Bad Parent Sunday

Cheap thrills on the Upper East Side


New York is the greatest city in the world. Don't bother writing in, this is not up for debate. For one glorious year my wife and I lived at 65th and York on the Upper East Side. 

But New York is an expensive place to live, and when you figure in the cost of a sitter, we didn't have a lot to spend on entertainment. True, it's possible to get cheap "day of" tickets on Broadway, but I don't do "shows" unless they're about karate or submarines. Similarly, despite the awesome 2 for 1 deal on shots, my wife was not in the least interested in ladies night at Boom-Boom Bazookas. 

Fortunately, we had Bad Parent Sunday, where we could (for free) watch parents across the Upper East Side bumble, plead and cajole their way through the most entertaining display of parental ineptitude you'll ever see. It's the best show in town. 

Before I get to BPS, let me say that the most impressive parenting I ever witnessed was in New York. One day I got on the #6 subway train Dowtown at the same time as a mom who had: 1) an infant in a body harness 2) a toddler in a stroller and 3) a 4 year old with a snotty nose. The fact that she got on the train in the first place is mighty impressive (think stairs, tickets, gate, and clueless bridge-and-tunnel people blocking the way). But it was after the doors closed that the real magic began. 

By the time they got off at Midtown she had: 1) nursed the baby 2) given the other two a healthy (!) snack 3) erased all traces of snot 4) kept them all more or less seated quietly and 5) kept her cool. No yelling, no tears. If you gave this woman a horde of Mongols (and some boats) she'd conquer all seven continents faster than you could say "Genghis Khan is a lily-livered bureaucrat." 

You do not find parents like this on the Upper East Side. 

The UES is where the wealthiest New Yorkers go to breed. Money can buy you choices, security, three full bathrooms, therapy, good wine and lots of time in the sun (in other words, happiness). And for many UES couples who put off parenting while their careers blossomed, it also buys children (IVF triplets born via surrogate). And when the little angels arrive, money buys good schools, competent nannies, therapy, indoor soccer and mittens that actually stay on. (Just kidding about the mittens.) 

Money cannot, however, buy you a clue when it comes to being a parent.

Part of the problem is that parenting is all about trial and error, mostly error. The more time you put in, the more errors you make, the less bad you become. But Upper East Siders don't have a lot of time for active parenting. Mind you, I'm not being judgmental. People have to work. And this is especially true on the UES: the nation's economy depends on these folks showing up for work and making the good decisions that keep us from financial melt-down. 

There are, of course, Upper East Siders who aren't burdened with the necessity of employment. But their lives are often even more hectic. There are alumni luncheons to attend, squash matches to play, taxes to dodge, islands to buy, personal trainers to noodle and cocktails to sip. And on top of all that, you have to make room for lots of "me" time to keep from getting burned out. 

Fortunately, their kids are in good hands. The pool of nanny talent in New York is vast. As in all things, New York is the great American melting pot; and great nannying knows no racial or ethnic boundaries. However, one group stands slightly above the rest: you can do your kids no greater favor than to hire a Jamaican Nanny. 

Nobody messes with a Jamaican Nanny. Nobody. Not kids, not parents, not teachers, not cabbies. These women are competent and reliable and tough. Let's see you hold two infants, feed one, keep a hyperactive 5 year old in line, and talk on the cell phone at the same time. I didn't think so. Now, I don't mean to imply that these women aren't sweet and loving; they are--just so long as you don't mess with them. Parents on the Upper East Side hire Jamaican Nannies. 

But even Jamaican Nannies get Sundays off, as do the night nannies, the swing-shift nannies, and the au-pairs. And Sunday-only sitters are in rare supply given the demand. So come Sunday, most Upper East Side parents find themselves alone with their kids--for the whole day. So they take them to the park. 

Thus we come back to Bad Parent Sunday. 

To set the scene, imagine a line of parents pushing their kids on the tot swings, double tall latte in one hand, cellphone in the other. Half the kids are screaming because they've just been sloshed by hot Decaf Sumatran. Half the parents are cursing because they just dropped their phones. 

That's funny--but not nearly as funny as the parents who actually feel obligated to interact with their children. It's like watching a blind bear cub trying to play with a porcupine: 

"Here Sebastian, catch the ball. Catch the ball Sebastian. Hold your hands out, watch, Sebastian, don't throw throw your glove at Daddy's face. OK, let's try it again... hands out Sebastian...Sebastian, where are you going? Sebastian? Don't you want to play catch with Daddy?!" [Apparently, Sebastien would rather to chase the pigeons and pick his nose.] "Sebaaastian, come play ball with Daddy. Sebastian, don't you want to be Daddy's little superstar? Sebastian...Sebastian..." 

Sorry Dad, try again next week...please, I've got front row tickets.  

And then there's the mom out with her 4 year old daughter, both dressed in matching pink Chesterfield coats and patent leather rain boots: 

"Hayden, Hayden honey, Mommy's making a call, don't interrupt. Wait a minute Hayden. Just a minute Hayden...No, Hayden, don't go in the sandbox. Not the sandbox Hayden, it's dirty, yucky, dirty. Mommy doesn't want to see her pretty little girl get dirty. You want to be clean and pretty like Mommy, don't you? Hayden, Mommy's serious...don't touch the yucky sand. Hayden, No! Hayden...Hayden pleeeease! Mommy won't take you to FAO Schwarz if you get dirty...Hayden, Hayden...OK, you can have a bioscotti if you come out of the sand box. No biscotti if Mommy has to come into to get you. I'm serious Hayden. OK, two biscotti. Please Hayden..Noooo! Don't touch the sand! NOOOOOOO!! YOURE MEEELLLTIIING!!!" (And you're going to pay $100 to see Wicked?)

And finally there's the anxious couple hovering over the Bugaboo, frantically rummaging through two diaper bags, pulling out scores of stuffed animals and brightly colored "cognitive development accelerators" (rattles), all the while sniping viciously at each other for having no clue what baby wants. Obviously Nanny's not texting back. Soon panic starts to set in... 

A kinder soul would go over and point to the bottle of formula rolling on the ground.

Copyright 2013 Paul J. Rasmussen