Friday, August 3, 2012

The Manny Journals. Should I finish them?

This is something of a long story, so I'm going to give the highlights. A couple years ago, a friend and I were co-writing a novel together. We had rather different styles, but complementary skill sets (and um, topic sets, in this context) so we were working together. He bailed, after six chapters, for reasons which aren't really that interesting, so I'll not go into them here.

I've hit something of a wall with the Sophie & Marty novel. (Sigh. What's new?) So I dug this out the other day and took a look at it. I have six chapters of a novel that I think is publishable. Leaving the co-author ethics aside (which in my mind aren't too problematic; I'll explain more later), the question is this: Should I put my time into finishing this novel? Would you like to see the rest of this story? Or is it too derivative? (Of what? Well, if you don't know, I won't tell you. Because if you don't recognize what it's derived from, many other people won't either. Right?) 

So, give the first chapter a read. (I know it's not perfect. I may be an editor but I haven't re-edited this.) The question is this: Do you want to read more? 

There is a poll at the bottom of the post. Please vote!!

Chapter 1: The Beginning

I glance at the schedule hanging above the boarding platform. Only five more minutes until the next train. I slump into the hard plastic chair beneath me and scrub my hands through my hair.
It’s not every day that I have to tell my parents that I’m going to take my $200,000 Stanford education and use it to care for some rich family’s children. My parents have always told me that I could do anything I wanted, that they would be happy if I’m happy. I even remember my dad once telling me that he’d be happy if I became a taxi cab driver if that’s what I really wanted to do. Of course, I know he didn’t really mean it, and I suspect that both of my parents have definite ideas about the sort of career they would like me to pursue. To be fair to them, most double majors in history and philosophy don’t choose childcare as a career field.  
The blaring of the train’s electric horn pulls me back to reality. Once the train stops, I mindlessly follow the crowd through the train car’s sliding doors and find a seat.
As soon as we start moving, the chattering in my mind starts back up. I know Mom and Dad fully expect me to do something amazing, to revolutionize the world, maybe even save it. They’ve always had extraordinary expectations for me. Only, I’m not ready for that. I’m barely even ready to face the world. After four years of grueling all-nighters and a senior thesis that really kicked my butt, I’m ready for a break. I feel like I’ve been running the achievement rat race for my entire life. Ever since primary school, my parents have shuffled me among gifted programs, enrichment classes, and leadership seminars. In college almost every decision I made revolved around how participating in one activity or another would affect my résumé. The position as a part-time research associate was a no-brainer; joining the amateur drama club or finding a girlfriend didn’t make the cut.
Unfortunately, I’ve only recently realized that I don’t have to live that way. Now I’m ready to have some fun, reunite with my inner child, and discover who I am. And I’m going to do it on the tab of some rich family with spoiled kids—a family who is so successful that they don’t even have the time to raise their children without hiring someone else to help.
I glance at my watch and see that it’s already 6:00 p.m. My parents won’t be happy that I’m late for dinner, but that will likely be the least of tonight’s disappointments. It’s possible that I’ll be able to convince them of the wisdom of my decision, but I’m not holding my breath. (I could easily suffocate given how stubborn my father is.) My parents’ backgrounds don’t lend themselves to understanding. Both of them come from working class families, and they’re both the only people in their families to have gone on to college. As IT professionals, they both make good money, but I know that they’ve always regretted not being able to provide us with some of the more lavish comforts of our Silicon Valley neighbors. What Mom and Dad fail to understand is that neither my sister nor I have ever wanted these things. As children, we yearned for little more than our parent’s love and attention.
I push these thoughts out of my mind and focus on what I plan on saying tonight. I know I just have to level with Mom and Dad and tell them how I feel. If I’m authentic enough, they might understand. 
A few minutes later, I reach my stop. The train station is only a few blocks from my parents’ house, so the walk there doesn’t take but five minutes. I let myself in and prepare to announce my presence, but Dad is already there, sitting in the foyer chair. “About time,” he barks. His dark eyes narrow and bore into me—about what I expected.
I manage to spare him a smile and incline my head in deference. “Yeah, sorry, you know how the trains run.” Of course he does—and so do I, which is why I should have left fifteen minutes earlier than did. But then, it’s easy to procrastinate leaving when the destination is one I’m dreading. It’s a shame I don’t have a dad who would ignore the 15 minutes and give me a pat on the back for utilizing public transit. He knows the environment is an issue that’s important to me.
“Well,” he says gruffly, “your mother’s setting the table and putting everything out. We should go sit down.” A second later, he adds offhandedly, “Dee’s already here.” Of course he had to mention that; he has always compared my younger sister and me to each other, as if he could spark some sort of competitive spirit that would cause each of us to try to best the other. Fortunately for Dee and me, we’ve only rarely taken his bait.
I walk into the dining room and sit down at our formal, hardwood dinner table. The chairs are beautifully carved but rather uncomfortable. I remain silent as Mother enters and takes her place at the opposite end of the table from Dad, with Dee and me occupying the table’s flanks. We all reach toward one another, grasp hands, and bow our heads. My father begins saying grace, like he always does.
“Oh Lord, bless this food which we are about to eat and let it nourish our hearts and minds and souls, such that we may come to know you better and do your perfect will. We especially ask that you grant your blessings upon Blake and Dee as they embark on new journeys in their lives—Blake with his career and Dee with her university studies. We thank you for the gifts you have given us and that we know you will continue to bestow upon us. All grace is yours, oh mighty Father. We thank you and ask all this in the name of Christ your Son. Amen.”
Just what I needed. Now not only do I have to break the unfortunate news of my career choice to my parents, but I have to do it in the shadow of Dad’s prayer. They get to call me an idiot, and they get to accuse me of defying God’s perfect will (or, in other words, what they think is best).
The meal begins well enough. Mom has outdone herself again. The night’s menu is halibut with a light raspberry sauce (probably from fresh raspberries), mashed sweet potatoes, succulently buttered asparagus, a beet salad, and clam chowder. We talk about the state of the economy and how various friends are doing who have come upon hard times.
As talk of the economy continues, I grow increasingly uncomfortable. I know that either Mom or Dad will soon turn to me and ask The Question, the one I’ve been dreading all day.
It comes when Dee mentions that our cousin Alicia texted her earlier today and told her she had landed a job as a manager at a posh resort. After a brief discussion about how lucky she is, Dad’s attention shifts to me.
“Have you finalized your plans yet?” He asks with me forced casualness. “Still considering that assistantship at Berkeley?”
I take a long pull from my wineglass and chuckle uncomfortably. “Well, not quite. I’m, uh, actually thinking about something else. I just don’t think I can take four more years of writing papers right now.”
Both Dad’s face and his voice tighten. “Oh?”
“Yeah…” I exhale slowly through my nostrils, then take the plunge, “I’m going to get a job as a manny.”
Dad’s head jerks up, and confusion grips his features. I cringe as I hear silverware clatter against china. Mother’s, I think. A second later, Dee’s laughter fills the air.
 “A… a manny? What exactly is that?” Dad sputters.
“Uh…” I lick my lips and look from Mom to Dee.
Dee rescues me by offering, “It’s a male nanny, Dad. Manny is a cute way of saying male nanny.” She giggles again and shakes her head. “Always full of surprises,” she whispers.
Mom draws attention to herself by setting her silverware back on her plate. With all of us looking at her, she murmurs “I didn’t know your time with the Big Brothers program made such an impression on you.”
Not exactly the most heartfelt endorsement, I figure, but I do appreciate Mom’s act of diplomacy. Perhaps it has some chance of staving off, or at least mitigating, the explosion I expect from Dad. And she is right. I never really expected to enjoy the Big Brothers program as much as I did. I signed up for it because I figured some sort of community service commitment with you would look good on my grad school application. I never expected it to become one of the consistent highlights of my week. I ended up falling head over heels for my young charge, an adorable eight-year-old with a now out-of-the-picture alcoholic as a father and an exotic dancer as a mother. We had some great times together.
I push all thoughts of my Big Brother stint aside and watch Dad. He still hasn’t said anything. I give a slight start as his mouth begins to twitch. Then he clears his throat. Here it comes.
“You. You’re going to be a nanny. You’re going to make a career of taking care of rich people’s kids so that they can go out and make real money. Do you realize how stupid that is? You should be the one out there contributing to society. You’re going to throw your education and all the work you’ve done to become a glorified babysitter?” Dad’s face is turning redder and redder as his voice rises in volume and his words quicken. “Doctor Diaper Changer at your service! I can’t believe this. I just can’t believe this. God help me!”
All right, I think to myself, stay calm. Relax. You knew this was coming. I look across the table and see Mom. Her face has grown ashen as she listens to Dad speak, but she stays ominously silent.
“Mom?” I try prompting her, but she just looks at me and shakes her head.
“What do you want me to say? I agree with your father on this one. Have you really…”
She is interrupted by Dad. He growls and pounds his hand on the table, rattling the china. Dee’s wineglass falls over, splashing its contents on Mother’s fine tablecloth, but everyone ignores it.
“Blake, you just don’t get it.” His tone softens—barely—as he reins in his anger, but the veins in his forehead are still pounding. “This whole thing, it’s a lack of gratitude on your part. Don’t you get it? You’re graduating from Stanford University—with high honors! You can be anything, literally anything, you want. Don’t you remember how hard your mother and I have had to work—and you, too—so that you and your sister could have the education you’ve had? We worked our hides off so that you and Dee could be better off than we’ve been.”
“But, Dad,” I retort quietly, trying to force calmness into the conversation, “this is the anything that I want to be. I just want to do this for a couple, maybe a few years, and…”
Dad manages to refrain from slamming his fist again, but any control he had over his voice disappears. “A few years!” he hollers. “Are you insane? You have a fully funded assistantship at Berkeley waiting for you, and you’re going to throw that away? What are you going to put on your CV for the three years between graduation and going back to pursue what you should be doing now? Babysitter for the rich and famous?”
“Dad, this is what I’m passionate about!” I find myself yelling back at Dad. I’m starting to hate him; I can’t stand how he’s treating me like an ignorant child. Passionate probably isn’t even an accurate word to describe my feelings about mannying, but I’ve decided to pull out all the stops. It’s exactly because of this type of pressure and bullying that I’ve decided to do what I’m doing. Childcare might not be my life’s passion, but I do get something meaningful out of it. I love seeing the twinkle in a kid’s eye as I help him (or her) learn how to throw a perfect spiral or deftly flip an omelet. I love just being there when a kid is down and keeping him laughing with well-timed jokes.
“Passion.” Dad nearly spits the word. “If you’re passionate about babysitting, then you need to grow up. This isn’t playtime anymore, Blake.”
My fists clench, and I briefly consider jumping out of my chair and slugging Dad, but I push those thoughts aside. Instead, I try to use reason. “Being a manny can really make a difference in someone’s life, Dad. I don’t need to make money to make a difference.” I look at Mom, pleading for help with my eyes. Her face softens almost imperceptibly. She remains silent, though, and Dad continues his lecturing.
“You could make a lot bigger difference by becoming a professor, maybe one day even a renowned writer or researcher. You could teach and inspire thousands, or even more. And you could certainly make a lot more money and have plenty to donate to charity if you really want to help people in need.”
I knuckle my forehead, trying to drive out the madness I feel creeping in. “Do you always have to be so clinical?” I ask Dad accusingly.
“Don’t get smart with me,” Dad scolds. “All I have to say is that I hope you reconsider. If you persist with this nonsense, don’t expect our continued support.”
So now he’s threatening me. Would he cease financial support if I decided to pursue the career I wanted, I wonder. Was he threatening to kick me out of the house? I can’t understand how a temporary career choice could evoke such ire.
As I glower at Dad, speechless, Mom finally decides to enter the conversation.
“Blake, you know Dad and I love you. We just want what’s best for you. We understand that you want to do something important, to be the person who can make the difference in the life of a child…”
Dad grunts something almost inaudible and opens his mouth to speak, but Mom flashes him a brief but admonishing glance and continues uninterrupted.
“We understand that. We really do. But you have to consider the long-term and how the choices you make now affect the prospects of what you’re going to be doing in five, ten, even twenty years. What you’re doing is noble. Really. But go out and make a career for yourself. Start a family and take care of your own kid if you want! Or get involved with children and start some great program once you have a bit of experience under your belt. But not now. The time right now is for you to focus on you.”
Could my parents really be so superficial and condescending? Here they are treating me as if I were a 17-year-old planning on attending some cheap state party school when I had admissions offers from MIT, Cal-Tech, and Stanford. My entire body tenses as I grow angrier at their treatment of me. They don’t realize that I just need a bit of a break to find myself, reconnect with myself, feel like I’m doing something meaningful.
“Everyone’s going to think you’re gay,” Dad offers quietly.
Silence greets his response. After several seconds, Dee speaks for the first time. “I cannot believe you just said that, Dad. Seriously.”
“It’s true,” he mutters.
Having taken all that I can, I stand and slam my hands down on the table.
“I’m through. I’m through with being treated like an adolescent child. I’ve made my decision, and it’s final. I’m leaving.” I don’t quite yell, but there’s definitely steel in my voice. As an afterthought, I add snidely, “And thank you ever so much for dinner. We’ll have to do it again soon.”
Dee squeaks. I’ve never talked like that to our parents before, or at least not in front of her. Mom just sits there, stunned into a nonresponsive state.
“Blake,” Dad bellows as I turn to leave, “if you step foot out of this house now, you’re cut off. You can expect no support from us. Nothing.”
I shrug and respond nonchalantly. “Fine! I’ll make sure I call at Christmas.” With that, I storm off.
An hour later I collapse into the overstuffed office chair in front of my computer. I stare at the blank screen and try to clear my head. Only, I can’t. I continually replay the conversation with my father in my mind, each time try to determine what I could have said or done differently.
  I can’t recall ever having had such a fierce argument with my parents. I’ve definitely never before left my house not expecting to be welcomed back. But perhaps that is part of my problem. For years I’ve let my parents bully me into doing things their way, into realizing their expectations and fulfilling their dreams. I’ve just now managed to stake my own territory, to set my own goals. More than ever, I’m convinced that becoming a manny is the right move for me. In an unexpected epiphany, I realize that being a manny might help me find the family I wish I had.
I reach for my computer’s mouse and click on Internet Explorer. I know I could return home, groveling to my parents, and apologize for my waywardness. They would welcome me with open arms and sights of relief. But I’m not going to do that. Now, more than ever, I’m convinced that mannying is what I need to do.
I point my web browser to Google and search for area nanny agencies. As I read through the websites, I realize that I better get started soon with my job search. I only have a month left in student housing, and going back to my parents’ house on any terms isn’t an option.
It looks like I have to put together a resume, register with TrustLine, do a criminal background check, and get my references together. This nanny stuff is serious business. I start to type up my résumé, but I can’t focus on it. My attention keeps getting drawn back to the conversation with my parents. Despite my decision I’m still stunned by how critical and unsupportive they were, and I’m can’t quite accept how quickly I became persona non grata in my own home.
I don’t know what to do with all the thoughts that keep bouncing around inside my head, so I call Sydney. Sydney is my best woman friend. We’ve gone through both high school and college together, and we’re as close as can be without actually being in a relationship. She’s more of a sister than Dee.
“Hey, Sydney, I had that conversation I’ve been dreading with my parents tonight,” I say, trying to sound casual. For some reason, I don’t want to let her know how much I’m hurting.
“About being a manny?” she asks.
“How’d it go?”
“Terrible,” I mutter. “I just don’t understand how my parents can be so critical about what I want to do with my life. I mean, it’s not like I said I was dropping out of school to take a job at Home Dept!”
There’s a chuckle on the other end of the line. “Heh, yeah. No kidding. Listen, Bren. Just go with your gut. I think this whole manny thing is a bit unique, but it’s what so you want, so it’s totally cool.”
I love how Sydney is so unconditionally accepting. It doesn’t make any sense to me how someone I’ve known for eight years could be that way but my very own parents couldn’t. Maybe their egos were just too caught up in my success. After all, they probably wouldn’t be too happy boasting to all their friends that their son is a manny, not when their friends’ kids are off at law school or med school.
“Yeah,” I mumble.
“You’re awfully quiet.” I detect a note of concern in Sydney’s voice.
“Oh, it’s nothing. I just needed a friendly ear to talk to. Recenter myself, you know. I don’t know what I’d do without you.”
“You know I love you, buster. But hey, if you’re okay it’s late and I got an exam tomorrow. Give me a call after morning class if you need anything. I gotta crash soon.”
I could hear the fatigue in her voice. I wonder if she was already sleep when I called. “Sure thing, thanks again,” I say, trying to sound chipper. The last thing I want is to be a burden to Sydney.
I snap shut my phone and go back to looking at sample nanny résumés and scouring sites like Craigslist and nannies4hire. All in all, finding a job doesn’t look too hard. There are plenty of rich professional types in need of childcare. I just need to get everything together and start making some calls. I’m going to do this, and I’m going to find the richest, most glamorous family I can. My dad can take his dream of living through me vicariously and shove it.

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