Free French Nanny. That was the subject of the email that landed in my inbox. I checked the sending address, sure it was from a spammer trying to dupe me into providing my routing number. I was surprised to see it had come from a friend. Free French Nanny. I considered the words. I liked all three of them very much. I moved the arrow over the ‘read’ button and held it there, reluctant to open the message as though the free French nanny herself might burst through my computer screen. Like Mary Poppins but holding a cigarette instead of an umbrella. I steeled my nerves enough to click it open, already convinced that this serendipitous proposition had found its way to me in error. When you’re a natural-born cynic, as I am, you don’t believe things that are free, and French, and nannied come to you because you are meant to have them. Your first impulse is that your friend just got a free French nanny who she cannot fetch at the airport and would like for you to collect on her behalf.
My eyes scanned the lines of the email, awaiting the part in which my friend is wondering if I might like to have lunch and a manicure every day this summer since her tether to the house was just cut by a free French nanny. Instead I gleaned that my friend had enrolled in an exchange program through which she agreed to host a teenage girl from France in her home and to show her a good old American time for a few weeks. The quid pro quo came in the form of free childcare. My friend was no longer able to take in her gift from abroad and was wondering if I might like to avail myself of her services. My breath caught in my diaphragm. Was the Universe handing me a nanny? The closest I’d ever had to having a nanny was actually being a nanny. And that situation saddled me with two children whereas this one had the power to liberate me from three.
I called my mother to enlist her perspective.
“Well,” she started cautiously. “Can you get references?”
“I have her references already. I can’t check them, though, because all the vetting is done by the agency. It’s like those Sally Struthers babies. You can only trust that the photo they’re sending you of the baby covered in flies is really your baby.”
“Is she attractive?” My mom asked pointedly.
“I don’t know,” I said after an uncomfortable pause. “I got so excited at the free part that I didn’t even look at her picture. I’ll check and call you back.”
I pulled up the forms that had been attached to the email. Several photos depicted a girl with a generous smile, sparkling eyes, and hair that seemed to be blowing in ever-present wind. She appeared self-possessed and happy. In a word: Gorgeous.
I called my mom back, knowing exactly where this conversation was headed. “I don’t care,” I insisted. “If she folds laundry, he can have her.”
And with that, the forms were hastily filled out. I dredged up the only photo in which each member of this family is smiling and has their genitals covered. I offered some flowery description of the ways we will show our free French nanny a proper American time. I wrote of strolls along the crashing surf, picnics over sprawl of blueberries, and drives through the pastoral hills of New England. I vowed wholesome meals of American staples and clean sheets made with a respectable thread count.
But if the French knew me at all, they’d know that all I can really promise is a shitload of Us Weeklys and that I’ll do my best to send her home not pregnant.