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Excerpt: 'The Perfect Stranger'

'The Perfect Stranger'

The Daily Dance

If your life as a mom is going according to plan, you and your nanny are now a well-oiled machine: clear in your roles, anticipating each other, making subtle accommodations as needed. The two of you communicate in a language of gestures: you leaving to-do lists, spending money and a surprise scarf or chocolates by way of thanks; her prominently displaying empty wipes containers and formula tins to indicate what staples the household needs more of, her handwashing your sweater — not her job, but a clear way of showing the love, when she's feeling it. If it's going well, your relationship is developing a graceful, rhythmic quality.

Something else has changed as well. The magical aura surrounding the woman who has come to help you out so graciously isn't fading so much as it's growing obscured by the s---storm of everyday life. The novelty of her ministering, her powers of intuition, very quickly become necessities, something you take for granted. Where she once stood in glittering relief against the dullness and desperation of your newly overburdened lot, she's part of the team now, up to her eyeballs in it, just like you.

Now there's less time for greetings and leisurely inquiries about her weekend. Often the nanny doesn't even have her coat off before an unhappy baby is being thrust at her. It's a mercilessly chaotic hour of the day, and moms are way past apologizing for it. The nanny has officially seen you all at your worst. I knew we were deep in our routine the morning I left for work with my daughter angry and agitated — me peeling her outstretched arms off my coat as Hy gathered her up, allowing me to make a run for the elevator. I was both distressed and relieved, all but calling out, "Good luck with that!" as the elevator doors closed on my daughter's screams.

Those motherly musts, low-grade anxiety and occasional ambivalence, can have a corrosive effect during this stage if they go unchecked. Says a mom from the New York City suburb of Hastings, "I had no idea how saddled with guilt I'd be by going back to work. It got easier, but it never got easy. And I never felt like something was going wrong; it was more just what I was missing. I was obsessed with the fact that I was going to miss my daughter's first step."

It's an apt expression of the general unease that besets the newbies — although a particularly cruel brand is reserved for moms like this, who've lit out for the suburbs with the best of intentions: the desire for more space, bucolic ease, and a putatively higher quality of life for their kids is what drove them from the city. And yet thanks to the commute, they frequently won't lay eyes on them until well after 7 p.m., increasing the odds that they will in fact miss that first step.

All mothers figure out their own way of coping. Although there are myriad idiosyncratic strategies, giving up control or seizing it too tightly are two of the most common.

Excerpted from The Perfect Stranger: The Truth About Mothers and Nannies by Lucy Kaylin. Copyright (c) 2007 by Lucy Kaylin. Published by Bloomsbury USA. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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