Published on June 5th, 2024 | by Asha Dore



In my first year of college, I nannied for my anthropology professor, coloring her driveway with sidewalk chalk with her daughter and changing her son’s diapers while she and her husband worked or went out to eat.

Before I saw my professor’s house, I expected it to be vast with huge windows and lush vines looping down from beautiful painted pots hanging from the ceiling. Instead, it was a lot like my house, except instead of vinegar, peppermint, and nag champa, her house smelled a little bit like Clorox. The edges of the kitchen counters were chipped, and it took forever for the pilot light to catch on her stove. The house wasn’t ever dirty, but there were always crumbs on the table or the floor or the counter. My roommates left crumbs all the time too, and none of us cared much. The crumbs meant the house was alive with people. The crumbs meant that the house was a home.

My professor’s daughter’s name was Elsie. Elsie loved to make art and read The Hungry Caterpillar over and over. When Elsie’s parents went on the rare date, she sat across from me at the kitchen table, demanding more boxed mac and cheese. She held tears like standing water at the bottom of her eyes, glaring at me. Her voice was smooth and angry.

“Why you here?”

“I’m here to hang out with you!”

“Where mommy and daddy going?”

“A restaurant really close! They’ll be back soon!”

She sniffled and ate her mac and cheese and shot me dirty looks. Every night, she went through a period of resistance like this, then warmed up to me again.

After my daytime shifts, my professor brewed coffee or tea and talked to me about my education. Light shot across the kitchen table and our teacups from a large, old window above the kitchen sink. My professor was professional, and I wondered if she was just being polite so that I wouldn’t feel like the help. Maybe she was actually interested. Either way, I talked too much about myself, the classes I was taking, my constantly changing plans and interests. I criticized current TV shows and movies with a certainty that I had not yet earned. She smiled and said, “You think so?” and I felt safe to blab on and on. Within a few weeks, my professor felt like a friend.

The professor’s husband occasionally joined us for a few moments while we drank our tea. He sat beside his wife in an open but guarded instructor-mode, his tea in his lap, not on the table with ours. When he was there, I didn’t talk as much. I guessed that was noticeable and felt embarrassed, which made me even more afraid to talk. I drove home wondering why I felt so weird, but didn’t come up with an answer.

One afternoon, as I left, I saw him outside working on his vintage Subaru. I didn’t know anything about cars, but my roommate often worked on her vintage VW Beetle. Those were out of my price range. I asked him some questions, thinking maybe an old Subaru would be cheaper (it wasn’t). He answered my questions and smiled politely, but clearly wanted to get back to his task.

Inexplicably, I couldn’t handle being around him, having a normal, easy conversation. I loathed myself in his presence. I loathed that he just seemed to be simple and nice. I didn’t understand that. Was he a real person? An android? A ghost? Were there other real men out in the world who were just… nice? Being around him felt completely free of charge. Just an empty space between me and another person, two completely separate individual people, no weird strings, lines, webs.

My first year of college was my first year, totally single, since early high school. When I went on dates or hung out with new people at parties and bars, I noticed this fascinating sense of space between us. At first, it felt as awful as it did around the professor’s husband. When I’d felt that way before, I had just assumed the other person was boring. I started to wonder if they weren’t boring or bland at all. Maybe I only felt excited around people who vibed like assholes.

I started to go on dates with “boring” people. I realized it was difficult for me to be around them because they weren’t trying to fuck with me, and in the absence of that, I didn’t know who I was. What kind of choices would I make if I were not responding to other people’s big emotions, requests, or demands?

“What do you want to do with your life?” my dates often asked. I made up an answer based on whatever I found interesting that week. What if I actually tried to figure that out without anyone else’s opinion in mind? What choice would I make? What would I do?

The nanny job continued for about a year. I ended it the same week that I discontinued my enrollment at Georgia State University. I wrote my professor a way too long email, telling her that I was so inspired by her classes, really enjoyed getting to know her and her family, but I had to move on. She expressed regret and understanding.

About four months later, my professor asked if I’d like to meet for lunch at a restaurant near her house that was filled with plants. This place looks like you, I thought, as I walked up to her table. She stood up and stared at my belly, then looked straight into my eyes. “Oh right,” I said. She asked if I was okay.

I said something longwinded about the father being nice, a simple guy, Japanese. “His name is Tatsu,” I told her. “When the baby is two months old, we’re going to Japan to meet his parents!” I told her it would be my first time out of the country. She listened to me with a look on her face that I didn’t recognize. I ignored it. We ordered grain bowls filled with vegetables, no sauce, because sauce of any kind had made me ferociously nauseated since early in my pregnancy.

We chewed our vegetables in silence for a while. “I know that I was technically nineteen when I got knocked up,” I said, “but this isn’t the kind of teen pregnancy we learned about in class.”

She nodded. She handed me a piece of paper with a huge ice cream cone drawn on it in crayon. Two scoops of blue and pink ice cream were loosely colored in. Around the cone, little green ovals floated in the air. In one, Elsie had drawn a black caterpillar, three connected dots, with antennae. “Elsie told me to tell you that your mac and cheese is better than mine,” my professor said. “She doesn’t believe me that it comes from the same box. She doesn’t like my funny voices for the Hungry Caterpillar either.”

We laughed and talked about the teaching assistant, my professor’s research projects, her kids, television and movies. She turned the conversation to my plans, my education, my baby’s father. I answered everything like I knew what I was talking about, and she nodded, chewing. At the end of our lunch, she gave me a side hug and told me to keep in touch, to let her know if I was ever available to watch the kids. She checked in with me every few months for the next five years.

I couldn’t afford to hire a babysitter until my first daughter was much older than Elsie had been when I knew her. I couldn’t afford to hire a babysitter until I had three kids and was finishing a master’s degree. When I could afford it, I made the babysitter tea at the end of her shift. I asked about her life and her plans. I smiled politely when she went on and on, sharing every detail, apologizing for talking, then talking some more. She was in her first year of college, in a kind of toxic relationship with a guy she couldn’t stop loving. She partied a lot, often coming over with puffy eyes, perfect makeup, and slightly mussed hair. She was an excellent babysitter. She looked right in the kids’ eyes when she played with them, and they hugged her over and over.

When Frank was a baby, the babysitter sat on the living room floor with him in her lap, letting Lise place a crown on her head while Maggie drew crayon squiggles across a flattened cardboard box. She smiled and laughed with a charming abundance. Her eyes were red from crying the night before after her boyfriend got too drunk and left in a car with another girl.

Watching her, I realized suddenly that my anthropology professor had never really been my peer or even a friend, exactly. She wasn’t maternal either. She had been something different. There’s something about the way women see and know the fragility in young girls. The way women want to protect that fragility to exactly the same degree that they want to support and honor the girl’s autonomy, the strength of her reason, her choices.

The way women want to tell girls to trust themselves, trust other people, trust the world, love it, travel it, charge through this world, own it, consume it, be freely inside of it exactly the way that men and boys have forever. The way women want to beg girls to be so, so careful. The way we want to tell girls: I know what can happen to you. I don’t know how to stop it.

I believe that this was the look on my professor’s face that day we had lunch in the plant-filled restaurant, when I was pregnant with my first baby, a baby that was stillborn a few months after my twentieth birthday. I believe my anthropology professor wanted to say the same thing that I often want to say to young people:

I don’t want to scare you.

I want to warn you without scaring you.

I think we failed to change the world for you, again.

You have so many choices.

Your choices have repercussions.

I want so badly to live in a world where the repercussions are different for you than they were for me.

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About the Author

Asha Dore is writer and visual artist living in Seattle. She is the editor in chief of Parley Lit and the associate director of art and marketing for Parley Productions. Her work has won Best of the Net and has appeared in Gulf Coast, River Teeth, The Rumpus, and elsewhere. Her publications and art can be found at and her CNF craft newsletter can be found at

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