By Amy Phillips Penn

New York Governesses…none of that nicey-nice Mary Poppins’ spoon full of sugar and umbrella stuff, but a breed who were keen enough to be founders of several of New York’s best private girls’ schools.

The New York Governess came primped, proper, with a wisp of an accent, and an attitude that implied “I may be working for you, but that doesn’t mean you’re better than me.” She acted as mother, father, step-parent as long as the real parent didn’t interfere.

Take my friend Dora’s nanny, “Edie Speedie,” so called because she drove so slowly that she eventually lost her license.

When pulled over by a policeman, Eddie snottily replied:”But, I have precious cargo in the back,” meaning Dora.

While Edie may have lost her driver’s license, she didn’t shed even a wee bit of her attitude.

When she didn’t like what Dora’s mother was asking of her, she would reply icily,”but, Mrs. Rockefeller didn’t ask me to do that when I worked for her.”

Comebacks, anyone?

When my father was a child, his aunt once saw his governess taping his mouth and shoving him into a closet, this from across the street on Park Avenue.

She frantically called my grandmother, and that was the end of that nanny.

My cousin Shelly was left in the hands of a rotating line of governesses.

When Shelly complained about anything to her mother, she turned a mother-knows-it-all-Harry Winston-ed earlobe, and ignored Shelly, until…

The latest governess was a former nun, who could do no wrong in Shelly’s mother’s eyes.

Think Madonna and we’re not talking rock star.

Shelly reported that the ex-nun was washing her mouth out with soap.

Her mother went into suds denial.

It gets better…

Shelly then informed her mother that the nun-turned-nanny had a boyfriend who was living in the townhouse, with the nanny.

Denial reigned supreme until her mother was showing friends around the house, opened the door and there was a man lying on the flying nun’s bed, New York naked.

Nanny gossip.

Nannies do talk and they know what they know, which is a lot.

This is from our nanny meets a family nanny at the playground.

A distant family member wrote a book that became a movie. With the extra income, she bought her children’s nanny a full length ermine coat, just what every working woman needed on the train ride back to Harlem.

Some of my friends had governesses with last names that sounded like they were out of the Third Reich, with treacherous, stalactite attitudes that echoed the era.

As for me, I lucked into Monica.

She was Swiss-German, had a photo of a guru in her room, and was part of the family. She cooked, told stories about riding pigs as a child in Switzerland, and walked the dogs in the park with us.

One day, she lost me.

We were at the park on 85th Street and I bicycled ahead and waited for her. She went this a-way towards the park, and I went that a-way towards Fifth Avenue.

By the time she came home and told my mother that I was M.I.A. (my mother thought it was a joke and that I would pop up any second), the police station called.

We once lost Monica, too. We were going to Nassau for spring vacation and Monica was coming too, or so we thought.

She asked my mother if she need a passport, since she was a Swiss citizen.

My mother said “absolutely not.”

When we landed in Nassau on a British Airways flight, Monica was still on board and on her way back to New York, because she did indeed need a passport.

I watched as the airplane flew away with my Monica and wondered if I’d ever see her again.

Thankfully I did.

When it came time for us to be a little more independent, Monica went to work for an elderly lady in Forest Hills.

A few weeks later, our poodles were infested with East Hampton ticks. It was verboten for them to go back to the Hamptons. Ticks happen.

What to do?

My mother put them in a taxi along with all their earthly belongings, took down the taxi driver’s license number, and sent Licorice and Frotzie off to Monica, sans chaperone.

I loved Monica. She was my safe place when I needed one and her love of animals is instilled in me.

The life of a nanny is a complex one.

When my sister was born, her first governess said that she would only stay for six months because she didn’t want to become attached. Six months later, my mother asked her to extend it to a year. Regina did, and then she moved on.

I send my love and thanks to Monica and anyone else who ever sacrificed their own family life to become a part of mine.

You were family like no other.


Featured image courtesy of Huffington Post

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