Friday, August 8, 2008 - Guest Column by Abbey
Several years ago I decided to quit my job working in HR and go back to school for my Masters in Education. I'd been a live-in nanny during college, and I knew I could find a childcare job that would give me the flexibility I needed, so I started a job search. I registered with a few agencies, including one I'd worked with on my previous search. They set me up immediately with an interview for what sounded like the perfect family.
They lived on the UES in a beautiful penthouse apartment. I met with the mother on my first interview and everything went smoothly. There were three children ages 8, 11 and 13. My day with them would begin around noon while they were in school. I'd come in to get their rooms together, run errands, etc. Then I'd pick the kids up, help with homework, after-school activities and getting ready for bed. My day would end around 8pm. That sounded great to me as I'd have all morning for myself and my classes. The pay was 1K/week which was exactly what I was looking for. I think after that first interview I believed I'd found my dream job.
We decided to do a little "test run" the following weekend. They were going to head out to their house in Bedford for the weekend and I agreed to join them. That Saturday morning I showed up at 8am to find the beautiful penthouse apartment in shambles. Each child had something that he or she couldn't find but desperately needed for the trip. The housekeeper was going from room to room, rifling through drawers, pulling things out, muttering to herself and then moving on to the next screaming child. The mother hid until the housekeeper and myself (although I had no idea where anything was kept) sorted the children out and then she and the father emerged to load up the cars.
The ride took maybe an hour and a half but it seemed like a lifetime. I rode with the father and the two sons. He spent most of the drive alternately belittling and yelling at them. When we arrived at the house this carried on. The mother yelled at the father, the father yelled at the groundskeeper (memorably: "This is a 3 million dollar estate! Why can't I get anything to work correctly! 3 million dollars!!). The children yelled at everyone, including me, whom they'd know for only about 4 hours. And through it all the housekeeper wandered around the kitchen muttering obscenities about everyone under her breath (but not all that quietly).
The kids, when they weren't angry or yelling, were actually nice, and we had a good game of soccer out on the lawn. My overwhelming feeling was of being an expensive toy. I didn't think I was going to be able to discipline these kids, and it didn't seem that the parents were interested in that either. But, when kids are just playing it's hard not to have a good time with them, even if you can see they have great brat potential.
The final straw for me came at dinner time. The housekeeper prepared and served dinner in the dining room for the family, who always dined formally when in Bedford or Manhattan. They sat down to eat and I was left out on the lawn picking up balls. Neither mother nor father ever thought about the fact that I, too, might be interested in eating dinner. In my past jobs I had always eaten with the family, or at least been given that option. It would not have disturbed me at all had the mother said, "We're going to have a family dinner in the dining room, but please help yourself and take dinner to your room or eat in the kitchen." But that was too much to be bothered with. When it dawned on me what had happened I was incensed, but also kind of relieved, because it made it much easier to do what I'd been thinking practically since the moment I arrived that morning.
I helped with the children's baths and getting them into bed and then I asked the mother if i could speak with her privately. To this day I remember exactly what I said to her, "I've had a nice time today and you have a lovely family, but I don't think we're a good fit. Is there a train station nearby?" She took on a very pursed-lip look, but to her credit, she never really batted an eyelash. She said of course, took me there herself and wished me well. It made me feel a little guilty for not sticking it out until the next afternoon, but I was so absolutely relieved to be going home, that guilt quickly evaporated.