Saturday Storytime: Nanny's Day

One of the great things about fiction award season is that authors have come to understand that making good fiction free to read increases the number of people who can vote for it. That’s this case with this story by Leah Cypess, which was nominated for the Nebula. Leah also writes fantasy for young adults.

Kate’s ex-husband had custody of her daughter, and Annette was a stay-at-home mom; this was going to be a pointless discussion. I smiled weakly and went to get wine for both of them. Last week, Kate had broken up with her latest boyfriend, so I’d made sure to get her favorite (and very expensive) wine. She grinned when I handed her the glass, and I settled on the couch between her and Annette.

It was our yearly Mother’s Day ritual: we got together, ate pizza, drank too much, and watched Goodbye Nanny. I wasn’t looking forward to it this year.  But I flicked on my v-screen, and began drinking even before the movie started.

“The case imprinted on America’s memory,” drawled the voice-over, and the screen lit up with the overdramatized version of the story everyone knew. It started from the point of view of the nanny, a plump fifty-year-old woman who had raised someone else’s child from infancy, grown to love him “as if he was her own” – the phrase they used back then. Then it switched to the mother, with her business and recreational trips, her strings of affairs, her history of neglect.

“I never really wanted children,” she told one of her lovers in one of the most famous scenes of the movie (famous mostly because the lover was played by Steve Yu). “But since he exists, I guess I love him. It’s biological, you know?”

By the time the lawyer revealed that she didn’t even know the name of her son’s favorite teddy bear, we were all bawling. But we saved our real tears for the end, when the nanny lost the case and was led away. The little boy flung himself against his mother’s grip, her long fingernails cutting into his shoulders, screaming, “Nana! Nana, don’t go, please stay with me! Nana, why are you going away? WHY?”

The movie ended there, and text scrolled across the screen. The decision had been overturned five years later, reversing the bioist trend of American custody law. Too late for Edward Seiver or his nanny. But in time to save the next generation of children.

THE NEXT GENERATION OF CHILDREN remained on the v-screen, black on white, for a full minute. Then the credits rolled.

“Ironic, isn’t it?” Kate said, propping her feet up on a couch pillow. Annette was still sobbing. She’d only had two glasses of wine, but she got tipsy fast. “They’re thinking of renaming Mother’s Day. Calling it Nanny’s Day or Caregiver’s Day or something like that.”

“Doesn’t really have the same ring, does it?” Annette sniffled. “Still, it’s about time. Mother’s Day is kind of bioist.”

“Most children,” Kate said, wiggling her toes, “are still raised by their parents.”

“That doesn’t mean we can’t show sensitivity.” Kate and I exchanged amused glances; Annette tended to get self-righteous when drunk. “There’s a reason this movie is shown every Mother’s Day. To remind us about the dangers of bioist privilege. Just because we’re their biological mothers, that doesn’t automatically mean we’re the ideal people to raise our children.”

I burst into tears.

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Saturday Storytime: Nanny's Day

3 thoughts on “Saturday Storytime: Nanny's Day

  1. 2

    The agency set up a double trap.
    Steph, the nanny, was just perfect and the mother known to keep nannies for longer than 3 months so the child could become attached to her. So it looked like a trap in order to challenge the “no suing for custody” clause in court.
    BUT, and that’s what Margret figured out, she wasn’t a horrible mum. She wasn’t the horrible mother in the movie who actually didn’t care for her child, she took great care to spend time with her child.
    The agency wanted the clause to be challenged in court and then upheld.
    What struck me most about this story was that the future was unimaginative. The author could imagine a world where custody is actually decided by who is better for the child. But she couldn’t imagine a world where children spend time in a daycare or people aren’t worked around the clock.
    In short, it’s like today only even worse.
    OK, there wouldn’t have a story in that setting, but still, it reinforces the idea that children need a mummy figure to cater to their whims 24/7

  2. 3

    I would consider the piece as a thought experiment that was exploring what would happen if we took a current trend to its logical conclusion. I’d be reluctant to accuse the author of lack of imagination just because she didn’t include other alternatives in this story. (Besides, a world where people are not worked around the clock, and children have the option of going to good daycares may be too un-dystopian to make for an interesting story: Mummy goes to work, where there is a daycare in the office building, and Sammy gets to play with other kids, and Mummy sees him at lunch time, and they all live happily ever after. Which is a great life for Sammy and Mummy, but perhaps not much of a story.)

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