Roger Tells It:
Raising a kid alone has got to be one of the toughest, most demanding situations any responsible human could ever face. And I was pretty well-off, financially; I can't begin to imagine how someone making less than I do could manage it. I, at least, could always afford to have someone stay with Bill during the day until he started school. And I could afford to have someone be there for him when he came home or when business took me out of town.
For the first six years after Monica left me - Bill was just a year old when she decided to head for the Coast - we were very, very lucky. Annie, a solid West Indian woman with a gently firm manner about her and an honest and obvious love of children, took on the task of "mothering" my son. They got on famously, and I came to think so highly of her that when the INS caught up with her, I fought for her as if she was family. I lost, and it broke all of our hearts to say our farewells.
After Annie, our standards were very demanding. I must have interviewed 40 candidates before settling on Moira, a tall red-headed Irish lady of about 25. I explained to her about Annie, and Moira understood immediately. When Bill asked her if she was going to be the new "Annie," Moira told him that there could only be one Annie, and I knew it was going to be fine. And it was, for six good years. I was very happy to be one of Moira's sponsors at her naturalization, and I was happy for her when she announced her engagement a year later.
Neither Bill nor I were happy when she added that she and her soon-to-be-husband intended to move to South Carolina.
We - Bill and I - sat down and talked about our next step.
Bill's a bright kid. I'm not talking about a prodigy here. not by any stretch of the imagination, but he's smart, and he thinks things through. I'd always made a real effort to make it clear that when we're alone, he can ask or say anything without fear of retribution of any kind. In fact, in striving to insure open communication, I was overdoing it at the start. It had been Annie who'd warned me to remember that I was Bill's father and not one of his friends from school. A tough balancing act, but it paid dividends. We could talk.
"Dad, I'm 12. I don't need a nanny or a babysitter. I can take care of myself."
"Bill, you're 12. You can't drive a car, sign a check, buy booze or butts, or skip school. I'm not turning you into a latchkey kid. You're my son, I love you, and I'm not leaving you alone."
He sighed heavily, something he'd learned to do when he knew I wasn't going to budge on a matter of policy. I don't think he had realized it yet, but he was also a very good-looking youngster, combining his mother's big blue eyes and glowing complexion (marred at the moment by the inevitable acne) with my size and facial structure and brown hair.
"But I'll agree with you: You don't need a nanny or babysitter. Let's look into alternatives."
At that, he brightened. Bill loved a challenge. For most of the weekend and over breakfast on Monday morning, we kept coming back to the subject. Bill carried his "project notebook" around with him everywhere, and whenever one of us had an idea or thought on the matter, he painstakingly wrote it in the book.
Just before he left for school, he asked if this was a private subject, i.e., only between him and me. I wanted to know what he thought.
"I think the more input we can get on it, the better."
"Sounds good. Stay awake in school. And no drooling in English."
He did a moderately acceptable Groucho and headed out. The English reference was to his teacher, whom he'd described as a "babe-and-a-half." I was looking forward to the parent-teacher conference.
Moira came up with the winning suggestion, which Bill relayed to me that night.
"How about a part-time housekeeper."
"We considered that, remember?"
"Sure, but - " He flipped through his notebook pages. " - but Moira said maybe we should look for a college student who's got a light schedule. Especially someone who might be able to tutor me for an hour or so each day."
The more we talked about it, the better it sounded. One of the biggest problems with a part-timer was school holidays. On those days, Bill would be left alone until three or so. But a college student would have about the same schedule and would, therefore, be available on most school holidays.
We moved fast after that. Because of our location - a co-op in the Village - we concentrated our efforts on New York University, Parsons and Baruch, all within walking distance (more or less).
The folks at NYU were helpful and after checking me out passed along my name and number. We started getting calls. Most of them were washouts on the first call, but I interviewed a few. In the meantime, we were on a countdown to Moira's marriage and departure.
The first candidate showed up in fashionably torn jeans and tended to end every sentence with "Y'know?" The second had a nose ring - honest. The third enriched my life by telling me everything that was wrong with her teachers, her roommate, her life, the city and the Universe in general. The fourth began interrogating me about whether I had inculcated the "traditional sexist, racist white male views" in my son. The fifth seemed like a real possibility until she began dropping unsubtle hints that she'd be more than glad to take care of me, as well.
Two days before Moira's wedding - and after 18 failed interviews - I found one that seemed like a winner. She had good references, a good class schedule and seemed to have the right background. When she was 14, her mother died, and it had fallen to her to oversee her four siblings. No, she had no problem with taking a urine test, and she was taking a minor sequence in statistics, so she'd be able - and willing - to tutor Bill in the demon whose name is "Algebra."
Her name was Inger. Our first interview was right there at NYU, in a conference room a few doors from the student aid office. She was between classes, and I took note of her appearance. She was about five-seven (good, because it gave her a couple of inches on Bill), with hair the color of fresh-cut wheat and pulled back in a ponytail. She had a good, strong face - attractive but not quite pretty - and used her light dusting of makeup to emphasize her best features: great lips and big, soft brown eyes. She was wearing a baggy sweater and a pleated plaid skirt that came to her knees. If anything, she seemed to be on the plump side. Her fingernails were clipped and buffed, and her only jewelry was a digital watch, one of those cheap ones.
Inger spoke well, in complete sentences. From time to time, she would hesitate, becoming silent as she thought. That really impressed me, because it meant she had the self-confidence to prefer silence to inane utterances; most people feel they have to fill conversational space with noise.
Things went fairly well until I got to the tough part (for me, anyhow).
"I don't want to pry, but I want to ask you a somewhat personal question."
"I don't promise to answer."
"Fair enough. Inger, do you have a... a significant other in your life?"
A moment of silence. "I think I understand your concern. I don't really have a boyfriend. There was a guy I was getting interested in but he turned out to be... inappropriate. And as busy as I am with class and - I hope - working for you, I really don't have much time for socializing."
She was bright, Inger was, and she recognized that I wanted to ask another question but was holding back because it would have been prying.
"Look, Mr. Millman, he was inappropriate because I found out he was bisexual and not being safe about it. I am a big fan of living."
I felt myself blush. "Thanks," I mumbled.
Her wristwatch beeped. "I have to get over to Courant for a class. I'll be glad to meet you again, but right now - "
"No, I quite understand." I stood and held out my hand. "Let me talk with Bill, and let's see if you can come by and meet the subject under discussion."
She smiled, and I was somewhat taken aback by the transformation. When this young woman smiled, her whole face got into the act, lighting up the entire room.
"I'd like that," she said.
.... There is more of this story ...