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Chatting to my nanny the other day, she mentioned that she had been invited by one of her old employers to the wedding of a child she once took care of.
“That’s wonderful!” I said enthusiastically.
“Time goes by so fast!” she replied “and Cécile tells me she is getting a divorce. So there were two pieces of news in one message.”
“That is too bad,” I respond.
“She is happy about it. She feels free. Maybe it’s a good thing.”
Free? She feels free? I told my nanny I don’t think that kind of “freedom” is very positive, for Cécile, for her children and future grandchildren. Free … to do what exactly?
This particular vision of divorce is a particular bugbear of mine. I was particularly alarmed to see how my nanny had drunk the Kool-aid so easily.
We share her salary with another family, 1800€ after taxes for 4 days/week. She’s legally employed and has five weeks of vacation and medical care, public school for her eight-year-old daughter. I also convinced her to start the French citizenship process so she and her daughter are now French-Senegalese. She lives with the little girl’s father but isn’t married to him and he’s a shadowy figure in that she doesn’t refer much to him. He takes care of the little girl often and works too. They live in a minuscule public housing apartment in a largely white area, which she clings to because she (correctly and poignantly) wants her daughter educated with “white kids” and not in one of Paris’ “diverse” suburbs.
One of the families we shared my nanny with picked up sticks unexpectedly (and rudely, but that’s another story) and moved out to a more “diverse” suburb because they were lefties who wanted “diversity” and the “real world.” My nanny, a Senagalese immigrant whose path to France hasn’t been easy, was horrified and used to call me to complain about the delinquents hanging around the park in their new neighborhood.
If my nanny and her child’s father stay together and she stays away from the poison our culture pumps into people about “freedom”, that little girl has a good chance to be healthily middle class. On her own, my nanny would not be “free”, which means what for a 45-year-old mother of a nine-year-old girl with her salary and responsibilities? Clubbing? Barhopping? Relaxing with a cocktail on a lounge chair on a beach? And to be honest, I don’t see her fantasy of “freedom” as more delusional and absurd than that of the other divorced lawyers and HR managers living in fancy Haussmanian apartments around us. What crazy and exciting things is my nanny’s old employer Cécile going to get up to with her new “freedom?” Besides making Christmas really awkward for the rest of her family and casting a shadow over her son’s wedding?
For example, we now share our nanny with a “famille recomposée” (the politically correct French for “fusion family”) consisting of a lawyer and her son from a previous relationship, her rather taciturn new companion and their new daughter. The son is nine and has a slightly bedraggled, forlorn look and he’s not super well-behaved or well-mannered (I am always a bit wary that he’s going to break something), but I feel sorry for him. His mother is marrying her new boyfriend. She’s very pretty, loves traveling, comes from southern France. She previously employed my nanny for her son, when she was with the young Robert Redford lookalike that is his father, and that’s how we all came together. I don’t think the nanny perceives what I perceive, and I am not wrong.
The cut is never clean. When Robert Redford had to be taken home from the hospital, he had no one else to help him but his ex-companion. She is not “free.” He is not “free.”
My nanny loves the new co-mom in the “garde” and I think she sees her as glamorous. I do not, nor do I think the co-mom sees herself, deep inside, as glamorous, and I think there is unhappiness there, but my nanny doesn’t see it. And of course, in our new age of Self-Realization, we aren’t allowed to say some families are better than others or to suggest that responsibility should take priority over self-realization.
This past winter my nanny confided in me about her own child’s father, complaining about how he’s too tired to go out over the weekend, doesn’t help around the house.
I tried to be appropriate in my responses, but I really tried to make her believe in her relationship and see the value in sustaining it.
I believe in marriage. I don’t think divorce is “freedom.” I think separation is particularly disastrous for people like her, and her daughter, who have a tenuous grasp on the middle class, albeit with a lot of help from the public support. Her daughter is attached to her papa.
My husband and I do family stuff on the weekend and once we were invited to a Saturday night party that was quite an obligation for us. So we very exceptionally asked the nanny to babysit that night and she very exceptionally came, because she was delighted that hubby and I were finally “getting out.” We went to said party and counted the minutes until we could come home again. She was almost disappointed that we were so boring.
An old friend of mine wrote to me a year or two ago to tell me her news after a long pause in our friendship. My news was – drum roll! – I am a right-winger! Hers was: “Daniel and I are divorcing.” We corresponded a bit more. Their three daughters (prepubescent) “had a hard time at first,” but were “being brave” and my friend was planning a vacation without those pesky kids with her new boyfriend, some Romanian dude. I never wrote back, basically ending the friendship, but the selfishness I perceived, the shortsightedness, immaturity, carelessness really appalled me and yes, I judged.
So when my nanny complained about Marianne’s father and talked about this phantom “freedom” that has so bewitched our culture, I told my nanny the most important thing for her daughter is her papa. Not vacations, not ballet lessons, not a big apartment. The papa. That is the key to the little girl doing all the things her mother dreams of for her.
My nanny, on her own, would not be “free.” It would be a catastrophe. Why can’t we say this?Published in