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Bella English

Manhattan slayings are a mother’s worst nightmare

The talk of the past week has, of course, been about Hurricane Sandy’s wrath, which overtook another recent, horrific story: the slaying of two children in Manhattan. Many of the moms I know could hardly bear to read the story of the Upper West Side mother who came home to discover that the family nanny had allegedly killed two of her charges before stabbing herself. The nanny remains hospitalized.

On Oct. 25, Marina Krim returned home to her W. 75th Street apartment to find her 2-year-old son and 6-year-old daughter stabbed to death. Krim had been out with her 3-year-old daughter at a swimming lesson. Her husband, Kevin, a senior vice president for CNBC Digital, found out about the murders when police met his airplane from the West Coast.

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By all accounts, the Krims were devoted parents. Marina Krim kept a blog about the exploits of her kids. The couple apparently had a close relationship with the babysitter, Yoselyn Ortega, 50, and accompanied her to see her family in the Dominican Republic. Ortega had worked for the Krims for two years and has a teenage son.

Naturally, the blogosphere started up the predictable pounding on the parents, especially Mom. The bottom line: This is what can happen when women work (even though Mrs. Krim teaches art part time at a nearby playground, and was at a swim class with her 3-year-old at the time of the killings).

This case reminds me of the vilification of Debbie and Sonny Eappen, whose 9-month-old son, Matthew, was shaken to death in 1997 by his teenage au pair, Louise Woodward. Debbie Eappen, a part-time opthalmologist, was demonized in some quarters for hiring someone to take care of her child. She and her husband, an anaesthesiologist, were called rich yuppie doctors even though they lived modestly.

The message is clear: Parents should not outsource day care; working moms care more about their careers than their kids.

All of this is nonsense, of course. We parents take a necessary leap of faith when we hire others to care for our children. Since women now make up more than half the US workforce, that’s a lot of caregivers, many of them working moms themselves.

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I could not have worked and raised children without a stellar caregiver. Our kids loved her, and she cared deeply about them. But we parents fool ourselves if we expect caregivers to be part of the family. We should expect them to keep our children safe and, we hope, happy. Love is a bonus. These wonderful women who take good care of our children often have their own families to love and support. Ours had two children of her own, and I hope I was sensitive to her needs, too.

When my husband and I moved to Philadelphia in 1995, we knew no one. We were both starting new jobs. Our son was 4, our daughter 9. Megan had been in the French Immersion program in the Milton public schools, so we thought a French au pair made sense.

It didn’t. Rosie, as I’ll call her, turned 19 the day she came to us. Yes, she spoke fluent French, but not much English, as she had claimed. It turned out that Rosie could have used a sitter of her own; she couldn’t even make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Though our daughter seemed to like her, our son not so much. Obviously, there was a language barrier, too.

Rosie had been with us a month when I found the fax. This was pre-cellphone, pre-e-mail, pre-texting and pre-Facebook, so Rosie spent much of her time phoning and faxing her friends. Our fax machine was in the living room of the small rental home, and after she sent her missive, the original lay there.

Naturally, I read it, and I was shocked. Rosie had written that she hated our son, with the word “hate” underlined three times. My husband and I immediately called the au pair agency and, despite their entreaties, Rosie was out of our home that evening.

I’ve had other friends who have had minor caregiver disasters, most of them, like Rosie, teenagers from abroad, who come here seeking adventure. There was the girl who cooked a roast on the oven’s self-cleaner setting. There was the au pair who got pregnant. The 18-year-old who dyed her hair green by mistake and had her host “mom” on the Clairol help line at midnight. The gal who drove my neighbor’s car into a dumpster. She also sleepwalked into a wall, chipping her front teeth.

One of my friends knew something was wrong when, at her brother’s wedding, her teenage caregiver was out on the dance floor going wild, while my friend and her husband sat on the sidelines juggling three youngsters.

These incidents are not in the same universe of the horror that happened in the Krim home, of course. And, excepting the reptiles in the blogosphere, most mothers don’t judge one another’s circumstances. We know that, barring some mental illness, moms try to do the best we can for our kids, who remain our top priority.

And we usually succeed, unless some unforeseen evil intervenes, as it did in the Krim home.

Bella English ives in Milton. She can be reached at english@globe.com.

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