The headlines were like something out of a horror film. When I read about Yoselyn Ortega, the New York nanny who allegedly stabbed to death two of the three children she was looking after, my blood ran ice-cold.
Many of us are still reeling from a scenario that is every parent's worst nightmare come true. On paper, 50-year-old Ortega seemed like the perfect nanny—mature, with no prior record of any kind.
And the Krims, an affluent young family living on the Upper West Side, seemed to have it all. Marina could have been any one of us. A blogger, she loved her three little ones and shared her family's treasured moments online. A stay-at-home mom, she had decided to employ a caregiver a year ago.
Also like most parents, the Krims had been diligent in the nanny selection process. They reportedly even spent over a week in the Dominican Republic with Ortega's family before hiring her.
“This is just shocking,” said the nanny's niece, 28-year-old Katherine Garcia. “She loved those kids. I don’t know what would make her do this.”
That's the million-dollar question right now as police hold Ortega (who is in critical condition following her own attempted suicide) in custody. How can this sort of thing happen? And if it can happen to the Krims, doesn't that mean it can happen to any one of us?
A stay-at-home, work-at-home mom myself, I'm speaking from a position of privilege. I have witnessed all kinds of nannies: the good, the bad and the ugly. But never once have I witnessed any kind of abuse, though I have witnessed some blatant indifference, even neglect.
Once, having spotted a friend's child at a park in her area, I said hello and waited to see who had accompanied him. Having never met my friend's new nanny, I had no idea what she looked like. So I waited. No one was anywhere in the boy's proximity as he played, somewhat daringly, on the play structure. I married up nannies with the children they were looking after. I waited some more. In the distance a couple of caregivers sat together on a bench under a tree. After a while I deduced which children they were 'caring' for, too. Neither was my friend's son.
Later, I told my friend the story. Obviously she would draw her own conclusions and speak to her nanny about what happened—or didn't happen, as it were—at the park. For all she knew I was a stranger talking to the boy. Not once in that quarter of an hour did she step over or make herself known. I worried. What if that had been my son?
We place in our caregivers' hands our most priceless possessions in the world. We have to trust, often blindly, that these nannies will not only guide our children, but keep them safe from harm. But how do we do that? How do we trust implicitly?
Can a person become suddenly so unhinged that they commit this kind of seemingly random violence? Garcia claims her aunt had been “acting kind of nervous lately.” Were there signs of a breakdown that got glossed over or swept aside in the chaos of daily living? We may never know.
But the fact remains: a couple has lost two of their precious babies in the most devastating way possible. Keep your eyes open. And when you see something that doesn't sit right with you, by all means open your mouth, too.