Seventeen Crayon Drawings of Marisol and Pauli Holding Hands

Kids can be eerily perceptive sometimes, even when they miss the point entirely.

They must smell her energy on me today. How else can you explain it? Weeks go by with no mention of Miss Marisol, then today she pops up at the forefront of their minds. Why? In their effortless wisdom, are they picking up some leftover traces of her presence in the air around my head?

Since the breakup, I rarely mention Miss Marisol, and the girls are bringing her name up less and less often. But just last night I saw her again, for the first time in weeks. There are all of the accounts to settle still– the retirement savings and the insurance plans and all the small intricacies of married life that feel not-at-all-intimate until you take the sledgehammer to them at the end. Last night we met to share that sledgehammer, as well as one last meal together.

We got Bon Mi and ate them on the floor of my apartment before booting up the screens to split the numbers. Her place has furniture; it might have been a nicer place to meet than mine if it did not also have Natalia inside it. The new woman quit her job and moved in before my smell wore off the bed that had been mine.

Nine hours ago, my ex-wife-to-be and I hugged goodbye on my stoop, arms opposing the way friends hug but gripping each other just a little too tight, a little too long. This morning, I’ve barely been inside their house ten minutes when the girls hunker down over a tall stack of paper at their craft table, scattering crayons over the surface as the big sister proudly announces, “We’re drawing you and Miss Marisol!”

Squeezing the baby in my arms, I look down over their shoulders. I notice the colors that they choose– the big sister going for realism as she renders Miss Mari in brown and me in orange, while the little one scrawls wide swaths of pink and purple and green, typical of a preschooler’s interpretative take.

“That’s awesome, you guys!” I tell them. These two are both around that age where parents and teachers tend to greet everything they do with trills of “Oh, how beautiful!” and “You’re so smart!” Lucky for me, they’re convinced enough of their own awesomeness that when I praise them now, they can’t tell I don’t mean it.


The girls noticed right away when Miss Marisol stopped driving me to work. Before, they would wait at the door in the morning to guess after my method of conveyance.

“Bike?” they would say, pressing their noses to the glass to look for it in the driveway. “Roller skates? Car?” The phrasing of their most frequent guess cracked me up each time they said it: “Wife ride?” they would ask, craning at the window to look for Miss Marisol in the driver’s seat of our shared car, waving at them as she turned out of their driveway, heading home.

By now, they have stopped guessing. It has been long enough since they’ve seen me hobble into their mudroom on rollerblades or zip past their door on my bike that they’ve lost interest in guessing. The routine is constant now that I live two towns away. I park the car that’s just mine now in the same spot every day, and nobody watches at the window anymore.

They still ask questions sometimes, wondering when Miss Mari be back again to wave hello. When they do ask, I lie. I pretend that my wife could turn up any day now, kissing me goodbye as I hop out of the car, popping inside in the afternoon to greet the parents and comment on how big all the little ones are getting.

The parents, my bosses– they know. They’ve shown me great care over the past months, covering me with the kids at a moment’s notice so that I could go to apartment showings, asking whether I needed help of any kind, and assuring me that they understand if I’m a little less efficient, a little more distracted during my transition.

But the children still don’t know. They are aware that I’ve moved to a new apartment but they don’t know why, and they have no idea that I left Miss Marisol behind when I did so.

My life outside of work is not their business. For the most part, the after-hours me is an enigma to the families who know the 9-5 version so well. A totally normal professional boundary, but in my case, it’s especially critical- it might not play too well if my employers knew about my sugar-dating married men, for example. Given the suspicion that lingers around home caregivers (see The Caregiver Threat for my take on the trope of the husband-stealing nanny), it works well for me to allow my employers to believe that I’m a married lesbian, and therefore a safe entity to keep around the house.

No, I don’t feel the need to keep the families in my care abreast of my love life. But the seismic impact of a marriage’s end places this romantic development in a different category from all the others.

I am not a safe, married lesbian anymore. I’m grateful that I’ve had enough time to earn this family’s trust before I lost that protective set of labels.

And I’m grateful that these babies didn’t know Mari for long enough, didn’t get to spend enough time with her, to grow attached to her. Her wholesale exit from their lives will be no real loss.

But it is a happening of some kind. A novelty.

I’m not sure these kiddos know that marriages can end.


The drawings keep on coming. The older child is whipping through them now, quality giving way to quantity completely as she slaps down page after page of paired-up stick figures, inscribing a “P” above one circle-head and an “M” above the other and linking up the stick-arms in a 2D rendition of the joining of lovers’ hands. She piles them on my backpack, telling me not to forget to take them home, to share them with Miss Mari at the end of the day. I give her my solemn word; I will remember. Eight drawings for me, nine for Miss Mari. Two from the little sister, fifteen from the firstborn. I reassure her that I’ve got the tally down, and promise to inform Miss Mari of which ones are her sister’s, which are hers. I validate her giddy forecast of just how much Miss Marisol will love them.

I take a deep breath as I gather up the stack. I even hug the pile of papers to my chest, turning a wide smile towards the girls to demonstrate just how precious their creations are to me. They bounce in unison with pleasure at the sight.

I turn my face away from the two small artists, taking a little longer than necessary to tuck the drawings away into my bag. I keep the deep breaths going.

I do not cry.


For most of the children with whom I work, mine is their closest example of a gay partnership. I would have liked it to be an example of a life lived together in enduring joy. But that isn’t how my story went.

Years ago I read the novel Living at Night by Mariana Romo-Carmona, about a young Puerto Rican lesbian coming of age in a small New England town. Most of the content escapes me now, but there is one moment in the book that has stayed with me, that continues to return to me these days as I mull over the task of telling the kids that Miss Marisol is never coming back.

In this scene, the main character, Erica, arrives at her sister’s house and is greeted by her sister’s young daughter, who immediately asks after her auntie’s girlfriend. When Erica tells her that they broke up, the child is confused and angry. (The little niece’s name is Marisol– an uncanny coincidence.) Here, Marisol has just informed her auntie that girls do not break up, and Erica is challenging that notion.

“Why don’t girls break up?” Marisol stared up at me with serious brown eyes. She had grown tall for her age.

“Because,” she gave me her hand-on-hip explanation. “Because they love each other.”

Mariana Romo-Carmona, Living at Night (1997)

Teaching kids about the world around them is a part of my job. I try to do so with an honesty that honors that perceptiveness that all children have. I try to encourage their open-mindedness, to offer more questions than answers, to respond to their thoughts without judgment, and not to flinch away from discussing some of the harder realities that they might encounter in their innocent years. All of this happens in communication with the parents; when big-ticket subjects come up, I do my best to align my teaching with the family’s values. I make sure to inform the parents of my conversations with their kids and to seek guidance around any questions that I’m not sure how to answer.

But I’ve never had to talk to kids about divorce. It hasn’t come up with any of my families. Now that the subject is upon us, I don’t want to be the one to tell these babies that some marriages fall short of til-death-do-us-part.

When I’m ready, I think I’ll ask my bosses to take their kids aside and let them know that Miss Marisol won’t be coming back to pick their nanny up again. I’ll let them be the ones to have that conversation with their own children, to break the news to their own kids that marriage doesn’t always last forever. It feels more appropriate. And it spares me the burden, too.

There will be more questions later, I know. Most of them, I still won’t want to answer.

I want the children in my care to believe that girls don’t break up. That we can’t, that we wouldn’t.

Because we love each other.


Photo by Eren Li from Pexels

Baby on the Big Swing

Water’s pooling everywhere.
A week of summer rain:
tomato vines have doubled length 
and the wood chips are bursting 
into mushroom. 

He and I become one 
pendulum, sweating 
into one another’s clothes. 
His sixteen pounds, all 
belly, brain and bone, 
lift away from
my chest at each 
inflection. Hot,
the tiny head rolls 
back and forth
over my collar. 
One meaty little fist
finds the chain. 

The rain 
comes back on pale 
and sweet, caressing 
everything– my arms, 
the naked head 
beneath my chin, 
the little girl 

who throws her face 
into the spray, 
eyes closed, 
singing,
I’m in wonderland!

The babe falls silent,
surrenders to the sway
and lift, the sway
and lift, the water. 

His sisters swing
beside us, shouting,
Look how high!
Look how high!

Photo by Christine Renard from Pexels

The Caregiver Threat

“Ugh,” Mari mutters at the phone, glowing face-up on the table. “I click on one ad, one time, and now all I get are these ads…”

I glance over at her screen. In comic-bookish CGI, set in a bedroom, a chiselly man leans a speech-bubble into the face of an Attractive Young Woman.

“The boys just love you,” he says.

What the hell? I think. Is this some kind of brothel-themed version of the SIMS?

But his speech bubbles continue, and it soon becomes clear that the “boys” who “just love” the Attractive Young Woman are not that kind of bedroom clientele. They are the man’s children. Moments later, his lady steps out of the closet in an evening gown. The illustrator has expertly rendered the expensiveness of woman’s dress, the elaborate lay of her hair.

“We’re going to be late for our engagement party!” she chides the man, thereby revealing him to be her fiancée.

As they exit, the ad offers its first example of the gameplay. You, the nanny character, get to make your first decision. Click on your choice: will you crash their engagement party, dressed to kill with plunging neckline and high-slit skirt?

Of course you will! The ad now relocates you to the swank of the party, where you slither about the room, plotting your next move. How to divert your boss’s attention away from his soon-to-be-bride?

Why, by tossing yourself into the arms of his brother for a make-out session on the dance floor, of course!

Mari swipes away from the ad, but I’ve seen enough. There it is– my profession in a nutshell. At least, there’s the mass perception of my work, condensed into a poignant little box. I, and other young women like me, dedicate ourselves to a career with no colleagues, no benefits packages, no levels for advancement, and no long-term stability, and what’s our motivation? Access to other women’s husbands, ripe for the stealing, of course.

Delightful.


My first exposure to the ubiquity of the husband-stealing nanny in the public imagination started with an internet search. In my first home childcare job, it was my crappy luck to stumble onto evidence that the lady of the house was cheating. I knew well enough to keep my mouth shut, but even so, the situation put me at a risk. If she ever figured out what I knew, I’d be out on my ass. The only trace I’d leave behind in would be my name issuing from a toddler’s crying mouth.

Given the nature of the job, I figured I could not be the first domestic worker to find herself caught under the burden of a secret. So I took to the web, hoping to find solidarity and maybe some advice from other nannies who had gone through something similar.

I did not find solidarity. What I did find was article after article about nannies and husbands, intertwined. The headlines tell a pattern of celebrities blowing up their marriages by sleeping with the nanny, sometimes in the course of years-long affairs, sometimes even leaving the glamorous star-wife to marry the nanny-nobody. The treachery of cheating, the heartbreak of the wife, all magnify under the lens of the wronged woman’s trust in her subordinate. She opened her home and her family to the caregiver, took her on vacations, signed all her checks. And all the while, the nanny was a viper coiled in her house.

No combination of words in the search box yielded any different results. No matter how I arranged the quotation marks to make it clear to the search engine that the affair in question did not involve the nanny, the paradigm would not relent. According to the web, a house could not possibly contain both a nanny and a cheating spouse unless the two were in bed together.


Today, that first domestic job is far behind me. The inevitable implosion set me free when it came, and now I count myself among the luckiest of all women who work in the homes of richer people. My employers treat me well. Though my workplace is their home, they walk all the proper lines to keep my environment professional. Unaccusing. Safe.

But even so, I hold my body with a vigilance that I can’t shake, despite my intellect telling me that I don’t need it. I face the trope of ‘nanny as scheming seductress’ every morning when I dress for work. The physical demands of my job require range of motion– I spend my days squatting, crouching, crawling, running, dancing with a baby in my arms and a child grasping at each hip. Leggings are ideal for my workwear… but my ass looks great in a pair of leggings. Should I sacrifice their comfort for the coverage of a stiff pair of pants, the less to appear intentionally desirable to the father of the house and, more importantly, his wife?

There is no HR department at my workplace. Anyone who hires me is well within their rights to fire me over a shapely bum, a misconstrued giggle, a boob exposed by an infant’s tugging fist. If the man of the house decides to hit on me, if the woman succumbs to insecurity and frames me as a threat, I’m out the door, with a sticky story of my severance to explain to the unemployment office.

So for that, I walk a careful line. And I worry, even though I know there is no danger. I have been a woman long enough to know what lust feels like, radiating from a man’s eyes to trap you in its searchlight. It is a glare that has never burned my skin inside this house.

But still, I worry. I worry because sometimes he walks in on me lying on my back on the floor with my legs in the air, airplaning the little angel on my calves, and I know how simultaneously innocent and wanton the pose must make me look.

I worry because I have read too many articles explaining that men are instinctively attracted to any woman they see caring for their children. Too many articles cautioning well-to-do mommies to look out for signs of a husband’s desire for the babysitter, advising them to keep the younger woman close, the way you would an enemy. Your nanny is not as rich as you are, warn the articles, and her bond with your children could tip over into ownership. She sees all that you have from an intimate angle, and she wants it.

I have been a woman long enough to know another woman’s envy. I have felt the hate that a mother can produce when she compares herself against you and finds you guilty of being what she feels she is not– young, carefree and fun, pretty in a way that she believes that she no longer is, now that the strain of raising children weighs her down.

I also know that this hatred is unable to coexist with the easy confidence of the woman that I work for, now. I have read and reread the smile with which she greets me in the morning. It is absent of suspicion, I am sure.

I worry even though I trust both of the grown-ups in the house, and can feel them trusting me, too.


But I am not the only one wary of my body in the house.

I realize this one day as my boss, the father, helps me to riddle my way into a baby carrier. The straps rest on my shoulders. The belt’s around my hips. Both of my hands are occupied, balancing the weight of his son against my chest until the carrier is locked in to secure him.

“And then this one buckles there,” he says, pulling at the strap in question with his fingers. I wait for him to pop it into place, but he doesn’t. He holds it out, waiting for my hand to take it up.

His wife has helped me into a carrier before. When she did, neither she nor I thought anything of her hands buckling the baby safe against my body. Until he pauses, I think nothing of his hands, either, approaching my ribs to do the same.

But when he freezes up, I realize:

He’s afraid of me.

Until this moment all I know is my own vulnerability along this axis. For the first time, I consider his. An accusation out of me, even a baseless lie, could bring disaster down on him.

I could detonate a bomb inside his house.

Maybe this danger that he feels in me is power, a power that is mine to wield. Maybe it’s a trap, for one or the other of us, or both.

Or maybe we are just two people, dancing around each other in precise propriety, bonded in a vow of separation. A reciprocal vulnerability, each of us capable of the other one’s destruction.

I shift the baby’s weight into my elbow. For one precarious second, the tiny life of the man’s only son tilts, half-held, over the floor, while I swing my other hand around my back to catch the dangling strap.

Then I click the buckle in and the baby’s safe against me. The Dad’s free to retreat. I’m free to move.

If the tension inherent in our two positions were something we could talk about, I would take a moment, then, to reassure him. You are safe with me, I’d like to tell him. I mean you no harm, and I trust you not to harm me.

I see everything you have from an intimate angle. I see the wealth, the house, the love that you share with your children and your wife, and I don’t want it.

I only want to play my role here in your home.

I only want to keep the trust you’ve given me, until your family outgrows my hired love, and I move on.

Pure and Fleeting

Lean your forehead
into mine. Encircle
me in arms and snare
one fist at the nape 
of my neck.
Then,

scream. Unleash
a window-cracking
pterodactyl screech
right in my face as you 
spew a gutload of hot,
curdled breastmilk
down my shirt. 
Then,

smile. Throw your gums
wide open to display 
the milk-chunks
clinging to your 
tongue. 

Rip that fistful of hair 
from the base of my scalp 
as your laugh 
breaks over me.
Ouch! Fuck!
Little angel– 
no one else
can love me 
like you do. 

Shabbat Shalom, y’all. 😁

Shalom Bayit

You enter your bedroom.

It is dark, and I

am inside, singing

swaying with 

your infant son

against my chest. I 

am ten years 

younger 

than your wife 

and my voice is soft

and lullabye-pretty.

.

You move quickly 

into and out. I

turn my back, eyes

latching on the eyelids

drooping in my arms.

.

I mean you no harm 

and you mean me no harm. 

You take your shirt, 

go, and I continue, 

rocking in the dark room, 

singing.

.

(Shalom Bayit is a Jewish value. It translates to “peace in the home”, and describes familial wholeness and healthy connection in a marriage.)