When the news broke on Friday morning of the nanny in New York who murdered two children in her care, I stared into space across the breakfast table for a long while.
I cannot imagine a worse scenario. The manner of deaths, the mother’s discovery. New details kept trickling in through various news sources and I didn’t want to hear any more details about this horror.
I puttered through my morning at the grocery store with my son, through some writing, through a phone call. My mind kept returning to this tragedy of strangers, and also with exhausting emotions all my own. Soon after the noon hour, I grabbed my keys to drive to preschool pickup. The baby was sleeping peacefully in his crib, our nanny was there listening for his first peep.
The day before, I was involved in a near awful collision on the freeway. As my SUV raced along at 65 mph, a car decided at the last minute to take the exit, and swung across three lanes of traffic and nearly right into me. Had I not seen her coming, slammed on my brakes as hard as I could while honking and bracing for impact, it would have been a very, very different day. She missed me by inches, but we both pulled over anyway, just to stop shaking.
So on Friday, with all of this fresh, I got in my car in the garage and then I climbed back out. I asked the nanny to do preschool pickup - using surface streets and not the freeway - and I would stay with the baby. While she was gone, the baby woke up and I went about making us all some lunch. One o’clock pickup came and went. Then it was one-thirty, then it was one-forty-five. No answer on the nanny’s cell phone, so I started calling it over and over. I knew that the school would have called if someone hadn’t been there at one, but my normally rational mind went from zero to one hundred as the phone rang over and over.
I quickly loaded my baby in the car and started down the neighborhood, retracing the various routes between our home and the school. At a stoplight down the street, our beloved nanny, the person we trust like family, who has been in our lives for fifteen years, finally answered.
We met back in the driveway. She was holding the pizza that had caused the delay, I cried great heaving sobs, hoping that the kids still buckled in their car seats couldn’t hear me. The nanny was, understandably, wide-eyed and stunned at my display. In all of our hundreds of days together, I have only cried in front of her once before.
I knew as it was happening that it was about the New York news story, and the mind circle moms have about letting anyone else care for their children even for one minute. Even when the thoughts are absurd. I knew my hysteria was about the near-miss wreck the day before, and where your mind goes in the midst of tragedy, even when it’s not yours. I knew, as my shoulders shook, that it was about a sweet little loved one in our family who is battling, and how her momma must feel every day. Like she’s honking and bracing for impact.
I’ve argued that we live in a culture of fear, that nothing spooks a mother like more technology and more information and more, more, more. But probably, when the earliest cave woman sent her child out to hunt and gather, she held her breath. Inevitably, terrible things happened then, too. And the woman four caves down hugged her children that much tighter.