The four-door, black Honda arrives at my house, and I walk out the door, down the stairs, and hop into the backseat of his car. My driver is named Chad… or let's call him Chad. I refer to all problematic white men as Chads. When I get into his car though, I don't know that he's problematic—in fact, he seems very nice. He's an older man, maybe mid 30's, and I can tell by the way he takes his time to adjust his GPS that he isn't from Chicago. Drivers from Chicago or those familiar with the city pick you up and drive. They don't even look at the GPS.
"Sorry about that," he says.
"No worries, you have to get situated," I reply.
"You're up early," he tells me.
"Yep, gotta make that money," I say with a smile.
"You and me both," he says.
I chuckle a bit, and we sit in silence for the next few minutes. He approaches the intersection of Kedzie and North Avenue where he points to the building that sits on the corner and says,
“Check out how big that building is.”
“Mm-hm,” not looking up from my phone.
I’m not trying to be rude, but I already know, without looking, that the building he’s referring to is the armory on the northwest corner of my neighborhood, Humboldt Park. I’ve lived here my whole life. I know the fucking armory, bro.
"That is a beautiful park," he says, pointing past the armory to the park that my neighborhood is named after.
"Yes," I reply. I stare out the window, looking at the newly built mini-Cubs Stadium in the park that wasn’t there ten years ago. I could give Chad more information about the park, but it’s too early to be that generous.
"You know, they say 20 - 30 years ago this park wasn't this nice. I grew up in the burbs, and I would hear stories about Humboldt Park. About how it was gang-ridden, and nobody wanted to live here. Look at it now though. You barely see any of the riffraff out on the corners and street anymore."
I don't say anything, because I don’t want to get into this argument again. Pick your battles, Lily, I think. But I still want to hear what this Chad-burbanite has to say about the neighborhood that I know like “La palma de me mano” as my mother would say.
“They've turned this park into something beautiful,” he says, “I'm impressed. I wouldn't even mind living here.”
My lips clench, and I feel a chill from my head to my feet. Usually, this chill means I got to sit back and really think about what my next move is going to be. It's too damn early, I think. It's too early to tell this Chad that while he might be right about the improvements made to the park, he is wrong about the "riffraff" out on the corners. It’s too early to tell him that the stories he heard were only half-truths. I want to school him on 80's and 90's gang culture. I want to tell him about how the two rival gangs from opposite sides of the park, the Kings, and the Disciples, contained their riffraff-ery to the park to keep us somewhat safe on our blocks. I want to tell him that despite there being a lot of gangs and violence, most of it remained off the streets because the last thing gangs want is to make the block hot, i.e., CRAWLING with police.
It’s too fucking early to tell this Chad-urbury how I am one of the “riffraff.” That I spent my entire childhood in this neighborhood, so if anyone knows that it wasn’t safe back then, it would be me. That the picture of Humboldt Park wasn’t the bullshit narrative, his lily-white upbringing raised him to believe.
And it’s definitely WAY too early to tell this Chad-ster that the trendy area he’s talking about and would be “willing to move to” is not some fad. It is too early to school this Chad-lick on the politricks of the city, and how he is complicit in the displacement of the black and brown people that lived here. I don't have the time or patience to tell him that it hurts me to see privileged white families enjoy a park we only dreamed of enjoying. I cannot say that it is sad that even those of us who survived and had children cannot enjoy this upgraded Humboldt Park, because the new residents look at US as the outsiders, wondering what we are still doing there.
I want so bad to own the fuck out him, but instead, we pull up to my destination, a multi-unit residential building in West Loop. He will never know how lucky he was that I did not say what I wanted to say, but he’ll also never know how much he offended me. I slam the door hard hoping the car window shatters, but it doesn’t. As I walk into the building, my petty ass gives him two stars, so I don’t get paired with him again.
Francisco, the handyman of the building, is hanging out in the lobby, probably waiting on some delivery. He says, “Good morning,” and I reply, “Not yet it isn't.” He laughs as he pushes the button to call the elevator for me. I hit the button to the 7th floor and ride the elevator up. I’m in the “old” elevator on the south side of the building. It has tarps all over the walls and floors. The north side elevator has already been rehabbed, but I suspect that’s because most of the new residents live on that side of the building.
There are two types of residents here: the longtime, West Loop residents who are mostly African and Middle Eastern immigrants, and the new, wealthy - mainly white - young couples and start-up families. It's like every multi-unit building in an up-and-coming, gentrified neighborhood in Chicago. The old residents get mixed in with the new residents until rents go up and drive the old residents out to make room for more wealthy - mainly white - young residents. I work for one of these new, young residents as a nanny.
The elevator doors open and I walk to the end of the hallway where my nanny family lives. I let myself in with the keys they gave me, and the mom yells good morning from her bedroom when she hears the door close behind me. I take off my jacket hang it on the coat rack and make my way to the kitchen where I can hear the baby crawling around.
“Luca Dukis!” I say as I jump from around the corner to surprise him in the kitchen. “Luca Dukis,” i.e., Lucas is dressed in one of his million footie pajama outfits. He’s holding a firetruck in one hand and a tractor in the other. He looks up with his giant blue eyes, little old man features on his baby face, and grunts his hello. Lucas doesn’t talk yet, but he communicates in sign language and different types of grunts. His mom rushes into the kitchen and lets me know that today looks it might be a nice day to go outside, even though it is March in Chicago. By the time she leaves, it’s almost 7 am. She kisses Lucas while he’s in my arms and tells us to have a great day.
Lucas’ parents are very nice to me. His dad is a Brazilian immigrant who came to America to become a pediatric cardiologist. His mom is a nurse practitioner for babies with cancer. They have good hearts, and it shows. They met in college, got married and moved to Chicago to pursue their careers. I was hired while Lucas’s mom was on maternity leave. During my interview, both Lucas’ mom and grandmother were impressed at how quickly I was able to get Lucas to sleep in my arms. I love Lucas. He is my little guy, and I am most definitely one of his favorite people.
I take Lucas into the kitchen to make breakfast. I sit him on the counter and explain to him what I’m doing. I know his parents do not do this with him; they don’t engage with him as I do. Don't get me wrong, they love him, and they talk to him, but they don’t connect with him the same way I do. They like to speak in high-pitched baby talk and usually let him roam around while they work on their computers or do stuff on their phones. I know their jobs are very demanding which is why I take the time to give Lucas all the love and attention I know they wish they could. They appreciate it and let me know every chance they get.
I measure out a cup of steel oats for me and lay out all the ingredients for Lucas’ omelet, hash browns, and sausage breakfast. He sits on the counter and points to the eggs, directing me to crack them in a bowl. "What's next, Lucas," I say, and he points to the whisk in the utensil caddy. “Good job,” I reply, and he claps his little hands together feeling very proud of himself.
He loves watching the eggs go into the pan. He likes handing me the cheese I put in his omelets because he enjoys my Emeril impersonation. “Bam!” I exclaim as I throw a handful of shredded cheese into his omelet. He claps for me. I take an exaggerated bow. While the omelet browns, we get to his favorite part of making breakfast which is nuking the Jimmy Dean sausages. I point to the numbers four and five on the microwave. He presses them and, without direction, the start button right afterward. “Oooooooh,” he reacts when the tray inside the microwave starts spinning.
Lucas has been helping me cook since he could sit up without toppling over. My animated breakfast-making takes twice as long, but it keeps him entertained, so he doesn’t get bored and wants to get off the counter. Lucas and I are homies, and our morning routine is a clear reflection of that.
At about noon, I decided to take Lucas to The Children's Museum. Children's Museum, hmmph. I don't know why they call it a children's museum. There are no artifacts or historical references. There are no guided tours you go on to teach kids anything. There is no art created by famous child artists, or any exhibits that are about the history or contribution children have made to the world. No, The Children's Museum is a series of playpens designed to keep children entertained and corralled while their parents and immigrant nannies sit around and check their Facebooks or zone the fuck out. However, Lucas’ parents sprung for a membership so we could go whenever we wanted. We use it pretty often. So while I have my opinions, Lucas loves the damn place, and that’s what matters.
I LOVE taking babies on trips, ESPECIALLY on the bus or train. Most privileged babies do not get to ride public transportation which is a shame because it's one of the easiest and safest ways to expose children to people unlike them. I did it with my son, and he turned out to be an all right adult. I believe that my son, Xavier, is one of the reasons Lucas' parents hired me. Honestly, who wouldn't? Xavier is attending college on a full scholarship to study Biochemical Engineering. He is smart, funny, talented, and not a fucking douchebag. I think deep down, Lucas' family wanted me to expose their privileged baby to the world, which is why it didn't matter if I didn’t have a vehicle and took public transit.
We get on the Grand Avenue bus going east to Navy Pier. Lucas loves the bus. He loves all kinds of vehicles, firetrucks being his favorite, buses being a close second. I parallel-park our Cadillac of a stroller into one of the reserved spaces. I lock the wheels and sit in the seat directly in front of him. Instead of taking out my phone, I use the 30-minute ride to talk to Lucas and play peek-a-boo. There is never a time I'm not having a conversation or playing with this kid. As I said, he's my homie, and why wouldn’t he be? I spend 50 hours a week with him.
I look up from our game to see two older white women in the seats across the aisle staring at us with a curious side-eye. I can tell they want to ask me if Lucas is my child. It’s annoying because they could ask. However, they continue to stare and then smile awkwardly at me when I make eye contact with them. I smirk and chuckle to myself, slightly shaking my head. Lucas and I look nothing alike. Despite his dad being Brazilian, Lucas is white passing. He has straight, sandy blonde hair, and un-tannable pale skin.
I, on the other hand, come off as racially ambiguous. I pass for different ethnicities depending on the day and how I wear my hair. I will never be mistaken for being white, though. Not with my frizzy dark hair, big juicy lips, and dark features. Never. So I don't acknowledge these women or give them a clue about who I am. I let them assume and wonder. I can't wait to get off this nosey ass bus, I think.
We arrive at Navy Pier, Chicago's touristy cesspool of transplants and privilege. Lucas points to the ferris wheel looming over the pier and squeals with joy. I love and hate the pier sometimes. On the one hand, I LOVE that we have something like it, but why does it have to be A: SO FUCKING EXPENSIVE and B: SO FUCKING WHITE. It drives me nuts, but ain’t shit I can do about it. Growing up, the only time I attended Navy Pier was on school field trips to, you guessed it, The Children's Museum. Without a doubt, I have gone to Navy Pier more in two years with Lucas than I have in the almost 40 years of living in Chicago. I could say that about most of Chicago's "attractions": the Sears Tower, Second City, Wrigley Field, Grant Park. I grew up poor in Humboldt Park, and for the most part, those places do not cater to people like me. , and If anyone wants to argue with me about that; they can bring it. I mean, all of those places have some community outreach or "Poor People's Day" so they can that allows them to say they give a fuck about black and brown communities without having actually to give a fuck about black and brown communities.
After weaving our way through the velvet rope maze, I pick Lucas up and go straight past the castle area this museum has the nerve to call an “exhibit.”. Unless by “exhibit” they’re talking about the “gendered behavior and fuckery” exhibited in this area, on which case it’s a fantastic fucking “exhibit.”. Inside this fake castle, young girls dress as princesses and boys stab each other with wooden swords. Lucas and I will have no part in this. We walk straight through this bootleg version of Game of Thrones and take the elevator up one floor to the open play area.
Today, the museum has scattered a bunch of miniature catapults on the big, green carpet. Covering the floor around the catapults are a ton of colorful, tiny pom-poms that children and their parents are encouraged to shoot across the room. Lucas lets out an excited scream at the sight of the flying pom-poms and makes his way to a catapult.
Sitting across the carpet from us is a Chadling and his… grandma? Mom? I can’t tell because she’s white. She could easily be his old ass momma or his young ass grandma. Plus, I don’t hear this kid call her mom or grandma. It’s clear that this woman is dressed way too elegantly to be at The Children’s Museum. She’s wearing her hair in this hairsprayed, business-like bouffant and has on an entirely made up face. I can smell her perfume, which to me smells fancy - that means, as in, it’s not White Diamonds from Marshall’s. She’s got on all the accessories: jeweled earrings, a big-faced watch, a diamond tennis bracelet, a ring on every finger - the works. I look her over and start to lean more toward grandma on account of a four-leaf clover brooch and what looks like a pair of monogrammed cufflinks. Lady, you are doin’ the most, I think.
I look back to Lucas, who is walking toward this woman’s Chadling. I watch him and realize why Lucas is heading toward him: Chadling has hoarded all of the pom-poms in the V-shaped space between his legs. I watch Lucas try to grab one, and Chadling pushes Lucas’ hand away, letting out a whine that is half -Fran Drescher and half -firetruck siren,
“Noooooooooooooooo! Oh oh oh oh oh, these are mine! I was here first!”
I look over at his gran-mommy, and she has a look on her face that reminds me of the way I look when I am forced to tell someone who can never be wrong that they’re wrong. The look is part exasperation and part constipation. It is not a comfortable look. I can tell that she doesn’t see or deal with this child often and has no idea how to say no to him.
“Go away,” Chadling rudely says to Lucas.
I reach for Lucas, who has managed to get his hands on some of the pom-poms and is completely unphased by this child’s aggressive behavior toward him. He keeps doing what he wants to do - something I really admire about toddlers. Lucas doesn’t give any fucks about what is ruining Chadling’s day, just as long as he gets to play.
“GO AWAY,” Chadling yells again.
I wait for gran-mommy to say something about her kid’s selfish- ass behavior. She finally opens her mouth and says in a nasally, Long Island accent,
“Well, Chad, let him take the balls…”
I smile, thinking, You about to get it, Chadling.
“... he’ll get bored, and you can get them back. Plus, he doesn’t even know how to use the catapult by himself”.
Wait, what? Did she really just justify Chadling’s shitty behavior? Did she just make it ok for this colonist-in-training to hoard the pom-poms? They aren’t his! They’re for everyone, I think. Ugh.
She gives me this mother-of-the-year nod as if she’s doing me a fucking favor. I watch her do this over and over with different children that attempt to take pom-poms from Chadling:
“Oh, he’s leaving soon it seems.”
“They’ll give them right back.”
“He’s only going to take it for a little while.”
She does not once say anything that encourages him to share or be selfless. I can’t deal with this woman, and also, her perfume is making me nauseous. Fuck this.
“Lucas, we’re going to Kid’s Town.”
Oh, Kid’s Town - aka “Abandon Your Kid” Town. Seriously, if parents want a break from their badass, misbehaving kid, then this is the place they leave them. Kid’s Town is another “exhibit” in the museum that lets kids pretend they are at a car wash, on a bus, in a grocery store, or in a kitchen. Basically, if kids want to act like adults, this is the place to be.
When we enter, Lucas is excited to get on the bus, but he knows from previous visits that he needs money to take this fake ride. He goes over to the grocery store where there is usually a bunch of colorful bills in the tiny plastic register. Lucas walks over to the register and opens it to find that it’s empty, which isn’t unusual, but after checking the other register and the money box, it becomes apparent that there is no money in Kid’s Town today.
I’m scanning the room to see if any other kids are playing with money when I see him, a little Chaddie Madoff. This boy, who is a couple years older than the rest of the kids, stands at the end of the grocery store counter with ALL of the money. He has it fanned out like a deck of cards and is taunting the other children who have their hands out like peasants. It is straight up Lord of the Flies in this bitch.
This kid, ugh, this kid. He reminds me of what I imagine a young Donald Trump was probably like. He repeatedly takes his rack of money, fans it out in his hands, uses it to fan himself, and then fans it at the other children. He’s putting the money within their reach and then snatching it back.
“Look at all my money,” he sneers.
His attitude is triggering.
He reminds me of Matt Foley, a guy I’ve known since grade school, who called me racist on Facebook because he felt that black and brown people were calling him a narc was the equivalent to black people being shot and murdered in the streets by police. He reminds me of Andrew Czernicki who called me a fat whore because I told him his privilege was showing. He reminds me of all the men who, when they were little boys, had no one around to check them.
Well, Chaddie, today is not your day, my friend., I think.
I casually walk over to the grocery counter and stand nearby, waiting for him to drop his guard. He fans the money on the counter again, and as soon as it’s all laid out, I SNATCH IT ALL UP. Chaddie tries to stop me, and his hand grazes mine as he attempts to grab the money. But he’s too late. I laugh at his weak-ass snatch game. He gives me the most, “I can’t believe you just did that” look I’ve ever received. He purses his lips together, the corners of his mouth stretching down his face, and I know he wants to cry. He says nothing but lets out big ol’ huff before walking over to his mom who has been watching us the entire time.
Meanwhile, I distribute the money, rewarding the six or so children who’ve been fighting the good fight. I look over at Chaddie Madoff’s mom for some kind of
acknowledgment of his behavior. She puts her arms out to her sides gives me this "good looking out" shrug. There's tiredness on her face that says she knows Chaddie is going to drive her crazy about this money debacle for the rest of the day. She looks as if she is used to dealing with this lite version of a more robust asshole at home.
I don't feel bad for her or him or them. A part of me wants to be empathetic, but boys like this grow up to be men, and it’s her and her husband that allow this to happen. It would have cost her NOTHING but time and maybe a little patience to check her child. Her apathy, and the apathy of all the parents like her, doesn’t make me feel bad for her - it pisses me off. Especially when that same apathy creates the men that think they can walk all over people like me.
I grab Lucas and leave. Fuck this place, I think, but tell Lucas it’s 4 pm and the museum is going to close soon anyway.
On the bus ride home, I’m tired. A day of dealing with all the little Chads of the world is exhausting. I’m sitting in the seat next to Lucas feeding him goldfish crackers when a man in his late 50’s or early 60’s with salt and pepper hair leans over from across the aisle and says to me,
“Hey, beautiful. Is that your baby? He’s cute, just like his momma.”
My face scrunches up as I awkwardly smile but do not thank him. Instead, I remain focused on keeping Lucas awake. I say out loud to Lucas that he has to stay awake so that his mommy doesn’t have to deal with him being awake all night. I want this man to know Lucas is NOT my child in hopes that he respects that I am working and hopefully leaves me alone.
He leans over the aisle again and in a breathy, pervy voice says, “I wish you could be my nanny.”
I roll my eyes so hard I almost fall the fuck to sleep. That doesn’t deter him. My eye roll might as well have been a hip roll calling him hither.
“Why you in a mood? You tired?”
I turn my body slightly to give him a more obvious message. But he keeps on.
“You look tired; he must have you running around all day. I wish I could run around all day with you.”
Now I turn my entire back to him, creating a wall between him and the baby. I can feel him staring at my ass. I can feel him looking me up and down as he mumbles some bullshit about how a man can’t even be nice to women anymore.
I keep my attention on Lucas, but I want to curse this motherfucker out. I want to turn around and tell him that he is NOT nice. I want to say, “FUCK YOU! Ain’t nobody trying to go home with yo’ old ass. Ain’t nobody got time for your weak ass game and your weak ass personality. If you want to be nice, you let women be. If you're going to be nice, you take the hints and apologize for making me feel uncomfortable.” Scratch that - I want to fight this dude. This man needs a legit ass-whoopin' by a woman. He ain’t like the little Chads at The Children’s Museum, where words might help them. There’s more hope in the little Chads, unlike this man who is set in his ways. And I’m not the person who can fix him.
But I don’t say or do any of what I’m thinking. I don’t want Lucas to see me that way or put him in danger. I don’t want his parents to fire me. I don’t want to lose my job. I love Lucas. So I bite my tongue and let this man say what he wants until he gets off the bus.
We get to Lucas’ house just as his parents arrive, in time for them to feed him dinner. They ask me how our day went. I don’t tell them about the Chads, and I do not tell them about the man on the bus, I don’t tell them that I’m tired. I tell them Lucas had a wonderful time at The Children’s Museum and showed them the pictures I took throughout the day. They “ooh” and “ahh” at the pictures of their little boy merely having a great day with his nanny.
I give Lucas a big hug and tell him that maybe tomorrow we’ll go to the park. His parents thank me for my service, and I go downstairs to wait for my Uber.
Francisco is mopping the lobby floors as the car arrives to take me home.
“Goodnight,” he says, to which I reply, “We will see.” And he laughs.