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The phone rings in Barbara Kline’s office at 9 a.m. sharp, almost immediately after she’s clicked off the answering machine. “Four seconds!” she yells down the hall to her assistant.

Monday mornings are always busy at White House Nannies, Kline’s nanny-placement agency in Bethesda. But when her phone rings before 9:01, it means someone’s been hitting redial like a teenager calling Ticketmaster.

“My baby’s due in 29 days, and my nanny just backed out!” a prominent TV anchor blurts as soon as she hears a live voice on the line. The nanny reneged because there wasn’t enough closet space in her prospective quarters, and—would you believe?—she didn’t break the news until after the anchor paid for a $75 tea at the Ritz Carlton that was supposed to secure her loyalty.

No part of the conversation surprises Kline, who chronicled the dramas of Washington’s overachieving parents and overprivileged nannies in her new book, White House Nannies.

She’s heard it all: neighbors nabbing nannies, kids with no rules, untenable filth. One nanny even ran a brothel out of her employers’ pool house. Two decades after founding the agency, few things come as a shock to Kline. Still, the vivacious 55-year-old raises an eyebrow when reflecting on the direction her career has taken.

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She went to Goucher College in Towson, Md., studied for a master’s degree in Spanish literature in Madrid, and then, like so many people with a liberal-arts résumé, had no idea what to do for a living. Her father was an ice-cream manufacturer, however, so she thought opening her own ice-cream parlor on Capitol Hill made sense. And for eight years, it did—until she got robbed at gunpoint there. Twice.

Scooping ice cream was just too dangerous. With her business experience, a colicky baby, and frustration at finding a decent nanny, she dreamed up another venture. This one proved far sweeter.

“The demand for nannies in Washington is just crazy. The highest percentage of working women in the country live here,” Kline says. “We started getting clients the day we opened our doors—with no advertising.”

Her book reveals a different kind of Washington power play—one in which nannies call the shots. Kline says that they often demand signing bonuses, cars, clothes, and higher salaries than Hill staffers.

Of course, not all capital nannies are spoiled, and not all powerful parents are neurotic. There are plenty of just-plain-weird folks who turn to Kline’s agency. One set of parents does not believe their children, who sleep with them in the “family bed,” should be waked with alarm clocks. The nanny has to fish the kids out of their parents’ bed every morning for school, Kline explains, careful to avoid the parents’ naked bodies.

“I wrote this book because it…was fun to poke fun,” Kline says. “The job has been a fun ride for 20 years.”—Hope Cristol