Ask The Nanny

Ask any working mother and she'll likely have a nanny horror story --the trusted caregiver who turned out to be sleeping, stealing or having sex on the job.

But now it's payback time - in the form of a biting but poignant satire on the nebulous lives of Manhattan's rich and pampered women, as seen by the overworked, underpaid and under-appreciated nannies who care for their children.

"The Nanny Diaries," a novel based on the experiences of two twenty-something New Yorkers who spent a combined eight years as nannies, is being hailed as "Bonfire of the Vanities" meets "Mary Poppins." The film rights were snapped up by Miramax even before the book's publication.

It chronicles the hilarious struggles of Nan as she cares for Grayer, the only child of Mrs. X, who does not eat, work, cook or clean, and who deflects her 4-year-old son's embraces with what the authors dub the "Spatula Reflex" -- a nifty sidestep aimed at keeping the boy's hands off her Prada and Gucci outfits.

Workaholic husband Mr. X provides the means and the money behind this fatuous lifestyle but makes no more than an occasional appearance at their designer perfect apartment.

College student Nan rushes Grayer around on an exhausting after-school schedule of French lessons, karate, piano, ice-skating, play dates, visits to his Ayurvedic practitioner, and parent-recommended "nonstructural" outings to the French Culinary Institute, the Guggenheim Museum and the Stock Exchange trading floor.

She clutches strict sets of rules that outlaw all American food, all cooked food, and anything to eat that starts with the the letter M, while her child-caring responsibilities are swiftly enlarged to collecting Mrs. X's dry cleaning and buying trinkets for her dinner party gift bags.

Nan's Christmas present from the family for such devotion to duty is a pair of ear-muffs.

Film rights to the unique take on life in the superfluous lane have already been sold to Miramax and the movie is expected to go into production by the end of the year.

First time writers Nicola Kraus, 27, and Emma McLaughlin, 28, had plenty of material to draw on in their portrait of the nanny, caught in the contradictory role of servant, friend and paid provider of affection to children seen in the novel as simply another successful couple accessory.

"It is drawn from our imagination, rooted in our experience. I wouldn't say it is an exaggeration but it is a work of fiction," Kraus told Reuters.

The pair worked for some 30 families between them as a way to support themselves through college, where they both were studying child development and education.

They attribute the success of the book as much to its rare tribute to the child caregivers of modern society as its voyeuristic glimpse into the lives of the idle super-rich.

"As a culture we haven't really figured out how this is supposed to work, this whole thing of having someone employed in your home. We wanted to explore the challenges presented to everyone - the children, the parents and the nanny," said McLaughlin.

"Even right now, with the number of articles about the book, there haven't been a whole lot interviewing nannies. There is a lot of interest in how parents are receiving this, but not about nannies. It is quite challenging for the media and for our culture to invite caregivers to the table," she said.

Six years after their last nannying jobs, Kraus and McLaughlin are anxious to stress that they had good times as well as bad their and have remained friends with many of the children they came to know and love.

"There are so many wonderful families we are still close to who treated us with profound respect. They have raised wonderful children, with the help of us and other resources, especially when there are two professional working parents," said Kraus.

Kraus now works in advertising and McLaughlin is a business consultant. They say it is still a long way off before they will have to tackle the challenge of combining work with child-rearing.

"We are working women and that will definitely be a factor in the decisions we make. There is such a huge spectrum of child care available and that is something I am sure we will be exploring in the future," said Kraus.

"The Nanny Diaries", published by St. Martin's Press, appears in U.S. bookstores on Wednesday.

By Jill Serjeant
The all new
CBS News App for Android® for iPad® for iPhone®
Fully redesigned. Featuring CBSN, 24/7 live news. Get the App