Friday, October 6, 2017

The babysitter stole my children's birthday money

I can't take it anymore. I've been sitting on this for weeks now, and I have to say it: I caught my babysitter stealing money from me.

More specifically, from my KIDS.

As in, the children I was paying her to watch.

I hired the sitter (let's call her Kim) in February 2016 through, where I get most of my sitters. At 19, she seemed a perfect fit. She was energetic. She had worked at a daycare, in the toddler room, which worked out well because I was in need of, well, toddler care. She had experience potty training. She lived only 15 minutes away. She didn't smoke. She didn't mind dogs. Blah, blah, blah.

Kim was leaving the daycare job, she said, because she "wanted to develop a strong connection with one family." 

We had a great few months. Kim was a little more stern with Junior than I liked, but I appreciated the fact that she actually disciplined the kids instead of letting them run her over. My boys are good, but like most kids, they are excitable.

I don't usually keep a lot of money in the house, but I did have an envelope with Christmas and birthday money stashed in my bedroom desk (my work from home "office" is in a corner of my bedroom), and I hadn't yet taken it to the bank. It had more than $500 in it.

One morning, as I was leaving for work, I told Kim that I was going to pay her in cash instead of personal checks. I felt bad making her go to the bank constantly, especially when she had to borrow her mother's car to run errands (she didn't have a car of her own).

When I went to my bedroom after work to get the money, the envelope was missing. Because my bedroom door was still closed when I got home, like it always is when I leave the house, I didn't think anything of it. Instead I blamed myself for not being better organized. For being scatter brained and too much in a hurry. I have piles of magazines and books next to my bed. I keep bills and mail next to my desk. I figured the envelope had fallen into one of the piles and that it would turn up in time.

Kim brushed off my concerns when I told her I'd have to write her a check because I was missing money.

"I'm sure it'll turn up," she told me. Cool as a Cheshire cat.

Through the spring, I searched frantically for the envelope. Every time I came up empty handed, I beat myself up. "I'm so disorganized!" I'd tell Chuck. "What if I recycled it? I need to slow the hell down!" He reiterated what Kim had said: "I'm sure it'll turn up."

A few weeks later, Kim arrived for a day of babysitting wearing new sneakers and clothing.

"I bet you're wondering how someone like me, who doesn't make a lot of money, can afford all this new stuff," she said. "Well, I won a scratch off lottery ticket and went straight to the mall!"

Until she'd pointed out her new clothes, I hadn't even noticed her purchases. It struck me as odd though that she had been sure to explain how she had procured them. I made a mental note and shared the odd exchange with Chuck, but nothing remarkable happened in the months that followed, so I let it fall back into the recesses of my fatigued brain.

Then one day this summer, Junior came running into my bedroom in tears.

"My birthday money is gone!" he said.

We'd gone to his grandmother's for a birthday party the following day. His birthday gifts and cards had been sitting in a gift bag on a chair in our den. I followed him downstairs, and we searched though the bag. The cards and gifts were there, but $100 in cash was missing from his grandmother's card.

I remembered that that morning Cam, our toddler, had been playing with the gift bag because it was sparkly and colorful and that Kim had taken it from him as I was leaving for work. I'm embarrassed to say that I again blamed myself for the missing money.

"We left your mother's in such a hurry!" I told Chuck. "Was the money even in the card? What if Cam tore it up?"

"I'm sure it fell under the couch or got misplaced in all the commotion," he said. "We'll all look for it."

And we did. But it was nowhere to be found.

"We have got to get more organized as a family!" I told him and the kids. "We can't just leave things lying around." I pointed to the errant socks, school work and video games on the floor. We agreed: We would all try harder.

For as much as I beat myself up for misplacing the cash, part of me was starting to seriously question Kim's trustworthiness. It seemed as if I was always missing a $10 or $20 from my wallet—but again, it was so much easier to dismiss it as my own forgetfulness. Or to assume that Chuck took it to buy coffee or a book from the kids' book fair. Once, I told Chuck I thought Kim was stealing from us because I was missing money from the beach bag. Then I found the money in question in my pocket.

"See," Chuck said, "maybe it's not her. Maybe it's us."

Like him, I didn't want to believe that the person we had entrusted our children and home to was taking from us. She hugged the kids every time before she left. She bought them birthday gifts. She knew their nuances and personalities so well. And, selfishly, we loved that she was always available, even on short notice.

"I'm going to try something," I told Chuck. "I need to know for sure."

The next time Kim babysat, I left a $20 wedged into some mail by the refrigerator. It was hidden, except for a small patch of green. I waited.

And waited.

It sat there for two weeks.

"See," Chuck said, "it's not her."

"Great," I said, "then I really do have early onset dementia."

That night Kim said she had big news. Her sister was a nanny abroad and had encouraged her to apply for a position too. Kim had been accepted and was leaving in October. She was terrified that the kids would be devastated.

"I'm going to write them all letters and let them know I'm not leaving because of them."

I told her I was happy for her and assured her that the kids would do just fine. Inside, I felt a tremendous sense of relief. In addition to the suspicions I had about her, everything about her got on my nerves lately. She had stopped washing the dishes. The highchair was always covered in old food. Her clothing was entirely inappropriate, and I'd had to speak to her about it on multiple occasions. I had been talking with Chuck about letting her go. Now I didn't have to be the bad guy.

So more weeks went by. She kept me up-to-date on her departure date and I started interviewing new sitters.

What happened next is the second part of this story. It involves more thievery. More birthday money. More pathetic attempts to explain away what is basically just shitty behavior. But it's almost 5 o'clock. Cam is awake from his nap. The kids are off the bus. And because I don't have another sitter just yet I have to, you know, parent.

Which, let me tell you, I do a little bit harder now. I hug harder. I hold them closer harder. I tell them I love them harder. Because all you need is the suggestion of someone nefarious close to your kids for you to realize how fucking precious your children really are.

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