BAKERSFIELD, Calif. — The middle-aged woman, her husband and her son became perfect neighbors after they arrived a year ago on a quiet suburban Bakersfield, Calif., cul-de-sac, residents recalled.
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But the seemingly idyllic existence came to a screeching halt this week as the state's former governor and Hollywood icon Arnold Schwarzenegger confirmed that he had fathered a child out of wedlock — and the attention homed in on former housekeeper Mildred Patricia Baena and her 13-year-old son.
As TV satellite trucks gridlocked the block and spilled over to an adjacent street, residents sat in their homes, stunned. Some worried about the effect the news would have on the polite teen who they say often walked a white poodle named Sugar through the neighborhood when he wasn't swimming in his backyard pool or playing basketball.
"We just want this child to be protected as much as possible. We've all made mistakes and to totally destroy a child's life over that would not be fair," said Marilyn Steelman, who lives next door.
The consequences for the teen boy of this week's public revelations could be huge, two mental health professionals said Thursday on NBC's TODAY.
"Who a parent is affects a child's identity," psychotherapist Robi Ludwig said. "So if this child for the first time is finding out who his father is, it's really going to change how he experiences himself."
Noting that Schwarzenegger and Baena's son is likely to be "confused," Los Angeles-based child psychologist Dr. Charles Sophy told TODAY, "I'm almost 100 percent sure that no one has prepared him for this day, and being thrown out into the world as the son of someone like Arnold Schwarzenegger is a big deal. It has a big impact."
"This child probably has a life that's contained and safe, and he's well-liked, and he's polite, as they say, and now all of a sudden he's got a spotlight on him," Sophy continued. "There's going to be a lot of feelings, a lot of anger, a lot of disappointment, and a lot of confusion for him."
Baena and her family have been able to escape the glare of the spotlight for the time being, as reporters said they apparently left just ahead of the horde that descended on their neighborhood.
Residents said the family was friendly and like other homeowners on the block of fashionable houses with red-tiled roofs and two- and three-car garages, they kept up their $268,000 house and its neatly trimmed lawn and palm trees.
While the boy was a fixture in the neighborhood, residents say, they rarely saw his mother until she retired 2 1/2 months ago. Until then, she told them, she had been working for Schwarzenegger's family and had kept an apartment near Schwarzenegger's $11.5 million Los Angeles home, 100 miles away.
That physical distance between his mother — and his half-siblings — could fuel the emotional turmoil, Ludwig said.
"It would be very common for this child to look over to his half-siblings and say, 'Why did they get to live in a house with their father? Why did they get to live this particular kind of lifestyle?'" she told TODAY.
Beyond politics and Hollywood, Schwarzenegger is a business tycoon, with his net worth estimated at more than $200 million. By all accounts he and his family with wife Maria Shriver lead a lavish lifestyle, though it's unclear how much he financially supports Baena and their son.
The Schwarzenegger scandal exploded into public view on Monday when the former movie star confirmed to the Los Angeles Times that he had fathered a child out of wedlock years ago and that Shriver, a prominent TV journalist until she put her career on hold after her husband was elected governor, never knew until this year.
Since then Schwarzenegger has vanished and his office has declined to discuss the matter further.
Baena's adult daughter, Jacqueline Rozo, told The Associated Press her 50-year-old mother had worked for the former governor until recently but would not comment further.
A photo of the boy posted on Baena's MySpace page shows a fairly strong resemblance to Schwarzenegger, particularly when the former governor and movie star was younger.
"If I saw him or his picture, I would see the resemblance," neighbor Steelman said.
The birth certificate for Baena's son also shows he was born the same week as the youngest of Schwarzenegger's and Shriver's four children. It lists Baena's ex-husband as the father and says Baena is originally from Guatemala.
Charlene Powers, a real estate agent who represented the home's sellers, said she was told it was being purchased for an employee of Schwarzenegger's and that he was helping with the down payment. Property records show Baena took a loan of $219,224 to buy the $268,000 house.
She is listed on the deed as a single woman, although neighbors say she and her son lived there with a man they thought was her husband.
When the family moved in, Steelman said, Baena said she was planning to retire soon.
The Times has not named the mother of Schwarzenegger's child but quoted her Monday as saying she retired in January after working for Schwarzenegger and his family for 20 years.
Shriver, who has not discussed the matter since issuing a brief statement Monday, made a quick walk-on appearance this week at a taping of one of Oprah Winfrey's final shows that is to air Tuesday. There, she told the talk show host that she had given her "love, support, wisdom and most of all the truth."
A person familiar with the scandal said it has left Schwarzenegger humbled and embarrassed.
"It's been very, very hard for him," said the individual, who requested anonymity out of respect for the family's privacy. "He's embarrassed. He's not focused on what steps he needs to take for himself, but the steps he needs to take for his family."Video: Schwarzenegger hopes to regain family’s trust
As for next steps, Sophy said on TODAY that it's important that the boy's parents "are on the same page, that the mother is aware of what the impacts are going to be on her son and get him to be able to talk to somebody and be able to see what role he's going to play in the life of Arnold and his current family and how to integrate, if there's going to be an integration."
The scandal has also returned to the public's attention the numerous allegations made over the years that Schwarzenegger is a womanizer.
It has also threatened to bring forth more women. On Wednesday, Los Angeles attorney Gloria Allred confirmed she is representing Gigi Goyette, a former child actress who has said she had annual trysts with Schwarzenegger at a bodybuilding competition he sponsored in Ohio.
"I can confirm that I do represent Gigi Goyette," Allred said in an email. "We have no comment at this time and we will also have no comment tomorrow."
Shortly before Schwarzenegger was elected governor in 2003, the Times reported allegations from more than a dozen women who said he had groped them or made unwanted advances. He apologized at the time for having behaved badly in his younger years.
Schwarzenegger biographer Joe Mathews said the public shouldn't have been all that surprised by this week's revelations.
There had been rumors on the political circuit for years of a Schwarzenegger out-of-wedlock child, Mathews said, although the accounts could not be verified until now. The author of the 2006 book, "The People's Machine: Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Rise of Blockbuster Democracy," also noted that both Schwarzenegger and Shriver were careful to parse their words when they addressed the womanizing allegations in 2003, never issuing an outright denial.
"She didn't come out and defend him and say he's a faithful, great husband," he said of Shriver's defense of her husband. "She said he's a person who is really smart and really wants to do this job and has a lot to offer California."PhotoBlog: Arnold Schwarzenegger and Maria Shriver in happier times
Perhaps more telling, as early as 1999, Mathews said, Schwarzenegger, who was then considering a run for governor, called aides together in Los Angeles and, rather than discuss possible political positions, railed against the impeachment of President Bill Clinton for his sexual liaison with Monica Lewinsky. If that was the way politicians' personal lives were exposed, Schwarzenegger told them, he might not seek office.
Since leaving the governor's office earlier this year, Schwarzenegger has indicated some interest in continuing in politics, perhaps becoming a spokesman for environmental causes, including green energy development, one of the issues he worked hardest for as governor. Mathews noted that Schwarzenegger hasn't flatly ruled out a run for U.S. Senate either, although he speculated it would be hard for him to get elected now.
The former star has also made it clear he wants to return to Hollywood. He recently announced plans to play himself in an animated TV show called "The Governator" and is scheduled to begin filming this summer on "Cry Macho," a film drama in which he would play a horse trainer. The former world bodybuilding champion is also in negotiations to reprise what is arguably his most popular role, as the relentless killer cyborg in the "Terminator" films.
NBC News and The Associated Press contributed to this report.