Sunday, 24 March 2013

THE SUMMIT by Naomi Elana Zener

"What we hope to achieve here today is to mend fences and build bridges of communication," Jane, the facilitator, said soberly as she interlocked her fingers so as to give the attendees a visual cue of the goal of the seminar. "This is to be a safe place where we can share our feelings, concerns and issues without fear of reprisal or blame so that a new, healthy relationship can emerge for all of you."

Jane recognized that in order to quell the fire of animosity simmering before her, she would have to try to appeal to a sense of sisterhood amongst the women before her. Otherwise, the embers that flickered visibly would erupt into a full-scale brush fire wiping out both camps seated in the room. The two factions were clearly demarcated: the Nannies, a mix of Filipina, Caribbean and Mexican women, sitting on one side of the room and their female employers sitting in direct opposition to them. Resolving the years of pent up hostility, barely containable as evidenced by the foaming mouths of every woman in the room ready to take aim and fire at each other, leaving no survivors behind was no mere Herculean task. Jane realized that brokering peace between the sides would be harder than attaining a tranquil Arab-Israeli coexistence in the Middle East.

"Ladies, please remember that your lives are inextricably linked as you rely on each other for the shared purpose of raising healthy and happy children," Jane reminded the women. "Keep the little ones in mind when airing your grievances today."

"As long as the help remembers that they are our little ones, not theirs," a blonde svelte woman stated.

"Maybe they came out of your vagina, but when they call for 'mommy' it is me they want!" a Filipina nanny retorted.  "Why you think that is? Because you are too busy on the treadmill and in yoga-boxing class to get your pre-baby body back instead of watching Sesame Street with them."

"Well they wouldn't have to watch so much Sesame Street if you knew how to speak proper English," another employer shouted.  "Do you know how many times I've told my nanny, no Tagalog in my house? Only English! Yet, my little one keeps running around yelling ‘
me guapo’."

"I hear what you are saying and while it is very important that the child speak the same language as its parents, please remember that human rights, labour laws and equality rights require that you do not discriminate against your employee. You cannot prohibit them from speaking their native tongue in your homes," Jane offered. "Perhaps the solution is that Tagalog is only spoken when the child is not in the presence or earshot of your nanny?"

"That is a bit difficult since my nanny is on call from 6:00 in the morning until she puts my kids to bed at 8:00 in the evening," the blonde woman replied.

"Same for me," echoed another lady.  Most of the female employers in the room nodded their heads in unison.

"Sorry to interject, but I have to ask if you are all aware of employment law limits on the maximum number of work hours anyone can work in a given week?" Jane queried to blank stares.

"What is your point?" a brunette woman asked supported by the quizzical looking faces of the other female employers around her.

"Well, if your nannies are working ten hours a day, five days a week..."Jane started.

"You mean seven," the brunette interrupted, "seven days a week."

"I see. Regardless of whether it is five or seven days, the maximum number of hours they can work with overtime pay is forty-eight hours," Jane explained. "I recommend that the nannies keep a close eye on their work hours and pay stubs to ensure that no one is taking advantage of them."

The nannies looked at each other blankly, uncertain if they were just given the keys to unlock their slave chains, or whether they would have to find new jobs for fear that their employers, now having been caught for imposing indentured servitude on them, would be replacing them after the summit ended.

"Excuse me, but I don't think that work hours is the point of our little get together," a female employer suggested. "We should be focusing on the problems at hand: nannies sharing confidential salary information, wearing their employers' clothes without permission, nannies seducing their employer's husbands, improper child supervision, acting like they own the house, and so on."

"Honestly, we bring these women here so they can give themselves and their families a better life, and my nanny has the nerve to fuck my husband?" a red-headed woman shrieked.

"Oh miss, if you maybe fucked him yourself once in a while he no look to me for some love," retorted the red head's nanny. "I give him love long time, real easy."

"You are a two-bit whore!" the redhead screamed as she lunged across the room to choke her nanny.  The nannies jumped in front of the woman's intended victim forming a human shield to protect her.  The female employers, on the other hand, stepped aside encouraging the woman's girls-gone-wild behaviour.

"Ladies, this conduct is unbecoming!" Jane implored as she pulled the redhead away form the nanny iron curtain. "If your nanny had sex with your husband, you are well in your right to fire her. As for your husband, surely there is equal blame to lay there."

"Oh I laid blame alright and I fired her ass. Except my loving husband rehired her to watch our kids at his new house, after I threw him and that slut out on the lawn in the dead of winter's night with no clothes and no keys to get back inside," the red-head revealed proudly.

“What you expect lady? You all either workaholics or shopaholics, so busy with yourselves that it is no wonder your husbands come to us for a little loving,” a nanny cried.

“What I think that the nannies are trying to say is that if there are problems in your marriages, the nannies are not only to blame if husbands cheat with them. However, the nannies should know better than to accept any husband’s advance or to encourage it,” Jane advised.

“Ever hear of the expression ‘you don’t shit where you eat’ in your language?” the redhead howled.

“We have that saying too boss lady, but it can be hard to follow it when you don’t even feed us like you are supposed to!” a nanny retorted.

“My nanny gets plenty to eat! I never had such a high food bill in my life before she moved in,” a brunette cried.

“That’s only because you don’t eat so you never bought much food to begin with,” the brunette’s zaftig nanny retorted. “And I need all the food I can get since I am chasing your three kids around because you and your husband are never home!”

“I’ll have you know that I spend plenty of time raising my children!” the brunette replied. “Studies have shown that as long as you give your children fifteen minutes of quality time per day that they will have as strong a parent-child bond as those who spend day in and day out with their kids.”

“Those studies are not exactly based on science,” Jane offered. “While I understand that your job may preclude you from spending more than fifteen minutes a day with your kids individually…”

“No, you misunderstood. It is fifteen minutes collectively,” the brunette advised. “Even though I don’t work, I certainly do not have forty-five separate minutes to divvy up between my three children. I am very busy nonetheless with overseeing my kids’ schedules, lunch meetings, health maintenance appointments…”

“She means telling me what the kids need to do and where they need to be at what time, going out to drink protein shakes with her friends at lunch and spending time at the gym and spa making sure she stays a size zero,” the brunette’s nanny explained.

“Well, I think that what your nanny is trying to tell you is that given the great amount of time you devote to yourself, she needs a lot of energy to care for your children. Since you don’t consume much of the food bought, just think of the large food bills as the cost of having your kids raised for you,” Jane suggested.

“That lady may have high food costs because she has a fat nanny, but my clothing bill has skyrocketed three times over since we hired our nanny!” a blonde cried. “I know that I love to shop, but not like this?”

“I don’t understand,” Jane queried. “Why have you needed to buy more clothes since your nanny moved in?”

“Because that little shit goes into my closet when I am not home and wears them! Then she ‘cleans’ them before I get home, but I have found them hanging to dry when I know I have not worn those items. Plus, she is bigger than me and the seams are stretched out and now the clothes are unwearable.”

“Well, that is certainly a trust issue that even borders on theft!” a redheaded female lawyer advised.

“Don’t be too hasty at accusing this woman’s nanny of committing a crime,” Jane offered. “Maybe the nanny should have an opportunity to defend herself?”

“It is true, I have worn boss lady’s clothes, but I only take items from the charity donation bags since she be giving them away anyhow,” the blonde’s nanny explained. “I need as much charity as I can get since I get paid so little.”

“That certainly doesn’t explain why my nanny wears my clothes!” another woman screamed.

“Or mine,” registered a chorus of other women’s voices.

“I am so sick of seeing a sea of Juicy-clad nannies at the nanny park when I drive by. I know for a fact that they cannot afford to wear designer labels even if they bought them at a consignment store!” a woman yelled.

“Forget about affording anything at the consignment store! I caught my last nanny trying to sell my one-of-a-kind custom made Channel suits at a consignment store when I was there dropping off items to sell,” another woman cried. “That is theft!”

“Clearly, there is an issue here that needs to be addressed. Perhaps the employers can first be flattered by their nanny’s admiration for their wardrobe, instead of getting angry. Your nannies see your lives as something to aspire to. However, nannies need to be mindful that they are guests in the homes of their employers and what belongs to their employers is not open to the nannies to just take.”

The nannies nodded their heads in solemn, but begrudging understanding, since their employers’ closets were swollen with unworn clothing still sporting their price tags. Employers sat triumphant satisfied that they had won this round, but remained weary of what type of reprisal would befall them when they returned home. These women were acutely aware that it was them who became guests in their own homes because ultimately, if they disciplined their nannies for poor performance, insubordination or actual criminal or immoral behaviour, they would likely lose their nanny to the poachers out there vying to get their hands on a caregiver without having to incur the costs of sponsoring one into the country. Not to forget the acts of vengeance they would suffer at the hands of the nanny mafia!

“This is certainly a break in the impasse we’ve been experiencing today,” Jane sang prematurely at the peaceful moment that had enveloped the room. “I think that with both sides airing out their concerns, we are getting closer to gaining mutual understanding and finding a path down which your respective employment relationships will travel into the future.”

“Before you get ahead of yourself miss, there is an ugly problem that none of our employers are talking about,” a nanny said sheepishly.

“This is a safe place. Please share,” Jane offered.

“I was told to disinfect any bathroom I use after each use just in case one of her kids has to use it,” the nanny explained.

“Do you have to clean the bathroom each time every person uses it?” Jane asked tentatively.

“No, only when I use it. My employer said I carry diseases from my country and there is no vaccine protection for them here,” the nanny explained.

“My employer forbids me to mix my laundry with theirs because they’re afraid that my culture carries diseases that they don’t have medicine for here,” another nanny shared.

Jane surveyed the crowd, registering the collective angry and humiliated expressions on the nannies’ faces without finding any shame or remorse in the eyes of any of their employers. Shocked and dismayed by the rampant xenophobia in the room, Jane lost her cool.
“You are all delusional to think that this is just a communication problem. What we have here is a total breakdown in the nanny employment relationship! You women are a bunch of bigots!” Jane screamed pointing at the employers. “It is time to cut your losses.  The nannies and employers in this room should just go their separate ways. Nannies, find new employers and thoroughly vet them before accepting the job. Ladies, find new childcare arrangements, whether it be looking after your kids yourselves if you don’t work and will only miss a few lunches and yoga classes as a result, or putting your kids into daycare…”

“Are you suggesting that our nannies just quit or we fire them? You’re delusional! We cannot live without them,” a blonde shrieked.

“Yeah lady, we need our hours to get our citizenship,” one nanny cried. “Why you think we here? We ain’t quitting!”

“I don’t see how you can continue to work together,” Jane sighed. “You clearly hate each other. How can you continue to work together?”

“How can we not?” an employer asked rhetorically.

“Whether our boss ladies work or not, or happen to need a lot of ‘me’ time, who else is going to raise their kids, clean their homes, cook their food and do their laundry?” a nanny queried supported by the other nannies in the room.

“Are you kidding me?” Jane asked. “I failed you all in trying to fix the rapport you have with one another.”

“Talking things out like this was a great release! Can we do this again? Maybe on a weekly basis? Same place, same time?” the svelte-blonde said gratefully shaking Jane’s hand on behalf of every woman in the room. 

Jane sat dumbfounded. While this was not the catch-22 that Joseph Heller had in mind, it was a conundrum worthy of debate, solution and sanctions imposed by the UN’s General Assembly.

“I don’t have the strength to sit through this ever again, let alone on a weekly basis. Your employment relationships have devolved irretrievably. The only answer is dissolution of your respective unions,” Jane advised.

“Honey, husbands we can replace. Kids can be shipped off to boarding school. Nannies are precious gems to be kept under lock and key,” the redhead advised.

“Divorce is not an option,” the nannies chimed.

© 2013 Naomi Elana Zener. All rights reserved.