What the Nanny Saw: D.C.'s Fanciest Cribs, And the Babies Inside

"I actually like my clients," says Barbara Kline, who runs a nanny agency for the capital's elite and tells all in her book "White House Nannies." (By Katherine Frey -- The Washington Post)
By Ann Gerhart
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 22, 2005

In Barbara Kline's new nonfiction book, "White House Nannies," her account of finding nannies for Washington's rich and pretentious, the parents are as deliciously horrible as you would want them to be.

They call her Bethesda agency and start off by describing how important and busy they are. "By the way, Barbara, I run an empire," says one. Or they have their chief of staff call: "I represent a very prominent family." Eventually, after listing all their titles and every advanced degree, they toss in a phrase or two describing their children: "eight-year-old brilliant twins, a four-year-old gymnast, and a brand-new baby girl who can already sing on key."

They must have, immediately, a warm, nurturing, tireless caregiver. She must look "presentable." (This means not a fatty.) She must be available 24 hours a day. She must be well versed in the entire canon of creating a self-actualized infant genius. (Baby Einstein tapes, good; "Berenstain Bears," bad.) In their 10,000-square-foot Potomac McMansion, the nanny must live in the basement room where the furnace is (so convenient to the laundry complex!), until Kline points out that such accommodations won't meet code.

And if a dispute arises months after Kline has placed the nanny in the home, the clients are back on the phone demanding someone else: "You know, Barbara, if I'm not happy with a watch from Cartier, they take it back and give me a new one."

Yes, says Kline, who started White House Nannies 21 years ago, someone actually said this to her.

She won't say exactly who.

While Kline has placed caregivers in the homes of White House officials, Cabinet secretaries, senators and media personalities, 95 percent of her clients are attorneys. Their hours are "hideous," she says, "and something's gotta give when you have two parents putting in those 80 hours each. Who has time for a child? Who's doing the parenting?"

Anxious at the prospect of baby chaos messing up their carefully structured careers, some mothers call White House Nannies as soon as they find out they are pregnant, as if they could lock up a nanny nine months in advance of actual work. When they call back later on, Kline often hears this: "I leave my house before 7, and I absolutely cannot say I would be home before 7."

"And I say, well, it's going to be really hard to get a nanny to work 12 hours and then to commute back and forth. And they wail, 'Well, what am I supposed to do ??? ' "

"I love this!" Kline says, chortling. "You're asking me this? Why didn't you think about this before you had a kid? I don't want to be snippy, but there is this part of me who is biting my tongue not to say this."

So now she has, with her book. She doesn't worry that she'll lose clients. The need of some people for help in raising their children is bottomless.

When Republican adviser Mary Matalin called, she said she'd love the same kind of nanny her husband, Democratic strategist James Carville, had when he was growing up in Louisiana.

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