The Perfect Nanny by
(289 Stories)

Prompted By The Twilight Zone

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/ Stories

“The Perfect Nanny” is a song from the movie Mary Poppins, in which the children describe the characteristics they want in a nanny.

You must be kind, you must be witty
Very sweet and fairly pretty
Take us on outings, give us treats
Sing songs, bring sweets

We were lucky enough to find our own perfect nanny who totally fit the description in the song. We considered her part of our family . . . until she disappeared.

My third maternity leave ended when Molly was ten months old. Instead of putting her in a daycare center when I went back to work, we decided to hire a nanny, who could also take care of the two older kids, then eight and twelve, picking them up from school and supervising them once they got home.

We filled out a lengthy questionnaire with a nanny placement agency, detailing what we were looking for, and received files on several candidates to consider. I can’t remember how many we interviewed, but one young woman stood out well above the others. Not literally – she was only 4’10” tall. But that meant she didn’t have to lean over to hold Molly’s hands to help her learn to walk. Her references all raved about her, and we could see why. She was bubbly and energetic, and had lots of ideas for things to do with a burgeoning toddler, as well as with older kids. We snapped her up, and felt very lucky to get her.

She was so conscientious, she wrote notes every day in a spiral notebook while Molly was napping, with details about what foods Molly had eaten, what words she had learned, what books they looked at together, and any other noteworthy developments. She took Molly to the zoo regularly, and taught her the names of all the animals. She did craft projects with the older kids and helped them with their homework. We hoped she would stay with us for years, until Molly started kindergarten.

She was married, and her husband worked for an insurance company. When she had only been with us a couple of months, she asked for a week off because her husband had won a trip to Mexico, along with a few of his colleagues, for being one of the top sales people at the company. It would be a hassle to figure out childcare for the week, but of course we said yes. Then, on the day she was supposed to be flying home, she called from Mexico and said there was a problem with their airline tickets and she couldn’t come back that day. None of the other people in the group had a problem, it was only her husband’s tickets that were somehow invalid. This seemed very odd. It was a couple of days more before she finally made it back. Something was off.

Then she found out that her husband had actually been fired from his job, and had been leaving the house every morning to make her think he was going to work. When he heard that some of his former co-workers had won this trip to Mexico, he pretended that he had won too and paid for it himself to impress her. She also discovered that he was an alcoholic, which may have been why he lost his job. He had lied to her about other things too, and she decided to divorce him. She moved out of their house and needed a place to live. She stayed in our guest room for a week, then went to her aunt and uncle in Elk Grove (a town about thirty minutes south of here). But that was only a temporary solution, she couldn’t live with them permanently.

So we bought her a house. We found a cute little house less than two miles away from us that was for sale at a great price. It was the perfect house for our perfect nanny, and she moved in as soon as we closed escrow. We charged her $400/month rent, which even in 1997 was way under market. We just wanted her to be happy.

A year later, she told us she was applying for jobs at daycare centers, because she needed a job with health benefits. We told her we would buy health insurance for her. We talked to our insurance agent and made all the arrangements to get a policy for her. That must not have been the real reason she wanted a new job, however, because she left anyway. We were distraught, but we let her continue to live in the house.

Her new employer had our contact information, because when she started work she had filled out forms that asked for her landlord’s name and phone number. One morning we got a call from the employer asking if we could check on her, because she hadn’t shown up for work and wasn’t answering her phone. My husband went over to her house. When repeated ringing of the bell and knocking on the door didn’t get any response, he let himself in with our key. She was in the bedroom, unconscious, an empty bottle of pills on the nightstand. He managed to rouse her, and somebody else came and took her to the hospital. She would never talk about it afterwards.

She recovered, and life went on, but shortly after that she gave notice that she was moving out of our house to live with her new boyfriend. We tried to keep in touch, but pretty soon she stopped answering our letters and phone calls. She just vanished. Over the years, I have looked for her, especially after online sites to locate missing people became available. I have never been able to find any trace of her. It’s as if she entered the Twilight Zone.

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Characterizations: moving, right on!, well written


  1. John Shutkin says:

    Wow — powerful! All the more so because true. Given this week’s prompt, I knew that, although starting from a safe, cheerful spot, the story was going to get weird (and probably in a bad way) by the end. But you let it all unfold so gradually — and, indeed, hopefully — that I found myself racing to the end, even as I dreaded it. In other words, exactly what a great story should do for a reader.

    But beside being a terrific read, and fitting perfectly with this week’s prompt, your story did another thing that good writing should do: it made a larger point. That point, as we ultimately learn (and obviously unfolded to you at the time), is that we can never be sure that we actually know someone else and what is going on in his or her mind or life. This was certainly true with The Perfect Nanny. Again, wow!

    • Suzy says:

      Thanks for your comments, John. This might be my first double “wow” story. Interesting that you found it more powerful because it was true. If it had been fiction, I probably would have come up with an explanation of what happened to her.

  2. Betsy Pfau says:

    Ah, Suzy, you, like I, got caught by the perfect nanny. Your situation sounds even grimmer than mine. I’ve thought about suggesting to Retrospect a “Nanny” topic, but wasn’t sure how universal it would be (perhaps “Child Care”?). I went back to work when David was 18 months old, but Dan and I both traveled, so we decided we wanted someone to live in. We hired a lovely woman from Barbados, whose friend lived a few miles away in a fancy home in Brookline. The two were together all the time, using the other family’s BMW for outings. Jill seemed perfect, she cooked for David (and taught me some), she was kind and neat, until a few things went awry, like turning up at the Ritz with a white guy late one night when she should have been home baby sitting (we had gone to see “Les Mis”, then out for dessert after). Later, she gave two weeks notice, as she was marrying that guy and going off to Palm Beach to live, but there was no large diamond to show off, and the Palm Beach address was phoney. I scrambled to find new child care. A few months later, people in Cambridge showed up, asking for a reference. She had lied about who her last employer was, but they forced her to drive by our house and they traced us down. She never went back to work for them (there was a 5 week gap, then she had worked for them for a few weeks, with fake info). We came to believe she was a high-end call girl.

    The next girl I hired was a college girl, here from Colorado for the summer, pursuing a Harvard guy from the previous summer. She was immature and insecure, but I was desperate. She was OK, but started dating a guy from my company, who suddenly lived in my basement. Her parents were divorced, fought a lot and she was not allowed to return home before heading to Paris for her junior year abroad, so had to have her winter clothes shipped here. She was angry and I was newly pregnant and nauseous all the time. I had to ask her to stop wearing her perfume, etc. She took out her anger on me. I didn’t realize it until later, but she stole all sorts of sentimental things from me when she left, like my high school class ring, as well as my father’s, a monogrammed pin that was a 16th birthday present from my parents, a beautiful sweater I’d bought in Paris…stuff like that. Lots of nanny problems! I totally sympathize.

    • Suzy says:

      Betsy, I think you win the prize for the worst nanny experiences! I can’t believe you thought my situation sounded even grimmer than yours! Your comment definitely deserves to be a story of its own, not just relegated to the comments section that many people may not see.

  3. John Zussman says:

    It’s sad, isn’t it, the people who walk into our lives, making an impression, changing us, becoming part of the family—and then walk out again. And it reminds us, as John S said, that we can never really know someone else. Great story for this prompt.

  4. John Shutkin says:

    If this were fiction, Suzy, then there would have to be some purely coincidental reuniting many years later. Or at least an omniscient third party narrator informing the reader of what had happened to TPN. But truth, as they say, is stranger….

    • Suzy says:

      John, I like the coincidental reuniting many years later. When I write my novel (a thinly disguised autobiography incorporating all of my Retrospect stories), I will have to add that in. I’ll consult you for details.

  5. John Shutkin says:

    Suzy, I think the reunion will occur when you are a finalist on American Idol or The Voice.

  6. This is very, very odd and very, very suspenseful. Such a matter-of-fact set up and build with the perfect nanny. Then…
    [run Twilight Zone theme]
    Once again, your prosaic narrative compels us forward, the Mexico snafu, the erstwhile husband, the booze, the pills. Your choice of casting was marvelous as well. The girl next door, the fresh American beauty… gone! I also loved how her competence and your monumental efforts to keep her on belied the weird behavior to come. Nice work, Agatha!

    • Suzy says:

      Wow, nice compliment, Charlie, thank you. I love being compared to Agatha, although I don’t know if I could manage to sustain this mood through an entire novel, let alone 66 of them.

  7. This is a heartbreaking story, Suzy. You were such a positive force in her life. Clearly you cared about her, and still do. That care lives within her, and hopefully her story will have a happy ending, though you may never hear it.

  8. Brava Suzy,
    As with Betsy’s nanny story I’m reminded again how often fact is stranger than fiction, and how powerful our writing prompts are in conjuring up our joyous as well as our painful memories.

  9. Laurie Levy says:

    Wow, Suzy, that’s a sad story. Makes me wonder what was going on in her life that she couldn’t share with you. She was lucky to have such a supportive and generous family to work for. As director of a preschool, I had a few employees like your perfect nanny. They were great with the kids but their personal lives were a mess. One even used her building key to sleep in the school at night to escape an abusive spouse. Another was in dire financial straits and stole shopping coupons that we used to distribute in the kids’ cubbies for fundraising. Lots of good people have problems beyond our help or understanding.

  10. A beautiful profile of a good person in a bad situation. It struck me that she was so wonderful with children and so unfortunate with men. But what’s new there? I was moved by how much you cared for her, so generous with your resources and attention, while she cared for your kids. Mazel tov!

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