They call it domestic help

Kevin Cowherd

February 12, 1993|By Kevin Cowherd

In March of 1989 we hired Dominga, a small good-natured woman with just a wisp of a mustache, to watch the kids and do a little light carpentry -- chair rails, deck extensions, that sort of thing.

For this she was paid well. I don't want to say exactly how much, on advice of counsel. Put it this way: She made as much as any other nanny from St. Paul, Minn., where she said she was from.

Our memories of that time are warm ones: Dominga bustling around the house with her tool belt jingling, the smell of arroz con pollo wafting through the house, the whine of a power saw after she put the children to bed.

Then one day Dominga up and quit on us. She said the dog was driving her nuts. Apparently, Rusty was chewing on the cord of Dominga's drill and had also ruined a perfectly good sander.

In addition, he took her level and buried it in the back yard, after which Dominga put up a kitchen cabinet that was fully a half-inch out of whack.

L " No puedo trabajar aqui," she said. She couldn't work here.

I didn't blame her for quitting. It seems to me you should be able to watch three kids and construct shelves for the rec room or whatever without some stupid mutt going through your tool box.

" Adios, Mr. Kevin," Dominga said when I dropped her at the bus station.

"Goodbye, Dominga," I said. "Say hello to everyone in St. Paul."

In April of '90 we hired Ran Ying. She said she was from Ames, Iowa, and did a terrific job for us -- although she knew virtually nothing about carpentry and could barely work a caulking gun.

Then one day I came home at 2 in the afternoon and the liquor cabinet was open. And there was Ran Ying sprawled in a lawn chair on the back deck, waving a large tumbler of scotch and setting off bottle rockets to the delight of the children.

"IS THIS HOW PEOPLE FROM IOWA BEHAVE?!" I wanted to scream. But all I said was: "Please. Ran Ying . . . the neighbors."

So we had to let her go. The kids cried terribly until I said: "Look, I'll take you for ice cream if you'll just stop bawling."

Immediately, Sam, the oldest, brightened.

"Boy, that Ran Ying was really getting on my nerves," he said.

"I'm glad she's gone," added Teri. "Good riddance."

The next day, while I thumbed through the "Situations Wanted" ads, my neighbor Floyd said: "Looks like you have a nanny problem, friend."

"The ones from the Midwest seem a little high-strung," I said. "We're hoping to get one from another part of the country this time."

In October of '91 -- and this is all in my records, which have been provided to the attorneys -- Najiba and her husband Mahyoub came to work for us.

The story of how we hired them is an interesting one, if you have a minute.

My wife and I were driving home from Safeway one day when we spotted Najiba standing on the sidewalk near a busy intersection, holding a large cardboard sign on which was scrawled: "Will work for a decent wage plus perquisites. Non-smokers preferred."

"By God, that woman has initiative!" I cried, jerking the steering wheel hard to the left and throwing the car into a screeching U-turn.

I pulled over, at which point we were rear-ended by a woman in a Buick Skylark. Then a guy in a Jeep took my door off when I opened it to let Najiba in.

Fortunately, no one was seriously injured and we were able to have the car repaired for under $3,300 at a small body shop near where we took Najiba's robes to be cleaned.

Best of all, Najiba, who quickly introduced us to Mahyoub and said both were from Mississippi, agreed to work for us.

They were wonderful with the kids. As far as being handy around the house, Najiba was like me -- she could barely work a shower curtain. But Mahyoub had his own Sears Craftsman 55-piece tool set with both standard and metric sockets.

On cold winters nights, while Najiba read the Koran or sang to the kids ("O Heavenly Brothers! Rise and Vanquish the Infidels!" was my favorite), Mahyoub framed out an extension on the back porch and rebuilt the tool shed.

A few months ago, the two announced they were homesick, and soon they were on their way back to Mississippi. Mahyoub left behind two of his sockets, but we really don't expect to hear from them again.

To the best of my recollection, those are the only nannies we've hired. I don't know anything about taxes.

Which is what I told the lawyers. Now I just wish the whole mess would go away.

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