If you want your children to turn out well, spend twice as much time with them, and half as much money. —Abigail Van Buren
When my boss told me that we were all going to Hawaii for Thanksgiving vacation, I tried not to panic. I was nineteen years old, and my vacation experience up to that point pretty much consisted of ten-hour trips in my family’s cramped station wagon to visit my cousins in Canada. You’d think I would have been turning cartwheels down Sunset Boulevard. But as enticing as an all-expenses-paid stay at a posh Hawaiian beachfront resort would sound to most people, I was realistic enough—after almost a year of nannying for one of the most powerful families in Hollywood—to know that I’d be on duty for 192 hours straight. I had counted.
One hundred and ninety-two straight hours of running after three children under the age of seven, of sharing quarters a lot more cramped than the ten-thousand-square-foot home we normally occupied, where the air was already tense. Of no room to escape the kids or their parents for one minute.
This “vacation” sounded worse every time I thought about it. Good thing I didn’t know about the other five kids.
The night after I was informed of our upcoming adventure, I decided to be more positive. Come on, Suzy! You could never afford to travel to Hawaii on your own. This is a great opportunity to soak up some paradise. I tried not to think about our previous “vacations.” Surely this would have a whole different, relaxed, tropical vibe? I called my friend and fellow nanny Mandie to tell her my news. She listened intently while I borrowed scenes from postcards and spun my perfect vision of the eight-day trip.
“I’ll be basking on white-sugar beaches, with cute cabana boys constantly serving me fruity drinks in coconut halves. After I distribute the beach toys and reapply sunscreen on the kids, I’ll soak up the Polynesian splendor. Just think, hula performances under torch-lit palms . . . leis draped around me . . . luaus . . . lanais . . .” In my dream-dappled mind, there would be grandparents, aunts, and uncles to lavish attention on the kids. The gentle spirit of the island would permeate our hearts and inner harmony would reign.
But then Mandie started laughing so hard that I was actually afraid she’d lost control of her bladder.
We both knew it was far more likely that the actual scenario would be similar to what a mutual nanny friend of ours had just undergone. Her employer, a well-known baseball player, had brought her along to the famous Pebble Beach golf course, where he was playing in a huge charity golf tournament. The event was star-studded, and she couldn’t wait to rub elbows with some celebrities. But when the other baseball players’ wives realized someone had brought a nanny, they all dumped their kids in her suite and headed off to the tournament unencumbered. She spent three days in a hotel room with nine—count ’em, nine—kids. She never saw one moment of golf, beach, or sunshine.
I tried to be optimistic, but my spirits wavered when even getting out of the driveway became a massive undertaking. Our traveling caravan included me and my employers, Michael and Judy Ovitz; their three children (Joshua, Amanda, and Brandon); Michael’s parents; his brother, Mark, and Mark’s wife, Linda, and their six-year-old son; and Michael’s business partner, Ron Meyer, along with Ron’s date, Cyndi Garvey, and their four combined daughters. It took two stretch limos just to get the whole group to the airport. Altogether, the entourage totaled nine adults and eight children. In addition, Michael’s friend Al Checchi and his wife, three kids, and nanny would be meeting us at the resort.
After we were greeted at LAX by a professional-looking woman waiting at passenger drop-off, the limo driver unloaded enough luggage to supply an army tank division. We were breezily escorted through security and down a long hall to a door marked THE CAPTAIN’S CLUB. Who knew that airlines provided these private little sanctuaries to their frequent fliers? And Creative Artists Agency, Michael’s company—with his partners, staff, and clients—had probably racked up millions of such miles on the corporate American Express card. Michael waved the whole troupe over to the Captain’s Club portal.
A stone-faced young woman at the desk stopped us. Airline policy was to allow the frequent flier and one guest, and she was here to enforce the rules. She was firm and implacable with a perfunctory pleasantness that was so calm it was irritating. Michael started arguing his case, but she repeated patiently that this was company policy, with no exceptions. No exceptions? Michael’s face began to twitch as if a bug were trapped under his skin. The employee gave the impression of having weathered a few of these type A folks in her day. She repeated the policy clearly and identically several times. I recognized her “brokenrecord technique” from my childcare classes. But Michael wasn’t six.
“I’m sorry,Mr. . . .” She paused, waiting for him to fill in the blank.
He raised his eyebrows and lowered his face closer to hers. “Ovitz. Michael Ovitz,” he pronounced emphatically, as though there was not a soul alive who would not recognize his name.
The woman didn’t respond. She calmly kept typing on her computer as she stared into the monitor. I already had learned in my tenure with “the most powerful man in Hollywood” that there were several things that invariably irritated or angered him. One of them was not being recognized for the influential man he was. This was a bit of a contradiction, since he hated seeing his name in the papers and went to great lengths to keep his picture from being published. Whatever. Today was definitely a day he wanted to be recognized.
“Do you have any idea how many frequent-traveler miles my company has with this airline?” He smirked with the air of someone who always got his way. I thought about backing him up and rehearsed my part in my mind: Please, miss, lighten up. I have a chubby baby on one hip and a heavy diaper bag on the other, and I would like to sit down.
“I’m sorry, Mr. Ovitz. I don’t know you, and it wouldn’t matter if I did, because the rules are the rules,” she replied with unsurpassed calm. “You can have only one guest come in with you.” Oh dear, poor thing.
Maybe if I wriggled my eyebrows frantically, she’d relent. I tried desperately to make eye contact, wondering what kind of expression would let her know that she was teetering on the verge of unemployment.
From my position just behind Michael, I could almost feel the steam start to rise off his neck. Why couldn’t the woman see his rage? It was absolutely clear there was no way he was going to allow this irritating little bureaucrat to keep him from bringing his entire party into the Captain’s Club.We had a full two hours before our flight left.
Once again, I tried to communicate the situation telepathically. Girl, look at me. LOOK AT ME! Can’t you see this guy is used to people quaking at the mere mention of his name? There’s no way he is going to wait with his wife, parents, children, and friends with the riffraff at the gate! And now you’ve pissed him off, and the waiting is beside the point. You’re messing with his ego. Save yourself!
Without saying another word to the woman, Michael turned to us. “Take the kids and go sit over there,” he ordered. “I’ll be right back.” With that, he disappeared through the door. By the time he had returned ten minutes later, the woman behind the desk had already been plucked from the room by a large man in a business suit and replaced by another woman wearing a big smile. Upon Michael’s return, she personally ushered us into the elaborately decorated club and offered us lunch.
Michael may have won, but the rest of us certainly hadn’t. It was beneath his dignity to use his sophisticated negotiation skills on such a nobody. His lips were tight and his upper body even stiffer than usual. I got the distinct impression that anyone who even dared to breathe too loudly around him would get a stinging tongue-lashing of their own. No, my boss was far from happy, and when Michael ain’t happy, ain’t nobody gonna be happy. I carefully avoided looking in his direction.
The two hours passed excruciatingly slowly.
Finally it was time to board the aircraft. And what an aircraft it was. Usually when we flew we took corporate jets—fancy but definitely cozy and compact.You could have put six of those on each wing of this plane.
I had a hard time comprehending such massive bulk.We had first-class tickets, obviously, so we boarded first. Good thing they started early because it took fifteen minutes for the entire group to get into the cabin. Between all of us, we took up a good portion of the first-class seats. The tickets alone must have cost almost $20,000. As we all jockeyed for position, the flight attendants helped us stow the carry-ons and find our seats, and I could see the faces of the aristocracy already ensconced in their rows giving us looks of combined disgust and fear. I knew what they were thinking: How could anyone be so rude as to bring that many children, and so young, into first class? I paid a lot of money to sit here, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to put up with a bunch of screaming brats.
The airline billed this as a six-hour flight, and several of the children, including ten-month-old Brandon, were already either crying or fighting. The poor couple seated just behind us was settling down for their first flight as man and wife. What could they possibly think about the equivalent of a Chuck E. Cheese birthday party invading their honeymoon bliss? They were probably horrified enough to put off having their own kids.
I tried to avoid eye contact with them.
I did have plenty of distractions. First class alone stretched for two stories, connected by a large circular staircase that led to a lounge for first-class passengers. Well, not that I ever saw it, but that’s what Grandpa Ovitz reported to me. It was like flying in a house; everybody had their own wing. Right after we got on, Michael, Judy, Ron, Cyndi, and all the rest of the adults dashed upstairs and left me with the various kids. When and how it had been decided that I would graciously govern all eight children, I didn’t know. Nobody told me, that’s for sure.
It could’ve been much worse.Years later I would hear about how one actress with two young children made her nanny take the kids on the twelve-hour flight to visit her parents in their native country. Somehow, the actress’s busy work schedule always made it conveniently impossible to get tickets on the same flight as her toddlers. At least I wasn’t flying alone with my charges. After all, the adults were just upstairs.
The other occupants and the flight attendants all eyed me accusingly, the glares suddenly much more menacing. I knew they were thinking: What gall to bring eight young children on board and be insufficiently prepared
to amuse them for the duration. Just who did I think I was?
Who was I?
I was the one changing diapers on the edge of the seat; the one wedging herself into the bathroom with a preschooler. The one ducking flying peanuts and consoling three little charges as they cried or screamed when the air pressure hurt their eardrums. The one needing the flexibility of an Olympic gymnast to pull down the carry-ons in an attempt to find a replacement for root-beer-soaked shorts.
All of Ron and Cyndi’s girls were very sweet and tried to help out, but this was ridiculous. I sent up a mayday by way of the flight attendant heading to the lounge. Evidently, the adults regarded this with some amusement, because Judy soon appeared at my side, laughing. “For goodness sakes, Suzy, what are you doing with these kids? Why didn’t you come up and let us know you couldn’t handle it?”
Maybe because I knew you’d make a statement just like that one, for everyone in first class to hear. Maybe because I knew you’d roll your eyes, too, just so I’m sure to see how incompetent you think I am. Maybe because wanted to avoid this humiliating scene we’re having right now.
Such was a glamorous day in the life of a Hollywood nanny.
From the Hardcover edition.