If you have children but have yet to learn anything about the terrifying story of a Manhattan nanny who stabbed two children in her care before slashing herself, rest assured, you will learn plenty in the coming days from fellow parents. They'll whisper to you on the playground. Did you hear about the nanny stabbing? They'll go over all the details. She stabbed them in the tub. Can you imagine? They'll plant seeds of fear. If it can happen there, it could happen anywhere, couldn't it? There's nothing parents love more than scaring the living shit out of each other, so between this and the coming Frankenstorm, I now have a full plate of parental scare tactics to both absorb and deploy in the coming weekend.
It's hard not to take what happened on the Upper West Side the other day and not immediately envision it happening to your own children. At some point, every parent has turned over the care of their babies to another person: a nanny, a teacher, a babysitter, a relative. It's unavoidable and, in general, it's a positive thing to expose your children to a range of authority figures. And you trust that those authority figures will return your children alive because A) That's usually what happens, and B) What other choice do you have? You can't just sit there and stare at your kids for 24 hours a day until they're old enough to vote. You have to work, and you have to get away so that you and your children both remain sane. Every parent wants desperately to protect their kids from the dangers of the outside world, only to quickly come to grips with the fact that they can't. All you can do is send them out there and hope for the best. You have to trust that the world will take care of them.
So when a nanny decides to kill two children in the most random and horrific way imaginable, it obliterates your trust in the world. It reinforces your helplessness as a parent in the absolute worst way imaginable. It drives the point home that the world can turn on your children at any time, and that virtually any human being out there has the potential to harm them. It fucks with your mind. It makes you distrustful of ALL nannies. It makes you think of people who use nannies as irresponsible, even downright reckless. It makes you judge yourself for not standing sentry over your children at all times.
Most people hire caregivers for their children—nannies, day care teachers, au pairs, etc.—because they have to. So they can't think about all the bad things that would happen if their children were mistreated because they couldn't function if they did. This kind of tragedy almost always serves to briefly impair that function. Your average mom will hear about this and be rattled for at least a day. I know my wife won't stop talking about it and we don't live anywhere near the scene of the crime. She ran up to me this morning and was like:
WIFE: Did you hear about this?
WIFE: (makes terrified face and holds it for eight minutes)
ME: So, what do we do now? Never hire a babysitter again?
WIFE: That's right.
ME: But we will. Come on.
WIFE: I guess. But still... STABBED. Jesus.
Eventually, a certain kind of denial has to set in. Parents who whisper and think horrible thoughts in the wake of this will have to push the idea of such violence away and go back to trusting the world to take care of their loved ones. And soon, everything will be back to normal. Except for one family. For one family, the distrust stays forever and ever.