Confessions Of A Governess: Being One Mom’s ‘Find’

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.

A couple of years ago, I began babysitting in a new neighborhood that was brimming with families in need of help. I had answered a Craigslist ad from a single mother needing a part-time sitter for her small child. The part-time job worked well with an internship I had at the time. The child and I got along famously and the mother remarked often that she had never seen her daughter take to a new sitter so quickly.

That being said, I was also broke. Long unpaid hours at a magazine coupled with a few evenings of babysitting were barely covering my post-college bills — let alone making a dent in rent. The mother knew of my financial predicament and tried to throw me extra babysitting shifts when she could but she was only working part-time herself. Her demands for childcare were limited but also sporadic. Any time she needed a sitter, I was always available and eager to work making me one of the most flexible and reliable sitters that she had ever had.

As is the babysitting custom, I began to watch the little girl’s friends in addition to her. Anyone who has ever witnessed playground politics knows what it came be like. You come to collect the child. The child is having a good time with his or her friends. They don’t want to be separated. Cell phones are pulled out. Text messages are sent. Suddenly there is a message on my phone saying that it’s okay if so and so comes over for dinner and play.

It was through exchanges like these that I came to know the other mothers on the playground who for months only registered me as “so and so’s nanny.” Slowly though, they came to chat with me on benches, offering me snacks from their diaper bags and inquiring more about my life.  Their eyebrows elevated and furrowed with the same sorts of details — I was born here, I studied there, I’ve lived in these various places. But when it came out that I was not the aforementioned child’s nanny, just the part-time sitter, their interest reached new heights.

Suddenly they were asking me for my email address and making notes in their iPhones about what nights I was usually free. Within days, I was finding more and more emails in my inbox asking if I could squeeze them in on this Sunday or if I happened to free the following evening. I was thrilled to get the extra work, but I could tell that my new schedule was not sitting well with my primary employer. Although my new dates weren’t conflicting with my agreed upon schedule, I could sense that my new flood of work from her friends was becoming a point of contention.  She began to ask where I was going after tucking her kid in for the night. Every time I hurriedly reached for my bag or hastily buttoned up my coat, it seemed to imply that I had somewhere else I had to be.

Finally the day came in which a scheduled babysitting date with another mom conflicted with my Primary Mommy. The other family had booked me weeks in advance for a wedding but Mommy #1 had forgotten to inform me that she needed me that day. The conversation in her kitchen was awkward to say the least but she knew the other family so she eventually decided to call them. I remember sitting in her living room, staring into her daughter’s dollhouse on the living room floor and wondering what they were saying to one another. I imagined scenarios ranging from a full-on throw down “she’s my babysitter so back off!” to a very mellow, muttering adult conversation in which the both parties waited to see who would be the more polite and cancel their plans.

Primary Mommy came back out into the living room and said that they had decided to consolidate the kids at Other Family’s house and if that was okay. I nodded and she handed me the phone. The other mother confirmed the details to me and then paused at the end to apologize.

With Primary Mommy beginning to unload the dishwasher, I heard Other Mommy stumble a bit before admitting to the obvious.

“I never meant to step on anyone’s toes,” she said, her kids’ wails in the background. “Everyone knows that you’re her find.”

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