HER PRESENCE ON the phone drew me to her. I cannot tell you exactly what it was--her simpleness, her saneness? She said her name was Maggie Boyle, she was 20 years old and one of 13 children. She spoke with a thick Brooklyn accent, but she said what I wanted to hear, and when I hung up, I knew that of the hundred callers, she was the one I must hire.
Our baby was 2 months old by then, and I had already hired and fired three helpers. Friends had warned me that finding good child care is the hardest part about having kids. But there was no way any friend could have prepared me for what was to come.
The first woman I had hired when our son, Daniel, was born, was a British nanny named Glenda. She turned out to be a magpie, who yammered constantly and complained that our baby cried too much and needed too much holding. Before long, I was taking my meals in my bedroom, huddled over my desk with the door locked.
I next tried a Danish au pair girl, who was sunny and serene but had had no experience with babies and left after one day to go to Hawaii with her boyfriend.
After two more disasters, I placed an ad in the newspaper. On the first day the ad ran, I received a hundred calls. Most of them sounded flaky, a few were promising, but of all the callers, Maggie Boyle stood out.
"Have you done this type of work before?" I asked her.
"Yes. I worked for a family in Sherman Oaks."
"How many children did they have?"
"Two boys. Age 1 and 3."
"How long did you work there?"
"A year and a half."
"Why did you leave?"
"My services were no longer necessary. The mother decided to quit work and stay home with her children."
I told her the main focus of the job was the baby. "We don't mind if the house isn't immaculate, but if the baby wants holding, we want him to be held."
"Oh, sure," she said. "You cannot spoil a baby. If you give him all the love he needs, he'll be more confident when he grows up."
"We'd also like you to play with him, not just leave him in his crib," I said. "Some people think babies are blobs."
"No, babies are very intelligent," Maggie said. "It's amazing how much they can learn."
Right again. Excitement was mounting. I told her we'd want her to live in from Sunday night to Friday night. "The hours are long."
"That's not a problem," she said. "I usually work six days a week, and my day off is whatever fits in." She said she wanted $125 a week.
Be still, my heart. We had paid Glenda $150 for five days.
I called Maggie's reference, a Mrs. Raphael, who verified all the details Maggie had given me. "I wish I could have kept her; she was a joy to have around," she said. "Before Maggie, I had so many girls who just ran up the phone bill and quit. Maggie gave so much love to our kids, and she kept the house very clean." After the call, I wanted to hire Maggie sight unseen, but caution prevailed, and I asked her to come out to our home in Malibu on Saturday to see how we got along. "I'll pay you for your time."
"You don't gotta pay me," she said, "because it's your time also."
On Saturday, she arrived exactly at 10, the time we had arranged. She looked like what she said she was--the daughter of a truck driver from a depressed town on Long Island. She was thin and pale, with stringy blond hair and a troubled complexion. She had obviously made an attempt to dress up, wearing a purple dress with ruffles, brown high heels with no stockings and chipped red nail polish. Her grammar was terrible; she said "youse" and "ain't," but she went straight to the baby and picked him up with an air of loving authority, and the baby fell quiet and stared at her. Behind her back, my husband, Tim, flashed me a thumbs-up sign. We had been scheduled to interview a Peruvian woman in the afternoon, but Tim didn't want to wait. We told Maggie she had the job.
Life was a party after Maggie moved in. She was a diamond in the rough, funny and smart. She showered Daniel with affection, she laughed and danced and invented games, and the baby began to flourish. She did not think Daniel was difficult or cranky. She genuinely adored him. "You're such a good-lookin' baby," she would croon. "Let's us run off and elope."
Maggie got up at 6 in the morning and worked until 6 at night. While the baby was sleeping, she swept the floors, washed windows, ironed shirts. She taught me a more relaxed style of baby care, and she gave me the time to write. In the morning, after I nursed, she would say, "OK, get to work. You stay in your office and write 10 pages and don't come down till lunchtime." She brought me snacks and glasses of juice at my desk, as if she were an airline hostess.
We shared a delight in the baby, and the first time he laughed, we repeated the gesture that had made him laugh until all three of us were giggling. It was so simple, and it was one of those moments when life is as good as it gets.
"God has sent me the perfect nanny," I told friends. "My life works."