Getty Images; courtesy of Florence Ann Romano
My heart broke as I looked at this sweet girl's bloodshot blue eyes staring back at me, almost pleading me to give her an answer, make her feel better, make it all go away.
So I laid on the bathroom floor with the girl I'd been nannying for five years and asked her to explain what she meant by "I can't do it."
She confided in me about the pressure she felt from her parents to perform in school, and how competitive her high school was. She felt like she was constantly letting herself and everyone down, though this was not the reality--she was an exceptional student. She said she needed to do well because she was expected to get into a great college and be successful.
I felt such a soulful connection to her because my father was hard on me, as well, when it came to my schooling. I was fortunate enough to have a mom, however, to balance him. She understood what I was capable of and how hard I was working, even if my father couldn't see it. She was my advocate. And then it hit me: this sweet little girl laying in front of me, on a cold bathroom floor, didn't have an advocate. That's when I knew it was my job to become that for her.
We were in the bathroom for more than half an hour, and I told her my story. Then, I told her that she was wonderful, smart, loving, beautiful, and a blessing--and that her parents told me often just how proud they were of her. The most important thing she could do for herself was be open with her parents about how she was feeling, and ask for the help she needed--and to know that she was capable of so much, but she needed to believe in herself.
She said that she didn't know how to bring it up to her parents, and that's when I decided I would do it.
First, I talked to my own mother. I needed someone to bounce ideas off of, and I couldn't hide it from her--the concern was written all over my face. I cried to her about what I was witnessing, and how helpless I felt. She told me that I needed to talk to the parents.
I knew I couldn't attack them--I needed to sit down calmly with them and have a transparent conversation about what I was seeing in their absence.
Before confronting them, I waited a couple weeks to see if the girl mentally healed since our conversation. I made sure to support her as passionately as I could. I saw some improvements, but not enough because she continued to make herself sick over the worry.
One evening after the parents returned home, the kids were tucked away in their beds. I knew we had the time and privacy to have a difficult conversation.
I started by saying how much I loved their kids, and how honored I felt to be a part of their lives. I said that both children are so smart, and there are countless times that I can't help them with their homework because they are so advanced! After a sweet chuckle, I told them that I was concerned about their daughter. Despite her great report cards, she was feeling an extraordinary amount of her pressure that caused her to throw up. They admitted they hadn't seen that.
Her parents were grateful that I reported what I had been seeing. It was not an overnight success story--it took time to settle her down and get her out of her own way--but, eventually, her visits to the bathroom became less and less frequent, and she felt more and more confident.
I finally stopped nannying for this family when I was 22.
That little girl is now a thriving adult on the East Coast, working in finance. We stay in close contact and I am so proud of the incredible woman she is today. She, her parents, and her brother have a fabulous relationship. The parents have thanked me to this day.
I recently saw the girl at a wedding and she said to me, "I remember throwing up in the bathroom, and you never left my side. You saw it all and you took care of me. I love you so much; you are still the voice in my head."