Parenting is terror. Before you have kids, you expect the joy, and that comes: the hand-in-hand; the tenderness; the slow bloom of another human being. But new life is close to death; it, too, arrived from an unknown place, tugged from the other side. Any parent looking down at a newborn knows that fear accompanies the wonder, as if the child could be snatched away – back – at any moment.
It’s been two weeks since Lucia and Leo Krim, ages six and two, were discovered by their mother, stabbed in the bathtub of their New York City apartment. Murder charges have been laid against their nanny, Yoselyn Ortega, who was found nearby, reportedly bleeding from self-inflicted stab wounds. The images are unshakeable; they realize the darkest fears of all parents. Almost daily, even now, I find myself checking in on the story.
And it has become a “story,” packaged in media reports as melodrama. Of course, this particular melodrama lacks the last part of the Oxford English Dictionary definition: “But with a happy ending.”
Unfathomable horrors befall less visible children every day. A recent Save the Children report from Syrian refugee camps catalogued children’s accounts of being tortured, beaten and starved. In Staten Island, two-year-old Brandon and four-year-old Connor Moore were swept away from their mother into Hurricane Sandy’s floodwaters.
All these losses jostle for our attention, so why am I clicking the Krim case every morning? Somehow it hits home, almost literally. This particular tragedy sits at the junction of private anxiety and public confusion about parenting. At least in the media narrative, the Krims fit the part of the perfect, affluent family with their Upper West Side apartment, where they lived with their three beautiful kids (another daughter was with her mother at the time) and the mommy blogged about it, and a nanny helped out.
I recognize the Krims. Every day, I’m one of the working parents who scrambles, patching together a plan that combines sitters, daycare, relatives. I wanted to know how the Krims had done it, and I checked out Marina Krim’s blog “Life with the Little Krim Kids” before it was removed, choking up at a description of Leo posted only a few hours before he died. I visit their grief like a tourist, watching the memorial service at Lincoln Center where a singer performed Loudon Wainwright’s Daughter against blow-up posters of the kids’ art. I feel ashamed of this prurience, and then I look some more.
The information is still trickling in. Maybe there had been some kind of disagreement over work. Certainly there was mental illness. Ortega had recently been evicted from her home and was reportedly under stress. According to The New York Times, she told detectives: “Marina knows what happened,” as if there could be a rational explanation.
There is nothing rational about parenthood. It’s physically painful. Expensive. Burdensome. But many of us do it, and not because of reason, but emotion. We do it out of a hypothetical love that doesn’t exist when the decision is made. It’s a lot like faith.
The love gives rise to entire industries, feeding off the anxiety that comes with it. The fact that we want the best for our kids is profitable for baby-wipe warmers and tutoring companies. Helicopter parenting is a grasp at control. Judith Warner, in her book Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety, looked around at tired, joyless American parents and noted “the angst, hidden behind all the obsession with trivia, and the push to be perfect.”
Naturally, the murders fast became ammunition in the mommy wars, shaming working moms and dads. At the ABC News site, trolls typed: “All the parents say they ‘have to work’ well, then be prepared to risk your children’s welfare.” On the feminist site Jezebel, a commenter posted that “had she actually been a full-time mom, this couldn’t have happened.” What stupidity to suggest that working women with children are only mothers “part-time.” What hubris to claim that tragedies aren’t random, dropping down on anyone, any time.
To make life livable, many of us need help with our kids. When we give over our children to daycare workers and nannies, we enter into a covenant: Together, we’ll love and protect them. We cede control. We are forced to trust, even if it goes against our deepest fears. Eventually, after forging an intimate relationship with the right caregiver, we do trust.
My kids both entered daycare when they were around 1. That first morning, I remember sitting outside in the car, calling a friend and crying. “You’re doing the best you can. This is good for all of you,” she said. And mostly, it wasn’t hard. I needed money, but I also needed a life outside of my family, and the more I had one, the less fearful I became. I saw my kids thriving in a world that included many different adults, many different shades of love.
Maybe that’s why the Krim case is so terrifying: It breaks the covenant. It makes rational the irrational fears that parents work so hard to banish.