For a time in bygone years I was a nanny here in NYC. I would travel to the upper east side for 4-6 hours a day to assist in the care of two lovely children, "A" who was a 3 year old boy and "N" who was 7 months old. A lovely time it was, truly, although it took a great deal of time and personal investment to win over the "Nana" (grandmother) who was primarily responsible for the children's care and rearing....
Nana spoke very little English, and distrusted me at first. She didn't need any help with the children and didn't like the fact that I was brought in. Every time that I would try to take A for an outing in the city she would say- "No, we are family we stay together." But frequently she didn't want to go out, so we stayed together inside while A fidgeted monstrously in the tiny apartment.
Within the first week I was tasked with A's baths, which he DESPISED. I've never seen a three year old who hated baths, in my experience that was always the very best time of day, fellow nannies-- testify?! Am I right? Nana came in and said "2 times, the shampoo on him. Make 2 times." OK... no problem, I'll double wash his hair-- which he protested. Loudly. During the first wash we developed the "waterfall" system, where in he tipped his head back and I gently poured the water while shielding his eyes. This is how my mom did it. He decided this was tolerable and I was permitted to wash his hair a second time (as was my charge). I then discovered why he hated baths, when Nana busted in and *literally* dumped a bucket of water on his head. And then said "wash again"
That boy's hair glistened like the noon day sun. I've never seen such frequently washed hair.
Eventually Nana ventured out on some trips and we would talk a little but. We went to the Central Park Zoo, and to the Sheep's Meadow (where she declared that the man sunbathing--"In my country, he is killed for this. At least prison.")
I'm not sure exactly when the bond of trust developed, though I think it was about the time that she was changing the baby on a park bench and I turned around just in time to see the baby fall through the back slats and dove to catch her just in time. There was a "we don't tell about this" moment and a knowing glance. Then came the advice and warnings.
She knew that I was a singer and she knew that I had a boyfriend. She asked me about "Boy you see" and inquired after his family. I told her that he was an only child and she gasped and struck her head. She said: "Be careful-- his mother? She try to kill you."
"No no no no no... I've met her she's wonderful. She would never try to kill me"
"Now, no. But he is only boy. Later, you marry and she try to kill you, you take her boy from her."
"Really, nana, she is NOT like that at all. I promise."
"You think so but be careful. Later she try to kill you, maybe."
This warning was issued many times, and each time it inspired fits of hilarious giggles on my part, which were strongly chided.
Eventually, to stop my gleeful dismissals of her very serious concern for my life she related to me her own story. She and her husband came to the US and both worked very hard to live in NYC and sent money back home to get other relatives out. Her husband then returned to their home land for a time and left her here to work, take care of the children and continue to send money back. Over time he returned with his mother who took over their bedroom while they shared the living room with the children.
The story continues with the Mother in law confronting Nana saying: "You don't make love with my son. You are a horrible wife." To which Nana replied:
"How do you know this?"
"He has mistress at home in (home country) that is where money goes. If you make love with him, he doesn't have her."
"We make love now in the bathroom, as you are in our bed!"
"This is a lie. My son told me it's not true."
"I say, if this is not true, you throw your shoe at me!"
And she did. She threw her shoe at Nana. Then Nana threw her shoes into the hallway. Then Nana threw her husband and his mother out of the house (go NANA!!!)
I don't know how often Nana told that story. I get the impression not very much. She was surprised, at least with how much I cheered for her at the end of the story. I get the distinct impression that she didn't get that reaction very much. I cheered her like a hero-- I cheered like the crowd cheers when the family comes back to see their new house on Extreme Makeover Home Edition. I could see it made her feel glad and proud.
Shortly thereafter she stopped randomly dumping buckets of water on A during bath time. She even let us leave without her from time to time. We started taking daily walks to the park, which I think we both enjoyed. She enjoyed pointing out people's punishable offenses and the daily perils that we faced because of the laziness of our government (potholes, traffic violations.) I enjoyed her stories, my remarkably well-preserved naivete, and the confidence I had in the privileges I had been born with not to be "killed, maybe" here in America.
My husband and I are both opera singers, and in the fall we moved from NYC to Michigan, where he is now a professor of voice and opera at Oakland University. In January we bought our first house-- an 1895 Victorian, and we're expecting our first child (a boy) in April.