Tuesday, July 6, 2010

56. Mind Trip

The other day at work I caught myself looking on Craigslist for flats in Notting Hill. Not because I was seriously thinking about moving to London, but I was just curious about how the prices compared to NYC. While I browsed through tiny, cramped flats out of my price range, I imagined what it would be like to live there, to wake up next to Cayden, give him a Tic Tac kiss and watch him get dressed for work. Then I'd eventually pull myself out of bed, throw on skinny jeans, a V-neck T, and a scarf and take my laptop to a local cafe where I'd drink four cups of coffee while I worked on a novel. I'd use the people around me as the characters, stealing their exact characteristics to describe key players in the story. The handsome scruffy Brit who'd read comic books while he sipped his extra hot black coffee on the corduroy couch would become the main character, who I'd end up naming Toby or Stan. The dread-locked barista would become his drug dealer turned lover, Jade.

After my four cups of coffee, I'd close my laptop and hit the Portebello Market in search of a new scarf. I'd eavesdrop on the accent-heavy conversations on the streets, trying to come up with new material for a side story. I'd write about a secret affair between the woman cooking Nutella crepes on the street corner and the bus boy at the pub across the street, and a minor fender-bender that leads to a steamy one-night stand between Driver A and Driver B.

Part way through my daydreaming I realized I should imagine something a little more realistic. I couldn't hypothetically move to London unless I had a job, and I don't think full-time novel writing counts, unfortunately. All of my past jobs and internships are in magazine editorial, but I was sure the magazine job market in London was just as bad as it was here. There's no way they'd offer a job to some random American journalist when thousands of other British journalists were already there, fighting to find work. Besides, I don't know how easily I'd adjust to writing "whilst" and "favourite." I even went as far as looking for magazines specifically for Americans living in England, which I found in Americans in Britain. Catchy, eh?

My only other work experience is five years as a rollerskating carhop at Sonic Drive-in, and a babysitter/nanny since I was 9 years old. Being that Sonic isn't the UK's Favorite Drive-in, I decided to look for nanny jobs. You know, for my hypothetical move.

But then I remembered what happened last time I tried to get a nanny job. When my internship ended in NYC, I freaked out thinking I wouldn't be able to find a big-kid magazine job in the crumbling economy. So I applied for nanny gig after nanny gig. I loved kids, and I imagined how fun it would be to nanny for a rich family in the city, travel with them, take the baby for a walk in Central Park, and I'd try to freelance while the baby slept, just so I wouldn't put my journalism degree to complete waste. And let's be honest, nannying pays much more than magazine journalism.

The first gig I heard back about was for a couple that lived on Fifth Avenue in a beautiful high-rise. They had a 3-month-old baby, and they were willing to pay bookoo bucks for a nanny to work 5 overnights a week. When I met the family during my interview, I asked what they did that they needed a nanny overnight. Turns out, the dad is a professional poker player and he hosts poker tournaments in their apartment every night. And the mom? Well, she gives them shoulder rubs. So I'd be confined to the baby's room all night, to watch him sleep. No thanks.

The next one I heard back about sounded way too good to be true. A Vietnamese family in the Upper East Side wanted an English-speaking "teacher" to help their 1- and 2-year-old girls learn English. The teacher would travel with them to their vacation homes in Orange County and Vietnam.

It sounded perfect.

But I’ve never been more thankful for my childhood than I was that Friday night after spending the afternoon with that family for my "test run." I spent my childhood reenacting gymnastics routines on my trampoline with my sisters, dressing my brother up in my mom’s old clothes and hosting fashion shows in the living room, and playing sports and going to sporting events with my family. (Yes, I was that hard-core kid banging on the glass at the Blue’s hockey games.) But the kids I spent the day with that Friday, 1-year-old Angelina-ballerina and 2-year-old Diana-Banana, will have a very different childhood—one that I’m not jealous of. I grew up filthy from playing outside. These kids are growing up filthy rich.

First of all, both kids had their own nannies who lived with them 24-7. The nannies bathe them, dress them, and put them to bed. The private chef feeds them three meals a day. Each kid also each had her own “teacher,” which is the position I applied for. When I showed up on that Friday, the other “teacher,” Jenna, was there to show me how things worked. She greeted me at the door with Angelina in her arms.

Angelina was not happy to see me. I later realized it was because she didn’t know what strangers were. In the past year, she’d never been out of the house except for when they jet set to Vietnam (first class, of course) only to stay cooped up in their Vietnam house because they had to stay out of the public eye (the mom is a famous pop star Vietnam and gets followed around like a Vietnamese Britney, only with less addictions). So then I met Diana, who was preoccupied watching an educational cartoon in the gameroom while her chef and nanny tried to force feed her something green. I met her from the hallway, because apparently she’s protective of her gameroom. She won’t even let her sister in the same room, which is why in their new house (3 penthouse apartments converted into one in the Upper West Side) the girls will each have their own gameroom.

Then I met the Vietnamese chef, nannies, and maids. And by “met” I mean they just looked at me, probably thinking, “wow, giant American,” while I smiled politely, wondering if I was supposed to bow my head or something. With so many people on staff, I wondered what in the world I was actually supposed to be doing there.

Then Jenna explained to me, in the strongest Long Island accent I’d EVER heard, that it’s our job to make sure the kids don’t cry (or we get in trouble), or make a mess (or we get in trouble), or hurt themselves (or we get fired). Supposedly the mom is home from time to time, not that it matters, because there’s a camera in every single room watching every room you make. The dad can watch everything you do from anywhere in the world. Creepy.

“But don’t worry, you can tell when he’s watching you. You’ll hear the camera focus,” Jenna explained. Oh, how comforting. Sure enough, an hour or so later we were reading books with the 2-year-old after handing the baby off to her prospective nanny and pointing at her diaper and saying “wet,” we heard the camera.

“Don’t look at it! Just pretend like you don’t know it’s there.”

So she just kept on reading while I held my breath and tried my best to disappear.
Oh, and by the way, the 2-year-old was already smarter than I was. She’s already through her 2nd grade workbooks. And she was in a computer class. She'd just gotten her very own laptop. Adorable, right?

Long story short, it would have been an interesting job, and a TON of money, but not one I wanted. I don’t want to watch those girls grow up that way. In my eyes, it was a strange form of child abuse. While they’re the most spoiled girls I know, they’re completely neglected. The sisters won’t even know each other. They’ll probably be home schooled their whole lives and not know there is a world outside of their penthouse. How can you teach kids who haven’t experienced anything? No thank you.

So, I walked away feeling very sad for Diana-Banana and Angelina-Ballerina because Diana will probably never experience the slimy sweetness of a banana, and Angelina will probably never be a ballerina, unless they build a ballet studio in their apartment, which I wouldn’t put past them.

I was raised by loving parents, not nannies who only cared for me so they wouldn’t get in trouble or fired. I was raised with sisters and a brother, instead of a life-sized Dora the Explorer doll and a camera in every room. I walked away with a newfound appreciation for my family and the way I was raised. I’m glad I didn’t grow up in money, and I’m even glad we’ve hit rock bottom before. It made my family a family.

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