When I was 18 I left school and home to begin my independent adult life and world travels. It didn’t start off well.
My first job was nanny for a family in France. Let’s just say that they were horrid.
My second job was also as a live in nanny for a family in the USA. It’s still the best job I ever had and that’s because my boss (the mum/mom) was a truly amazing lady.
Recently I got the very sad and unexpected news that she has died from cancer. It was a short, sharp illness which she kept secret from everyone except her closest relatives because she didn’t want to be surrounded by “the dreaded casseroles and boo hoos”.
Out of respect for her family I’d like to keep her identity private but I can’t not write about her as she’s been the single most positive influence on my life. So let’s call her B.
What was it about B that made her so special and what made her such a profound influence?
Why she changed my life
First I should probably tell you that, although I did a great job of seeming happy, I was not a happy teenager. I suffered from low self-esteem and was probably depressed during my stay in France where I was badly treated.
But B bought sunshine into my life, both as a boss and a friend. She was an amazing and very special woman.
B was funny. She often joked that I was her best friend but that she had to pay me to be her friend. In retrospect I should have been paying her. Not least because she had no shortage of real friends and probably had no need for an 18 year old girl apart from to help look after her dear little boy.
B taught me how to be a woman, she taught me to be me and she taught me that I could be loved and accepted despite my gawky body and the big, blundering Doc Martens I wore which she called my postman shoes.
B was supremely confident and at ease with herself. She was naturally attractive, refreshingly makeup free and happy in her body. She knew exactly what clothes suited her long, skinny legs and short body.
B knew how to be a boss and be nice at the same time. She treated everyone, including her cleaner, with the same fairness and generosity. I remember once she should have told me off for staying out late too many times and being tired at work. But she didn’t make me feel guilty. She just suggested I have a health night at least once a week and stay in to recuperate.
B knew her limitations. She didn’t want to have big dinner parties or impress people with her fancy home and catering. She cooked good, simple food and ate with relish. I still cook sweetcorn the way she taught me – with a teaspoon of sugar in the water (not salt!) to sweeten it more.
B was proud and independent. She lived in a very wealthy area but I always remember her telling me that she couldn’t understand why women who got divorced expected their husbands to support them. She said if she was in that situation she’d want to stand on her own two feet and support herself.
B was brave. The first time I worked for her she was undergoing fertility treatment. It’s not a pleasant business and she had seven miscarriages before she eventually got the second baby she craved. But she never once moaned or cried about it in front of me. She talked about her problems openly but without self pity.
B was honest. She knew mothering was the hardest job a woman would ever had and she told me the crazy thoughts that go through your head when you’ve got a new baby, you’re stuck at home and you’re going a little bit nutty. She once told me that as a new mum she’d been scared she’d put her newborn baby in the oven.
Only decades later, after I had my first baby, did I experience for myself those kind of irrational thoughts that are probably caused by a killer combo of new mum hormones and sleep deprivation. But B knew her limitations. She got help where she needed it and understood and respected the boundaries of her own sanity.
B was creative. She loved interior design and gardening and went on to set up a highly successful business based around her talents.
B was hardworking. The family was well off and she probably didn’t need to work but she always did and could afford to buy whatever she wanted because of her hard work.
B was smart and entrepreneurial. She played the stock markets, she dealt real estate and she set up a highly successful retail business. It seemed like everything she touched turned to gold but I guess that’s just because she knew what she was doing,was passionate about it and spent a lot of time on it.
B understood people and knew how to build strong relationships. For example, she told me that she’d learnt from watching friends never to criticise her husband in public because it was just plain rude and boring for everyone concerned. It’s not rocket science but it’s a mistake a lot of couples make.
I will miss B. I had a fantasy where I went to live with her again when she was old and worked as her caregiver. I wanted to spend more time with her and glean more of her pearls of wisdom. I’m so sorry I won’t have the chance to do that now.
B was the wisest, kindest and most generous person I’ve ever known.
I’m devastated to have lost this amazing role model. I’m sad for her husband and children who will be missing her more than me. I’m sad for the many friends and extended family who loved B as much as I did.
I worked for her every year while I was at university and got to know here well because we lived together. I last visited her eight years ago when I lived in Costa Rica and we spent some precious time together at the ocean which she loved. Still I’m sorry I didn’t have a chance to say gooodbye and tell her how she changed my life for the better.
At the moment this grief is fresh but in time it will mellow to a joyful sorrow because I’m so glad to have known her. She was the wackiest, wisest and most fun-loving role model a teenage girl could ever hope for.
B was 67 when she died, yet still one of the most youthful and vibrant people I knew. I will miss her forever and be forever grateful for the powerful, positive, influence she had on me.
How she changed my life
She believed in me before I believed in myself. She accepted me before I could accept myself. She was not the emotional, demonstrative type but I believe that she was the first person who loved me unconditionally. The person who taught me that I was worthy of love. And that meant so much to me because she was amazing in every single way.
Has someone special changed your life for the better?