on if it didn't end up working for me.

I remember sorting the clothes. Tennis sweaters and spring coats and knit dresses and even a bridesmaid dress specially made for my client at nine months pregnant! My employer was passing the baton on this gray mid-June morning. Her six week old lay gurgling next to us and if you tickled his cheek you elicited that early lopsided grin. His arms waved wildly and he cooed. He was a baby. I had a fetus but if all went well she would grin one day too. The clothes felt more real than the baby. Pregnancy and motherhood have nothing at all to do with each other. I loved the clothes. I was amazed that I would fit into them, that my body would truly grow that much in the next 20 weeks.

My Irish family was moving to the west coast at the summer's end. I was familiar with the feeling. All New York City families seem to move once they have two children. Sometimes they last until the third is born. I had long known the clock was ticking and that this was their eventual plan. But the sting is still sharp when a beloved family leaves, leaving the nanny behind. Even though I was not a nanny anymore. I was an unemployed woman with a complicated pregnancy. I was a future mother and I had a husband and I was an actor and a dancer. Still, when a family leaves, a nanny feels unmoored.

This sunny apartment at the north end of the Upper West Side had always vibrated with the energy of a temporary residence: a perching place that a young and prosperous family would flop in for a while but never settle in permanently. it was homey and lived in -- they were the sort of people who had no worries about their coffee table being scratched by cars and games or their couches being wrestled on or being filled with Cheerios. It was also colorful and fully decorated. I had wandered in that apartment for two years, pondered the clues every family home offers: photos, choices of artwork, paint colors on the walls and book collections. I had put two children to bed in this apartment for two and half years. We had trudged the length of the hall from the renovated kitchen (it was an owned, not rented space!) to the kids' bedrooms, where we ate crackers and they drank water from sippy cups and we read A.A. Milne and Dr. Seuss and then scoured the shelves for more because Mary was never ready to sleep.

But I always heard the clock faintly ticking. Perhaps what I was hearing was my own clock: I did not want to be a nanny forever, it was meant to be a cash job in between acting gigs and somehow a decade had gone by. It is an old story for performers, especially in NYC, where the cost of living is prohibitive. There were a few small black and white photos of the Golden Gate Bridge on the wall in the living room. They had family there and California is more spacious than Manhattan, to be sure. When the kids are bigger... this is an oft-repeated phrase among one's adopted families. It was like the sounding of a bell whose ring intensified instead of dissipated with time. That bell's jangle signaled the coming tidal wave that would carry all my families out of the city, one by one.

Manhattan was a way-station: a train platform to wait on between their gay twenties and the wide-lawned, sprinklers-at-dusk and parties-on-the-4th-of July permanence and solidity of the suburbs. (In my imagination, the suburbs to which people move are always a meeting of Barry Levinson's Avalon and Richard Yates's Revolutionary Road, without the traumas and melancholy and with an extra dose of children staying at the neighbors for dinner and rocking on porch swings in the summer and fall.)

Every time I lost a family, I felt the ground shifting beneath my city-slicker feet. I lost the certainty that a "real" life could be built in the dense metropolis; I wondered if such a life was a dream based on unrealistic hopes of creative and financial success.

A sense of the finite pervaded my last year with the family.  I was a static foil in a dynamic environment. I lacked momentum. The apartment also awaited abandonment. How odd it now seemed to admire the granite countertops and the black and white tiles in the sunny bathroom with the claw-foot tub and the study off the kitchen which was carpeted and housed a whole counter of desk space and a window looking into a European-feeling alley across which other families could be seen making dinner. This apartment was no longer the prom queen. Its moment had passed and it would soon be replaced by a proper homestead in a leafy glade.

I, too, would be replaced, but this didn't bother me. I never felt territorial despite my fierce familial affections for these certain families whose offspring I had bathed and sang to and picked up from school. When I was with them, that was our time and once out of my sight they existed primarily as symbols. Their impending flight more than the resulting absence was what loomed.

And then just before spring, I was pregnant. As Annette's belly grew improbably large I began my journey into nausea and dizziness. I envied her being nearly finished with pregnancy as I endured fairly common first trimester events: bleeding, fainting, sleeplessness and depression. By June I was in my second trimester and I was sorting those well-worn but new-to-me clothes. I held a polka dot jacket I had seen Annette wear over her growing belly one date night a few months earlier. I had admired it and now it was mine for a time.

I watched Annette's newborn third child for a few hours one night in May. Annette said: "What do you think of him? You realize this is going to be you, right?" I did realize it. For some women the baby is an abstraction: pregnancy is fairly easy and they are preoccupied with their work and at some point tidying the nest and looking at layettes and some even feel the baby is coming too soon, they haven't had enough time to prepare! With my ever-contracting abdomen and uterus, with my relentless second and third trimester nausea, I had to focus on the baby part right away. I couldn't wait for eviction day! Also, because I was a nanny, babies and children were already my daily life, they were not an abstraction. If anything was surreal it was that for the first time I would be the baby's first choice of arms, of comfort, of solace.  I was not to be the baby's nanny, but her mother.

Annette drove the sacks of clothes to our apartment the next day, my birthday. Her belly seemed to have all but disappeared. Her hair was as blond and freshly cut as ever and somehow her post-birth glamour infused me with hope. (Alas, it was not to be for me. My body took many more months to break down the tissues and structures of pregnancy.) But on my birthday, my husband took me to lunch and the movies. I peed 12 times in an hour and a half. The movie was about a road trip. I am not sure I saw any of the actors' stops along the way, but I became very well acquainted with the bathroom tiles at Lincoln Plaza Cinema on 63rd Street.

My Irish family departed in July. I went down to meet them at a hotel on Amsterdam where they were spending their final night in Manhattan, after their apartment had been packed up and their belongings shipped west. Mary and her little brother were playing as I entered the Hotel Lucerne and Mary patted my stiff belly and asked if there was still a baby in there.

And then they were off. And so was I. Their family had a new adventure calling, and I was about to begin the adventure of having one. A family, that is.

And here you have it. One of my entries on that shiny laptop. I called them Nanny Notes.


And here is a post about the relationship between nannies and their employers and why it often goes wrong:

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