I sat on our retro L-shaped couch in our living room, me on the shorter end of the ‘L’. “I think he’s going to divorce me,” I told my nanny, my eyes welling up with tears.
My throat felt thick with sorrow. I didn’t know whom else to turn to. I didn’t want to call my friends back home – I felt too much guilt, shame, and embarrassment about admitting this truth. After all, I lived in paradise on the North Shore of Kauai and from all accounts on social media, my life seemed pretty grand.
“Oh,” she said, quietly.
Her hazel eyes looked at me warmly, loose wisps of her reddish blonde hair framing her friendly face. “What happened?”
Just 30 minutes earlier, I had texted her to see if she had time to chat. She lived in what we called “The Love Shack” on our property, a one-time surf-quiver storage unit turned sparing abode and gladly came into the main portion of the house. We created an arrangement in which she traded childcare for rent, and it was the best partnership my husband and I created since having the baby.
My daughter had just fallen asleep. I knew I had about an hour for adult conversation, for someone other than my husband to listen to what was happening in my head.
Madeline had already been privy to our dynamic, given that she saw us throughout the days and nights. She knew that my husband and I had different approaches to life and distinct temperaments. While we were both committed to raising our daughter in the most conscious way possible, we were sometimes less committed to the evolution of our bond with one another. We felt emotionally maxed-out and I needed to vent.
“It’s going to be okay,” she reassured me. “You know that, right? Whatever happens, you are a brilliant woman. You’re strong. You’re an incredible mother to Wilder. You’re going to be okay.” I shrugged. It was rare that I let myself cry, and even rarer that I had a witness to it.
“I think that your husband really loves you, and he really just wants everyone to be happy,” Madeline observed. “But he takes a lot on and when he can’t fix it, I think it’s really hard for him.”
I listened to her words. Her observations and reassurances did not feel like hollow niceties meant to placate me, but rather insights that were coming from a woman who shared my home. She shared my life. She participated in various elements of my family.
In a way, she was more than a friend and better than family. We had just enough closeness and the right amount of emotional distance by setting up prior healthy boundaries that we could be in this space of honesty with one another. We did not have such personal ties in what the other person was thinking, because we weren’t too deeply invested the way we would be if we were family. And we didn’t have to worry about how things would ultimately pan out for one another, because it did not altogether substantially impact our own lives.
Madeline, in many ways, became a sort of life coach confidante, precisely when I needed her the most. Living on an island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, I often felt like she alone made up the tribe that so many parenting experts say women need to survive and thrive after having a child.
I could believe Madeline’s words and sentiments, because we had leaned in to so many meaningful conversations before. There were many times when I needed her help bringing Wilder to an appointment, and as we drove the half hour to get to town, I took the opportunity to talk about my feelings, my concerns, my wishes, and my challenges all while my daughter fell asleep in the backseat.
The rawness and vulnerability of motherhood meant that it wasn’t difficult for me to drop in and come from the heart, since I was perpetually living from this edge. Yet, the part of our dynamic that made it such a safe space to share was the fact that she showed up just as willingly to be vulnerable with the goings-on of her life.
We developed a mutually respectful, symbiotic, and definitely dependable relationship. I knew that when I texted her in the morning with the day’s schedule, she would show up. She knew that if she had any questions for me as a friend, an employer, and a landlord, I would show up for her. That element alone created a sense of stability in my otherwise newly chaotic life.
I started to wrap up our conversation. I knew my daughter would be waking soon and I wanted a few moments to myself before she did. I also knew that nothing in my relationship with my husband was going to be resolved that moment, or that night, or even that month. He and I would continue to have conflict, reconcile, seek support, and struggle within our own development as parents. I just needed to talk to her so I wouldn’t implode.
As I stood up, Madeline walked around the coffee table and came to give me a hug. “You’re doing great,” she said.
That simple acknowledgment, whenever it came from another soul in my life, felt so validating. These few words could fuel me forward into another day, another sleepless night, another week. Being able to be show up just as I was in that moment with another person who was not going judge me was a gift and a blessing beyond belief.
I had no idea that in hiring Madeline as a nanny, she would be nurturing me back to health.