Black Family Seeks Nanny

What a black mom might write in an ad if she could be honest.

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Some women think their kids can do no wrong, while others are brutally honest: "My kids are a pain," began Rebecca Land Soodak, in the advertisement she recently posted on craigslist, in search of the perfect nanny for her Manhattan-based family of five. "If you cannot multitask or communicate without being passive aggressive, don't even bother replying."

And then she continued to break it down in a way that would even make the most sarcastic hockey mom sit up and take notes: "If you suspect all wealthy women are frivolous, we are not for you. I do not want to hide my occasional Bergdorf shopping bag."

At least she's honest. Within days, the 1,000-word tome circulated among blogs and throughout e-mail boxes far and wide. And although some parents marveled at Soodak's audacity to put her business in the street like that, what parent can blame her? But no matter how draining one's offspring may be, in an era when many babysitters think that watching "their stories" is more important than watching the news, you really can't leave your kids with just anybody.

I've never had full-time, live-in help (nor the budget for it), but the pet-peeve-laden post inspired me to list some requirements that my own caregiver would need to meet—in the event I ever need to break the glass and call Nanny 911.

1.  Don't be a bigot. Please don't let the elocution on our home answering machine fool you—we're African American. Not that bigoted nannies are OK for non-black families, but those who hate black folks need not apply.

2.  Know how to cornrow. Of course you can still work for me if, even if up until now, you thought cornrows came from Iowa—but you better be ready to learn how to care for my children's hair. It would be great if I could hand you some Carol's Daughter and a wide-toothed comb, fully confident that you can take care of the rest. Most mornings, my 6-year-old screams if I so much as even try to make a part down the center of her head, so you'll need to know how to step in when I'm a split end away from cutting it all off. And please know that the only thing that counts as "good hair" in this house is the stuff that grows out of our heads.

3. Tone down the TMI. Even if you seem perfectly fine with my kids, there's no guarantee that you won't say something that might scar me for life. Kids forget things quickly, but moms tend to have memories like elephants. I don't want to hear about the fuzzy glitter thong you designed for your trip to Burning Man, or how tore up you got at Black Bike Week. Maybe mama needs to get a life, but come on now—these are my children I'm trusting you with. I'm questioning your judgment as much as I am questioning John McCain. 

4. Must be ready to Barack the vote. Unless you've been living on Mars for the past year, I'm really not interested in hiring a babysitter who is more concerned with who just got kicked off of Big Brother than what's going on in the current election. And, no matter who she plans to vote for, a nanny with no understanding of what Barack Obama's success in this historic election means to my family—particularly my children—is probably not someone I'd want up in the crib. That's not to say it's anything personal—not unlike our first black first lady.  I, too, was raised to treat people with dignity and respect, even if you don't know them, and even if you don't agree with them. But this is my family, and we want change. If you still think Barack's not "black" enough or that he's actually a terrorist fist-jabber, we probably won't get along. 

5. Remember, I'm not heavy; I'm your sister. And help me out a little. If you are a black applicant, I could see how, given the history of black women as domestic help in this country, one black woman "waiting on" another might just be too weird—for both of us. But I think that there are certain cultural commonalities that would make for a perfect match. There's a comfort I'd take in hiring someone who might be a cousin (at the very least a play cousin) who your kids could almost recognize as family. But in reality, African-American women have such a hard time finding black nannies. One of my friends was forced to use black au pairs from as far away as Germany, while her white neighbors employed a plethora of smiling brown faces. 

I'd be kidding myself to think that an ad coming from a persnickety, black mom like me would stay on craigslist for more than 24 hours. Because in the real world, the racial overtones would probably get it banned faster than a book on puberty at the Wasilla Library. Even if it remained on the site, I'd probably have a much harder time filling the position than Rebecca Land Soodak eventually did, even with her laundry list of qualifications. So while I'd love to have the luxury of bringing home a random Bergdorf shopping bag, it might not be such a bad thing that I can't afford Mary Poppins v2.0 any old way. Because even Cosby money wouldn't change the fact that anyone black folks hire to care for their kids must have a cultural awareness that money just can't buy.

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