ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
And I'm Michele Norris.
Almost any working parent will tell you finding quality child care can be quite a challenge. And the day-care dilemma is especially daunting in a driven city like Washington, DC, where schedules are unpredictable, 60-hour workweeks are the norm, and jobs often require travel. So when senators, Cabinet heads and media stars need someone to watch the kids, they often turn to Barbara Kline. She's the president of White House Nannies, and for 20 years, she's been providing sitters for power brokers in the nation's capital. And along the way, she's taken careful notes. The result is a new book called "White House Nannies: True Tales from the Other Department of Homeland Security."
While the tales are true, some of the names have been changed to protect, well, not exactly the innocent, but the overachieving parents who just might be inclined to sue. Barbara Kline stopped by our studio recently to talk about her new book.
Ms. BARBARA KLINE (President, White House Nannies; Author, "White House Nannies: True Tales from the Other Department of Homeland Security"): We did have the story of our caregiver who--this was many years ago--who was working for a family, and she was from the Western part of the US, and she was new in the area. And I don't know what made me put her in the particular home that I did, but it was a very intense family, and there was only one child. And she kept losing the keys to the house. And that would be a problem at anybody's house, but this was the secretary of Defense. This was a huge problem. And what I didn't know was that she had made copies of the keys and handed them out to all her friends so if she lost her key once again, there were people that she could go to. So as it turned out, my nanny was walking around with a key to the secretary of Defense's house, and I'm just only too delighted that they never found that out.
NORRIS: Well, they found it out now.
Ms. KLINE: Yeah. Now they will know.
NORRIS: Did you have to warn them before you published it?
Ms. KLINE: No, I didn't say anything. This is literally when I started the business. This is back in the '80s. This truly is ancient history.
NORRIS: So every former secretary of Defense is now rushing to the local Borders, trying to pick up this book to see if they find themselves in these pages.
Well, I read the book, and these are true stories.
Ms. KLINE: All true.
NORRIS: And in some cases, you've named names. In other cases, you apparently disguised identities. But as I read this book, I wondered whether you wanted to eat lunch in this town again. I thought maybe you were calling it curtains, and this was your curtain call, that you were...
Ms. KLINE: Actually, I thought it was inordinately kind. The people who I named had nothing to be ashamed of, and those that did, I thought we disguised fairly well. Obviously, they're going to know who they are, but you'll have to be pretty clever to figure out who they are.
NORRIS: So these are true tales, but with some names changed.
Ms. KLINE: Oh, absolutely.
NORRIS: Can you give us examples of stories that you had to make certain adjustments to hide the identity of the characters?
Ms. KLINE: Well, Maserati Man would be one of them, and...
NORRIS: Tell us about Maserati Man.
Ms. KLINE: Maserati Man called me initially and launched into an entire description of where he lived, the size of his house. I think he mentioned his wine cellar, number of cars he had. And I'm holding up the phone thinking, `OK, so why is he calling me?' And then finally, we got to the fact that he actually was looking for child care. And he continued on with me through the years, but every time he calls, this is one man who I have absolutely no idea what he does. That's most unusual for Washington. Everybody's got a title here. I have no idea what this man does, but I know a lot about his possessions.
NORRIS: Now you have one couple whose story comes up again and again and again throughout the book, Jeanette(ph) and David(ph). Is this the case where you had to make adjustments in their story?
Ms. KLINE: Well, when I first started writing the book, what my agent had said to me--and I have a taskmaster of an agent--he said, `If you just do a string of anecdotes, it's not really going to work. You need a narrative arc.' And so we decided to take a fam--I said, `There's no way I could just use one family and attribute all these anecdotes to them.' So we just tried to track this family, and that gave the story some continuity.
NORRIS: Is it actually one family, or is it a composite of sorts?
Ms. KLINE: I don't want to address that. I love the fact that people are telling me who it is. I'm going to just keep them guessing.
NORRIS: And she's a TV reporter. He's an attorney. So right now, there's a name game going on in Washington, I'm sure.
Ms. KLINE: Absolutely. I can't tell you how many people have read this, they are all calling and guessing.
NORRIS: Are they stopping you in the Fresh Fields saying, `Barbara, I know who that is?'
Ms. KLINE: I did get a call yesterday which just started out just like that, `I know who it is. I know who it is.'
NORRIS: Tell us about Jeanette and David, their relationship and their household.
Ms. KLINE: They are, in a way, very typical of a lot of Washington couples. They're achievers, and they've come here from other places. They don't have family. And things are going well for them. But then they get pregnant, and then they have a baby, and that's where everything really changes.
And that's also where my clients, some of them, new moms and dads, haven't figured out that when you have a baby, life really does change. You might not be staying at the office as many hours as you did previously. You can't just insert this person into your life and not change anything. And I think it's very hard for people who are also--most of my moms are older moms. They're not in their 20s. They're in their 30s. And they've worked for a long time, and they really don't do the family dinner thing. And all of a sudden, now there's a baby and a nanny, and life changes.
And so this is tracking the first nanny--actually--and this is a true story. She thought she hired somebody, and when the nanny came and saw the house, she wasn't happy with part of the accommodations, and she opted not to take the job. And Jeanette feels as though her baby has been rejected in utero. She cannot not believe that someone has already rejected this baby. You know, welcome to motherhood.
NORRIS: The stories are funny, but they're also--there's a gallows humor here. They're also very, very sad and...
Ms. KLINE: Oh, for us, we feel that way. And in the office, there are times that we say to ourselves, `Why did these people have children?' And I make the point in the book, you can outsource a lot of things in your life when you're busy. You can outsource cooking. You can outsource grocery shopping. You can outsource clothes shopping. There's so many things that really won't have a huge impact. But you can't really outsource all your parenting.
NORRIS: It sounds like you're gently wagging your finger at families. Were you trying to, in some ways, hold a mirror up to society, that hopefully families would read this book and see something of themselves and maybe take a step back and say, `Whoa'?
Ms. KLINE: Part of poking fun is that I never set out to write the how-to, but you just made a really good point. That's exactly what I'm hoping will happen when people read this and go, `Wow, I did that. That was really probably not very good.'
NORRIS: Is it easier to do this in the book when you disguise names than it is to sit across the table from someone and...
Ms. KLINE: Oh, absolutely. And when a client calls to say, `Are you paying attention to me?' and we're thinking, `She has a three-year-old; she is a three-year-old.' Who talks like that?
NORRIS: So good to talk to you.
Ms. KLINE: My pleasure, Michele.
NORRIS: Barbara Kline is the author of "White House Nannies: True Tales from the Other Department of Homeland Security."
To read Kline's tips for finding a perfect caregiver, go to our Web site. npr.org.
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