Confessions Of A Nanny With A Master’s Degree

UWS main imageWhen I was a 23-year-old freshly out of a very good New England college with a degree in English and having absolutely no luck finding a job after nearly a year, I was faced with two choices: Accept that I was not likely to find a job in my field, despite sending out hundreds of applications per month, and find a new career. Or, go to grad school and delay things a little further while figuring it all out. Since I had nearly no debt (under $10,000) because of my scholarships in undergrad, and was accepted into several incredible MFA programs, I made up my mind almost immediately. “Every student has some debt, it’s normal” are actual words that I told myself as I was singing the papers to a Master’s program at another very good New England college.

Now I am 25, hold an MFA in Creative Writing, have nearly six figures of debt, and work as a nanny to two different families in Manhattan while living with the rest of the 25-year-old MFA holders in Brooklyn.

The two families I work for, because nothing is ever convenient now that I am no longer in the beautiful bubble of private academia, are located on pretty much opposite sides of the island. One family — for whom I do the most of my nannying, on pretty much a 9-to-5 schedule — is located in the Upper West Side, near the Columbia campus (where I sometimes sit to write and have coffee and pretend like I am still a student). The other family, whom I mostly pick up some night and weekend work when they’re going out, is located in Tribeca. They are younger and cooler, but also have a full-time nanny from the Philippines who does most of the difficult work while they are both away at their jobs in consulting firms. When I’m working for them, the kids are mostly asleep, so I do a lot of writing there, too.

The second family I don’t know that well, but the first, I know fairly intimately. The wife doesn’t work a full-time job, but works part-time out of her home office as a graphic designer. It makes for a very complicated dynamic — I’m always there, she’s often there, but I’m the one watching the kids. If the baby cries, it’s my job to go and do something about it, even though it’s probably her that he wants. I try not to let my more bitter instincts get the best of me and hate her, or even put on her an unfair expectation of duty based on her gender (work at home is still work, just as real as her husband’s, and childcare should not be entirely her responsibility by default). But my own sense of disappointment and frustration at my lack of work prevents me from feeling much of anything towards her except resentment: resentment that she is able to work at her own pace, doing what she wants to do, because her husband is a rich motherfucker.

The truth about grad school is that, yes, the debt often makes your life harder. Pretty much everything I earn from my second nannying job has to go right back to my loans or I’ll never stay ahead of the interest. But it’s more than that. Having my advanced degree (especially from a prestigious program which constantly reminded us how good we were, and whose professors were some of the most accomplished in their field) makes me feel ashamed of my work, in a way I wouldn’t have been before. Yes, I know, objectively, that an MFA in Creative Writing is not some hot ticket to a future of novels and galas and agents clamoring to work with me. I know that it’s not the kind of degree people seek if their immediate goal is a lucrative job. But looking back, I realize now that I felt assured, in some unexplainable way, that things were going to be okay because getting this degree was going to put me in a different social caste. I would now hold a Master’s. Of Fine Arts. Which I like saying, in full, to this day.

I am lucky, in that I have a few (as in two per month) paying jobs writing now. But they are technical writing, and worlds away from what I was doing when I was a student. I miss the act of having my writing — the real stuff — critiqued and evaluated, judged for my craft and not for my ability to submit a very specific number of words about a product, inflected with the least amount of my personal voice. It seems unlikely that my career will ever reach the point I allowed myself to dream it would, and at least until I find a more efficient way to manage my loan payments, I don’t think I’ll be getting out of the nannying rat race anytime soon. I am making a very good rate at both jobs, for what is objectively easy work, so leaving it would be foolish, particularly since I am able to get a lot of writing done on the job.

Sometimes I look at the dynamic that my primary family has — rich husband, artistically-fulfilled wife, comfortable children — and I wonder if the most simple solution wouldn’t be to get myself on Tinder and swipe, swipe, swipe until I find a finance guy who is willing to float me while I take on the writing projects that come. Maybe I could even find time to write a novel, and someone to buy it. I think about the life that this family has, being exposed to it all day nearly every day, and I admit that the longer I am surrounded by it, the more appealing it seems. I’ve always been a woman with intense feminist values, raised by an incredibly strong mother (who works in academia herself), so I feel disgusted at my increasingly-frequent pangs of class envy. But saying that I work as a nanny makes me want to forget my Master’s entirely, because my whole situation feels vastly less embarrassing as someone with just a Bachelor’s. And it would be much easier to embrace my advanced education if I had the lifestyle that reflected it.

Yes, it’s all meaningless status anxiety and social climbing, but it feels impossible to escape sometimes. And at the end of the day, I am still going home aching and tired and smelling of Play-Doh, regardless of the pieces of paper with my name on them (some of which happen to be very, very big loan repayment plans). How could a marriage for money be more degrading than toiling away at something I hate, to repay a bank for something I don’t practically use? These are the questions I ask myself, right before I’m filled with self-loathing (and usually a glass or two of cheap red wine).

Does all of this make me regret my Master’s? No, not really. I loved the experience more than anything else I’ve ever done in my life, including a two-month affair in Europe with a very good looking Greek man. In many ways, the memories of my time in the program sustain me on my most tedious or challenging days, and remind me of all the rich, wonderful bits of knowledge that now swim around in my mind. I revisit advice from an old professor, or a particularly insightful critique from a peer. Even though it is not my profession, I still get the most wonderful thrill from writing, reading, and thinking about literature. I might just be another nanny working for a rich family on the Upper West Side, but there is a life of the mind that lives within me, one that no screaming child can take away.

Alison is a sometimes-writer and Trader Joe’s addict living in New York City. 

  • Ashley Webster

    It gets better. From a master in music who works in a kitchen at a kids treatment center and sold her instrument. <3

  • Nat

    Oh look, a seemingly self-contemplating article used to pass judgement on your employers.

  • Anissa

    You are a spoiled ungrateful cunt, and I hope you get fired. You are a piece of shit Alison.

    • Do you know this writer, is this comment a joke or are you actually calling someone a cunt and a piece of shit? Chillax. Some of the tone of this rubbed me the wrong way, too (like, if you’re a writer and want to be artistically fulfilled, why does that need to be in NYC instead of rural Iowa or someplace cheaper). But it’s just inappropriate, unecessarily hostile, and flat-out hateful.

      • whatever

        Because she is incredibly elitist and I sincerely feel sorry for the family that has taken her in. I imagine her being duplicitous and kissing their ass, and behind their backs resentful and bitchy.

        Plus this alone “makes me want to forget my Master’s entirely, because my whole situation
        feels vastly less embarrassing as someone with just a Bachelor’s” makes her a cunt. And a bad writer. Get used to “nannying” sweetheart, because an MFA in creative writing can not buy you talent.

        I really hope the family reads this and fires her ungrateful, coveting, pathetic ass!

        I know this will be deleted, I just hope the stupid talentless jealous bitch sees this before you do so.
        Peace out cunts!

        • At least she is putting herself out there and writing honestly about her feelings, however “elistist” or “ungrateful” others may find them to be. I found her honesty refreshing and her writing to be technically and stylistically solid, even if her point of view is problematic. So kudos to her. Shame on you for hiding behind an anon handle to say vile things. And, you are correct, I’ve reported you.

  • SB

    Just out of curiosity, since you’re being paid to be the nanny, why wouldn’t it be your job to get the crying baby, even if the mom is home? If she could (or wanted to) go get the baby, then why would she pay you?

    • To be fair, she squarely addressed your point in a fairly self-aware way: “I try not to let my more bitter instincts get the best of me and hate her, or even put on her an unfair expectation of duty based on her gender (work at home is still work, just as real as her husband’s, and childcare should not be entirely her responsibility by default). But my own sense of disappointment and frustration at my lack of work prevents me from feeling much of anything towards her except resentment: resentment that she is able to work at her own pace, doing what she wants to do, because her husband is a rich motherfucker.”

  • Annie

    I was a nanny all through and after college, and totally remember this feeling. Being surrounded by such comfortable lifestyles only magnified my own financial insecurity, and it’s hard not to become envious or even resentful of your employers. I often wondered if and how I’d ever reach that level of stability and comfort, and yeah, there were times I wondered if maybe I should just marry someone rich. Ultimately I just came to accept that everyone’s story is different. You don’t know how they got there, how happy they are, or where there might be gaping holes in their lives. Everyone’s journey to “adulthood” is uniquely difficult, but you’re not alone. So long as you work hard and avoid a sense of entitlement, you’ll get to where you’re meant to be.

  • meep the reincarnated.

    “resentment that she is able to work at her own pace, doing what she wants to do, because her husband is a rich motherfucker.”

    this line– and the overall tone of this piece– really rubbed me the wrong way. first off, you are the nanny. you’re being paid to watch their child, within a specific timeframe. that makes the child your responsibility in that time. what the parents do with their time is up to them. it’s as equally valuable for the parents to be in a traditional office as it is for them to work at home. it’s pretty awful to see how you’re denigrating this woman (and her family structure) literally knowing nothing about their family– are you fully aware of their finances? do you know what their exact marriage agreement was? you’re making a lot of assumptions about the mother’s lack of contribution with what seems like very little information. maybe the wife also contributes in a healthy way. maybe when they started off, the wife was the breadwinner and is taking a career break. the fact that you automatically sort of assume that this is a “marriage for money” that you could replicate by finding a “finance guy on tinder” is incredibly insulting to this family. granted, i know nothing about them either, but this goes past judgment into straight up hostility for people you work for.

    i have loved a lot of recent TFD pieces, particularly today’s on women in the kitchen, and the one from a few days ago on why “real jobs” are bs and denigrate people who are literally doing what the woman described here is doing– making a career an alternative way. and this piece kinda totally runs counter to those. yes she’s privileged but actually so are you. and your failure to recognize that is probably what’s the most insulting aspect of this piece.

    • Gery

      I completely agree with this commenter. What an insulting, childish thing to post. Delete it before your employer finds it, and I’ll be deleting you from my reader.

    • TinFL

      I totally agree. I’ve recently started working my (demanding) job from home 2 days a week. Should I stay in this arrangement, I hate the thought of hiring a nanny to help out with my children someday and that person bitterly resenting the work they’re paid to do and resenting me for my work setup. I know the author is trying to be honest about less flattering emotions but, yeah, this rubbed me the wrong way. I have a ton of student loan debt, got a liberal arts MA, and worked a very low paying job in the nonprofit sector right out of grad school. To top it off I had a driving phobia that was really limiting my options. In the past 5 years my income (and responsibilities) have steadily increased in that sector, I became a driver, and I got married. My husband makes a little more than me but also has student loans. My lifestyle is a lot more comfortable than it was in those first years (nothing crazy, just more comfortable). I am now trying to do the 10 year Public Service Loan Forgiveness program. Sometimes I get bitter about my debt, sometimes I envy other people ranging from SAHMs to artists to anyone with a less stressful job. I would change my student loan decisions if I could go back in time. I remember feeling deflated (at times) when reality hit after finishing my lofty MA program. But the venom here is disconcerting, especially for someone in such an intimate and trusted role in a family’s home. I feel like the author might judge ME in such a way, if she saw my setup but didn’t know my back story.

      • TinFL

        Oh…did not realize how old this post was when I saw it promoted on FB today!

  • Em

    I enjoyed your perspective. I think your experience relates to other people who are not quite where they want to be in life after college. It can be easy to become resentful and bitter when you compare your life to others, and that’s not just with being a nanny.

  • Trust me, it DOES get better. Sincerely, someone who was once 25 and really broke and confused and thought she was losing her mind.

  • Erin

    I do not think this person is deliberately trying to “attack” her employers, but rather is feeling inadequate about how things are going in her own life….which is a totally normal! It’s okay for her to express her feelings of discontent/jealously, and maybe we should be less judgmental as readers. I’m sure we’ve all been in the position of feeling “less than,” and have felt like we were struggling and not where we wanted to be in life.

  • a little older

    I think the sentiment expressed in this piece mirrors what a lot of people feel when they are unsure about their future and purpose, and are surrounded by other people’s success and wondering if their choices were worth it or a waste of time. I’ve had a friendship strained because they thought my life was “easy” and that success and everything just happened to pan out for me. She would be jealous and a little bitter, and even though your employers are not your friends, you have to realize that no two life paths are exactly the same and yeah that sucks sometimes, but that’s part of growing up. The life you pictured for yourself at 18 will most likely not be the life you actually end up living. If you can let that go you will be much happier and actually learn to appreciate or tolerate or find the silver lining in this transition period.

  • Aileen

    Remember the post the other day about how one success wipes away a thousand failures? Remember how he talked about Stephen King? Its a true story. King always wanted to write, went to a writer’s program at a New England college, and still worked the worst jobs ever before he got his break because he had to support his family. Washing maggoty hospital linens (true) for example. He couldn’t even write during his work hours, he had to carve out a few hours every night in his tiny apartment’s laundry room. Now he is one of the best selling authors of all time.

    It doesn’t matter what you think of Stephen King’s writing, no one can deny his success. I highly recommend “On Writing” by King, as it highlights in great detail all the shitty things he had to go through before becoming successful. It’s also just a fun read.

    As for your situation, yes, it might not be what you dreamed of when you decided to become a writer. But just go a read an interview with any type of artist, writers included, and they will tell you how many failures it takes to succeed. Picasso is famous for a few hundred pieces, but he is estimated to have created 50,000 pieces in his lifetime.

    Basically, remember how lucky you are to have a gig where you can write while you work, and keep writing, keep writing, keep writing.

    • JessB

      This is a great comment on an interesting piece. I am currently working a field totally unrelated to either of my degrees (I have a Bachelor’s and a Graduate Diploma, one rung below a Master’s), and I do occasionally feel really dissatisfied.
      But I’m lucky enough to be working for a great company with completely amazing co-workers and that helps a lot.
      Again, great article, great comment.

  • Maryam

    the comments here some unnecessarily harsh – who doesn’t judge? seriously? its never the best thing to judge or compare but it is also incredibly human and easy to do.
    As someone with a 9-to-5 job, an MFA degree, an unfulfilled creative life and a kid who goes to a nanny, this was interesting for me to read since I could see both sides, kind of. I’ve been working fulltime for the last 8 years (including while I attended my MFA) and I can honestly say that the toughest thing to figure out is a way to maintain your artistic passions while being in the real world. The mom in this scenario does seem to be living a sweet life but I can guarantee you there is more to it. Those little babies probably kept her up all night and she is so grateful when you come into the door and take over so she can remember what it’s like to have a complete thought in her head without little hands clamoring all over her.

  • Katy Parker

    I was a creative writing major too. I understand the angst that comes with reconciling the college (English major) experience with the reality of trying to start building a life. It is a huge smack in the face and so very humbling. It drains your confidence and sense of self, building resentment every day.

    What took me at least a few years to understand is that the only way to feel better…to even have a chance at the kind of life you want, is to accept that you are where you are. You went to school, you were stimulated and inspired and fulfilled, and now you’re out. You assumed the MFA wasn’t a straight ticket to success, and now you’ve been proven right. Your nanny jobs, your degree, and your debt really are all you have to show for yourself right now. It’s a huge bummer that you have to accept.

    Once you really do accept that in a way that quiets all those, “But I’m really smart and creative and great and I don’t deserve to be stuck with these kids all day!” echoes in your head, you can actually get to work on building the life you want with the real, concrete materials in front of you, and not the memories of workshop classes.

    It sounds like you have a budding freelance career. I’d say there’s huge value in that! Who cares if it’s only technical writing right now? Pour your energy into that while you seek out more stimulating projects. You are building a resume.

    Sleep enough, exercise, and eat right, so that your moods are more stable. Stop fixating on your employer. Be thankful for her employment, or find something different. Some SAT prep and tutoring companies pay tons of money for people from top schools to simply help teenagers with their homework or deliver pre-written lesson plans.

    The point, and what I learned the hard way, is that it doesn’t serve you to dwell on your college days or to soothe your wounded ego by imagining the life you SHOULD be living right now. See the life you’re in for what it is…not what you want yet, but valuable beyond measure and full of real potential if you are willing to work hard, fail, and be humble.

    Here is a short piece that really struck me when I was struggling:
    Write Like a Motherfucker” by Cheryl Strayed ( http://therumpus.net/2010/08/dear-sugar-the-rumpus-advice-column-48-write-like-a-motherfucker/).

  • Maxine

    Hun, you got yourself into six figures of debt for an MFA in Creative Writing. You carry a chip on your shoulder, which is probably insufferable to every person in your life. I know it’s hard, babe, when you were the smart and creative one all through out school and now the cocoon of “academia” has been shed and the university system has chewed you up and spit you out. It really sucks. But harboring this resentment is really what’s holding you back, and envying and comparing your life to others is going to eat you alive until there’s nothing left but a bitter hack. Two freelance writing gigs a month is sweet! And being able to write on the job is awesome. And most jobs aren’t the dream job, and in this day and age everyone is struggling. Everyone is facing reality; you’re not alone.

  • Lea Augustine

    I find this post interesting as well. I used to be a nanny from aged 18 here in The City until 22 years old. Five years of working my butt off so that I can save enough to get any sort of education. Eventually I earned enough to just scrape by and pay for community college here in nyc because I am not a citizen or permanent resident yet, I could not take out any loans, and hardly qualify for any scholarships. When I used to nanny and walk past Columbia or City College, I would see all the kids my age hanging out together, all on their MacBooks at the local coffee shop stressing about finals, and all I could think about while strolling the kids I watched to the playground is how I would love to have the opportunity to attain a prestigious education somewhere where I too could partake in the discussions of academia and sorority parties. Attending college lead meeting people who have the same mindset and goals in life to you and therefore building a network of people. I nannied for a Harvard professor and her husband who is a photographer and are definitely people who value education. In this post I think her attitude comes of a little resentful towards the fact that she is not given the opportunity to use your education daily and I can imagine meeting her on the playground as a nanny and have her tell me she has a MFA (saying it in full) and probably be the type of person that considers themselves above me and others who do not have a prestigious higher education. I know most people say to be grateful for the job you have as a nanny but I think you should also be grateful you had the opportunity to even get educated, have time to write during the day and be with a family that clearly is an upper class family. My advice is to open your eyes to the people around you that might recognize your talent and passion, which might even be the very woman you are trying not to resent. You never know she could be your networking connection. Also use the friendships you made in college to you advantage too. The way I see this post is a typical post Grad rut that she is stuck in with the slight of entitlement a well educated millenial….