Growing up, we didn’t have “buy your own Zoo” money, but we were pretty well off. I guess you could say we had “private housekeeper and nanny” money. My dad’s two books did really well in Germany, and I don’t know if it was the exchange rate, or Germany’s obsession with hitting itself in the head with psychology books, but for whatever reason, my dad cleaned up. This was probably the best thing for all of us, because my mother grew up with money and had absolutely no idea how to relate to the rest of the world. In her mind, going from a housekeeper to a nanny was a major promotion, not realizing that both jobs were pretty crappy, especially when you had to deal with my mom. She hired and fired more people than General Motors in the early 80’s and to make matters worse, all of the women that she hired had to look a certain way. That certain way was an uglier version of my mom, or at least an unattractive version of her. She was really hung up on my father cheating, because my second grandpa on my mother’s side cheated on my grandma, or at least that’s how my mother remembers it. Turns out that my second grandfather just hated playing doubles tennis with my grandmother and chose other partners to play with, at least that’s how my father remembers it. Because of this, most of my childhood was filled with creepy xeroxed one-offs of my mother, usually muttering to themselves that they weren’t going to take this crap for much longer and purchasing large amounts of lottery tickets.
To say that working for my mother was awful would not be an exaggeration. I know because being her son was a lot like working for her, and I was constantly looking for other families to hire me away. I remember one woman in particular who started off enthusiastically, only to be crushed by my mother three months later for wearing uncharacteristically dark shoes. This poor woman tried her best to work through her first three months, but in the end started hitting on my dad in order to get fired. It was a hypothesis that all of the nannies and housekeepers shared, and was passed along from generation to generation, much the same way grasshoppers tell each other that the ants may have food, “but have you ever tried talking to one?” I would like to say that some of these women went on to do bigger and better things with there lives, but my mother aggressively kept all knowledge of their whereabouts and existence out of our consciousness.
One of the side benefits of my mother’s choice in help was that she could pass them off as “herself”, or at worst, as one of her sisters. I can’t tell you how many PTA and teacher conferences were attended by an undervalued doppelgänger with my Mom’s first name. The thing about my mom is that she hated people, all of them. She could no more stand being around commoners than she could her family, which made for very awkward play dates and birthday parties. I lost several friends every year, once their mother found out that they had never seen the actual Mrs. Vacourslon, much less spoken to her. I think if my mom had sucked it up and kept at least one employee “stand in” for longer than six weeks at a time, I could have had a somewhat normal childhood. After several years of therapy, I have concluded that segmented forty two days of stability does not a well rounded person make. The only justification she gave us was this one time when she made us watch Mary Poppins, pointing out that a good nanny should be able to completely change a household in the course of ninety minutes, with or without an awkward cockney chimney sweep. Ironically, she kept the same chimney guy for my entire childhood, perhaps a feinted threat towards my father in case he ever got the wandering eye. Looking back, I wonder if things would have been easier if my mother had hired actresses to fill the role of “Mrs. Vcourslon”, rather than unsuspecting day labor who only wanted to do a good job and be paid accordingly. I’m not sure that one actress would be able to capture the many facets of my mother’s neurosis, but at least my kindergarten graduation would have gone better.