From the moment my first child, a son, had entered our home, my mother had been at my side: helping me, guiding me, teaching me, nagging me, annoying me …
And three years later when my second child, a baby girl, had joined the fold, I was getting help á deux.
“What’s that smell? It’s that Diaper Genie thing. I don’t think the baby is warm enough in that onesie. Here, I bought one with long sleeves. And this Beanie Baby. It’s a worm. And I picked up some Pampers; I noticed yesterday you were low. Pudding was on sale at Key Food. I got Luke the banana and peach. Those are his favorites. I don’t know why you don’t keep them around. Don’t you know he loves them? Where’s the baby? Isn’t it time to pick up Luke at school? You know you should always be on time.” She spewed this mouthful after I opened the door, yet before she even took her coat off.
“Meggie is in her crib. I’m leaving to pick up Luke in a few minutes. And hello to you, too.”
“Well, I’m just saying … ” And saying and saying and saying. Sometimes my helper could be such a hindrance.
“I thought I’d take Luke to the park after I pick him up.”
“What about lunch? Aren’t you gonna give him anything to eat?”
No, I’m going to starve my child.
“Yes, we’ll stop for pizza. If he’s even hungry; the nursery school gives them mid-morning snack.”
“Pizza,” she said in disgust under her breath.
“Yes, pizza. He likes pizza.”
“Fine. I didn’t say anything.”
Yes she did. She said “pizza”.
“Bring a jacket for him. I know it’s warm out, but you never know. If he gets a cold, he’ll give it to the baby and then you’ll have real trouble,” she harangued.
“All right, Ma. All right.” Then I slammed the door behind me. I was The Mommy damn it; yet I was still arguing with this woman the way I had as a teenager.
After school we sped across the Upper East Side of Manhattan toward Central Park, not because there was some rush to get there; I was walking off steam. What I wouldn’t have done for hired help; someone to lend a hand with a shut mouth. Those people with nannies had it made.
We entered the playground off Fifth Avenue and 76thStreet. I released my son into the sea of children and he galloped straight towards some kids he knew in the sandbox. My eye was caught by my friend, Cathy, who was with two other mothers I didn’t know, a redhead and a platinum blonde. My friend signaled me over. As I approached, she put her index finger over her puckered lips. Apparently, I could join them as long as I was seen but not heard.
“I feel like having that bitch deported,” snarled Red Mommy.
“The police couldn’t arrest her or anything?” asked the incredulous Platinum Mommy.
I was dying to know about whom they were griping, but didn’t want to appear nosy. I mean, not only did I not know these women, I hadn’t even been introduced. There was an expansive sigh from Red Mommy, so Cathy took advantage of the pause and said, “Guys, this is my friend, Lorraine.” I smiled at Red and Platinum, who could have given a crap who I was.
“I want to do something,” continued Red. Right about now, I felt like Winona Ryder’s character in Heathers; then Cathy had mercy and clued me in.
“Her nanny lost her son in the park, by the statue of Balto.” My mouth was agape.
Red picked up with, “She claims he wandered away. Did she call a cop? Did she call me? Did she look for him? No. She goes home…to her house—in Brooklyn; then calls me, so I could call the police.”
“How long?” I began, no longer caring if I appeared nosy.
“Six hours,” answered Platinum on behalf of her friend, who couldn’t bear to repeat the number.
“And there’s nothing she can do about it,” added Cathy, “because no malice was involved.” I nodded as though I understood, when I didn’t. Even though my husband is a lawyer, I still can’t quite fathom how the law works sometimes.
“I can’t wait to fire her,” confessed Red Mommy.
She hasn’t fired her yet? Wait. What am I saying? She hasn’t killed her yet?
“How much time did they give you at work?” asked Platinum.
“I have off today and Friday. I’m interviewing all day tomorrow and over the weekend. Whoever she is will have to start Monday.”
“You know, something similar happened to someone I know,” said Cathy. “The nanny left on a Thursday night, gave the key to the doorman, and never came back. No notice or anything. The woman had to take a week off from work. They held it against her.” And so began the caregiver bash-orama.
“Did I ever tell you about my friend’s nanny who used to lock my friend’s daughter in the closet.”
“I know someone who knows someone whose nanny didn’t give her son his medication when she was supposed to …”
“Then there was the au pair who ran off with the husband of this woman I used to work with …”
My head was spinning. My silence noticeable. Platinum asked, “So, where’d you find your nanny?”
Cathy, who no longer had a full time nanny, but frequently called upon the services of a babysitter because she and her husband don’t have family in the city, just looked down at her Gucci loafers. She knew what was coming.
My husband’s family is from Queens. My people are from The Bronx. My mother is with me virtually full time, but if we ever needed back up, one phone call would have my collective gang screech up to my building the way the cops do when they get the alert: officer down.
“I don’t have a nanny. My mother helps me.”
They just stared at me. Long and hard. Then away. Then at each other. Red excused herself, with Platinum in tow. Cathy sighed and said she had to go too. Having a granny, not a nanny, is clearly not only a Manhattan anomaly, but also an effective way to clear a room (and playground).
Later, when we arrived home, Luke raced over to greet his baby sister, who was sleeping and rocking gently in her Graco swing.
“Hi,” I said to my mother.
“Hmmmph,” she said back.
Her gut was busting. She was dying. She could hardly contain herself. But she would not say, “Now, Luke leave the baby alone she’s sleeping,” in an effort to prove that she was not the meddling pain in the ass she knew I believed her to be. So, I said it for her and shock of shocks he listened. My son turned on the television. To add a hint of drama, he sat right in front of the swing, so that when Meg swayed forward, her little big toe barely brushed his back. This ploy was meant to aid and abet the process of waking her up without actually putting his hands on her.
“So,” I began, “was everything all right?”
“What, you think I can’t take care of a baby?”
“I know you can,” I replied with pride in a low voice.
“You better believe it,” she retorted under her breath. I did believe it. After all, she took care of me without the help of a husband; way before being a single mother was considered chic or acceptable. I also believed that she would never leave my child in Central Park near Balto or anywhere else. I believed she would never leave the key with the doorman with no plans of returning. I believed she would never lock my children in a closet, or forget to give them their medicine, or, even if time could turn her back to her younger, more beautiful and sexier days, she would never run off with my husband.
My mother reached for her jacket, “Well, OK then. The dishwasher has been emptied. I called and had them pick up the laundry, that bag was practically bursting at the seams. I changed all the sheets; you know, you really need new ones, those have seen their day. I gave the guest bathroom the once over with the Fantastick and you’re low on paper towels. So, OK goodbye.”
“Why don’t you stay for dinner?”
She finished buttoning her jacket, “No, I have things to do at home.”
Yet, she did not move towards the door. This was the dance we had done for as long as I could recall. I offered her something; she refused; I then had to beg her to take what I was offering; and then, “Well, what are you making?”
“I thought I’d order from Ottomanelli’s. Remember, you said that time that you thought they made good lasagna.”
“Order? I could make a pan and then you and Neil could have it … ”
“Let me order,” I interrupted. “You’ve done a lot today. Let’s just sit and relax; and have someone bring us the meal.”
She unbuttoned her coat. That meant, “Well, OK,” in her secret code. I dialed the restaurant. The baby woke up and Luke proclaimed his innocence. Her grandmother removed my daughter from her swing. My son turned on Sesame Street for his sister and joined them on the sofa for a lively rendition of ‘“C’ is for cookie …”
I might have been The Mommy, but she was the mother of all mothers; and because my children had their granny for their nanny, I was the one who has it made.