For my work, I am the nanny to an adorable “four and three-quarters” year-old boy. He is extremely bright, sweet, friendly, and funny. I pick him up from school five days a week, bring him around to his after-school activities, cook/feed him his dinner, and supervise his bath before going home. With his school being across town from where he lives, we spend a decent amount of time on public transportation. Every time we go on the bus or train, we inevitably make friends with the people sitting near us. The boy I look after (we will call him Alex for the purposes of this blog) loves to engage passersby/fellow commuters in conversations and tell them a funny joke, share the most recent piece of knowledge he has acquired, or get them to try and venture onto his plane of imagination. This also goes for MTA workers that we encounter on our travels. Alex always greets the bus drivers when we step on-board. We have even come to know a few by name. I have found that a fun activity to plan while waiting for buses is to have Alex try to guess whom our driver will be that day.
The other day, per our routine, Alex and I got on a bus and, being that we didn’t recognize that particular driver, Alex asked him his name. His name was Tommy. We introduced ourselves to Tommy and found a seat in the front between a woman and a man who, having overheard Alex’ precocious approach to the driver, were excited to meet him. Cracking up, they remarked to Alex how funny they thought it was that he had asked the bus driver his name. This started him talking animatedly to them.
At one point in the conversation, gesturing towards me, the man referred to me as Alex’ mother. Alex, being the smart little whip that he is, corrected the man and informed him that I was his “caregiver.”
“Ho, ho,” the man exclaimed, sitting back in his seat and looking at Alex, surprised. “Tell me, [Alex], does your mommy work?” When Alex replied yes, the man pressed on. “What does your mommy do for work?”
Though seemingly benign, the more thought I put into this man’s reaction/line of questioning, the angrier I became. I have come to the conclusion that this man’s reaction signaled one of two things: he was either judging Alex’ mom for employing a nanny when she does not work, or judging Alex’ mom for working and therefore, needing a nanny. Either way, both are emblematic of a gross double standard when it comes to motherhood in our society. If this were not so, then surely the man would have asked “Does your daddy work?” too, or even at the very least, “Do your mommy and daddy work? What do they do?” Instead, to him, the presence of a non-relative female caregiver indicates a motherhood gap, which is why his thoughts when to her immediately.
In the end, Alex never lost his cool for a second and went on to tell the man and woman how his mom is a lawyer, which is much more than I can say for myself in the situation. No doubt similar reactions like this will reinforce for him that people think it odd that his mother is partner at a major law firm, works long hours, and is the breadwinner of the family, especially as he gets older. My wish for him is that he will always maintain the same cavalier attitude when he responds, and that he will appreciate that he has a pretty special mom.
Written by: Jenny Nigro, MoM Online Intern