Ask almost any New York City mom if she trusts her kids’ nanny, and odds are she will say yes. Categorically, yes. This was true before an Upper West Side nanny allegedly murdered two of her charges last week—and it’s true today.
Now ask these same moms how much they know about their nannies—their love lives, their financial histories, what they do over the weekend—and the answer might seem surprising: some of us know very little.
In an informal survey of moms I know, several didn’t know their nannies’ home addresses. Most were unfamiliar with their nannies’ financial lives (with the exception of one friend who set up a 401(k) for her nanny).
A few had detailed information about health problems—some provided their nannies with health insurance—but most weren’t aware of past or present illnesses.
Emergency contact numbers? Some yes; others, no.
Boyfriends or husbands? Names, but not always numbers.
Criminal background check or hidden camera? No. Across the board, no.
I asked if anyone had ever returned to the house unexpectedly just to check up. No one had.
And finally, I wanted to know how often they talk to their nannies about their personal lives. The answers ranged from “periodically” to “sometimes” to “all the time.” Some didn’t want to pry, others were stymied by language barriers.
To be clear, all of these moms are great moms. And a background check or hidden camera would probably not have prevented Yoselyn Ortega from allegedly killing the two kids to whom friends and neighbors said she was “devoted.” What might have motivated Ortega is still a mystery. Friends have said she’d had a rough year, losing her apartment, hitting financial problems, and behaving unlike the happy, friendly woman they’d always known. It’s unclear whether Ortega discussed any of this with her employers, Kevin and Marina Krim, or whether she had sought help.
Early reports suggest the Krims might have known Ortega better than most families know their caregivers. They had traveled to the Dominican Republic with her, and spent time with Ortega’s own family. And they clearly trusted her. This had to be a freak and unpredictable crime. It had to be.
I have never traveled with the woman who watches over my two girls, the woman I have known for more than two years, who has helped raise them, teach them to talk, to sing, to love, and to be loved. When she arrives in the morning, she laughs the minute she sees them, and she is laughing when I come home at the end of the day. She takes credit for the people they are becoming, and she’s right to. She would never hurt my kids—in fact, if anyone else tried to hurt them, I believe she would punch them in the face.
Which is why I trust her completely. Yet in many ways, I barely know her. I know her boyfriend’s first name, but nothing else about him. I don’t have her license plate number, don’t know whether she sees a therapist, if she’s having financial problems, or who I should call in her family in case of emergency. I’m not friends with her on Facebook (I don’t know if she’s even on Facebook), and though I read the tweets of hundreds of strangers, I have never seen hers.
It’s staggering, the difference in the degree to which I trust her and the degree to which I know her. But I’m not sure the news that someone else’s nanny might have done the unspeakable will change any of this. And I’m not sure how well I have to know her to know my children are in good hands. As a friend of mine wrote, when I asked her about her relationship with her kids’ former nanny: “I trusted her completely. I had to. Otherwise, it would have been a nightmare.”