By Feature Writer Rebecca Nelson Lubin
In our Nanny profession we usually have very few co-workers, but there is one relationship that more often than not, causes a great deal of stress, that being the relationship between the nanny and the housekeeper. This week I wanted to share my most terrible experience with a truly awful housekeeper, and in return, invite you to write in response with your experiences.
M came to the household where I worked as a Nanny after I had been there a little over two years. The housekeeper she replaced had been just wonderful, a hard working, quiet, polite man in his thirties who left to become an Estate Manager. I met M at her second interview as my boss wanted to get my opinion on her. She was in her mid-fifties, with a broad, solidly built body, and a very thick European accent. She seemed shy and sweet as she told me that she was from Croatia and was considering leaving a long-term job in the South Bay as they had seven children and it was just becoming too much for her.
“Three sets of twins,” she said, rolling her eyes, “they do in-vitro four times. Only one time make one baby.”
M sighed and looked exhausted just talking about it.
She was hired and my boss asked me to assist her with getting used to the neighborhood. I spent the first week driving her around Pacific Heights and showing her the market, the drycleaners and the special butcher my boss liked. As live in housekeeper she would be taking over all the food shopping and errands (she had her own car) and I would be responsible for chaperoning the children around after school to their various activities. That first week she was friendly and chatty as I drove her everywhere in my car, even to places that we did not usually shop, such as the Costco 20 miles away. She loaded the cart with a couple of bulk rolls of toilet paper and then finally found the item she had really come for, a huge bottle of discount Brandy. She loaded six bottles onto the cart.
“This is best brandy.” She said by way of explanation when she caught hold of my startled expression. Obviously, I didn’t think work time was appropriate for stocking up on liquor. But she just staunchly pushed the cart to the little cage where they sold cigarettes and bought two cartons.
“Okay,” she said, now fully stocked up, “we go.”
Her friendliness towards me took a hit when she announced the third week one afternoon at 3pm that she was ready to have me drive her to the market.
“M,” I said, “I have to go and get the girl’s from school right now.”
The expression on her face was not kind. She turned heavily on her heal and stomped away.
The same thing happened the next afternoon. I was getting the girl’s soccer bags and snacks together and M appeared at my side, looking gruff.
“You need to take me to butcher.”
“M,” I said, “I’m leaving right now to get the kids. You can’t drive?”
“The city is scary.”
I totally understand that driving on the hills of San Francisco can be daunting for some, but where they lived it was a straight, flat shot to the market. And besides, she had been driving every weekend to see friends in the South Bay. Her aversion to driving was only limited to working hours.
I had my own driving incident later that evening, driving over the Golden Gate Bridge after I had put the girls to bed. In the middle of the span I got hit with a horrible cramping feeling in my stomach, one that I was all too familiar with, being severely lactose intolerant. I was sweating by the time I made it to Mill Valley.
“M,” I asked her the next day, “is it possible that you put butter in my food last night?”
My boss had specifically told her that I couldn’t eat any dairy when she was hired, and he had stressed that it would make me very ill.
“I put no butter.”
I let it go, but that night too, driving home, I got sick again.
The following night she held out a plate of rice to me and beckoned for me to serve some to myself.
“Uh, M?” I asked hesitantly, “Are you certain that there is no dairy in this?”
She shook the plate at me. “Eat.”
I took a small spoonful.
“Eat!” She said, and heaped more on my plate.
I took a tiny bite. It was delicious.
“What’s in this?” I asked.
“Spices.” She said.
I didn’t even make it to the bridge that night. I was in the bathroom a half hour after eating, in severe pain.
I decided that it might be prudent to make my own dinner from now on, except M was furious when she saw me steaming vegetables in the kitchen before the family dinner. She demanded to know what I was doing. She complained to our boss that I didn’t like her cooking. I told him that I was simply on a diet and trying to eat very healthy. He laughed and told M that her cooking was very rich and that he himself had gained some weight in the almost month that she had been working, and to let me prepare my own dinner if that was what I wanted to do. He left the kitchen and went to call the kids to the table. M glared at me and slammed pots into the sink. I had defied her. As far as she was concerned it was war. Any trace of pleasantries towards me was long gone. When I left that night she stood in the alley between the house and the neighbors, smoking a cigarette and giving me the stink eye. Smoke was wafting up into the children’s open bedroom window.
“Uh, M?” I said, warily, “ I think you might want to smoke somewhere else. The kid’s window is open right above you.”
I don’t understand exactly what she said to me, but it translated, no matter what language it was spoken in.
At Christmas time we were given the joint task of dismantling the Christmas tree while the family was on vacation. She refused to help, but kept walking into the living room to snap and bark at me while I wrapped ornaments in bubble paper. I had to drag the ten-foot tree out to the curb myself. She screamed at me when she saw that there was a trail of dry pine needles and called me a bitch for messing up her living room. I vacuumed it up and left, refusing to engage with her.
In January, she got worse. She yelled and kicked at the dog. She berated Sierra, six, for getting her white socks dirty.
“Yooooooooou need to have white socks so my hands get dry with bleach!” she said, and Sierra looked confused, but asked sweetly,
“M? Are you pissed at me again?”
I took her aside and asked where she had learned the word “pissed.”
“From M,” she said, “she’s always saying that I make her all pissed.”
I went to my boss and explained that M was increasingly hard to get along with and that I wanted his assistance in smoothing out some troubling workplace dynamics. He did what most overworked, overtired employers do.
He said, “Work it out yourselves.”
Of course M showed him a totally different side of herself. She could be kicking the dog and slamming plates and yelling at me and as soon as the front door opened and our boss would stroll in she would put on a huge smile and warmly welcome him home. He had no idea what she was really like. He did not smell the brandy on her breath because she did not lean into his face and scream until she was spitting. She stood at the back of his chair at a respectful distance at the dinner table and asked almost demurely, “Do you like your chicken tonight?”
When I gave notice to move to a job that was more hours, M seemed remorseful. She took me aside to apologize.
“I was bitch at Christmas.” She said, “and I put butter in all your food because the children liked you better.”
I told her to try not to smoke directly under the girl’s window.
Three months after I left, she gave notice and moved back to the family in the South Bay with all the twins. I think about her sometimes, and I wonder if she still works as a housekeeper, and if somewhere out there, she is busy terrorizing some other Nanny.
Rebecca Nelson Lubin is a writer and Nanny who resides in the San Francisco Bay Area. You may read more of her articles at http://www.abandofwives.ning.com/