In a fascinating essay on Motherlode called “My Nanny, Myself,” a working mom explores her relationship with her daughter’s nanny. They seem very different: a white lawyer from New York and a Latina mom from El Salvador. But J., the anonymous lawyer who penned this piece, feels they’re not so different after all.
A single mom, she has to leave her baby with a nanny all day so that she can go to her job at a law firm. The nanny herself knows a thing or two about leaving kids for work: she left her son behind in El Salvador when she came to the States to work, and did not see him for 8 years.
To J., these experiences make them more alike than different: just two women who have to be apart from their kids more than they’d like to earn a living.
While there’s a lot of moving, thoughtful introspection here, I’m having a hard time sympathizing with a mom who sees her long days at the office as at all akin to being forced to emigrate to another country without your child in order to find work to feed him.
J. lost my sympathy when she talked about her own longings for a different life:
R and I both struggle to reconcile the life before us with the life we truly want to have. R never got to finish her education, something I suppose I have taken for granted. And R’s prolonged separation from her child was clearly more heart-rending than my days at the office. But, I have unfulfilled dreams too not just of more time to spend with my daughter, though that is definitely there, but also of doing something creative. I would love to be a writer.
Seriously? Your frustrated creative impulses are akin to this woman’s emigration, years of separation from her child and inability to access a college education?
The story ends with the nanny quitting her job to enroll full-time in school, finally pursuing her dream after her child is grown and she’s spent two decades scrimping and saving. That’s a bright light, but the fact that it took her 20 years to save for an education J. admits she takes for granted merely highlights their differences, not the imagined similarities.
I appreciate the impulse to see ourselves in those around us. When I worked as a nanny, I certainly looked for common ground with the moms who employed me. When I hire a sitter, I try to recall what it was like to be in her shoes.
I think it’s dangerous, though, to project our own experiences onto people who are very different from us, especially when we have power over them. In this case particularly, the author is speaking from such a place of privilege that it seems unfair to her nanny to compare their experiences.
J. says there was never any tension between her and her nanny. Of course there wasn’t. After 18 years experience with as a nanny, I bet the woman she hired learned how to get along with any mom lest she risk her job security by running afoul of a mercurial boss.
While I’ve been a nanny and a working mom, I haven’t exactly walked a mile in either of these women’s shoes. I have J.’s dream life: I’m a working writer who spends all day with my kids. I lie down to nap with my daughter every day, and then get up to write for a living while she snoozes. There are plenty of days I wish I could just hire a nanny to do the naptimes for me and let me focus on my work.
But like J., I’m living with the circumstances of my choices. I got an M.F.A. and got married; she went to law school and chose single motherhood. Her nanny, on the other hand, was born into poverty neither of us can well imagine. I’d love to hear her tell the story of her decision to leave her child and move to New York; I cannot credit that it was really at all like my decision to write for a living or J.’s morning commute to a New York law firm.