02.12.09

God Bless My Nannies

If I had to do it all by myself, I’d go completely postal. My six children have four mothers—and one of them’s a man.

"Six kids? And you work? How do you do it?”

"Well, my oldest is away at college, so there's only five left at home" is how I usually deflect the astonishment from people I meet on the street. "And I have help."

This is where the problem lies. Perhaps it is because hating rich people has become the latest American pastime. Or perhaps it is the tendency of women to judge other women harshly, but people love to hate the fact that I have nannies to help me with my kids. I could pretend to be some sort of self-aggrandized uber-mom who does it all, but the truth is I couldn't possibly get all my kids to places they need to be, well-fed, relatively clean, with homework completed all by myself without going completely postal. I have great respect for my nannies and I know that job they do is very hard, primarily because I do it, too.

Nicole is 6 feet tall and weighs 200 pounds, most of it pure muscle. The word “enforcement” best describes her nanny style.

I once did an interview for Parents.com where I spoke about how I juggle work and family. I spoke of the two "girls" that help me with my children. In the South, where I come from, "girl" is a term of endearment. Jezebel.com, a women's website that is part of the Gawker group, linked to the article with a small blurb about how disrespectful it was of me to refer to professional child-care workers as "girls." The hate spewed from keyboards all across America.

SuperSally: "If you can't take care of your kids without almost round the clock help from multiple individuals then WTF? Either you had too many damn kids and didn't bother to think about it as you were popping them out or you are incompetent."

Experiencing the pain of childbirth does not make me love my children any more, that's why God invented epidurals. Similarly, changing every diaper, cooking every meal, and doing every pickup and dropoff does not make me love them more either. Choosing not to do so hardly makes me incompetent.

And then there was this type:

Pureblarney: "I cry inside every time I wait for the subway next to a child and his nanny. I will be raising my kids, thankyouverymuch, even if I have to pull teeth to keep any semblance of a career in tow."

Awww. You've got to love an idealist willing to perform dental procedures to be with her kids. But would she rather see a totally stressed-out mom pushed to brink of frustration? A dicey thing while standing on the edge of a subway platform.

Now I hardly sit back and watch from the sidelines as someone else raises my brood. Kids in New York need planned activities, they don't just run out to the backyard or meet up with the neighborhood gang for a game of Kick the Can. There are music lessons and sports, pediatrician and orthodontist appointments, and inevitably they are at different ends of Manhattan at the same time. It's a complex matrix of times and places and it requires a team effort to make it happen.

In the interview, I mentioned how much my kids love our nanny Alicia. As an example, I said I have heard them cry out for her in the middle of the night, and this vilified me to the commenting women. Alicia comes in the morning to help get the boys out of the door on time. Dependable and steady, she acts as the captain of the team and calls all the plays by telling us all where we need to be on any given day.

"Don't forget to pick up Truman after your meeting because Nicole will be with Pierson at reading. I'll take Larson to speech and meet you back here at 4:30."

Roger that. She expertly handles as many as ten speech and language sessions a week for my son with a learning disability, and I can count on one hand the work days she has missed in the 13 years she has been with our family. How wonderful that my children love this woman who has cared for them lovingly since they were babies. And if she felt so disrespected by being referred to as "girl," would she be here after so many years?

And then there is Nicole. Nicole is 6 feet tall and weighs 200 pounds, most of it pure muscle. She has a new hairstyle every week involving hair that is not hers. I usually introduce her as my bodyguard. The word "enforcement" best describes her nanny style. She comes in the afternoons to help get the boys picked up from school and dispersed to their various after-school locations, and stays until we can manage to get them all in bed. At 6, she lines up all the boys and makes them eat. At 7, she lines them up and makes them bathe. At 8, brush teeth, 9, bedtime. She rules with an iron fist and a gold grille.

We also have a manny named Blake. He comes to help with the boys on the weekends and his job is to run them ragged. He takes them to man movies I don't want to see, he takes them for sword fights in the park or sledding in the snow. He taught them how to make a device that shoots potatoes using PVC pipe, a can of hairspray and a Bic lighter; all the things boys should be doing in their spare time.

I feel that giving credit where credit is due is the better solution. Being raised by nannies doesn't seem to have adversely affected my kids at all. In fact, all their therapists say they are very well adjusted.

Laura Bennett was trained as an architect but has since established her career as a fashion designer by becoming a finalist on the Bravo TV series Project Runway . Bennett lives amid complete chaos in New York City with her husband and six children, Cleo, 20, Peik, 13, Truman, 10, Pierson, 6, Larson, 5, and Finn, 2.