The House-Packing Dialogues

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Before beginning the long process of packing up our Seattle house for the final phase of our move to New York City, we resolved to bring as little excess baggage with us as possible, and so, archeologists of the heart, we began spending a part of each day going through family artifacts dating back a couple of decades to when we lived in Baltimore.

We have made some startling discoveries, include one yesterday that appalled us. We came across notes that my wife had written down during a telephone interview with a reference whom we called while trying to find a new nanny. Ours had left us abruptly, and as any working couple knows, the sudden departure of a nanny is a crisis of marriage-bending magnitude. My wife and I both had demanding jobs; we were desperate.

Even so, you may rightly ask, at this point, who in his right mind would hire a person after a reference like this, and certainly that was our reaction upon coming across my wife’s notes yesterday evening. But when you are young parents of small children you do what you have to do and rationalize it in a thousand different ways. In our defense, there were other references for this nanny that were more positive—though that too may be a rationalization.

Herewith, my wife’s notes:

“Not that good at playing with children.”

“Resented household duties.”

“Kids didn’t like her. It was o.k.—never great.”



“Too good to be a nanny.”

“Waiting for Prince Charming.”

“If I was desperate, I would hire her.”

We hired her.

She lasted three months. Everything the reference had told us proved to be dead-on accurate. The final insult was when this new nanny showed up an hour late one crucial morning. That she had made no effort to find a phone to tell us she would be late was bad enough, but then she gave us the reason for her late arrival: She had run down a pedestrian in a crosswalk.

And blamed the pedestrian.

We fired her.

We were desperate, not insane.

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Erik Larson is the author of six previous national bestsellers—The Splendid and the Vile, Dead Wake, In the Garden of Beasts, Thunderstruck, The Devil in the White City, and Isaac’s Storm— which have collectively sold more than twelve million copies. His books have been published in nearly forty countries.

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