Confessions of a Governess is a Mommyish series from the perspective of someone who gets paid to watch other people’s children. Moms, take a deep breath.
Often times when I’m in public with a small child or a baby, passersby assume the child to be mine. Pushing a stroller through the park or pausing at a cafe with a toddler, mothers look me up and down and as me how old “mine” is. I report the age and inevitably the mother tells me about when “hers” was that age and what I can expect in the coming years. Sometimes they also have a child the same age and we swap experiences with teething and upset stomachs. While I do sometimes feel a twinge of guilt for assuming credit for the bundle I’ve been entrusted with, I find that there is no such flattery as a mother assuming that I am one too.
Strolling past a line of mothers on the street with a little one strapped to my chest, I love nothing more than those approaching nods that mean that I’m passing. Not in the Nella Larsen sense of the word, but nevertheless being seen as having entered a very elite stage of life that in actuality I couldn’t be further from. And there are all kinds of perks! When I get on the subway with a baby in my arms, seats appear left and right. The whole vibe in the car changes as people close their newspapers and look up from their iPads because a mother with a baby has boarded. Even if the baby screams, people watch transfixed as I attempt to soothe him or her, as if watching something momentous happening — because they think that I’m a mother.
Men don’t harass me on the platform or on buses or on the streets. No matter what I’m wearing or how high my heels are, a baby in my possession instantly requires that men look at me differently — more respectfully, I’ve observed. Taking an infant to a park on a summer day means that I won’t be looked at as just another young thing in a halter top. Because the baby cooing on my picnic blanket means that I’m somebody’s mother.
I’ll admit, some situations have been a bit awkward. I was once with a nine- week- old on a park bench when another mother joined me and asked if this was one was my first. I said that it was and when she confirmed his age, she looked directly at my body, her eyes wide. I told her that I swore by Pilates before packing up the infant and scurrying home.
(I’ve done this less since then.)