Other People’s Children

Following C.’s suggestion I have started listening to Totally Mommy, a podcast about moms, which is kind of weird because I am not a mom. I am, however, a nanny. For three more days. I feel pretty overwhelmed about my last week of nannying because unlike being a mom, nannies are not forever. I am constantly reminded by this when I ask little G. where I rank in his favorite nanny list. I am a firm number two under Crystal because she was prettier and wore more dresses.

But I have become pretty obsessed with child-rearing for someone who does not have my own children. I listen to not one, but two parenting podcasts. Mom and Dad are Fighting is a fantastic podcast about the culture of parenting, and I can’t get enough of it. At dinner parties I am genuinely interested in hearing about how you decided what sleep training program to use, and I actually like talking about the intra-child dramas of the neighborhood kids when I am hanging out with parents on the playground. Boyhood, the best film of the summer, slayed me because . . . kids . . . grow . . . up. When I think about running into little G. in two years and how weird he will look I actually start crying.

The question everyone asks me when I tell them about being a nanny is “Does it make you want to get pregnant?” Is that why I am consuming all this baby shit? To prepare for my own childbearing?

No.

Taking care of G. was a unique opportunity to spend a lot of time with kids, which I have never really done. But the experience did not give me much confidence about my own mothering abilities. Instead, it made see how kids’ relationships with non-parent adults form crucial networks and bonds that make the world less scary, more fulfilling, and fundamentally nice. There is something really nice about a child knowing that they can trust and rely on non-parent people. G.’s ability to trust me and let me soothe him means that there is just a broader array of people in the world from which he can gain support. If he ever gets locked out of his house, I hope he comes over and waits at my house. If he is fifteen, stoned, and scared, I hope he feels like he can call me. These are functions of a trusted adult with whom you feel intimate, not the fun family friend who plays with you at dinner parties.

In fact, I am pretty negligent when it comes to really entertaining kids. It turns out I have no interest in playing make believe or “helping” a child draw in a coloring book. But I knew adults who were fun when I was a kid, and that had zero to do with my security in calling them when I needed help.

Being G.’s nanny also made me more interested in parents, not child-making per se, but in the 80% of parents’ lives that they mostly only talk about with other parents. There is indeed something pernicious about the level of cultish obsession that goes on within parenting culture. I can only listen to so many Totally Mommy episodes for this reason. And on minute 30 of “what do you think of that kid’s development level?” I kind of want to kill myself. But being a nanny was a secret portal into a special status where parents could trust that I was familiar with their parenting woes and that I was pretty immune to standard kid lameness (tantrums). Thus it was a secret portal to knowing more about the parents as full people. Not being a parent seemed to give them a special outlet because they couldn’t ask about my kid’s pre-K experience and thus the conversations could move back and forth between kid stuff and adult stuff. Parent culture, I hypothesize, would be less insular if parents let more non-parent people into their child-rearing world.

So, goodbye G. Thanks for trusting me.

I hope you will watch tv and eat grilled cheese sandwiches at my house if your parents ever come home late.

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3 thoughts on “Other People’s Children

  1. So, so good. Really sweet, D.

    Here’s my theory about why parenting culture is so insular. Well, really, here’s why I am complicit in the insularity: I assume that other parents are the only ones who care about all of the stuff to do with kids. I don’t want to bore non-parents is what it comes down to for me. But maybe there are more out there like you, D?

  2. I am so glad that you grew into nanny hood with such love and insight and just plain common sense. It seems like such a good balance to your smarty pants intellectual side. Proud mother of D

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