How well do you know your babysitter?
Working mum Melinda Ayre has a cautionary tale for parents everywhere
By Melinda Ayre
Practical Parenting / July 27 2018
Recently my world was turned upside down when my son phoned me at work.
I have been contemplating how to tell this story, and whether to tell it at all. But if this frightening tale helps another parent, I will be grateful.
Let me start at the beginning.
I’m a working, solo mum. At the beginning of this year I returned to full-time work after years of being a stay-at-home mum and working part-time. I decided I needed to find a nanny to pick up my children, Finley, 10, and Venus, 8, three afternoons a week. Everything was going fine until the nanny I usually use needed time off for exams so I booked a temporary babysitter, Maya*, for a few weeks. She is someone who had babysat for me before many years ago and we had always got along well.
I was deeply engrossed in my work one day when I noticed my little boy’s face pop up on the phone.
“Mama, are you picking up Venus?”
“What darling? No Maya is—aren’t you on your way?”
“Maya says she’s not picking her up.”
“What? Don’t worry—put her on the phone honey—she must be thinking I said I’d get her—but I’m at work in the city.”
I could hear Finley asking Maya to talk to me on the phone. I started to get anxious with the delay and wondered what she was doing. My daughter would be finished at dance class in minutes. She’d never make it in time!
When she did get on the phone, my blood ran cold and to my colleagues surprise I just ran out of the office—without my coat and without my bag.
It was because of what she said and her tone. I’ve only heard that tone in a horror movie—like a broken evil doll.
“This is Maya. This is Maya. This is Maya.”
As I ran I said, “Maya are you ok? Maya, you have to get Venus!”
“This is Maya.”
I was running through the rain into the street. She must be having a stroke. Or a breakdown. The vomit was rising in my throat as I said in my most motherly and singsong voice, “Can you put Finley on the phone please? I forgot to tell him something darling!”
“Finley listen carefully. Start walking. Don’t take Maya with you. Go out the front door and pull it shut. Got to number six and knock on the door really loudly and stay inside with Ern (our elderly neighbour) until I get there. Keep the phone on your ear.”
I then heard a muffled sound, then nothing.
The next four minutes I was hysterical and by now inside a cab. I spluttered out the address and told him to drive fast. I had to get to my son.
Pull yourself together I told myself. I rang my ex, Damien, the father of my children; he lives and works close to my home. Thank god, he answered in two rings.
“Where are you?”
“I’m at work.”
“I need you to race to my apartment. There’s something wrong with the nanny. I’ve told Finn to run to the neighbour but I don’t know if he’s ok. Buzz six to get in. Call 000—don’t go in on your own. She might have a knife. She might have had a stroke I don’t know. She sounds weird.”
The call lasted 26 seconds.
As he hung up, no doubt to race to his car, at 4:43pm, a landline buzzed through. It was Finn. He was with my elderly neighbour. He had remembered my phone number and said he was ok.
“Where is your phone baby?”
“Maya took it off me so I ran out the door.”
By then I was trying hard not to vomit in the cab—I couldn’t afford to be thrown out.
Ok, breathe Mel. I now needed to get to my daughter. What if Maya was on her way there now too? I just couldn’t think about it.
Damien rang that instant.
“I’m here. I’ve rung an ambulance. Finn is safe with Ern next door. Maya’s incoherent and doesn’t know who I am.”
“Ok. I’m getting Venus in a cab—I’ll be fifteen minutes.”
The cab pulled up in the rain, I ran across the road and I was overly ecstatic to see my daughter warm and safe and beautiful inside the dance studio.
When we arrived at the apartment, Damien told me not to come inside. He said take the children somewhere and I’ll call you. We rushed out into the rain. The ambulance had pulled up behind my car. Now that I had my babies, I wanted to get away. And fast. But I also started to worry for Maya. What was wrong with her?
I drove straight to my best friend’s house nearby. She gave me a glass of wine to calm me down. She said later that I wasn’t speaking and that I was shaking. The children played and she made us dinner.
Damien rang and told me the ambulance had taken Maya away.
“What did they think? Is she ok?”
“She’s off her face.”
“What? What do you mean?”
“She’s been drinking since 8am. I heard her tell the ambulance officer. She said, ‘I don’t want the parents here to know.’ They went through her bag and found a bottle of alcohol and a bottle of mouthwash.”
My blood boiled as my heart sank. She had picked up my son from school. She had driven him home. She didn’t know who he was for an hour and a half. I sat down heavily. I couldn’t speak. Damien said he would come over to see the children.
When he arrived we talked to Finley and asked him why he had rung mummy and what Maya had been like after she picked him up.
“I was worried. Maya wasn’t acting right.”
“What was she doing?”
“She came into the room and shouted at me. She yelled, ‘You lied to me! You had a girl here last night.’”
“I said, ‘Mummy was here’. I was confused.”
His milky innocence devastated me and the tears sprang up as his confusion at having to deal with a screwed-up adult became apparent. My poor darling. How dare she.
“Then she was holding my hand and crying and saying she loved me.”
Oh my god.
I looked at Damien. His face said it all.
“Did she touch you buddy or hurt you in any way?” he asked next.
“But when she was driving me home she wasn’t really using the brake at all. That was weird.”
Oh God. What if? What if? My mind ran over those cruel thoughts like soft bare feet over stones.
To know our nanny had drunk herself into that state—don’t get me started.
To know that I rang her at 2:30pm and she sounded fine and I didn’t notice anything, haunts and troubles me. I blame myself every second of every moment of every day since. As every mother I know would. What else could I have done? Maybe I shouldn’t work? Who can I trust with my children?
In the end I rang my mother who is going to come and help me with the children for the next couple of weeks. My son doesn’t want another nanny.
I feel lucky. We’ve just scraped through by the skin of our teeth.
And I’m relieved that I’ve always told my children—just because someone is an adult or a grown-up, doesn’t mean they know the right things to do, all of the time. If anything ever feels funny in your tummy or if an adult is being silly—you tell somebody.
And thank god my son did.
Melinda Ayre is a lifestyle journalist, beauty editor, content creator and mama. She blogs at https://beautyhunter.com.au/