Thursday, February 5, 2009

Thanks, They’re Not Mine

Back in High School my friends would have definitely voted me most likely to marry and breed by age 23. In those days I was seeing a really nice guy and talked about having at least three kids so I can see how that would have been the general consensus. Upon graduating from High School I decided that bad boys were much more interesting and ended up spending too many years in a relationship with a guy that I think everyone is happy I did not choose to procreate with; I still wanted children, just not with him. In 1994 I accepted the position of Live-in Nanny for a fairly wealthy family in Boston and by the end of that position, all inkling to have a child went right out the window.

There is nothing, and I am sorry if I happen to offend anyone here, but nothing more difficult than raising a child. Granted at the time I was getting paid to do it but something tells me if I did the math I would find I was underpaid by approximately 99%. The undertaking of rearing a human being is vast and most nights I did not have the ability to get out and do my own thing. There was always some gala or charitable ball to attend, guess who insta-babysitter was? Good guess. The kids were cute, a five year old girl who I only had in the afternoons after school and a fifteen month old boy who I had all day except the two or so hours he napped.

While he was sleeping I became a Days of Our Lives junkie and literally counted the minutes on the clock until their mom went to pick up the girl from school as it happened to coincide with the last fifteen minutes of his nap and my only opportunity for a cigarette all day. Sure I could have quit but after also being convinced to do laundry for the entire family, picking up the playroom and bathing both children every night that smoke was the one thing that I could still hold onto as part of my own life Monday through Friday. Oh, did I happen to mention that nine times out of ten mom would be hanging out in her room, watching television, talking on the phone with her friends and eating while I raised her children in the playroom?

In order to remove my mind from the situation in the house there were many days that the little boy and I would just get out and go somewhere. I enjoyed taking him to places like Discovery Zone because he could run and play but I could sit and watch or the mall since I could just pop him in the stroller and spend hours walking around, eating pretzels and looking at all the items I could not afford. With absolute certainty I can say that every time we went out, and I mean anywhere, I heard a question similar to this “Oh your baby is so adorable, congratulations, how old is he?” Because we both had mousey brown hair and big blue eyes I can understand where people might have drawn the conclusion but in the early months of that job it drove me insane and my canned response became “Thanks, he’s 15 months, he’s not mine.”

Something happens to a person when they witness a parent not taking the responsibility they should take with their own children, when they have the full ability to do so financially speaking. After about half a year at that job it started to make me mental to realize I was spending over eighty hours a week with a child who was not my blood, teaching him to do things, spending special time bonding and his own mother was lazing about just two floors away when she could have been the one taking the initiative to raise him. After a while I developed a new canned response to strangers inquiring about my baby “Thanks, he’s about 20 months.”

Do not get me wrong, this was not some The Hand That Rocks the Cradle situation where I felt like he actually was my son, or rather should have been, but after months of saying ‘he’s not mine’ while simultaneously being the solely responsible adult in his life it just became easier to say ‘thanks’ to people I knew I would never see again. For a whole bunch of years after that job I tried to convince myself that the reason it was so difficult was because I was so young but now fifteen years later at age thirty five, I am not so sure that was the reason at all.

Many of you know that my friend S had twins at the end of last summer, we call them Hammer and Anvil, and those boys are now just over five months old. She asked me today if I would like to get some lunch at the mall and then if I would be alright hanging out with them for about a half hour while she had her eye exam. As if I would ever turn down an opportunity to hang out with my “nephews”, of course I responded yes!

We walked the entire length of the first floor of the mall and Hammer looked around curiously while Anvil slept peacefully. We met up with S at Brigham’s who grabbed each of us a black and white frappe after her appointment was complete and somehow I managed to navigate the monstrosity of a carriage into that ice cream shop. During my time alone with the little guys, not once did I have to say to a single person “Thanks, they’re five months, they are not mine” but around corners, in passing or in stores I heard the remark “Oh, twins!” generically uttered aloud more than I could keep track of.

It was the middle of the day so the teenager and senior citizen quotient was relatively low; in fact most of the people I saw while I walked around were mall maintenance workers or women with their own strollers. I started wondering how many of those alleged moms were not really moms at all, how many of them were “Aunties” or a Nanny and it made me wonder how many people saw me pushing this stroller and subconsciously assumed that these were my children even though they never asked.

As I walked around with the extra long stroller it occurred to me that I was not at all comfortable doing it. Not to say I was not happy to do so, I am always happy to help out a friend, but I felt as if I was wearing a jacket three sizes too small and everyone was pointing and laughing; it did not fit. My own paranoid delusion it is true and I suppose it is impossible to know just what I would feel if they were in fact my own but I can not help but shake the sense that in my world it would not be normal for me to walk through a mall with a stroller. I suppose it is nice to know that I feel that way rather than delude myself into believing I should have a baby just because everyone else is doing it. Luckily this is one of the greatest joys of being Auntie, I can hang with them all day and then gleefully return them to mom when it gets too binding.


Suldog said...

Being an Auntie is something wonderful. MY WIFE is one. I am an F.U. (that would be Fun Uncle, for those with a dirty mind.)

I've never understood the mindset of folks who have kids and then have someone else raise them. What in hell did you have them for? Status symbols? Conversation pieces? Yeesh.

Great post.

Karen said...

Great post, Jenn. I can't for the life of me see myself being a Nanny and I agree with you that being a parent is a difficult job but the rewards are the best! My daughter is a pre-school teacher - ugh, I could never do that, either! LOL

Bridgete said...

I'm in a weird place about children right now. I can understand what those people were doing in regards to not raising their own children only because I can see it as a way of doing what I wish were possible if I were to have them. The simple fact is, I don't like kids. They get dirt on my clean clothes, once they learn to talk they don't stop, they always want me to "watch" when I'm in the middle of an adult conversation...and these are the well behaved ones. To me, children are not a joy. I love babies, toddlers are okay as long as they don't get into anything messy, but once they hit 3, I prefer to keep them at a distance until they're about 13.

However, my mother and I have a wonderful relationship. I would love to have that with some offspring of my own someday. If I thought it were possible to skip years 3-12 and still manage to form the kind of bond necessary to have that relationship as adults, I would do it. But, I think one important factor in forming that relationship is that my mom was there all the time as I grew up. So, anyway, I guess that's a potential side to the story of the people who don't raise their children themselves. Although personally I'm leaning more towards just not having them as opposed to doing something like this. I guess at least if I do end up having kids but hiring a nanny to be with them during the day, it'll be because I'm off doing my lawyer thing, which I feel is better than just sitting in the next room and ignoring the kids completely.

Bree said...

When I was traveling in Europe, we ended up hanging out (hostels/trains/tours, etc) with several nannies traveling with employers who had been given a week or so to see the country on their own time. I had some interesting conversations with them about the very topic of this post; how does it feel to invest in a child that is not your own? How do the children respond to the nanny vs. the parents? What happens when the children when they get a new nanny after getting attached to the old one? etc.

I had a nanny when I was tiny, both my parents were working, so she'd come during the day until I was old enough for school. I still keep in touch with her and consider her family. My parents were very involved in my raising, so it's counter intuitive for me to think about someone having a child and then passing it off to someone else.

Insightful post, Jenn.

ginger said...

oh, my gosh. i was just writing a comment and noticed it was turning into a chapter...i'll write a blog about it. haha!

Chris Stone said...

that nanny job sounds like it was a nightmare! why did they have kids!

i don't have children, but i totally enjoy my nieces and nephews. i also enjoy hearing about other's kids... but...

i like your analogy. the having kiddos scene just doesn't fit me.

Rosebud Collection said...

Now Jenn, I just want to say..I left the convent, because they put me in third grade teaching and believe me..I didn't feel like teaching anyones kids..So, then I marry..Five children later..have to admit, mine were raised the way I wanted..Big on respect and lots of love, we are all loyal and call a spade a spade..but having children, is a personal thing. I won't kid you, it is a choice..a choice I am glad I made and if you had asked me in my younger years..I would have told you, you were crazy.

High Desert Diva said...

Jenn....I can sooooo relate!

Jenn Flynn-Shon said...

Wow guys & gals thanks for all these comments!

I don't want anyone to think that I had issues with being a Nanny; the job itself did have many rewards and fabulous benefits and since I was their third (2nd for the little boy) they were used to the concept and we bonded immediately. I truly felt like they were a brother and sister. Sometimes (like in your case Bree) it is completely necessary to have one due to working, etc. My issues stemmed from the lack of awareness on the part of the mom. It was often the thought would pass through my mind that if I were afforded the luxury of being able to be home all day and happened to have a child I might have a helper but never a full time, live-in person raising my kids.

Julie said...

The wonderful thing about this world is that it takes all kinds. Personally, I have always known I wanted to be a mom. Period. My sister, brother, and I were fortunate enough growing up that my mom could afford to stay home with us, and I know that played a major role in that realization.

In college, I worked a couple years as a day-nanny. I loved it. And oddly, even when people commented on "my" little boy, it never phased me. I just rolled with it. Of course, my nanny situation was different than yours: Even though the parents were both working, they definitely played an active role in their son's life. It was this experience that adjusted --opened-- my view of daycare and regular childcare in general.

Now as I am pregnant with our third, I'll be the first to admit that this is not according to the plans we had laid early in our marriage. I would love to be a full-time stay-at-home mom. But financially, it's not feasible for us at the moment. That said, a parent needs to have confidence in the care his/her children receive. I truly consider the daycare our boys go to a blessing. Their values echo ours, and the boys are growing into caring, social, responsible little people. And they are both much more outgoing than I ever remember being.

I agree that it's sad when people don't take an interest in their own children. I think it's equally disconcerting when parents live vicariously through their children. More important than piano, ballet, soccer, karate, and any other activities to run to is a simple family dinner: time taken to catch up on the time you've spent apart during the day.

A good, thought-provoking post, Jenn.

PS -- It IS different when the child is your own. You're right, there's little time for "self", but then you end up finding yourself in the little ones.

spottedwolf said...

My standard line concerning the common troll is and has always been,"I would like one fully grown with an excellent job." Of course this never works and most of what I ended up with were examples of my own dysfunction in their mid-teens. Oh the joys of children. It is true, at least by a measure, that childhood left me ill-prepared emotionally to want trolls added to my minions and many has the time been when I thanked the gawds for their protection. But if "by a measure" carries any real weight then I would find myself pining for the loss at some current level since most of those childhood 'leftovers' are long since sorted out...........and I don't. In truth I look at the decision to not create trolls as a perfect example of ecofriendly maintenance. The choice by most seems to be the blind fllowing the blind in a ritualistic attempt at inclusion. I'm reminded of Hendrx' song, "belly-button window".

Jenn Flynn-Shon said...

"I would like one fully grown with an excellent job."

You said it!

Maggie May said...

Ha- above quote-

and hello, i enjoyed reading your musings on parenthood and your experiences with children. i am the mother of three- i did get pregnant very early, at 19, and yes, it's so very hard.
nice to meet you!

Dave King said...

Your last sentence is something I can relate to: being a granparent is exactly the same - except maybe a granparent tires more quickly, b ut it's the being abl to hand them b ack that counts. I found your whole piece enthralling - and perfectly understandable. I do not see how anyone could take it amiss.

david mcmahon said...

G'day from Australia. I came her from Suldog. Enjoyed this post - we can all relate to it!

Judi FitzPatrick said...

I remember your days as the live-in nanny; glad you added in comments that there were good things, too. Those children loved you like you were their best friend and I know you did an amazing job with them.

As for me and your large readership, I am glad I chose to have children, or we'd all be reading someone else!

Love and hugs, Mum

Andrea said...

Great post! Something I can relate to (sorta). :)

Jinksy said...

Although it is great to get a little 'time out' when you're a mum with two small kids, I wouldn't have wanted to have anyone but me around to play with them, watch them grow and endeavour to turn them into decent human beings. Which I now know they are, at just 39 and working towards 42!

TheresaJ said...

My daughter, besides being a full-time college student and working at a regular job, has also worked as a Nanny, live-in for about 4 months, as well as not living in. Some of the parents have been the kind you described and both she and I have wondered why they bother having kids in the first place. I just can't relate, but then everyone has their own approach to life. Before she started working as a nanny, she always said she wanted 4 kids. Now she says she's not going to have kids. As she is so young, she may change her mind. She does love children and gets so attached to the ones she cares for, but she now has a better appreciation for how much work it involves and the sacrifices one makes. If she does decide to have children at some point, she will definitely be making the decision with her eyes wide open.

Rosebud Collection said...

Had to leave you a note..The guy is plowing our driveway right now..
I tell you Jenn, this weather is driving me crazy..ha, ha..