It’s speed dating, except for nannies. In New York. Watch your back.
QUICK! BAG A NANNY.
It’s speed dating, except for nannies. In New York. Watch your back.
Jill Osinoff’s business idea is so high concept—speed dating, except for nannies!—that she’s had no trouble getting the word out. Last Wednesday, the 34-year-old former headhunter presided over the inaugural Meet the Nanny event at a Manhattan sports restaurant featuring bloodred walls, immense TV screens, and 35 nannies, mostly of Caribbean provenance, braced for hours of five-minute job interviews.
Many wore crisp outfits and carried resumés, like Nadyne Robertson, 45, whose CV boasts appearances in A Beautiful Mind and Zoolander, and Meg Goldfarb, 25, who has a university degree and a preference for a livein position (the older women, familiar with the local practice of nannies and babies sharing a bedroom, mostly insisted on living out).
A few nannies, however, had the wild-eyed look of women who have been up since dawn catering to someone else’s children. Or someone else’s mother: “I’m good with the kids, I can bring myself to their level, but the New York moms—oh, they’re demanding, for true,” sighed one nanny in search of a less highmaintenance employer. Another countered, “The New Jersey mom, she thinks you’re her slave.” Proper management, both agreed, is key. “They want you to marinate the chicken. Okay,” said the first, rolling her eyes. “Next, ‘Oh, would you put it in the oven?’ You might do this one time, then next day they want the same thing, and gradually you the cook! Caribbean nannies, we nice, but we very straight: don’t push me too far.”
A nanny in a pink blazer confided, “I heard the Mexican and Chinese nannies will put up with anything. It’s not wise.”
The 21 parents in attendance had their own horror stories: nannies who couldn’t speak English, or couldn’t stand kids, or were Mary Poppins incarnate but had suddenly decided to up and leave. Agencies that screen and match child care providers with New York families can cost US$5,000—a waste of money, according to parents who paid US$75 to attend this event, and felt they could do as well, and likely better, on their own.
Nevertheless, there was more desperation than bravado in the air. “We need some-
WILLIAMS, WHO’D SAID SHE’D LIKE TO SPEND $500 A WEEK, WAS SAYING, ‘$700 SOUNDS REASONABLE’
one yesterday,” said Laurie Gelman, who commutes to Toronto to co-host The Mom Show and has been looking for a nanny for two months. “Well, we have a week or two,” soothed her husband Michael, executive producer of Live with Regis and Kelly and one of four men in the restaurant. That wealthy, educated, moderately famous people like the Gelmans were having difficulty did not surprise Jessica Green, a magazine editor who has been home for the past year with her twins, a nanny, and her own moderately famous husband, writer and editor Bill Buford. “When my boys were newborns I met an amazing woman and hired her, then another mom threw herself at the woman, offering her the moon and begging, and basically hired her right out from under me,” said Green, now searching for part-time help. “New York is insane.”
After the bell signalling the start of the event rang at 2:40, the sociable roar of 21 simultaneous job interviews filled the air. Drew Williams, a former music executive with a Harvard M.B.A. and a movie production company, whipped out a photo and told Joan Roberts, a neatly dressed nanny with a starchy demeanour, “This is my daughter, she’s almost 2, and in five weeks, this”— Williams patted her bump—“will be my son. We live in Brooklyn. Is that a deal breaker for you?” Soon they were talking money and Williams, who’d said earlier she’d like to spend $500 a week, was saying, “$700 sounds reasonable, I want you to be happy—” Ding!
The parents beamed. This was more like it! “It would take me months to interview this many candidates, and I don’t even know how I’d find them all,” said Williams. The presence of more nannies than employers created the pleasant illusion of a buyer’s market, but, it soon became clear, the nannies were themselves selective. “I’m not going to speak to that gentleman,” sniffed one, indicating a mild-looking man attending sans spouse. “He might be a pervert.” Another was displeased with the Gelmans: “They didn’t give me that warm welcome I require.” Someone else rejected Williams on the grounds that “I could never work for a black family. I’m black, so I’m allowed to say that.” Ding! At 3:10, Stacey Bronfman, a fashion consultant who married into the Bronfman dynasty a few years back, hired Hiromi Saito, compelled by “her experience. And her smile.” Saito had, in the previous five minutes, learned that Mrs. Bronfman has an infant son, six stepchildren who visit every other weekend,
a full-time nanny in need of backup, and a highly decisive manner. The new part-time nanny was, as yet, unaware of just how highsociety her job would be, but she did confess to being “very pleased” with the pay— “which is confidential,” Bronfman interjected quickly, before allowing, “I think it’s more her lucky day than my lucky day.” Jessica Green, who was next in line to interview Saito, was not so sure. “How can the nanny know, without speaking to everyone, who she’d rather work for? This is a systemic flaw,” she complained to Osinoff. “I came early to meet Hiromi and now she’s been taken out of circulation. I didn’t know you could make a pre-emptive bid, and it doesn’t seem fair.” Several minutes later, the nannies tut-tutted as Bronfman serenely ushered her new employee into a chauffeured SUV.
“I prefer they call my references first,” said Susan Brathwaite, “to know whether I work for true, my personality, why I left the job.”
As the afternoon wore on, the parents, accustomed to the art of the interview, relaxed into the rhythm of the sport; some of the nannies—who viewed the interviews as brief sessions of necessary torture, not unlike a bikini wax—seized up. After displaying photos of the two boys she looked after most recently, and fumbling their names, one nanny finished her interview with Green by announcing, “I can work with anyone, I can work with the devil. Live with the devil, I should say. Sometimes it’s hard, but that’s the kind of easygoing person I am.” Ding!
“It was very nice to meet you! ” Green sang
out gaily, though she looked alarmed. Across the room, Brathwaite, originally from Grenada, was disappointed she hadn’t met a kosher family. “All my previous families were kosher,” she said glumly. Melanie Englese, a petite dentist, was the last to leave. “I could interview another 10,” she said wistfully, as the nannies straggled off to the subway.
After checking references and re-interviewing a few nannies, the Gelmans hired one on Saturday, and there were two more hires on Monday. But for some, seeing so many nannies at once had magnified their discomfort with needing one in the first place. “It’s weird that they’re of a different socioeconomic background, and some of them have no interest in children, they’re just doing this because they can work illegally and it doesn’t require training,” said Green,
afterward. “It’s hard to find a person you trust with your children, and who has a personality that clicks with yours. It’s kind of like a marriage to somebody that you probably wouldn’t choose to marry.”
Jill Osinoff agrees, and is considering providing cross-cultural awareness workshops because “these are really two worlds, colliding.” Next to roll out, though, will be knowyour-nanny services: trained investigators will perform extensive background checks, administer a battery of educational and psychological tests, and even spy on the nanny to ensure she’s appropriately loving. Osinoff didn’t want to scare the parents with their short lists and hopeful smiles, but, she said, “Finding someone is just the beginning.” M
The story you want is part of the Maclean’s Archives. To access it, log in here or sign up for your free 30-day trial.
Experience anything and everything Maclean's has ever published — over 3,500 issues and 150,000 articles, images and advertisements — since 1905. Browse on your own, or explore our curated collections and timely recommendations.WATCH THIS VIDEO for highlights of everything the Maclean's Archives has to offer.