What Happened Today

My company has an awesome benefit that started this year: Backup Care. We get 100 hours a year of home or child-center care at highly subsidized rates from local providers, for use when our regular child-care arrangements fall through for whatever reason (a nanny's vacation, a holiday week at the pre-school, etc.). I've used it before when Jess was away and Aura wasn't available (or vice versa), and Al needed it when I was in Germany in June and Aura got sick. Totally invaluable benefit.

Of course, with all backup situations, there's extra worry involved because you don't know the person who's going to be watching your kid for the day(s). You have to trust the service to provide someone who knows her shit, who's responsible, accessible, and very, very good with small children. The two women who've come when I was here fit that description to a T and were wonderful—the second one even more wonderful than the first, and I didn't think that would be possible. Apparently the woman who came when I was away was also great. All three women, I should add, were provided by the Philadelphia Nanny Network—the service we'd used directly for backup care before my company offered the benefit.

I'd had it on the calendar for at least a week that Aura would be out today, but I didn't remember until Friday to put in a backup care request. I filled out the web form at about 6:30pm on Friday night and got the standard "we'll call you within 2 hours" message when the form submission succeeded. I was thinking that they'd just call on Monday, since it was after business hours on a Friday.

On Monday I made a mental note in the morning to call the backup care phone number if I hadn't heard from them by noon, but then I got all caught up with work stuff and didn't remember again until 10pm. Eek! I fished out the backup care brochure to get the phone number so I could call first thing in the morning, and I noticed that it said they were available 24/7—so I called. It seems my web request hadn't gone through, so they initiated a request for me over the phone and said they'd get back to me if there was any news before midnight, or around 7am otherwise.

There was no word at 7, 7:30, 8, or 8:30am the next morning. I ended up calling them at around 8:50am to check on the status of the request (which had been for "8:30am or asap" because I knew it might be hard to get someone for 8:30am with such short notice) because the Beaner and I wanted to walk to Trader Joe's, and I didn't want the backup care people or a local service provider to call while I was out. They said they had calls in to two agencies, and to go ahead to the store—they'd call me on my cell if necessary.

The next call I got was at close to 10am, and it was from a woman whose agency had referred her. She asked about parking in my neighborhood (since we never park on the street here, I don't really know how hard it is to park, but I assume it's not easy based on the very few empty spots I see). I told her that public transit was the best way to get to us, but that if she insisted on driving and had a reasonably-sized car, she could park behind our garage as long as she didn't block any of our neighbors' garages. She said she had a Monte Carlo, that it was big, and that she didn't want to hold me up by taking public transit if I needed somebody right away. End of call.

About twenty minutes later the backup care people called to see if the provider had contacted me. I said yes, but to say that she wasn't coming. Apparently neither the woman nor her service had told the backup care people that, and they should have. So the backup care people contacted another service, and at a little after 11 I got a call from the director of an agency in Media (a suburb of Philly) saying that Molly (not her real name, but it's easier if I use *some* name here) was on her way. At around 11:30-11:45 I got a call from the backup care people asking if I'd gotten a call from the provider, and I said that I'd gotten a call from her service saying that she was on her way. The backup care agent said that she had it down that Molly would be there by noon. I said OK and fed the Beaner lunch.

At 12:05 I got a call from a woman who sounded fun, energetic, and enthusiastic saying that her service had referred her—but her name wasn't Molly. It seems that the first woman who'd called's service had worked to find a replacement when she'd bailed—without telling the backup care people—and the woman on the phone was the replacement. I felt sort of bad, because this woman sounded right up our alley. I took her number and said I'd call the backup care service to ask what was what. I did, and they said Molly and her service were definitely the ones they'd contracted with. I noted that Molly wasn't there yet, hung up, and called the enthusiastic woman back to give her the scoop. In the meantime, her agency had called to do the same.

Molly arrived at 12:30, and seemed nice enough. She had grandchildren about the Beaner's age, and after nodding in response to her first few questions, he opened up and told her what he was having for lunch, that he was two and a half, and that he had more teeth than she did. (Er. My first experience with my kid pointing out something to which any sensible adult would never call attention.) I wanted to say, "this is why we BRUSH OUR TEETH," but I didn't because I didn't know her story, and I thought it would be rude.

I asked the Beaner if he wanted to show Molly where all his toys were, and he said yes, so I helped him up from the table. He then grabbed the purple balloon we'd gotten at TJ's and tried to show Molly how fun it was to play with this thing, but she didn't seem to hear him, so he said, "Mommy, let me try with you!" I crouched down, and we each pressed our faces against the balloon and said to each other, "you look PURPLE!" The Beaner looked up at Molly and said, "see? See how we're doing it? Look! See?" She was digging for her glasses in her bag, though, and didn't realize he was talking to her.

Finally Molly found her glasses and the Beaner said, "the toys are all downstairs, in the basement." He pointed and motioned for her to follow. "You have to go down these stairs and then these stairs," he said. They were off and playing, so I dashed up to my office. I IMed Al to say that Molly had arrived and that she seemed nice and grandmotherly, if a little distracted. "You probably shouldn't let them out of the house," he said. I agreed; I figured they could play inside for a few hours.

About an hour later, after some laughter downstairs and an episode of Blues Clues (plus a request from Molly for a place to call to get some lunch—I suggested a pizza place/diner nearby), however, I did let them out of the house. Molly asked if she could take him to the playground down the street, and I said that would be fine. She asked if she should take the stroller, and I said "no, it's less than a block to the horsey park, and the Beaner can walk. Just go out the front door." I briefly considered asking for her cell phone number, but I thought, "eh, they'll just be at the horsey park, and the nannies are usually told not to give out their numbers anyway."

I had meetings for the next hour, and when those finished, I pinged Al to say, "they've been gone for an hour. Do you think I should worry?" No answer from Al; not at his desk, I guess. I figured I'd just walk down to the horsey park myself and fetch them. When I arrived, however, there was no sign of Molly or the Beaner. I ran over to the pizza place/diner and poked my head in, in case Molly had stopped in for lunch instead of ordering takeout. It was empty.

I dashed back to the house and flipped through the notebook where I'd written the number of Molly's service. I called and explained that Molly and the Beaner weren't at the playground they said they'd be at, and I needed to get in touch with Molly via her cell. The woman looked it up, gave it to me, and then said she'd call it herself. I decided to wait for a few minutes, because I didn't want poor Molly getting two calls at once.

When 10 minutes passed and I got no call back, however, I called the number myself. It'd been disconnected. I dialed again, just to be sure. Definitely disconnected. I called the service back and told them that Molly and the Beaner had now been gone for an hour and forty minutes, the number they'd given me was out of service, and I WANTED MY KID BACK, so they'd better do something. They assured me she was trustworthy and an excellent caregiver, and that she was probably still in the vicinity.

I walked up and down every street for 3 square blocks. I went into the Please Touch Museum and scanned the entire place. I stopped in cafes and inquired. I walked around the only other playground in the area—the one that's attached to the Franklin Institute and that has a locked gate—knowing that it was unlikely that they were in there because we've never figured out how to gain entry, but scanning just in case. I saw lots of kids in matching t-shirts (probably campers) and a few caregivers, but no Beaner or Molly. I called Al in tears, and after a few minutes' deliberation, he said he was coming home. I didn't try to dissuade him.

At two hours since I'd last seen the Beaner, we called the service again, and they said our only option at this point was to call the police. Al did that while I repeated the 3 block loop, again checking that other playground and sobbing and wailing the Beaner's name. When I came up empty again and returned home, Al said he would drive around in the car. I knew this was probably fruitless, but again, I didn't dissuade him. (Ask my dad sometime about the time he went out looking for me in the car. It's just what dads do.)

After a frantic 8 minutes or so on the front steps, I saw our car coming back down the street—with only Al inside. He pulled up onto the sidewalk in front of our house and shook his head. "It's hard," he said, and I knew what he meant. How can you drive slowly enough to spot your kid and not get creamed by another car, or hit something yourself?

Needing to DO SOMETHING, I called the backup care people to tell them what was going on. I was absofuckinglutely hysterical at this point; I believe I sobbed, "this has NOT been a good experience!" at them. I noticed a police car pull up across the street just as the backup care people were asking me if the police had arrived yet. I said they'd just gotten here... and then I spotted Molly about a block away, and I screamed. Al looked up. I pointed and yelled, "GO GET HIM!!!!!"

Al had left the car running, and I was still on the phone. The backup care people said, wisely, that I should hang up and go fetch my kid; they'd call me back in a bit. I jumped into the car (to put it in gear so I could turn it off and get the key out) and then followed their advice. Al said, "here, you take him, I'll deal with this." Molly saw my hysterical face and said, "oh Lori, I'm so sorry! I'm so sorry!" I grabbed the Beaner and ran.

The Beaner was super dirty from being "at the park with the dirt and the rocks"—I had no clue what he meant, and he couldn't tell me where this park was—but he was happy and couldn't figure out why I was such an obvious mess. Rather unexpectedly, my hysteria didn't upset him; rather, he smiled at me and seemed to be thinking, "oh mom, there was no need to worry. I'm fine!" He submitted to my hugs and sobs that I'd missed him, and my explanation that I was only crying because I'd been concerned for his safety and unsure of his whereabouts.

Al and Molly came in a few minutes later. She felt really bad about making me worry; I felt bad for calling the police. It turned out that they *were* at the Franklin Institute playground—though I'm still not sure what entrance they used, and I certainly didn't see them when I looked, twice. She'd just disconnected her cell phone—temporarily—the day before until some fraudulent charges could be sorted out. The Beaner was having such a good time, and she figured she was on duty until six, so... It was the perfect storm of miscommunication, noncommunication, and misunderstanding.

Molly called her service to let them know that she and the Beaner were back, and, after (apparently) chewing her out, they asked to speak to us. The owner of the agency apologized profusely and said, "I assume you wouldn't want Molly to come back again." I admitted that I probably wouldn't, but that she was very nice, and that they shouldn't necessarily hold his incident against her. I reminded him of all the nice things they'd told me about her when the Beaner was missing: that she'd had a background check, that she was very reliable, that she'd worked as a live-in and gotten glowing reviews...

I signed Molly's paperwork, but she was becoming visibly upset, and she said she'd probably be fired. We assured her we'd call the service again and put in a good word for her. After she left, Al did do that. It seemed a reasonable misunderstanding—"the playground down the street" obviously meant the playground that is actually on our street to me, while it meant that cool gated playground I passed on my way here, a block and a half away to Molly—and that if her cell phone had worked, we wouldn't have been in such a mess. (I didn't go into the scenario I'd run through in my head while frantic, that perhaps Molly had fallen ill and the Beaner didn't know where he was or what to do; a cell phone wouldn't have helped us then.)

I've been thinking about this ever since it happened, and as much as I want to say, "god, I was silly; he was only gone two hours!", I can't. I honestly feel utterly justified in my fright. I thought my kid was GONE, and I was FRANTIC. The fact that he was fine the whole time is a great relief, of course, but I didn't know that at the time. I've always worried when he's gone out with backup nannies (or even just new nannies) before, but they've always come back within 10-15 minutes of me thinking, "should I be worried?" This was an hour and fifteen minutes past the point where I'd first wondered "should I be worried?", they weren't where they said they'd be, and nobody could reach them. No, I don't think I was completely unjustified in freaking out.

It was 4:30pm by the time we got the whole mess straightened out, so Al and I just disconnected for the rest of the day. The backup care people called back and walked through everything that happened with me, post-mortem style, so we could figure out how to make sure something like this didn't happen again. We decided together that it really comes down to the nanny being accessible by cell phone, either by me directly or by her service. They were super nice and supportive, and definitely reaffirmed my original assessment that backup care is an invaluable service.

The Beaner is totally fine and had a lovely time with Molly, but we've since talked to him about telling Mom when someone suggests that he go somewhere new. It never hurts to say, "oh, I've never been to that park before. Let me just go back and tell my mom that's where we'll be." He's a little young to understand, I think, but it can't hurt to start talking about personal safety sooner rather than later, either.

Posted by Lori in parenthood at 7:47 PM on August 14, 2007

Comments

Holy cow. I'd have gone totally mental.

I recently stumbled across child-size silicone bracelets you can have debossed with your cell number, which I think I'll get for the boy(s). So if they got lost, or something happened to grandma, at least my phone number would be present.

Posted by: ratphooey [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 14, 2007 10:58 PM

Woman... I completely understand! And no, don't feel bad... someone you've JUST met, with no cell contact -- well, that's just stupid.

Glad the beaner's safe... :) Take a deep breath...

Posted by: Stephanie Sullivan at August 14, 2007 11:07 PM

My heart was racing the whole time reading your story. You were totally justifiable in how you were feeling (I'd worry if you weren't), nowadays you just can't be too careful. That service ought to insist that nannies have working cell phones -- especially after this incident. I'm so glad the Beaner is okay.

Posted by: myla at August 15, 2007 12:06 AM

I actually had a metal bracelet with my name and address on it when I was a kid. It served many purposes:
1) helped me remember my right and from my left
2) helped me memorize my address and phone number
in addition to the obvious purpose.

Lori, I keep thinking about this story and the all out panic you must have felt. I don't think you acted silly at all, in fact you did EXACTLY what you're supposed to do. If in fact this was a creepy child napper, the sooner you call the cops the better. It's when people doubt their instincts they get into trouble.

Anyway, seems like rule #1 of being a professional child care worker is to keep the parents informed of the child's whereabouts and to be reachable when you take the child from the home, especially on the first day of work.

Presumably as a mother herself, it she would understand that kind of panic.

I'm so glad it worked out in the end!!!

Posted by: sharon at August 15, 2007 3:05 AM

"Totally mental" describes what I went pretty well. :-/ I feel quite guilty about possibly costing Molly her job, but I was round-the-bend frantic.

Al and I had been talking about developing a checklist for when we have backup care -- I always manage to forget something, like telling the nanny that he can't have dairy, or that he shouldn't have soda, or that he doesn't nap -- but we'd never gotten around to it. Last night we started a draft checklist, with item #1 being "exchange cell phone numbers" and "ask that nanny check in by phone or text message if gone for more than one hour" also making the list. I'll post it as soon as it's out of draft form in hopes that it will inspire others to make lists of their own, just in case they ever have someone other than the usual person minding the store.

Posted by: Lori [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 15, 2007 10:33 AM

Sharon's right about the cops. On the one hand I felt bad for possibly getting Molly into trouble, but on the other hand, if something *was* really wrong, waiting could be lethal. I didn't want to take the chance.

I think Molly probably is more used to dealing with elder-care clients in live-in situations and with her own grandkids (where a bond of trust has already been established), and just didn't think it'd be a problem to be gone for two hours. She did admit that it crossed her mind that I might be worried, and that not having a working cell phone migh be problem; the difference was, I acted on my concerns, and she didn't. It's not that she did anything *wrong*; it's just another example of the perfect storm of miscommunication. :-/

Posted by: Lori [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 15, 2007 10:37 AM

Okay...major panic reading your post, but understanding it MUST have turned out okay if you were posting about it at all. You did not overreact! It takes a lot for me to begin to trust people I've just met (nevermind people I've never met), so I was doubting Molly's story at every turn. Sorry! I imagine she wouldn't get fired for this one incident, if it is, indeed, this one incident. I don't mean to rant on about this woman, but you just can't be too careful anymore! It's sad, but true. I remember when my friends and I would play outside for hours going all over town, and not coming back home until dark. No cell phones, no check-ins...but, it was a small town in a different time. God, I sound so old!!

Posted by: Josie [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 15, 2007 11:28 AM

I want that for the Beaner -- the childhood where he can run around and do his own thing and neither of us has to worry -- but I'm not sure if either of us is ready for it yet. Maybe when he's a little bit older, and we've had time to teach him about personal safety and stranger danger and common sense (aka, "using your bean, Beaner" ;). I actually look forward to the day when he can walk home from school by himself and think it a normal thing. I want him to feel the thrill of going to the store all by himself -- iow, the thrill (and weight) of responsibility. I'm pretty sure we can get there.

I also think that this experience was informed somewhat by the sense that we were scraping the bottom of the child care provider barrel by the time Molly came to the house, which is why I included the entire backup care background in my story. Molly ended up being very nice, but because it took so long to find someone, because she was late, because there were crossed wires and mixups and I didn't get to speak with Molly before she came... all those things made me a little more on edge, a little more concerned for the quality of care my son was getting than I might have been otherwise.

Posted by: Lori [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 15, 2007 11:46 AM

As everyone has said, you didn't overreact at all. I would have worried that they were lost and that she didn't remember your address . . . whew. So sorry you experienced it and so glad it's a happy ending.

Posted by: juliloquy [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 15, 2007 1:56 PM

Yikes, yikes, yikes! I've used the back up care service once with great success and once where the provider completely flaked. The one time the provider showed up I had the same fears about her taking the baby out to the park (he wound up napping so it was a non-issue). Reading this does make me think that I should start putting together kit for the next time I use the service with maps of our neighborhood. You may also want to check the Real Simple web site as they have a variety of PDF checklists like the "Checklist of Family Rules, Habits, and Quirks".

Anyhow I'm glad the Beaner is OK!

Posted by: heidivoltmer [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 15, 2007 4:15 PM

Maps of the neighborhood are a great idea to include with our checklist. Making note now. The Real Simple crib sheet also has some good ideas, especially for babysitters of older kids/nighttime sitters. Thanks for the tips!

Posted by: Lori [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 15, 2007 4:31 PM

it was molly's responsibility to make sure you knew her cell phone was disconnected. she didn't. so if she gets fired, it's not because of you, it's because she wasn't accurate with the service she worked for. i think you did everything any normal, caring parent would do. wow, what a day, lori. xoxoxo

Posted by: leahpeah [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 15, 2007 4:54 PM

Definitely true -- she should have told me, and she should have come back when it occurred to her that neither of us could contact the other. (She said it had popped into her head when she was playing games on her cell phone; it didn't occur to me until later, when I was brushing my teeth before bed, to think "what the hell were you doing playing games on your cell phone when you were supposed to be watching my kid?")

Posted by: Lori [TypeKey Profile Page] at August 15, 2007 5:15 PM

Maybe I'm just a super anal babysitter, but anytime I even left my phone at home or if my phone wasn't working (because I'd dropped it in the toilet of course), then I'd tell the parents right away. It's seems like the easy thing to do. I'm also adamant about telling parents what I'm doing with their kids/where they are going. So it's totally her fault. You didn't overreact. I just almost had a heart attack reading this though. The end.

Posted by: Heather B. at August 16, 2007 12:45 PM

I was hyperventilating the whole time I was reading this. I'm so glad everything worked out.

I do, however, think this woman should be fired. In addition to the actual caring of the child, the key to providing quality child care is earning and maintaining the trust of the parents. She didn't represent herself or her company well and she nearly made you lose your mind.

Very poor service all around.

Posted by: madge at August 16, 2007 10:29 PM

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