Tuesday, June 15

Practically perfect? How a New Kind of Nanny Novel Kills Parents’ Anguish and Anger | Books

There’s a line at the opening of Kiley Reid’s hit debut, Such a fun age It sums up the drama at the heart of the recent flurry of babysitting novels. Emira, a young black woman dressed for a night out, is stopped by a security guard in a luxury supermarket with Briar, the white girl she cares for. It’s late, the guard wants to know where Briar’s parents are. She won’t let Emira go with her. “But she is me kid right now, ”he tells the guard. “I am your babysitter. Technically I’m his babysitter … “

Emira is not strictly a babysitter. You don’t enjoy the benefits of a full-time job: health insurance, vacations. Later, she reflects that, “more than racial prejudice, the night at Market Depot came back to her with a nauseating surge and a resounding statement that hissed, You don’t have a real job. “But in many ways, Briar it is your child. Emira is the one who spends time with Briar, who understands her. Alix, a blogger and influencer, completely trusts her daughter’s babysitter, but is also desperate to befriend “the quiet, thoughtful person who paid to love [Briar]”. By seeking a friendship with Emira at the expense of her own children, Alix only manages to put more distance between them. As Emira reflects, Briar is “this amazing and serious little girl who loves information and answers, and how could her own mother not appreciate the crap about this?”

It’s the kind of judgment all working parents fear, and it’s this unique perspective on family dynamics that makes Nanny such a compelling character. By Charlotte Brontë Jane eyre to his sister Anne Agnes gray and Becky Sharp at Thackeray’s Vanity fair, Novelists have long understood the disruptive potential of the nanny, nurse, or governess in a home, often for romantic purposes, upsetting a rigid class system. But with the rise of the working mother has come a new kind of novel about babysitters. One that explores questions of class and race, politics and power, and has at its heart the complicated relationship between the women of the house.

“My nanny is a miracle worker,” Myriam tells her friends in Leïla Slimani’s Prix Goncourt winner. Lullaby. But at the same time, returning to work as a lawyer after a period as a homemaker, “she is terrified of leaving her children with someone else.” While working late, “she tries not to think about her children, not to let her guilt carry her. Sometimes she begins to imagine that everyone is allied against her. “It is this sense of alienation from her own family, as well as the worst nightmare that lurks in the back of every parent’s mind, that Slimani so cleverly evokes. We learn from The beginning of Slimani’s taboo-breaking novel that Louise, the “perfect babysitter,” has murdered the children in her care. It is left to the horrified reader to reconstruct the reasons.

“The babysitter takes care of the children who are not hers. Share daily life and intimacy with people who are not your friends or family. She sees everything, she knows everything, but at the same time she is an outsider ”, says Slimani, about her fascination with the role. “She has a great responsibility, taking care of children, and yet very little social recognition.” For parents who bring a babysitter to their home, the temptation is to see her (usually her) as a superwoman, infallible, perfect (it is no coincidence that the American title of Slimani’s novel is The perfect babysitter).

'The sweetened version of the screen'… Julie Andrews plays Mary Poppins in the 1964 film adaptation.
Virtually perfect in every way … Julie Andrews plays Mary Poppins in the 1964 film adaptation. Photograph: Allstar / Cinetext / Disney

The archetypal fictional nanny, of course, first appeared in PL Travers’ children’s novels, no-nonsense, strict, yet magical, though it’s the screen-sweetened version of Mary Poppins that is lodged in the hearts and minds of Many. In Slimani’s novel, Paul, the father of the house, tells Louise “that she is like Mary Poppins. He’s not sure she gets the compliment. “Myriam admires how Louise can get lost in the game. She is” vibrant, cheerful, mocking. She hums songs, makes animal noises. ” As Slimani’s narrator wryly observes, “Louise awakens and fulfills the fantasies of an idyllic family life that Myriam guiltily nurtures.”

In Reid’s novel, Alix becomes similarly obsessed with her babysitter, eventually realizing that she has “developed feelings for Emira that were not entirely different from a crush.” The 25-year-old looks effortlessly cool compared to Alix’s mom friends, but there’s more to it than that: Like Myriam, Alix romanticizes her babysitter to assuage her own guilt, convincing herself that Emira is much better at taking care of Briar. that she would ever be. Alix also lives vicariously through the younger woman: she reads Emira’s phone messages, listens to the music she likes, buys her gifts, and invites her to join the family for Thanksgiving dinner. However, although Emira is present as a guest, she quickly reverts to a serving role during the meal and comes to Briar’s rescue when she is ill.

In my first novel The guest of the houseKate, 25, is invited to spend the summer in France by Della, a charismatic life coach, ostensibly to take care of Della’s children. But Kate is also encouraged to see herself as a guest, and the boundaries continue to blur as she becomes engulfed in family, eventually crossing a line from which there is no return. In one scene, Kate is expected to serve drinks to family guests before being invited to join them for a casual dinner. In another, she is left to rescue Della’s son from the pool, while Della sits worriedly at her laptop.

Creative Tensions, an upcoming series of experimental events that physically engage participants in a dialogue about the role of creativity in our lives NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 8: Kiley Reid attends Creative Tensions, a series of experimental events at 501 Union Event Space on June 8, 2015 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.  (Photo by Mike Pont / WireImage)
Kiley Reid, author of Such a Fun Age. Photograph: Mike Pont / WireImage

Kate judges Della for her lack of interest in her own children, just as Emira judges Alix. Although at least Emira is allowed to wear her own clothes for Thanksgiving dinner, usually, as her boyfriend points out, Alix makes her wear “a uniform.” In Alix’s eyes, the embroidered polo shirts he leaves lying around are a practical way for Emira to keep her clothes clean, but he accuses Alix of “hiring black people to raise your children and put your family’s crest on them.”

In Raven Leilani’s debut, GlossEdie, a 23-year-old adrift, is invited to the home of her older white lover Eric and his wife, Rebecca, partly in the hope of connecting with their adopted daughter Akila. As Leilani notes: “This transaction is based on the assumption that Edie, as a black woman, is available to play the role of caregiver, even when she herself desperately needs care.” Here, the arrangement is informal, but in both Reid’s and Slimani’s novels, hiring a nanny is described in purely transactional terms: “Alix had a knack for acquiring merchandise in New York, and looking for a nanny in Philadelphia. it was no different. “

In another of this year’s debuts, Ellery Lloyd’s People like her, Instamum Emmy – who, like Alix, is used to everything from clothes to vacations – considers finding a babysitter through an Instagram competition, or through a promotional partnership with an agency, until her husband Dan insists on doing so “in the conventional way “: find a woman who is” sensible. Nanny, so to speak. Someone trustworthy, trustworthy, unflappable. ”Or so he hopes.

But for those parents who can afford to leave their children in the sole care of a babysitter, the choice is always a gamble, and Slimani so viscerally explores into Lullaby. “Not too old, no veils and no smokers,” agree Myriam and Paul during their initial search. Myriam, of North African descent, is mistaken for a nanny when she arrives at an agency. However, the issues at stake here have to do with both class and race. Myriam “does not want to hire a North African to take care of the children … She fears that an unspoken complicity and familiarity will develop between her and the babysitter.” In the end, Myriam and Paul invite their white nanny to Greece on vacation, have dinner together for the first time and drink, so that “a new joy invades them”.

Far together, the familiarity Myriam sought to avoid grows independently, and there is a feeling upon her return that Louise has seen a new way of life from which there is no turning back. She becomes “haunted by the feeling that she has seen too much, heard too much of other people’s privacy, a privacy that she has never enjoyed.” But the blame is really the system that she and Myriam are trapped in.

For Myriam to be free, Slimani points out, another woman must be enslaved. It is what she calls a “Russian doll” system: “There is a woman within a woman within a woman.” None of the babysitters or mothers do well in these new novels about childcare, home life, and motherhood, all of which explore in different ways the impossible burden on women in the modern family. Torn between trying to be the perfect mother and the successful employee, the domestic goddess and the fulfilled woman, Myriam struggles to find another way of being for her family. Ultimately, he concludes, they will only be happy “when we no longer need each other. When we can live our own life … When we are free. “


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