A year ago this weekend, I had an argument with a friend that basically ended that friendship. Every time I think about her, I feel sad and also still a little angry. I feel like I was unfairly treated. She felt like she was unfairly treated. My guess is that we were both right. But then she left town, moved out of state, without telling me, so that was that. But it’s one of those things that will probably always make me feel bad, guilty, hurt, etc.
Here’s another one. I recently hired a babysitter I had misgivings about, whom I didn’t investigate thoroughly enough. We’ll call her S. I had hired her through Care.com, an organization that charges $34 per month so you can search for caregivers for children, pets, and adults. I had assumed – stupidly – that the verification check they do on all of the registered service providers was equivalent to a background check. It’s not. They offer a background check, starting at $59 for the most basic one, and the cost goes up from there. I figured it would be overkill. So I thought this woman was a little bossy. That doesn’t mean she couldn’t be good for Jack. And Brian would be here at the house a lot of the day, working downstairs. I am so ashamed to admit this, but I didn’t even ask the woman for references. Didn’t even Google her.
And she turned out to be a very angry person, indeed. As far as I know, she was always gentle with Jack. I *assume* he would have bolted or cried when he saw her if she had been unkind. But you know what? That’s shameful. Because it’s not up to him. He’s just a little boy. And with autism, to boot, so he can’t verbalize very well. In the four weeks that she worked with him, though, he did start acting out and having more tantrums. I should have known. I should have protected him. I should have followed my original gut reaction and hired someone else.
But I doubted myself. I figured I was just defensive because the woman was a few years older than I am, with grown kids of her own. And she was working on a Masters degree in Psychology, focusing on child development, and she wanted to work with autistic kids. She was willing to keep a log of the work they did together every day. It was only seven hours a week. The excuses mounted. And then there was always, “Well, if it doesn’t work out, we’ll know in a couple of weeks and replace her then.”
Fuck. Me. First, there was the e-mail telling us to change Jack’s diet. Then the e-mail informing us that she was changing her hours, because it was “better for Jack.” When I argued that the hours we had originally set out were still what we preferred, she responded with, “Sorry, I have another client in Loveland. I have to leave by 2:30.” This “new client” was certainly news to me, particularly since it conflicted with our previous agreement. There was more. The implication in many small acts and comments that I didn’t know how to raise my son, that I was doing a poor job of things.
I’m raising an autistic child. I question every single fucking thing I do. Everything I say. Could I be doing more? Should we use brushes for OT or a weighted vest? Is he getting enough support at school? Did he have enough protein today? Jesus Christ. I already have a voice telling me I’m not good enough, pretty much all the time. It’s just usually in my own head. For it to come from the outside was a blow I hadn’t expected. And it worked like an ignition, pressing the button for all of my inner demons to rush to the surface and join the chorus.
Even in the midst of all this, I said to Brian, “Maybe it’s good to have someone who pushes my buttons. Maybe she’s still the best person for Jack.” Brian looked at me for a long moment. “The best person for Jack wouldn’t push your buttons,” he said. “Not like this, anyway.”
So we set about finding a replacement for S. We had interviewed two other candidates, both of whom were good options. One of them had her own transportation and had brought a resume with references. We called her. I’ll call her M. M came by for a “trial run” with Jack, and he really seemed to like her. She agreed to the hours we needed, asking if we could adjust slightly because she has class until 12:15 on Mondays. She actually asked, so I was OK with that. Once that was all set up, we were starting to prepare for Jack’s birthday party. Family coming into town, etc.
It was after the dust had settled from the birthday that I emailed S and let her know that we had found someone who could more easily accommodate our schedule needs. She replied with one of the more scathing e-mails I’ve ever received, calling me “tacky” and unprofessional. She referred to both Brian and Jack as “slow,” which made me realize that she obviously wasn’t paying attention. I responded that I’m not a business person, I’m a mother. She had no right to judge us as parents, and she would do well to work on kindness if she wanted to work with children as a career.
Her follow-up e-mail I never saw. Brian deleted it and blocked her account before I could see it. He shared some details with me, including that she called us both “idiots.” Throughout this e-mail, she referred to Brian as “Brain,” and she also said that he was “creepy” because he “stares at people when they talk.” And this person wants to work with autistic children? Is she aware that people with autism, including just mild autism, stare at people when they speak, because communication is difficult? Had I not already emphasized that communication was an issue for Jack? And also: Seriously? How old are you?
It was the following day that I heard from my mother-in-law, who had been aware of some of these proceedings. She had Googled S and discovered an arrest record from July of last year. S and her husband were both booked with charges of domestic violence. This wasn’t something that had happened twenty years ago, in her heady youth. This was less than a year ago. She and her husband had fought so ferociously that the police got involved. And she has an eleven-year-old daughter.
In a way, this discovery was immensely liberating, because I can hardly take seriously parenting advice from someone arrested for beating up her husband in her own home, possibly in front of a child. But the follow-up was fierce. I let this crazy person into my home. I hadn’t even Googled her. If my mother-in-law could find this out about S, why didn’t I bother to do so two months ago and save myself a lot of heartbreak? And what about Jack? He’s just a little boy. It’s my job to protect him from nut-jobs like her, and I failed him. He can’t speak up for himself against bullies. But I can. And I didn’t.
I feel so ashamed to admit all of this in a public forum. It makes me cringe. But I can only hope that my transparency will help someone else. Maybe you can learn from my mistakes. Maybe I can, too. And the pragmatic side of me says, “Well, she’s gone, now.” But this is going to be one of those things that will never go away. That time the crazy babysitter came in. Like that time the friendship ended. That time things went wrong and I wish I could go back in time and make them right again.
But I can’t.