The Nanny Diaries: A Novel
The Nanny Diaries: A Novel
The Nanny Diaries: A NovelINTRODUCTION
NICOLA KRAUS EMMA McLAUGHLIN
The Nanny Diaries: A Novel (2002) is a humorous but revealing novel by two former nannies, Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus. Drawing on their many experiences as childcare providers while in college in New York City, the pair created a work of fiction based on actual events they experienced or heard about. The result is a comical yet poignant peek into a world of privilege, giving a modern illustration of the timeless truth that money does not buy happiness.
The novel focuses on a college student and part-time nanny, called Nanny or Nan, who is hired by the X family to care for their four-year-old son, Grayer. She soon becomes Grayer's surrogate mother as his parents neglect their son to focus on more pressing issues, such as extramarital affairs and fostering social status. Though Mrs. X becomes increasingly demanding of Nan's time, focus, and energy, Nan stays with the family for Grayer's sake, until she is fired during a family vacation to Nantucket.
The Nanny Diaries was a hit, spending more than thirty weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. The novel eventually sold more than two million copies and was translated into at least thirteen languages. Critics and readers alike praised the novel for its comic touches, especially those related to the materialistic and pretentious X family. Readers were allowed a close-up glimpse of the lives of the Park Avenue rich, warts and all. Many former nannies confirmed The Nanny Diaries's reflection of many of the realities of nannying in the United States, including the issues of worker exploitation, treatment of nannies from foreign countries, and dysfunctional rich families.
The novel prompted speculation about the true identity of Mr. and Mrs. X (though the authors insisted that they are not based on any one couple that they worked for), as well as discussion about the nature of the relationship between parents and nannies. Referring to the latter, Kraus told Melissa Biggs Bradley of Town & Country, "Our intent was a literary journey. We wanted to give people a great laugh and a good cry. But we are thrilled that the book is inspiring so much discussion about a topic we believe there was far too much silence on."
Emma McLaughlin was born in 1973 and Nicola Kraus was born in 1974. McLaughlin was born in Elmira, New York, and raised in Rochester, New York, where her father was a philosophy professor and her mother owned a landscape design company. She attended Connecticut College before transferring to New York University (NYU). Kraus was raised on Park Avenue in New York City's Upper East Side. Her parents owned a bookstore, Ursus Books and Prints, which specialized in art and rare books. Like Nanny in the The Nanny Diaries: A Novel, Kraus attended Chapin, an exclusive prep school in New York City, as well as Brown University before transferring to NYU.
McLaughlin and Kraus met while they were both seniors at NYU. They realized they shared the experience of working as part-time nannies and had many funny stories about it. Before both women graduated from NYU, McLaughlin and Kraus worked as nannies for about thirty wealthy families over a combined eight years (four years for each woman), sometimes working for two families at one time. After graduation, Kraus continued to work as a nanny while trying to launch an acting career. McLaughlin worked as a business consultant for educational nonprofits while working on her master's degree at Columbia.
In 1999, McLaughlin came up with the idea to write a book based on their experiences as nannies, and the pair began working on a manuscript in 2000. One source of inspiration was a common complaint they heard from parents who claimed it was hard to find quality nannies to take care of their children. The pair wrote much of the text of what became The Nanny Diaries via e-mail while working at their other jobs. The women signed a deal with St. Martin's Press and obtained a $25,000 advance to finish their partially completed manuscript.
With the success of The Nanny Diaries in 2002, both quit their other jobs to become full-time writers and continue collaborating. McLaughlin and Kraus soon signed a deal with Random House to produce two more novels together. Difficulties soon arose when the publisher rejected the manuscript for their next novel. Random House ultimately canceled the contract after more trouble emerged between the authors and the publisher.
The pair's next novel, Citizen Girl (2004), was ultimately published by Atria Books. Though Citizen Girl sold relatively well, the novel did not have as many positive reviews nor was it as much of a literary sensation as The Nanny Diaries. Citizen Girl is another social satire about life in New York City, focusing on the workplace exploits of an idealistic recent college graduate, Girl. She tries to maintain her feminist ideals by finding work at a nonprofit women's organization, but ends up working in a soul-crushing job in corporate America.
As of 2006, McLaughlin and Kraus still live in New York City, do some public speaking, and continue to work together as authors on novels, short stories, and screenplays.
Prologue: The Interview
At the beginning of The Nanny Diaries, Nanny (also called Nan) describes the interview process she goes through each time she applies for a nanny position in New York City. Nan notes that each mother's figure, hair, and clothing look the same. Each home is also strikingly similar. Nan exposits, "This is my first impression of the Apartment and it strikes me like a hotel suite—immaculate, but impersonal."
During the interview, Nan and the mother talk about why Nan is there, with the implication that she is a nanny for fun, not as a job. Nan presents herself the way the mother wants to see her: as a non-threatening, child-rearing savant. Next, the mother shows Nan around in a tour that emphasizes the importance of keeping the child from disturbing anything in the home. While the kitchen is huge and stocked with healthful child-friendly food, the mother neither cooks nor eats there. There is always a long list of rules about the child's diet.
Nan then meets the child, whose room is often in the farthest corner of the apartment. As the mother nears the child's room, the child gets excited and tries to hug her, but the mother nimbly avoids the embrace, causing the child's hands to clap together around nothing in front of his or her face. Nan calls this move the "Spatula Reflex," something she sees often as a nanny. Then, as the mother watches, Nan plays enthusiastically with the child. Finally, Nan and the mother talk about the mother's life, while Nan shares information about herself. At the end, Nan realizes that living up to the mother's expectations—becoming the perfect stand-in mother—is what inevitably causes her to lose the jobs.
Part 1: Fall
Chapter 1: Nanny For Sale
Nan is at the Parents League posting a notice that she is available as a part-time nanny. On her card, she emphasizes the things that separate her from the competition: She is a graduate of the private Chapin School and is a student at New York University studying child development. Nan then goes to Central Park where she watches children play. A wooden hoop hits her leg, and its owner, a four-year old boy, comes to retrieve it. The boy is having his portrait taken with his mother and father, while his nanny stands nearby. When the mother, Mrs. X, learns that Nan is looking for work, she asks for her contact information.
After a visit to her grandmother, Nan returns to her studio apartment, which she shares with her cat, George, and her stewardess roommate, Charlene. She has many messages from mothers looking for nannies, including one from Mrs. X. The next Monday, Nan meets Mrs. X at a restaurant to talk about the position. There, Mrs. X bumps into a friend going through a difficult divorce, who tells her, "the judge had the nerve to tell me to back to work! He has no idea what it means to be a mom." Nan endears herself to Mrs. X by complimenting her on her designer shoes. The pair then go to her son's school, where Nan meets Grayer and has lunch with him at a nearby playground. Grayer is wary, but Nan works to make him feel at ease.
The next day, Nan meets Caitlin, Grayer's current nanny, outside of the child's school, as Mrs. X has arranged. The three go to the park. As Caitlin and Nanny talk, they realize that Nan is being hired to replace Caitlin. Though Grayer is rude to Nan, Caitlin has a great relationship with him and tries to ease the transition. Several days later, Nan is working as Grayer's nanny. Grayer continues to act out. When Mrs. X shows up, she tells Nan that Caitlin is gone and Nan is now Grayer's lone nanny.
Nanny's father, a veteran teacher, gives her advice on how to convince Grayer that he will have fun with her if he respects her limits. When Nan meets Grayer at school the next Monday, the boy is still hostile. She tells him that it is acceptable to feel bad that Caitlin is gone, but that being mean to her is hurtful and Caitlin would not like that he is hurting someone else. Nan concludes that they should just have fun together, which they do on the way home.
Chapter 2: Multitasking
Through a note, Mrs. X tells Nan to take Grayer on a play date with Alex after school. Mrs. X tells her that she is throwing a party for Mr. X's company and will need Nan to run a few related errands to help. While Nan is confused about which of the seven Alexes in Grayson's class they are meeting, a nanny named Murnel introduces herself and her charge, Alex. Alex's home is in chaos as his divorcing parents are in a bitter struggle. Alex mimics his parents' selfishness and is an unpleasant playmate.
Responding to a note left by Mrs. X, Nanny tries to complete several tasks for the party, including purchasing items for gift bags. Because the unavailable Mrs. X does not say how many of each item is needed, Nan calls Mr. X, who is rude to her. She goes shopping and decides to buy twelve of each item. Nan's actions result in another note, telling her not to call Mr. X but his assistant, and providing additional shopping-related instructions. Mrs. X soon buys Nan a cell phone so she can more readily direct Nan's party-preparation efforts.
Nan gets more and more calls as she does not buy exactly what Mrs. X wants. Mrs. X makes increasing demands of Nan, whose mother encourages her to resist being taken advantage of, asking, "Is she paying you more for this extra service?" The day before the party, Nan is making dinner for Grayer, when a woman from the Chicago office of Mr. X's company comes by to draw up the seating arrangements for the party. She suggests that Nan feed Grayer a peanut butter and jelly sandwich instead of the Coquilles St. Jacques that Mrs. X had prescribed for him, and to not worry so much about making tiny details perfect, as Mrs. X expects.
Exhausted after staying late with Grayer the night of the party, Nan goes to a bar to have a drink. There, she discovers that Mrs. X has paid her much more than she expected for the week's work. She is getting annoyed as the bar's preppy, boorish clientele make it hard for her to relax, when she sees someone she recognizes. It is an attractive Harvard student, dubbed Harvard Hottie or H. H., who lives in the Xes' building and whom she met earlier. He is with high school friends, who ask rude questions once they learn that she is a nanny. Nan scolds them, but she is more perturbed by the fact that H. H. does not defend her.
Mrs. X writes Nan a note thanking her for her help with the party, which was a success. She says she is tired of the designer shoes that Nan complimented during their interview at the restaurant and asks if Nan would like them. She also asks her to call the party's caterers to ask about a picture frame that went missing during the party.
Chapter 3: Night of the Banking Dead
Returning with Grayer to the apartment one day, Nan learns that she is going to Mr. X's office Halloween party with the family. Nan and Grayer will both be wearing Teletubby costumes, much to Nan's dismay. Mr. and Mrs. X have matching custom-made costumes that cost more than four thousand dollars, but he arrives too late to change clothes. Nan runs into the Harvard Hottie leaving the building, and he apologizes for the other night and convinces her to meet him later. At the party, Nan watches her charge at the children's activity area, and Mrs. X commiserates with another mother about nannies who demand too much and do too little.
Grayer soon needs to go to the bathroom. The line for the public bathroom is long, so Grayer leads Nan to his father's office, which has its own bathroom. He opens the door to find his father alone with the woman from Chicago who had done the seating arrangements for the party. This woman, dubbed Ms. Chicago, is wearing a skimpy costume. A little drunk from the party, Nan changes clothes and looks for H. H. at the places he said he would be, but she does not find him.
Part Two: Winter
Chapter 4: Holiday Cheer at $10 an Hour
At Christmastime, Nan returns to the apartment with Grayer after accompanying him to his school's "Family Christmas Party," which Mrs. X could not attend because she had so much shopping to do. Grayer carefully carries the ornament he has made, a snowman he calls Al. Because the family Christmas tree is already up, Grayer puts his new creation on the tree. Mrs. X tells them to get the rest of their ornaments in the basement storage unit. Grayer is upset when they return because Julio, a professional Christmas tree decorator, is putting the decorations up, and he wants neither Grayer's help nor his ornament on the tree.
Mrs. X dismisses Nan's suggestion that Grayer get his own small tree, so Nan takes him to her grandmother's house. Grayer gets to hang Al on a tree that Grandma bought just for him. Grandma also introduces Grayer to the concept of wassailing: "All you do is knock on someone's door, someone you want to share the joy of Christmas with, and when they open it you sing your heart out."
Apparently through some conniving on Ms. Chicago's part, Mrs. X, Nan, and Grayer show up at Mr. X's office for the Christmas party on the wrong day. Mrs. X and Ms. Chicago meet for the first time, and the encounter makes observers anxious. The next day, Grayer wants to wassail. Hoping to get a date, Nan takes Grayer to wassail at H. H.'s apartment. He is duly charmed. She later runs into H. H. on her way home from work one night, and they eat ice cream on the steps of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where he kisses her.
After spending time carefully choosing gifts for Mrs. X and Grayer, Nan helps both of the Xes with various gifts. Nan expects to receive a bonus from Mrs. X. Instead she receives only earmuffs, a present that insults her.
Chapter 5: Downtime
As the X family is on vacation over the holidays, Nan spends time with her family. At her grandmother's New Year's Eve party, Nan complains about the situation in the X home, a subject her family and friends are tired of hearing about. Her mother thinks Nan should confront Mrs. X, but Nan does not see confrontation as an option. After the party, she is thrilled to have a message from H. H., who is with his family in Africa, wishing her a happy new year.
The next morning, New Year's Day, Nan gets repeated calls from Mrs. X. Because Mr. X is cutting his vacation short for work, Mrs. X wants to return home and for Nan to come back to work early. Nan lies and says she is going to Paris and cannot start for two more weeks. Mrs. X asks her to go to the family apartment and fill the humidifiers the next day. She finds Ms. Chicago setting for up an intimate dinner with Mr. X. at the Xes' home. Ms. Chicago tries to get Nan to run an errand for her, but Nan refuses. Ms. Chicago threatens to leave behind a pair of panties to let Mrs. X know another woman had been there.
Nan feels bad about the situation, so she enlists her friends to search the Xes' apartment for the panties. They do not find them. Nan soon returns to work, while Mrs. X spends a week at a spa. Nan has been spending the night in the guest room since her return because Grayer has been sick with an ear infection and a bad cough, and his father is nowhere to be found. Worried about his illness late one night, she calls her mother for advice. He has the croup, and Nan's mother gives her advice on how to help him. His condition improves the next day, when Mrs. X returns.
Chapter 6: Love, Park Avenue Style
On the day before Valentine's Day, Nan is working on a paper for school when H. H. calls. Their relationship has been developing by phone calls since he has returned to school in Boston. Their conversation is repeatedly interrupted by calls from Mrs. X, who wants Nan to make an impossible dinner reservation at an exclusive restaurant for Mr. and Mrs. X on Valentine's Day. Although her mother and grandmother tell Nan that her job is becoming unacceptable, her grandmother helps her get a reservation.
On Valentine's Day, Nan is deeply moved by a special valentine Grayer has made for her. She takes him on a special outing. Later, at the Xes' apartment, Nan helps Mrs. X pick out what she will wear for her date with her husband. While Nan feeds and plays with Grayer, Mrs. X waits for Mr. X, who is quite late. He eventually calls and lies that his plane is snowed in in Chicago. When Nan leaves for the night, she hears Mrs. X crying.
Chapter 7: We Regret to Inform You
A month later, Nan waits for Grayer at his nursery school, but he never emerges. However, another boy, Darwin, and his nanny, Sima, approach Nan because Darwin has a play date scheduled with Grayer. Nan leads them to the Xes' apartment, where Grayer is still in his pajamas. He has been cared for by the housekeeper, Connie, for several days. Mr. X has not been home since Valentine's Day, and he missed a family vacation, though Mrs. X pretends to Nan that everything is fine with Mr. X. Mrs. X asks Nan to start coming in the morning to get Grayer ready for school. Nan and Sima take the boys to play at Play Space. Sima reveals that she was an engineer in El Salvador, but that she has worked for a nanny in New York for two years while her husband has cared for their children back home.
For the next week, Nan gets to the Xes' apartment in the morning to get Grayer ready and take him to school. She does not see Mrs. X until one afternoon when she has to take Grayer home to change before a lesson. Mrs. X informs Nan in grave tones that Grayer was not accepted to Collegiate, the elementary school his parents hoped he would attend. Because Grayer has been attached to a Collegiate sweatshirt for several months, his mother hires a consultant to help the family deal with how Grayer will react to this potential blow to his self-esteem.
In an interview for a job as a teacher starting the next fall, Nan experiences the other end of the spectrum in approaches to child rearing. Giving a mock lesson at Communities Against Conflict, the adults behave like unruly children and insist on everyone expressing every feeling. They tell her that they are not hiring white women right now.
A few days later, Mr. X returns to the apartment, in a meeting Nanny arranged with his assistant, to tell Grayer about his not being accepted at Collegiate and to inform him that he will attend St. Bernard's. Grayer is thrilled to see his dad and wants to play with him. Mr. and Mrs. X get into a fight after it becomes clear that Grayer does not really care about the schools and his sweatshirt, and that Mrs. X used the situation to get Mr. X home. Mr. X storms out of the house, leaving Grayer crying and Mrs. X seething.
Part Three: Spring
Chapter 8: Frosting on the Cake
While Nan is dressing Grayer for a tea at his new school, Mrs. X is having Connie pack up Mr. X's clothes. Mrs. X yells at Connie because Mrs. X cannot find one of Grayer's bowties. Mrs. X fires Connie on the spot. After Mrs. X and Grayer leave, Nan learns that Connie worked for Mr. X before he married Mrs. X and hears about Grayer's previous caretakers, all of whom were fired by Mrs. X. Connie calls Mrs. X "pure evil." Nan learns that Connie also had found Ms. Chicago's panties and hidden them.
On another day, Nan takes Grayer to another problematic play date. Playing with Carter gets out of hand when Carter's mother, an intoxicated former beauty queen, takes charge and makes mayhem. The boys have a great time, but Carter's nanny, dismayed, treats his mother like a naughty child. Returning to the Xes' home, Nan and Grayer meet Maria, the new maid. Nan runs into H. H. in the elevator as she is leaving for the day, goes with him to his apartment, and spends the night. From H. H., she learns that Mrs. X was Mr. X's mistress when he was married to his first wife.
The next day with Grayer is trying as the boy is tired. Nan is also stressed because she has a night class that starts soon and Mrs. X is late. Mrs. X arrives five minutes before the class starts, and Nan rushes to leave. In the mail a few days later, Nan receives a letter from Mrs. X about Nan's lack of attention to certain details from that night. Nan also receives a note with hundreds of dollars in cash from Ms. Chicago, asking Nan to stock certain foods at the Xes' home.
Chapter 9: Oh … My … God
With her friends, Nan shares her distress over what she should do. Her friends think she should quit her job, but Nan does not want to abandon Grayer. They decide that Nan should send the money back to Ms. Chicago, and she plans to do so after turning in her senior thesis.
She spends a long, stressful weekend writing the thesis, and her printer fails ninety minutes before the paper is due. Nan then convinces the computer center employees at New York University to allow her to print it out there, though she does not have the right identification. After catching up on some sleep, Nan's peaceful relaxation is interrupted by the memory that, seven months earlier, she had agreed go with the Xes on a vacation to Nantucket. She also realizes that she has lost the envelope for Ms. Chicago, and now owes her the eight hundred dollars it contained.
After taking Grayer to a birthday party, Nan returns to the Xes' apartment, where Mrs. X is packing Mr. X's clothes for their trip to Nantucket. Nan learns they are planning to leave the same day as her college graduation, and she has to negotiate with Mrs. X so she can attend the ceremony. A few days later, Mrs. X is again late when Nan needs to leave to defend her thesis, then delays Nanny further by insisting that they discuss her hours and pay right then. Mrs. X is annoyed that Nan seems to have some other concern at that moment, but she does pay her for the first time in five weeks.
At her apartment, Nanny is relaxing, trying to imagine quitting her job, and looking forward to a telephone date with H. H. that evening. Her roommate comes in with her boyfriend and tells her that he is moving in soon, so Nan must find a new place to live. A few days later, at her graduation party at her grandmother's home, her family meets and approves of H. H. He talks about his plan to work in Amsterdam during the coming summer. She is leaving for Nantucket the next morning.
Chapter 10: And We Gave Her an All-expenses-paid Vacation
At the Nantucket rental house, Nan has to share a room with Grayer. As soon as she arrives, she also has to entertain and feed twelve children while their parents go to a beach party for the day.
A few days later, Nan goes to a casual party at the the Xes' friends the Horners' with the Xes and Grayer. The hosts treat Nan like a guest. Jack Horner asks Nan about herself and Nan tells them of her recent graduation. Later, Mrs. X comments, "I'm not sure if it's appropriate for you to monopolize the dinner conversation. Just something I'd like you to be a little more aware of from now on."
The situation grows worse as Nan tires from constantly caring for Grayer and the children of the Xes' friends. The night before Mr. X is to go back to New York to take care of business, the X family and Nanny eat at a local restaurant, where she overhears in the ladies room that Mrs. X has installed a nanny cam in Grayer's room. Nanny is outraged at the news that she's being surveilled.
Mr. X ends up staying for at least another day. Nan gets a much needed break when the family goes on a bike ride, but the phone at the cabin rings constantly. She knows that it is Ms. Chicago, looking for Mr. X. The family is upset when they return home, with Mr. X threatening to leave again. The next day, Nan gets another break when the family goes to a dog breeder to pick out a puppy before Mr. X leaves. Nan calls H. H. from a payphone. He urges her to just leave, but she insists she cannot.
Mr. X's mother, Elizabeth X, is at the cabin when everyone returns. Mrs. X had invited her the day before, and Elizabeth X insists that Mr. X stay. The new puppy is immediately banished to the garage. Nan overhears an angry exchange between Mr. and Mrs. X.
Chapter 11: A Bang and a Whimper
Soon after falling asleep, Nan wakes up to find Grayer crying. Nan takes care of both the puppy and Grayer throughout the night and into the morning. The family is tense, as Mrs. X is demanding of Nan and the Xes are still fighting with each other. The family and Nan spend the day at the local yacht club watching Mr. X play in a tennis tournament. Nan entertains Grayer for most of the day as his parents ignore him.
After leaving the club, the Xes and Nan go to a barbecue at the house of their friends, the Benningtons. Nan stays out of the way and does not talk to guests as she watches Grayer. Mr. X's cell phone, which he has given Nan to hold, rings. It is Ms. Chicago, tearfully begging Nan for information. Nan advises her to get out of the relationship. All attention shifts to Grayer as he falls and hurts himself, then to Mr. X and another woman as they conspicuously rejoin the party together.
After putting Grayer to bed that night, Nan tries to talk to Mr. and Mrs. X. They ignore her when she enters, and Mrs. X informs her husband that she is pregnant. When Nan asks if she can leave a little early to look for a new place to live, Mrs. X fires her and tells her to leave right away. Nan is also to take the puppy with her. Nan worries about Grayer, recalling, "I can still hear him screaming for me."
Chapter 12: It's Been a Pleasure
Arriving back in New York at 4:30 in the morning, Nanny discovers that Mrs. X has paid her only five hundred dollars when she was owed closer to two thousand. Nan takes a cab to the Xes' apartment. She finds that Mrs. X has been planning on replacing her since Nan asked to be allowed to attend her own graduation. Nan goes into Grayer's room, finds the nanny cam, and rewinds the tape. She first records a rant about the Xes' parenting skills and their poor treatment of her. After reflecting on what Grayer needs, Nan rewinds the tape again and tells them to get to know their son better now or risk losing him forever. She takes the puppy to the park, throws the Xes' cell phone in the water, and heads home, pleased with herself for leaving with grace.
Alex is a classmate of Grayer. They have a play date in chapter 2, but it does not go well.
Alexis is the volunteer receptionist at the Parents League, where Nanny posts her ad for a nanny position.
Allison, the adopted Chinese daughter of a gay couple, is a girl from Grayer's class who comes over around Christmas for play date.
Mrs. Butters is Grayer's nursery school teacher.
Blond, Australian Caitlin is the nanny that Nanny is hired to replace. Grayer was attached to Caitlin, who worked for the Xes for some time. Mrs. X fires Caitlin because she wants too much vacation time. Nanny learns from another nanny that Caitlin was trying to save money to visit her seriously ill sister at home.
Charlene is Nanny's roommate. Charlene works as an airline stewardess and is often away from home.
The Nanny Diaries was adapted as an abridged audio book by Random House in 2002. It is narrated by Julia Roberts.
As of 2006, a film version of The Nanny Diaries was being produced. The novel was adapted for the screen, and Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini directed the film. It stars Scarlett Johansson as Nanny, Laura Linney as Mrs. X, and Paul Giamatti as Mr. X.
Ms. Chicago is the managing director of the Chicago office of Mr. X's company. She is first seen when she comes to the Xes' apartment to do the seating arrangement for the company dinner party. Nanny and Grayer later catch her in an intimate moment with Mr. X in his office during the company Halloween party. The affair Ms. Chicago and Mr. X are having threatens to break up the Xes' marriage and puts Nanny in an awkward position several times.
Connie is the X family housekeeper. She worked for Mr. X long before he was married to the current Mrs. X. Mrs. X fires her when Connie cannot find a specific bowtie of Grayer's.
Dylan works at New York University's main computer center and reluctantly helps Nan print out her thesis.
George is Nanny's pet cat.
Jane Gould is the long-term development consultant Mrs. X hires to handle the crisis of Grayer not being accepted to Collegiate.
Grace is the puppy the Xes buy for Grayer in Nantucket, even though Grayer has no real desire to own a dog. When Mrs. X fires Nan, she is instructed to take the dog as well. Nan decides to keep her and names her.
Grandma is Nan's paternal grandmother. She is loving and supportive of her granddaughter, to the point of helping her get a Valentine's Day reservation for Mr. and Mrs. X at an upscale restaurant and buying a Christmas tree so Grayer has somewhere to hang his handmade ornament.
Hairy Pilot is Charlene's boyfriend. When he decides to move in with Charlene, Nanny is forced to start looking for a new apartment.
Harvard Hottie, also known as H. H., lives in the same building as the X family. He is a student at Harvard, and, over the course of the novel, he becomes romantically involved with Nanny. Like nearly everyone else in her life, he urges Nanny to quit her job with the Xes.
Henry is one of Allison's "two daddies." Mrs. X is surprised to learn that they do not use nannies to help raise their daughter.
Caroline Horner is married to Jack Horner and is a friend of the Xes. At her party in Nantucket, she treats Nan like a guest, not an employee.
Jack Horner is a shoe designer, married to Caroline Horner, and is a friend of the X family. Nanny catches a ride on the Horner family plane to Nantucket after her graduation. During the family's stay there, Nan is treated as a guest at a party thrown by Jack and his family. Jack asks about Nan's life, and Nan's honest response earns a rebuke from Mrs. X.
James is the doorman at the Xes' building.
Jones is a high school friend of H. H. Jones is obnoxious to Nanny when she runs into H. H. and his high school friends at a bar one night.
Josh is Nanny's friend. He helps Nan out in a crisis and is sympathetic to her many X family-related problems.
Julio is the man Mrs. X hires to decorate the family's Christmas tree.
Justine is Mr. X's office assistant.
Lizzie is Carter Milton's English nanny.
Mrs. Longacre is Mrs. X's friend. Nanny overhears Mrs. X telling Mrs. Longacre about the hidden camera she has installed to secretly observe Nanny.
Maria is the South American housekeeper Mrs. X hires to replace Connie.
Max is H. H.'s dog, an aged yellow Labrador retriever.
Carter is the boy with whom Grayer has a messy play date in chapter 8.
Mrs. Milton is the mother of Carter, who starts a frosting fight during Carter and Grayson's play date. She is a former beauty queen with a substance abuse problem.
Murnel is Alex's West Indian nanny.
Nanny is the primary character of the novel, the first-person voice through which all the events are filtered. She is a senior at New York University, studying child development. Nanny, also known as Nan, is also a graduate of a prestigious private school, Chapin. She has chosen to work as a nanny part-time to make money while a student, and she has been babysitting since the age of thirteen. Nanny enjoys working with kids.
After meeting Grayer and Mrs. X in Central Park one day, Nanny agrees to become Grayer's nanny. While she becomes very attached to the boy, she does not like the way Mrs. X treats her. As Mrs. X's demands increase, Nanny thinks about quitting, but she does not want to abandon Grayer. Nanny is insulted by her Christmas gift from Mrs. X—earmuffs and no bonus—and uncomfortable with her first-hand knowledge about Mr. X and Ms. Chicago's affair. She finds solace in her relationship with her family and friends, as well as the romantic attentions of H. H.
Nan's father is an English teacher. He has a close relationship with his daughter, and he offers her advice on how to handle Grayer and the Xes.
Nan's mother works as a lawyer. While she is supportive of her daughter, Nan's mother believes she should get out of the childcare business. She also believes that Mrs. X is taking advantage of Nan and tries to get her daughter to confront Mrs. X or quit. Despite her disapproval, she gives Nanny advice on how to help Grayer when he is sick.
Ramon is an employee in the Xes' building.
Reena is the executive director of Communities Against Conflict, which works in conflict resolution in New York City schools. She helps with Nanny's interview, then tells her, "We're really not looking to hire white women right now."
Richard is the artistic director of Communities Against Conflict, a group which works in conflict resolution in New York City schools. He is part of an odd interview Nanny has for a position there.
Sarah is Nanny's best friend. They attended Chapin together. Sarah is supportive of Nan's difficult situation with the Xes and helps her on several occasions.
Sima is Darwin Zuckerman's nanny. She is from El Salvador, where she was an engineer. She works as a nanny to support her husband and children back home. Nanny later learns that she was fired when her employer caught her grabbing Darwin's arm on a nanny cam.
Sophie is the dog owned by Nanny's family. She is an older spaniel.
Carson is the daughter of one of the X family friends. She is spending the weekend at the Xes' summer rental the first weekend Nan arrives. Carson is one of the many children Nan must care for the first day she is in Nantucket.
Elizabeth X is the mother of Mr. X and the grandmother of Grayer. Mrs. X invites her to stay at their cabin in Nantucket so that Mr. X will stay there instead of leaving for what he says are the demands of his business.
Grayer is the blond four-year-old son of Mr. and Mrs. X and Nanny's sometimes charming, adorable charge. Her nickname for him is Grover. He attends nursery school and has a full schedule of lessons and play dates. Grayer is prone to acting out, but he is very attached to his nannies, especially Caitlin and Nanny. He is generally ignored by his parents unless they are forced to care for him or there is a prestige-related crisis at hand, such his not being accepted to Collegiate.
Mr. X is the husband of Mrs. X and the father of Grayer X. He is an important businessman, whose job is demanding. His marriage to Mrs. X is often filled with tension, and he has at least one affair during the course of the book, with Ms. Chicago. Mr. X is not particularly interested in Grayer as a person and spends no time with him unless the family is on vacation. He is rude to Nanny and other employees.
Mrs. X is the wife of Mr. X and the mother of Grayer X. Mrs. X is very distant from her son, and she seems more concerned with her personal and social life and saving her marriage than with Grayer. She is also a demanding employer. While Nanny is supposed to be only a part-time nanny to Grayer, Mrs. X soon pushes the boundaries of Nanny's employment to include running errands, procuring restaurant reservations, taking constant phone calls and notes, and working far more hours than Nanny originally was hired for.
Darwin is the physically aggressive classmate Grayer has a play date with in chapter 7. Grayer and Darwin also play at Darwin's birthday party in chapter 9.
Much of The Nanny Diaries focuses on families and parental love. In her own life, Nanny has two parents who love her, advise her, and pay attention to her, even though she is a young adult. Both her mother and father are concerned that her nanny job for the X family is not right for her because she is being taken advantage of by Mrs. X. Despite their apprehension, Nan's mother and father support her as best they can. For example, when Nan is left alone with an ill Grayer, she calls her mother in the middle of the night for advice on what to do with the coughing, feverish boy. Her mother tells her how to make him comfortable and relieve his symptoms, then wants Nanny to call her back in an hour to update her about Grayer.
In contrast, Mr. and Mrs. X do not seem to care much about Grayer as a person at all. Mrs. X has had nannies to take care of him since he was born, though she does not work and spends most of her time shopping, attending various functions and seminars, and making schedules for her son and employees. She discourages Grayer from touching her or hugging her. There is next to no physical contact between mother and son, and little time spent having fun together. During the few times she is alone with him while he is awake, such as during a vacation in which promised childcare is not available, Mrs. X does not know what to do with him. Mr. X is even more distant from Grayer, as the father is rarely home and spends no time with his son unless they are on a family vacation. Grayer wants his parents' attention and love, and he is often disappointed and upset because he does not get it.
Nanny tries her best to make up for the Xes' attitude towards Grayer, even staying on the job when Mrs. X repeatedly takes advantage of Nan and her time. In the end, Grayer faces heartbreak as Nanny is dismissed while he is sleeping and has to leave without saying goodbye.
Compassion and Caring
Throughout The Nanny Diaries, the authors contrast the indifference of Mr. and Mrs. X, and others of their social status, with the sensitivity and kindness of Nanny and others in her profession. While Mrs. X cares that her son gets in the right school, takes the right kind of lessons, and participates in the right kind of social activities, she is not as concerned with relating to Grayer as an individual. She is indifferent to him as long as he is properly behaved and doing what she believes he should do. Mr. X takes this treatment to another level, as Grayer only gets his attention when they are away from home. In contrast, Nanny cares very much about her young charge, spending time making him happy, all the while imparting good manners, setting boundaries, and defining appropriate actions and feelings. On Valentine's Day, she takes him out for pizza and a movie as an unexpected treat, something his parents would never do.
Mrs. X treats the people she considers her social inferiors the same way as or worse than she treats her son. Though Nan was only hired to be Grayer's part-time nanny, the university student is soon called on to do much more. In addition to spending many extra hours taking care of Grayer, she also has to buy items for a party Mrs. X is planning, get last-minute Valentine's Day reservations at a high-end restaurant for the Xes, and help Mrs. X pick out an outfit. Mrs. X is indifferent to Nanny's needs. She makes Nan miss a class by returning home late one night, and she later jeopardizes Nan's thesis defense by making her late. Mrs. X calls Nan repeatedly early in the morning on New Year's Day to convince her to cut her vacation short. Mrs. X decides to fire Nan when she dares to prioritize her own college graduation ceremony above the X family vacation.
Though Nan resents Mrs. X's constant demands and notes, she sticks with her job primarily for Grayer's sake. Nan continually ensures that Grayer gets all the attention, kindness, and respect that she can muster. Nan goes out of her way to make up for the indifference of Grayer's parents. He makes a special Christmas ornament he calls Al, but it is not allowed to stay on the designer-decorated family tree. Nan's grandmother helps, buying a tree just for Grayer to hang his ornament on and arranging a special afternoon for the boy. Nan also always finds a way to entertain the many extra children she has to care for, especially in Nantucket. She is never indifferent, even to the pain Mrs. X feels as she deals with her husband's infidelity.
The havoc caused by the problems in the Xes' marriage drives much of the story. While Nan's mother and father seem to have a solid marriage, Mr. X can be as indifferent to Mrs. X as she is to their son. Nan learns from H. H. that their relationship started out as an extra-marital affair during Mr. X's first marriage.
Within a few months of Nan's employment by the X family, she figures out that Mr. X is having an affair with Ms. Chicago. The marriage of the Xes seems in jeopardy, with Mr. X cutting short or avoiding many family events. This stress causes Mrs. X to demand more and more of Nanny, as well as of Connie the housekeeper, and act more coldly to her son. She does everything she can to hold on to her marriage, including getting her husband's mother to join their vacation so that he stays with the family instead of returning to his mistress, as well as becoming pregnant with a second child.
While the marital discord causes distress for Mrs. X and Grayer, it also puts Nan in a difficult position as the emotional fallout on the mother and child results in more work for Nan. Also, because Ms. Chicago knows who Nan is, where she lives, and what she knows about the affair, Ms. Chicago pressures Nan to become her ally. Nan becomes a reluctant pawn in the marital drama of Mr. and Mrs. X.
TOPICS FOR FURTHER STUDY
- Read another story about a child of privilege, such as the "Eloise" books for children. Write a paper comparing and contrasting the life and attitudes of the child featured in the other story with that of young Grayer X.
- There have been several incidents in which high-profile nominees for important federal government positions, such as Attorney General nominees Zoe Baird and Kimba Wood in 1993, withdrew their nominations because of irregularities with their nannies. More recently, in 2004, a nominee for the Secretary of Homeland Security, Bernard B. Kerik, withdrew after it was revealed a nanny in his employ might have been an illegal alien and that he did not pay taxes on her salary. Research such cases and the issues they raise, including use of illegal aliens as nannies and domestic workers. Working with a partner, present a classroom debate on both sides of the issue, touching on such issues as worker exploitation, pay, and taxation.
- Each chapter of The Nanny Diaries begins with a quote from a famous work of fiction featuring a nanny or governess. Read one of the books cited and discuss its relationship with the text of The Nanny Diaries in a paper.
- Have groups of students watch one of the many movies or television shows featuring a nanny, such as Nanny McPhee (2005), Spanglish (2004), The Nanny (CBS, 1993–1999), or Mary Poppins (1964). Have each student group present their observations on the nanny, the family she works for, and the circumstances of her life as compared with the world depicted in The Nanny Diaries. Consider such ideas as the effectiveness of the nanny as an employee and the realism of the depiction of the nanny and the family.
- Nanny seems to feel that she is the victim of an impossible situation, but do you agree? To what degree, if at all, is she responsible for her circumstances? Do you think she may have managed her relationship with Mrs. X better from the start, or is Mrs. X unmanageable? Discuss the lessons about happy employment (or lack thereof) in The Nanny Diaries and come up with a "List of Do's and Don'ts for On-the-job Happiness" based on examples in the novel.
Nanny is the protagonist of The Nanny Diaries. She is the central sympathetic character in the novel, and all the action and themes in the book involve and revolve around her. Nan tries to act with integrity at all times, especially for Grayer, but also for his parents and their marriage, while maintaining her own life as a student, daughter, friend, and girlfriend. She is supportive of and sympathetic to many of the people she encounters while acting as Grayer's nanny, especially other nannies, housekeepers, building employees, and the like. By trying to meet Mrs. X's endless demands on her time, energy, and sanity, Nan believes that her actions do matter to Grayer and his mother, even if she is a paid employee. Though in the end Nan cannot live up Mrs. X's impossible standards and gets fired, Nanny always behaves according to her ideals.
Nanny is also the narrator of The Nanny Diaries, which is written in first-person point of view by McLaughlin and Kraus. All the action and circumstances are filtered through Nan's perspective. Through a first person or "I" point of view, readers only receive Nan's opinions and observations of events and people. While this perspective limits some information, it also allows readers to fully understand Nan's motivations and feelings. Making Nan the narrator and using the first-person point of view underscores Nan's role as heroine and protagonist in the novel.
The Nanny Diaries features many conflicts—oppositions between characters and/or ideas in a novel that shape and stimulate the plot's action. Conflict can happen within a character as well. The primary conflicts in the novel are between what is right for Nan as a person and what is right for Grayer. As Mrs. X asks more and more of Nan (including duties that have nothing to do with her role as nanny), and respects her less and less (as shown by her lack of concern for Nan's needs as a student), Nan and those who love her ask why she stays in Mrs. X's employ. Nan repeatedly explains that she does not want to quit and abandon Grayer. Despite increasingly trying circumstances, Nan does the best she can as a nanny until she is fired during the vacation in Nantucket. Though the conflict is not resolved by Nan sticking up for herself directly to Mrs. X, she does get the final word by recording a message on the "nanny cam" the Xes set up in Grayer's room. Nanny walks away with her integrity intact.
The setting of The Nanny Diaries is a key component of the story. The setting is the culture, time, and place where the events of a story take place—in this case, New York City in the early twenty-first century. Many specific landmarks of New York City are mentioned in the text. For example, Nanny and H. H. have their first "date" on the steps of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. While the X family lives on Park Avenue, a famous boulevard where many wealthy people live, their specific address is fictional.
McLaughlin and Kraus had experience working as nannies for the upper-class families in New York City who live on streets like Park Avenue. They drew on that expertise in creating situations and characters like the upper-crust mothers and fathers who focus on their social lives more than their children, and the nannies and the wealthy children they take care of. The authors also depict the kind of activities such children participate in and their cycle of life as residents of the city. Both of the authors attended New York University while nannying, like Nan does, and their experiences as college students also inform the settings of Nan's life outside of work.
The prologue is the section that introduces a literary work, such as a novel. In the prologue to The Nanny Diaries, Nan explains what it is like to interview for a job as a nanny for the children of wealthy families in New York City. Separate from the rest of the story save for Nanny's presence, the prologue outlines what it is like to go for an interview for such a nanny position, the kind of women who hire nannies in this setting, what their homes are like, and how their children act. This prologue reveals how Nanny sees herself as well as the people she works for, setting the stage for the conflicts and actions that ensue in the primary story.
Nannies in the Early Twenty-first Century
While the term "nanny" often brings to mind childcare for the bygone upper classes in England and the United States, the profession and its place in society were evolving in the late 1990s and early 2000s. In the last twenty years of the twentieth century, there was a vast increase in the number of household workers, including nannies, in the United States and Great Britain. The Center for the Child Care Workforce estimated that at least 1.2 million people worked as child-care workers in the United States in 2005, though the exact number who worked exclusively as nannies was unknown. In 2006, the Daily Telegraph newspaper's website, telegraph.co.uk, reported that in Great Britain alone, at least one hundred thousand people, mostly women, were employed as nannies.
There were several reasons for the rapid growth in the employment of nannies. More women were joining the work force in professional and executive positions. When they had children, many chose to return to work after only a brief maternity leave, often for professional or financial reasons. Employing a nanny became a more accepted childcare solution when both parents worked. In Newsweek International, Emily Flynn further explained there was "a growing reliance on [nannies] as societies continue to move away from the traditional two-parent, stay-at-home-mom household. Furthermore, few people live near their extended family anymore, eliminating a reliable source of child-care support."
For some two-income middle-class families, hiring a nanny was sometimes cheaper than paying for day care, where a child would not receive as much personalized attention. One emerging trend in this time period was the sharing of nannies between friends, neighbors, or those families with mutual needs. In these arrangements, one nanny cared for the children of two to five families, sometimes by rotating through each household or by watching all the children at once in one central home.
The education and certification of nannies was also evolving, especially in the United States, as nannying came to be seen as a professional occupation. A number of community colleges throughout the United States offer such training. There are also a few specific institutions dedicated solely to training nannies, such as the Ohio-based English Nanny & Governess School, which offers a live-in three-month program. In Great Britain, Norland College is a well-regarded early childhood-oriented institution. The International Nanny Association offers a "Nanny Credential Exam" and works with groups that offer short training courses for nannies.
While such programs produce highly sought-after nannies in some areas of the United States, most nannies are immigrants who earn much less than their certified, American counterparts. Salaries for nannies could range from less than minimum wage to fifty thousand dollars per year. Many nannies are hired through dedicated employment agencies that perform a background check on each applicant. However, because the nanny industry lacks regulation and many nannies are still paid "off the book," many are vulnerable to exploitation. Despite such problems, more people look at working as a nanny as a serious full-time job. Former nanny of the year Michelle LaRowe told Cesar G. Soriano of USA Today, "Today's professional nanny is an educated woman with a genuine love of kids who wouldn't want to do anything else."
Many critics found The Nanny Diaries to be a humorous yet thought-provoking look at the life of the wealthy inhabitants of Park Avenue through the eyes of an educated, put-upon nanny. Echoing the sentiments of a number of critics, Cassandra Jardine of the Daily Telegraph called it "The Bonfire of the Vanities crossed with Bridget Jones's Diary—a funny, but shocking view of privilege and idleness." Writing in USA Today, Deidre Donahue saw the book in the same vein, noting that "Although The Nanny Diaries is screamingly funny, it's also painfully sad. A very effective combination." Carole Goldberg of the Grand Rapids Press found the product of two authors' labor worked well, commenting "The writing is remarkably smooth for a collaboration, the humor is sharper than a stiletto heel, and the outrage is palpable."
Specific characters, the way they were drawn, and their effectiveness garnered much critical attention, primarily Nanny and members of the X family. Janet Maslin of the New York Times described Nanny as "a vastly entertaining narrator and impromptu social critic," while Time's Belinda Luscombe concluded, "the novel's niftiness lies in Nanny's keen eye for detail. She's Mary Poppins channeling Dorothy Parker." Commenting on the X family in People, Danielle Steel wrote, "The Xes are too one-dimensionally awful to seem real, but the authors manage a poignant, nuanced portrayal of Grayer, a sweetly funny boy." In contrast, the reviewer in Publishers Weekly found McLaughlin's and Kraus's touch with Mrs. X effective, writing, "Especially impressive is the author's ability to allow the loathsome Mrs. X occasional flashes of humanity and pathos."
However, some critics found much to dislike about The Nanny Diaries, with a number of reviewers believing the story loses energy when it focuses on Nan's life outside of work. Alona Wartofsky of the Washington Post wrote:
The characters are clichéd and the fun grinds to a halt whenever the Xes are out of the picture. Nanny's family, parents and grandparents are cloying, and her life away from the Xes is profoundly uninteresting. And at times, it seems that Nanny is just as materialistic as her employers.
Despite such negative reviews, many with personal experiences as nannies believed the novel reflected reality. Kathy Murphy, the president of the Chicago-area North Shore Nannies, told Paige Smoron of the Chicago Sun-Times, "I think it's pretty accurate in describing that particular slice of life. For wealthy people, this is just another service they are using."
Petrusso is a history and screenwriting scholar and freelance writer and editor. In this essay, Petrusso compares and contrasts The Nanny Diaries: A Novel with perhaps the most famous nanny story in literature, Mary Poppins, arguing both authors put nannies and their charges on a pedestal, while de-emphasizing the role of the parents who hired the caregivers.
Nearly every nanny in literature, and perhaps reality, has to live up to the literary archetype created by P. L. Travers: Mary Poppins. In Mary Poppins, the nanny blows in with the east wind, wins the hearts of the four Banks children, and leaves months later when the wind blows west. While the book is a fantasy targeted at children, Poppins is a caretaker many people really want for their children. Even the fictional Nanny in Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus's book The Nanny Diaries: A Novel feels the burden of expectations created by Travers. In the prologue to The Nanny Diaries, Nan describes the routine interview for a nanny position in New York City. After Nan tries to impress her future employer as she describes her expertise in child development and her success with previous clients, she thinks, "I feel my eyes twinkle and imagine twirling my umbrella à la Mary Poppins." After jumping through a few more hoops, Nan inevitably gets the job.
Though The Nanny Diaries is a work of general fiction written by two former nannies in twenty-first century America and Mary Poppins is a young adult novel set in Great Britain and originally published in 1934, the books have parallels in how they treat their characters and the situations in which they find themselves. The authors idealize the nannies at the centers of the stories, showing their magical touch with the children they care for. However, the parents who hire the nannies as caregivers are marginalized and are not depicted as a central part of their children's lives. Both novels also touch on sensitive issues for nannies such as hiring practices, duties and responsibilities, their relationship with the children, and the end of tenure in the household. In the end, both books dramatize the positives and negatives to bringing a nanny into a home.
Key areas of nanny life are presented differently in The Nanny Diaries and Mary Poppins, such as the hiring of the nanny, how she is treated in the household, and the tasks she is to perform on the job. Nan is an expert at saying the right thing to get hired as a nanny by Park Avenue families. She understands what the wealthy women who interview her for a position are looking for, and, as an educated white woman, she offers what they believe to be an attractive, safe package. Nan notes in the prologue: "Nanny Fact: in every one of the interviews, references are never checked. I am white. I speak French. My parents are college educated. I have no visible piercings."
The lack of references are a key point of Poppins initial appearance at the Bankses' household as well. After the family's previous nanny, Katie Nanna, quits abruptly, Mrs. Banks advertises in the paper for a replacement. That same day, Poppins arrives on the Bankses' doorstep. After a brief conversation with Poppins, Mrs. Banks asks for her references. Poppins refuses to supply them, telling Mrs. Banks "Oh, I make it a rule never to give references." Though Mrs. Banks is perturbed by her refusal, Poppins plays on Mrs. Bankses' desire to be modern by telling her such a request is "Very old-fashioned. Quite out of date, as you might say." When Mrs. Banks offers her the job, Poppins does not accept until she is satisfied with the Banks family.
Poppins's attitude remains self-assured throughout the book, unlike Nan's. Though Nan is confident about how to get hired as a nanny, she is less so managing the job and she soon lets Mrs. X walk all over her. Nan was only supposed to be a part-time nanny to Grayer X, but often acts as Grayer's full-time and occasionally all-time nanny. Nanny also spends much of her own time running endless errands for Mrs. X, who continually complains that Nan has not bought or done things correctly. Nan also has to make dinner reservations for Mr. and Mrs. X's Valentine Day, something she takes care of far away from the Xes' apartment. Nan's family and friends often remind her that many of these tasks have nothing to do with childcare, but she puts up with Mrs. X's excessive demands for Grayer's sake.
Poppins would not tolerate such treatment by her employers. Poppins knows her duties, and she executes them with authority. She is never depicted as being taken for granted by Mrs. Banks or anyone else. Indeed, Poppins insists on more regularly scheduled time off than Mrs. Banks would like, but she is negotiating from a position of power. Poppins is in charge of her clearly defined work sphere, while Nan allows her work sphere to be defined by Mrs. X, creating a dysfunctional working relationship and unnecessary havoc in Nan's personal life.
Though Nan and Poppins have different relationships with their respective employers, McLaughlin, Kraus, and Travers depict the nannies as having ideal rapports with the children in their care. The bond between nannies and children in these books is never in doubt, and it seems to be the best relationship in the children's lives. While Grayer X initially rejects Nanny for replacing his previous, beloved nanny Caitlin, Nan patiently wins him over. He becomes extremely attached to Nan, and he is anguished when she is abruptly fired. Nan believes she is the only person who truly loves and cares about Grayer. While this may be accurate, Nan's concern with meeting Grayer's needs allows Mrs. X to take advantage of her and for Nan to be something of a martyr for tolerating the X family. While Nan frequently says she wants to quit because of the situation in the X household, more often she says that she does not want to abandon Grayer. Nanny endures much mistreatment for the young boy until the Xes decide they have had enough of Nan in their lives.
Like Nan with Grayer, Poppins is an ideal nanny for the four Banks children. She cares about the children's well-being, insists on them acting appropriately, and wants them to have fun. Poppins sets clear boundaries with the children, especially with the eldest two, Michael and Jane, who know not to question her. Her magic is in her ability to understand and talk to animals, take Michael and Jane to the four corners of the Earth with a special compass, get them into an enchanting after-hours party at the zoo, and have their paper stars glued into the sky above. While such examples are fantastic, Poppins always knows what to do and what to say. There is no hint of doubt about her. Such self-assurance lends credence to every action she takes as a nanny and makes her an idealized childcare giver.
In contrast to the nannies, the parents in both The Nanny Diaries and Mary Poppins are depicted as deeply flawed. Both sets of parents do not seem to care much about their children as people nor spend much time with them. The only parent who comes close is Mrs. Banks. She is depicted as comforting her one-year-old twins, John and Barbara, one time when they begin crying because of the words of a bird. Though Mrs. Banks cannot console them, she spends time "patting her children gently, first one and then the other, and murmuring words that were meant to be reassuring." Other than this incident, Mrs. Banks is depicted only as a marginal figure in her children's lives. She does not work but does not spend time with the children. When Poppins is not available, other servants employed in the household look after them. Mrs. Banks makes a few decisions on what the children are to do, including allowing Michael and Jane to visit their father at work for a special treat as he requests. This incident marks one of the few times Travers even hints that Mr. Banks interacts with his children, but it is more direct, seemingly loving attention than Grayer X ever receives from his parents.
McLaughlin and Kraus draw Mr. and Mrs. X as reserved, shallow, and selfish, and concerned only with themselves, their work, and their social lives. Like Mr. Banks, Mr. X is a successful businessman, an executive with a demanding position at a company. Mr. X exists in the story in terms of work and his affair with Ms. Chicago, only making longer appearances on vacations that Mrs. X insists they take together. Like Mrs. Banks, Mrs. X does not have a job but focuses on running the household as well as maintaining her social status.
Mr. and Mrs. X spend no time getting to know their son, with whom they are rarely alone unless they are traveling or he is sleeping. Mr. X had apparently taken Grayer skiing when the family was on vacation, while Mrs. X takes him to occasional school-related functions and a shopping trip or two alone. However, she tries to prevent her son from touching her at all. When Grayer is ill soon after returning from his Christmas vacation, neither of his parents takes care of him. Nanny has to care for Grayer around the clock when he needs his parents the most. Neither parent calls to check on him. They do not seem to care about their son, which underscores the idea of Nan as the loving but mistreated victim of the Xes.
At the close of both The Nanny Diaries and Mary Poppins, the nannies' tenures with the families come to an abrupt end, due to very different circumstances that reflect both nannies' personalities. The readers of The Nanny Diaries can see that Nan has put up with increasingly difficult circumstances created by Mr. and Mrs. X to provide Grayer some sense of love and stability. However, by the last chapter, Mrs. X does not believe that Nan is providing them the quality of care and dedication they need, in part because Nan asks to join their family vacation a day late to attend her college graduation. Nan is abruptly fired when she tries to ask to return a day or two early to New York to find a place to live. Though Nan gets the last word in when she goes to their apartment and leaves them a message on their nanny cam, she has allowed the situation with the Xes to control her, not the other way around.
Poppins has no such difficulties. On the "first day of Spring" when the west wind blows, Poppins decides its time to leave the Bankses' employ. Though Nan is not afforded an opportunity to say goodbye to Grayer, Poppins simply leaves the Banks children presents and a note but offers no face-to-face closure. Although she epitomizes the perfect nanny, Poppins does not give her employers any notice. Mrs. Banks is rightfully upset that Poppins just flies off. Jane and Michael immediately miss and defend Poppins to their mother.
Poppins creates a division in the Banks family, precisely what McLaughlin believes a nanny should not do. McLaughlin told Susan Phinney of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, "In our opinion, a nanny's role is to allow a family to care for itself." Nan also distracts Grayer from the reality of his family, though she does add problems to the already unhappy family. Both nannies act as they believe they should, adding to the air of righteousness that permeates McLaughlin, Kraus, and Travers's tales of domestic dysfunction.
Source: A. Petrusso, Critical Essay on The Nanny Diaries: A Novel, in Literary Newsmakers for Students, Thomson Gale, 2007.
In the following excerpt, Haden-Guest interviews the authors, discussing their experiences as nannies as background for the novel.
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WHAT DO I READ NEXT?
Bergdorf Blondes: A Novel (2004) is a novel by Plum Sykes that focuses on the lives of wealthy heiresses who live on Park Avenue.
Citizen Girl (2004) is the second novel by McLaughlin and Kraus. The novel focuses on Girl, a recent college graduate trying to make her way in New York City and live up to her feminist ideals in corporate America.
The Devil Wears Prada (2003) is a novel by Laura Weisberger. Based on Weisberger's experience as an assistant to Vogue editor Anna Wintour, the fiction focuses on the difficulties new college graduate Anna Sachs faces when she becomes the assistant to an extremely demanding high-end fashion magazine editor.
You'll Never Nanny in This Town Again: The True Adventures of a Hollywood Nanny (2005), by Suzanne Hansen, is a balanced memoir about Hansen's experiences working as a nanny for three Hollywood luminaries.
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Source: Anthony Haden-Guest, "Took Care of the Kids (And Very Good Notes)," in the New York Times, February 7, 2002, p. F1.
Bradley, Melissa Briggs, "What Your Nanny Knows: The Authors of The Nanny Diaries Share Their Advice on How to Make a Delicate Relationship Work for All Concerned, Especially Your Children," in Town & Country, Vol. 156, No. 5267, August 2002, p. 110.
Donahue, Deidre, "Nanny Knocks Rich and Fatuous on Their Fannies," in USA Today, March 14, 2002, p. 1D.
Flynn, Emily, "Nanny to the Rescue: She's Efficient, Fun and Much Better with Kids than Mom or Dad," in Newsweek International, January 17, 2005, p. 48.
Goldberg, Carole, "Parents Beware: Nanny Dearest Tells All," in the Grand Rapids Press, April 7, 2002, p. J4.
Jardine, Cassandra, "Mary Poppins' Revenge: What Nannies Really Think About the Parents They Serve," in the Daily Telegraph (London, England), February 20, 2002, p. 21.
Luscombe, Belinda, "Rocking the Cradle: A Novel by Two Former New York City Nannies Dishes the Dirt on How the Wealthy Rear Their Young," in Time, Vol. 159, No. 12, March 25, 2002, p. 71.
Maslin, Janet, "The Wall May Not Have Ears, But the Nanny Does," in the New York Times, March 4, 2002, p. E8.
McLaughlin, Emma, and Nicola Kraus, The Nanny Diaries: A Novel, St. Martin's Press, 2002.
Phinney, Susan, "Diaries: Nanny Job Is No Stroll in the Park," in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, May 21, 2002, p. E1.
Review of The Nanny Diaries, in Publishers Weekly, Vol. 249, No. 8, February 25, 2002, p. 40.
Smoron, Paige, "Nanny Diaries Gives Americans a Chance to Scoff at Child-Rearing Deficiencies of the Rich," in the Chicago Sun-Times, March 7, 2002, p. 43.
Soriano, Cesar G., "Working Nannies Fight Stereotypes," in USA Today, July 28, 2005, p. 9D.
Steel, Danielle, Review of The Nanny Diaries: A Novel, in People Weekly, Vol. 57, No. 11, March 25, 2002, p. 49.
Travers, P. L., Mary Poppins, Harcourt Brace Young Classics, 1997, originally published in 1934.
Wartofsky, Alona, "East Side Story; After The Nanny Diaries, The View from the Penthouse is Greener Than Ever," in the Washington Post, July 1, 2002, p. C1.
Cancelmo, Joseph A., and Carol Bandini, Child Care for Love or Money?: A Guide to Navigating the Parent-Caregiver Relationship, Jason Aronson, 1999.
This nonfiction handbook offers advice for parents as well as nannies and other childcare workers on how to have an effective working relationship.
Carolton, Susan, and Coco Myers, The Nanny Book: The Smart Parent's Guide to Hiring, Firing, and Every Sticky Situation in Between, St. Martin's Griffin, 1999.
The Nanny Book draws on interviews with parents and childcare givers to offer practical advice on nearly aspect of employing a nanny.
Gross, Michael, 740 Park: The Story of the World's Richest Apartment Building, Broadway 2005.
740 Park is a social history of a prestigious apartment building on Park Avenue and its many famous residents.
Merchant, A. M., The Nanny Textbook: The Professional Nanny Guide to Child Care 2003, Writer's Showcase Press, 2003.
This nonfiction work is a standard text used in the training of nannies.
Roiphe, Anne, 1185 Park Avenue: A Memoir, St. Martin's Griffin, 1999.
This memoir looks back at a childhood of privilege from the perspective of a woman who was the product of an unhappy marriage and raised by nannies, and its effect on the rest of her life.