The Nanny Cam
I once went to interview for a nanny job for seven-month-old Isaac with parents Rachel (doctor) and Dan (MBA student). Rachel asked if I would mind if they had a nanny cam in the house.
“Of course not,” I said. “That’s great. Everyone should have one.” You can’t say you mind, because, you know, why would you mind?
I’ll tell you why I would mind. It’s a violation of the nanny code. When you’re out the door, the house is mine, and I eat all your snacks. In a way you won’t notice.
The whole joy of nannying is that I’m left alone. No one is judging the way I wash a bottle or spoon feed rice cereal. I don’t have to explain and justify every move I make with the kid. I take care of business, and at nap time get a couple hours in on whatever project I’m working on.
But I needed the job. I took it.
On my first day, I walked up three flights to the apartment and Rachel ran through all the systems and equipment. Have you ever messed with babies? There’s a lot going on. Breast milk defrosting, testing the bath temperature, unscrewing the mini brush out of the bottle scrubber to poke through the rubber nipple before sanitizing, restock the diaper bag, nickel-sized dollop of diaper cream, fold the crib sheet like Marie Kondo, teething biscuits that call to mind a British tea service, notebook to track poops, and the spoons go here. "I like everything kept really clean," Rachel said.
Not mentioned: the nanny cam or its location.
If I asked, that would indicate I was concerned about it. If I was concerned about it, that meant I was likely plotting some illicit activity. If I hunted around, that would be caught on camera and rouse suspicion.
It could be anywhere. Were they trying to make it seem less intrusive by not having it out in the open? I had done some Google research. You can buy spy cameras disguised as books, plants, photo frames, light bulbs. The lifeless computer desktop could be recording. Their apartment had so much stuff. Wall art, pillows, shelves of knickknacks. Things that looked like smoke alarms and thermostats. But how should I know?
Rachel went to work. It was just me, Isaac, and the camera.
It was a terrible feeling, being watched. I had to be on my best behavior. Every move I made I could feel my brain forming a justification in case I was criticized. “Your honor, the defendant is charged with leaving dirty dishes on the counter.” “Objection! If you review it on the tape, my client was momentarily taken away from the task to soothe the crying baby, which you’ll agree is first priority.” “Sustained.” “Your honor, the defendant is charged with checking her phone every time it dings, instead of keeping focus on the child.” “Objection! My client’s duty is to the child’s parents as well, and should they message her with requests for updates or photos she must be available with a timely response!” “Sustained. Fitzpatrick, are you going to continue wasting everyone’s time? I’ve got a golf game at four.”
I took Isaac out for a walk. The feeling of being observed remained as I got the stroller onto the sidewalk. There was no chance of a camera outside the house...right? What if it was in the squeaky giraffe in the diaper bag? Could there be a system of hired spies surveilling from front windows?
We came back in. I figured I better narrate to fill in the gaps. “That was so much fun working on your gross motor skills at the playspace,” I said loudly. “Time to change your diaper! It’s important to do it in frequent intervals!”
I dumped a load of Isaac’s sleep suits and burp cloths into the laundry. “Let’s count to three before we push the start button,” I said, balancing him on my hip. “We’re practicing numeracy! Your brain synapses are just firing away right now!” That Early Childhood Education master’s degree loan of twenty thousand dollars was really paying for itself. (Did I mention it was at an interest rate of 6.8 percent?)
My first day ended. I kept up the perfect nanny drill the next day, and the next. Weeks passed and I started to relax into the routine. Rachel and Dan were happy and our communication was smooth (still no mention of the camera). I was a good nanny. I kept narrating aloud during the day, and started to say funny things and be goofy when I felt like it. Really, I should be proud to have this performance on closed-circuit tv.
Maybe...it wasn’t so bad being watched.
I now made sure my jokes were loud enough for the cameras. I improvised scenes with Isaac’s rubber ducks. I made up songs that were sweet for the baby and full of references for the adults.
This was the Pixar method, wasn’t it? Quality material for the kids, and equal attention paid to entertaining the grownups. Maybe I had found my niche.
After all, I had always wanted my own show. Wasn’t this…an opportunity, really? It had the potential for hours of material.
Maybe Dan was at a study session with his grad school classmates, checking in on the nanny cam and chuckling. And then his study group would say, “Oh, is that nanny on?” And they’d all gather around to watch: “Oh, she’s great. She’s so funny.” “She’s cute, is she single?”
Maybe Rachel and Dan rewatched the tapes at night and laughed. Maybe they forwarded clips to friends. Or there were viewing parties where they got everybody together on Saturday night and featured the week’s highlights. What if one of their friends knew somebody in television and realized this was an opportunity for a great new reality show? It might already be live streaming without my knowing it.
Could I actually ask them to…see the videos? I could play it all back like Scorsese watching the dailies. Like a defensive coordinator breaking tape from a football game, drawing x’s and arrows to tighten choreography and see what worked.
A musical might be an obvious angle -- so many places for songs about the day’s routine. Maybe a Gershwin vibe? I had a terrible singing voice, but I could write some lyrics. We could get a team in. The mommy consumer industry was huge; Kickstarter was a thing. There was definitely room for this; it was just a matter of getting it out into the world!
Things clicked along as the weeks went by. Isaac was happy; Rachel and Dan were happy. We still hadn’t acknowledged the camera. I knew why. Talking about it was like ruining a good date by constantly saying aloud, “This is so fun!” It would mess with the good thing we had going.
Five months into the job, I broke the news to Rachel that I was moving to a different city. One day shortly after that, she was home early from work and we had tea together at the kitchen table while Isaac napped. Rachel talked about finding my replacement.
“There’s so many things to think about!” she exclaimed, hand to her head. “It worked out great with you, but it’s so worrying to bring in a new person. To trust someone in your home! Before you started all my friends told me to get a nanny cam.”
The forbidden subject, out in the open. I put down my tea mug. Finally, accolades for my hard work, but also -- an acknowledgement of how entertaining I was. My own Oscar ceremony, right here. I prepared my humblest expression.
“Yeah,” Rachel continued. “I even thought about putting one in.”
“Oh,” I said. “I thought you did put one in.” I kept my voice bright. “Since you asked about it at the interview.”
Rachel put down her mug and looked at me, “No, I never ended up doing it. Wait - did you think there were cameras in here?”
She burst out laughing. “That’s so funny!”
I smiled back at her.
As we approached my leaving date, I was burnt out. I allowed myself not only to be imperfect, but actually lazy. Keep Isaac happy and nothing extra. I’m not wiping the kitchen counter ten times a day. I’m NOT.
They had hired someone who was going to overlap with me for a few days before I left. The day before the new nanny joined, Rachel updated me on the sleep training they were starting with Isaac. “Let him cry for five minutes before you go in and get him,” she told me.
It was my last day alone. At nap time, I put Isaac down in his room and watched from the kitchen on the baby monitor as he stood in his crib and hollered. We hit five minutes. I decided I would see how he did if I let him go a little longer. I bet he would tire himself out soon.
We hit seven minutes. Isaac was still yelling. My cell phone lit up: Dan. He sounded frantic. He said Isaac had been crying more than five minutes and they were following the sleep training strictly and we weren’t supposed to let him cry more than five and could I please go get him?
He told me he had seen everything on the nanny camera that they had just put in for the new nanny.
I wish they hadn’t waited until Season Two to start watching. Because Season One was really freaking fantastic.