Last week when the media world was all aflutter with Steven Slater the Jet Blue flight attendant and his incredibly brash and dramatic exit down the emergency slide, beer in hand and profanities flying, everyone wondered if all civility and decency had finally been lost in air travel. But, this past Monday, according to news reports, a Southwest flight attendant scooped up a 13-month old baby after watching its mother slap it repeatedly on the face and body. Now the debate goes on about whether or not she was allowed to do this (legally the answer is no) but I couldn’t help wonder what were the other passengers doing just sitting there? And what would I have done?
Twice in my life I have reported nannies I have seen abusing a child. Admittedly reporting a nanny is lot easier than reporting a parent. There is after all a parent you can call. A nanny is an employee who can be fired. But you’d be surprised how many parents don’t want to hear it or refuse to believe it. I was always tentative about reporting the abuse or neglect I saw on the playground or around the neighborhood until one of my WOHM friends fired her nanny for things I had known all along (not outright abuse, but total neglect of the child on the playground). When I told her that I had seen those things but felt awkward telling her because she wasn’t a good friend yet and I wasn’t sure how she would respond she told me to please, please tell her if I ever saw anything. But there I was afraid of appearing like a” sanctimommy” – as if I was going to be the bitchy Stay-at-Home-Mom telling the Working Mom that her nanny was terrible and somehow that would be construed as me judging her for having a nanny in the first place. But, after my friend (who went on to become one of my close friends) told me that she wanted to know, was so relieved when she heard feedback from people who saw her children during the day, I decided that I would never again stay silent if I saw abuse going on.
The first nanny I reported was in charge of a girl in one of my daughters’ afterschool classes. The first week in the changing room I heard her call the little girl “stupid” and berating her for moving too slow. I kind of chalked it up to her having a bad day. We have all unfortunately been there at wit’s end and I thought I’d give her the benefit of the doubt. The second week was the same. The third week I was late and she was escorting the child to class as my daughters and I hustled into the changing room. We sort of nodded to each other in acknowledgement as we passed. Another woman saw that exchange and rushed up to me. She asked me if I knew the sitter and if I knew the parents. I said I didn’t that we only had this class together. She shook her head and said, “I have never, ever heard someone talk to a child like that. I wish I knew her mother.” Well, that did it. When a stranger comes up to me confirming everything I had thought too I knew I needed to act. Long story short, I reported it to the director of the program who forwarded the info to the mother. After a few emails back and forth where the mother expressed her total and utter disbelief and I just told her simply what I had seen and heard and the other woman as well I thought that was that. But, two weeks later the nanny was still there with the little girl. On her best behavior and certainly with a paranoid demeanor, but they had obviously kept her on. It was really disheartening.
The second time I reported a nanny took a little more sleuthing. This child’s nanny had grabbed him by the hair, out of nowhere, and thrown him to the ground right outside our playground. There were a group of nanny friends and their kids with her and as she proceeded to yank the boy up by his ear and curse at him all of her friends pointed out that a group of moms were around watching her. Well this sent her off the deep end and she started cursing at us too ending with “They don’t know who the f*ck I am what are they going to do about it?” Well, that was like challenging me to a duel. After finding out from the child on the sly at the playground what school he went to I emailed the principal of the school. She immediately got back to me. I described the child and the nanny as best I could, she sent me a picture to confirm. Thankfully this nanny was fired and the principal told me the parents were very, very grateful. Although the saddest part of this was that when I confirmed which child it was the principal said, “I’m not surprised.” Really.
So, those are my two stories. There are hundreds of them at I Saw Your Nanny, a website where people can report nanny abuse and even submit a cellphone pic when there is just no way for you to figure out who the parents are. And please, I am not a nanny basher. I have friends with incredible nannies – women who are the most kind-hearted, generous people you’ll ever know. And when I used to work with nannies at a former job I heard all kinds of boss horror stories. I know. The Nanny Diaries didn’t begin to tell the real or right story. But, this is not about that. This post is just to say don’t feel helpless when you see a child in need. It might take a few extra steps or couple of hours of your time but is there anything more worth it?