Confessions Of A Governess: Being Mommy’s Confidant

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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.

Years of watching other people’s children has put me in close range of family squabbles. Huffy exchanges in the bedroom with the door open or heated debates over who misplaced the diaper bag is pretty standard in most homes, I’ve come to realize. But when I was living in Los Angeles, I had become a regular sitter for a family in which there was a serious family divide. Mom and Dad seemed to have a very healthy marriage, and they were both very dedicated to their little boy. But the mornings in which the mother would come to the door with sunken eyes and a sour expression had come to mean only one thing: her mother-in-law was visiting.

I had only met the boy’s grandmother a few times and I responded to her in the same way I did to my own grandmother. I would hold the baby and she would ask me about school and what I was studying and if it was true that I wanted to be a writer. She seemed like a lot of older women I knew — stately, wise, and unabashedly in love with her grandchild.

It was awkward though assuming as place at their breakfast table in which there would be perpetually three place settings and never four. When she would visit, the mother-in-law would awaken early and prepare breakfast for she, her son, and her grandson. The mother would never find anything waiting for her, she said.

“Who makes breakfast for only three people?” the mother cooed into her son’s face. “That’s just silly, isn’t it?”

After the baby was born, the mother told me that her mother-in-law came to visit with several photo albums of her son when he was a baby. She would pour over them and insist that the baby resembled him in every way. The mother was never asked to perhaps share her baby pictures or asked if the baby resembled her in the slightest.

Once during one of these visits, she came home from work early and the baby was sleeping. I could have left early, but the way she kicked off her heels and poured me tea suggested to me that I was needed for something other than diaper changing. She skirted the issue with her fingers to the brim of the mug and said that she knew it was going to be this way when she got married. Her husband was the only son to a single mom and, for most of their lives, they had only had each other. Being the girlfriend, and soon after the wife, had inserted her into the family so quickly, she said. She expected that it would take longer for there to be enough space for her in such a tight little family. But when she became pregnant, she really did assume that the dynamic would shift.

“Having the baby,” I remember her saying, “I thought would — not elevate me,” she backtracked, “but you know, tie me in differently.”

I knew what she meant, but I remember not knowing quite what to say to reassure that it would change. The baby was nearing two years old, and yet she didn’t feel like a part of her husband’s extended family. I wasn’t sure if she had broached the topic with her husband, but as the boney teenage babysitter who did my homework while her son slept, I wondered if she really had anyone else she could share this with. Alone over the rushing water of the sink or hearing their laughter from down the hall was terribly isolating to her. While her husband and son went outside to take the baby swimming, she would collect the lunch dishes and put the food away. If they went for an outing, they would assure her that they would they would would be back soon — yet disappear for an afternoon.

It hurt, she said, to go unrecognized by the woman who essentially was her husband’s family.

I don’t remember what I said, nor do I recall what she said after. But I thought about her predicament through next morning’s homeroom and well into fourth period English.