“Are there any nannies in the house?” Alene Mathurin calls out to the crowd at Glen Terrace banquet hall in Mill Basin, Brooklyn, her emerald sequined gown shimmering beneath a huge chandelier. It’s Saturday night, a week before Christmas, and the ballroom is packed with women of all ages decked out in crystal jewelry and floor-length gowns. “Are you ready to party?” Mathurin asks. The guests raise their glasses as the room erupts in cheers. The sixth annual Nanny Ball has begun.
Mathurin, the creator of My Nanny Circle, an online forum and Facebook group for professional caregivers, has organized the ball since 2015, but the event went on hiatus during the pandemic. Now, after three years away, the nannies are so excited to be here that they can hardly stay in their seats to listen to the opening speech.
Tickets to this year’s Nanny Ball were $200 a head, and the outfits match the steep price tag. Everywhere I look, there are layers of tulle, sequins, bedazzled clutches, and fake eyelashes. I spot one woman in a hand-beaded black floral gown and another in an elaborate gold sequined dress. “We joke it’s like the Met Gala for nannies,” Mathurin says. Among the 260 guests, there are a handful of husbands and boyfriends, but tonight is really about women.
I talk to Julia Waldron, who met Mathurin years ago when they were both nannies on the Upper West Side. “I take care of children, running after them in the park with dirty shoes,” she tells me. “But today, I can leave all that. I can get dressed up. I don’t even recognize the other nannies from the playground.”
Waldron, who lives in Canarsie, is one of many nannies who tell me they’ve been to every ball. “I will not miss it. Even when I’m an old lady and not nannying anymore, I’ll still be here with my stick.” But there are newbies, too. “Everybody was talking about the ball, so I said, ‘Okay, I’ll see what it’s all about,’” says Tina Mango, a nanny who lives in Crown Heights. “I’m having a great time.”
The theme of this year’s ball is “once upon a fairy tale,” which may explain why there’s no shortage of women who showed up wearing pink gowns and tiaras. The tables are set with gold plates and pink silk-rose centerpieces. There’s a choice between salmon and chicken marsala, and a tiered wedding cake and ice sculpture in the shape of the number “six” beckon from the front of the dance floor. Waiters come around to fill our Champagne glasses.
The evening’s lineup includes a keynote speech by Helen McCarthy, president of the International Nanny Association, and a ceremony for ten women who were nominated by their employers to receive a Nanny Excellence Award. When Yolande Arthur takes the stage to receive hers, she tells the crowd, “As you know, we work hard and it’s never acknowledged.” Her fellow nannies cheer while her own family takes pictures.
Soon enough, it’s clear that the nannies are here to dance. Around 11 p.m., entertainers from Pure Samba parade onto the dance floor, dressed in towering feather headdresses and jeweled bikinis. Mathurin tells me the dancers are back by popular request; they’ve performed at the ball every year since it started. Nannies shimmy in their seats before joining the dancers to take selfies and film themselves, rum cocktails in hand. When the DJ plays Problem Child’s “Holiday,” they gleefully shout along with the lyrics: “I’m not going to work today.” (Notably, there are no children allowed at the ball. “It’s a place of many open bars,” says Mathurin.)
Around midnight, a conga line forms as the women sing “I Love Soca.” Watching from the sidelines, one husband tells me: “They know how to party.” It isn’t surprising that the ball has a strong Caribbean undercurrent: Most of New York City’s nannies are immigrants, like Mathurin. From two decades of working as a nanny in Manhattan, Mathurin knows how isolating the profession can be. “The real purpose of the ball is to show people that they’re part of something great,” she says. Addressing the crowd, she proclaims: “Never forget the nobility of your profession. Hold yourself accountable to high standards. Someone here might be raising the next president.”
One refrain emerges as I chat with nannies: Caregivers rarely get the recognition they deserve. “Nobody understands how hard it is,” says Jennifer Norgriff Bernard. Bernard recently retired and moved to North Carolina, but she decided to travel back to New York for the ball. Before she got here, she stopped in New Jersey to visit the children from her last job in Montclair. “After 33 years as a nanny, I have so many kids still in touch with me,” she says. “I call myself ‘the grandnanny.’”
Even though they have to organize this gala themselves, the nannies tell me there is strength in coming together and celebrating their accomplishments. “As nannies, we’re often looked down upon, like we’re the help,” says Sherry Tassecia Little, who lives in Yonkers. “Events like these recognize all the work we all do. Pushing strollers, changing diapers, cleaning houses — all of that. Some people might look at it as the bottom job, but I tell people, ‘We help America go to work.’ If everyone in this room decided today, We don’t want to be nannies anymore, this world would be in chaos.”
As the clock nears 2 a.m., the energy in the room starts to dwindle. But one young woman in a long black-and-gold dress enjoys a solo dance party on the side of the dance floor, and a number of other nannies sit contentedly in their seats, taking in the last moments of a lovely evening. They’re tired, and they’ve changed into their flip-flops, but they’re not ready to leave just yet. Monday morning, it’s back to strollers and the playground.