On the way home from work I got to the train station early and started talking to this guy sitting next to me on the bench. I thought it was going to turn into a great story for my blog because he was fairly talkative but when we got on the train we didn’t sit anywhere near each other, fail. I was literally surrounded by four sleeping people, fail again. That was the point where I took out my laptop to check my email like a good yuppie. I had all but given up when at the next stop Miss “Real” Mom showed up.
She got on the train and was wiping some of the nastyness off the seat in front of me so I slid over and said she could sit down next to me considering my seat had more than enough room and wasn’t covered with miscellaneous garbage. I’m assuming she was Haitian because she had a french-ish accent, lot’s of D’s instead of Th’s which is pretty classic french. However, I’m probably too culturally ignorant to really do her nationality justice so I’ll just stop it here before I dig myself into a hole I can’t get out of.
I asked her what she did for a living and she said she was a full-time nanny for a family in a somewhat wealthy community. Again, the topic of work was an easy “in” for this new conversation. She was the nanny for two almost-teenage children with two lawyers for parents. She’s been their nanny for more than a decade. She started when the oldest child was 7 weeks old and then was there from the start for the 2nd child. So in reality, she’s been there for pretty much their whole lives. More or less she’s their “Real” Mom. The parents don’t get home until 7pm most nights so Miss “Real” Mom picks them up from school and drives them to/from sports practice or music lessons. Then once the parents get home she hops on the train to head home, a 1.5 hour commute each way with multiple methods of public transit.
I commented on how tough it must be to have parents who work so much. She then told me stories of how when the kids were little they would call her mommy. It became so bad that the actual mother had to work from home on Fridays so that her children would know who she was and call her Mommy; a title that up until then was given to the Haitian nanny instead. She then told me a story about taking the children to the Aquarium when they were little. By mistake she told the worker at the ticket counter that she needed a ticket for her and her two kids. The high school aged girl behind the counter said, “But you’re black and they’re white”. She then just said, “Well I’m their nanny but I spend more time with them than their actual mother does, so yes I’m their mother.”
During the summer the kids are sent to summer camp while the parents go on vacation to various places in the world. Miss “Real” Mom is off the hook for the entire summer so she takes that chance to just relax at home and hang out with her friends. I didn’t find out if she had any kids of her own because I was already asking some pretty detailed and personal questions, I didn’t want to push it.
I have never really thought about it before but it makes me feel lucky that my mom was able to work at home for the majority of my youth. I never really had the experience of waiting for my parents to get home from work so I guess I don’t know what it’s like. We definitely had routine babysitters (most of which my brothers and I destroyed, sometimes on purpose and sometimes by accident) but I’m not sure I even knew what a nanny was aside from the character that Robin Williams played in Mrs. Doubtfire. I’m sure this family is happy and fairly functional. I’m just not sure I’d want my kids growing up not knowing who their real mother was. At a very minimum, I would definitely take a hit in my career and in my combined income in order to make sure my kids knew who I was. Seems like a no-brainer but I bet it’s pretty fairly common in some of these affluent neighborhoods.