We called the police on our babysitter. Not because she was mean (because she was) and not because she made us cut coupons (because she did). We called the police on our babysitter because we thought she was a murderer.
I was in fifth grade, my sister in fourth, and our brother in a baby grade.
A dead body was found in the creek one mile upstream from our house. We were used to dead bodies. And we have our school to thank for that.
It started in second grade when the principal barged into our lunchroom with an announcement, “I’m sure you’ve seen on the news there is a serial killer on the loose…”
The lunchroom went silent.
He went on, “This killer has contacted the media saying he is going to shoot children on school busses. Starting today you will see policemen with rifles sitting in the front seat of your school bus. They will get on and off the bus with you and keep their eye out for the killer.”
A boy at the next table broke the silence by crying. A third grader got up and tried to run out the door. A little girl said, “I want to call my parents.”
The principal realized he was losing control and reacted with the worse cliche ever, “We don’t want you to be scared,” and all that did was make someone throw up.
By the time I reached fifth grade the school bus child-killer vaporized. But we remained vigilant about crime. Our teachers gave us murder saavy advice, crime tips, and lessons on how to spot criminals. And the way to spot a criminal was to keep your eye out for strange cars and, “Make sure and get the license plate.”
Murder lesson day was scary-fun. We’d discuss strange cars and what we thought criminals looked like. These conversations lasted through recess and after school until we walked home from the bus stop.
We lived in a country neighborhood with ten houses. The houses were up gravel driveways hidden by weeds, shrubs, and trees. Our street was more like a meandering asphalt path that was cut out of a hill with each house having its own private country experience. We knew what cars went up each driveway. And since it was the country there wasn’t much else happening on the road so a strange car was noticeable.
In the beginning I’d memorize the plate numbers of everyone that looked suspicious; the delivery man, the minister, and the Girl Scout troop leader. I’d say the plate number over and over in my head while I ran home as fast as I could to tell my mom.
Our mom was always at home. She was either cooking cow’s tongue, sewing angel costumes for the church play, or drawing pictures of naked people. She loved our little reclusive home and she only ventured away if it was necessary. I’d fly in the door breathless, “I just saw a strange car!”
She’d smile and write down everything I told her. As soon as she put the pencil down she’d shoo me away, “Ok I got it. Now Go! Get outside and play!” She believed in adventure and instilling bravery, and there was a very slim chance the creek murderer would drive by and kill us while we were playing.
After a while I pulled back on my intel gathering and only took down a plate or two a month. We still talked about strange cars with the neighborhood kids, but I think that’s because the school perpetuated this by continuing to teach murder classes.
Now, the day we called the police on our babysitter, we knew that day would be different, because our mom told us. Before we got on the bus she reminded us, “I won’t be home until 4:30. I will hide the house key in the hub cap planter on the front porch.” We didn’t have these days very often, but when we did she made sure to let us know where she was hiding the key and exactly when she would be home, which usually wasn’t much after we walked home from the bus stop.
We jumped off the bus and walked with a pack of kids until one by one each kid peeled off at their driveway. By the time we got to our driveway my brother, Paolo wanted to run ahead of us so he could be the one to pull the house key out of the hub cap planter. We could care less so we said, “Just go.” And he took off.
But something was wrong. A second later he comes flying back down the driveway panicked, “THERE’S A BLUE CAR IN OUR DRIVEWAY!”
Remembering our criminal lessons I said, “We should get the license plate!”
“NO!” Tina argued, “We should go tell a neighbor!”
I was the oldest and I knew stuff they didn’t get because they were younger. Now I’m yelling, “WE HAVE TO GET THE LICENSE PLATE!” “If people are carrying dad’s stereo to the car, they are robbers. AND WE NEED TO KNOW THE LICENSE PLATE SO THE POLICE CAN GET OUR STUFF BACK!”
And then typically the argument shifted into the two against one team. Paolo sided with Tina, “We’re going to Mrs. Clarkes!” She was the designated safe haven neighbor. And just like that they took off.
We NEEDED to get the license plate so we could get our stuff back, and as the oldest I always had to do everything. So, I slinked up the driveway hugging to the inside of the curve where the robbers wouldn’t see me, but I could pop my head out real quick to get the plate. I got to a perfect spot and took a peek.
Paolo was right, there was a strange blue car. It was just sitting there. Looking dead. But no one was carrying my dad’s stereo to the blue car.
And then I put it together. If no one was taking our stuff to the blue car that meant SOMEONE WAS HIDING IN OUR HOUSE WAITING TO MURDER US!
And I ran! I ran hard!
I ran until my lungs burned and my legs felt like pickles. When I got to Mrs. Clarke’s driveway the tubes in my chest felt like they’d been near the fireplace and all my legs could do was walk like an old person. I was out of breath when I finally got to her porch and she opened the front door before I could knock.
She smiled, “You kids did the right thing coming here. I called the police.”
The police? Why would she do that? I didn’t know she was going to call the police. I thought we were supposed to go to the neighbors and we’d get cookies and watch TV until somebody said it was OK to go home.
This was not supposed to be what happens and all I could think to say was, “Oh.”
Mrs. Clarke brought us outside when we heard the police cruiser coming up the driveway. The cruiser pulled up in billow of dust and the officer waited until it settled before he got out of his car and sauntered over to us.
“There’s a lady sitting in her car.” He looks at us, ”She says she’s your babysitter. Do you know a Wilma Sandretto?”
Ms. Sandretto? I was horrified! Why would she be here? Ms. Sandretto wasn’t really OUR babysitter. I point to Paolo, “She’s our brother’s babysitter.”
Ms. Sandretto was a horrible babysitter. She took advantage of our mom. She was a whirlwind of strife. She fed on discontent like flies feed on crap and we got caught in her cross hairs even though she was there for our brother.
I told the policeman, “She’s not supposed to be here. Our mom is going to be home at 4:30. We don’t need a babysitter.” I thought that settled it and he’d get back in his cruiser. But he stood there.
I knew my mom hadn’t asked Ms. Sandretto to come over. Ms. Sandretto knew my mom had a good heart and I was pretty sure she was up to scamming my mom.
The officer looked as Mrs. Clarke, “She’s sitting in her car waiting for the kids to come home.”
How do you tell a grown up they are wrong? Especially a policeman?
I tried again, “Our mom would have told us if Ms. Sandretto was supposed to be here. And she’s not.”
Ms. Sandretto wasn’t even a normal babysitter. She was our homeless babysitter. Homeless by choice. She wasn’t destitute.
Ms. Sandretto felt she was “blessed with the gift of babysitting”. And that “parents everywhere” were clamoring to have her move in and be a full time nanny. And if she, “had her own house that would be too much to take care of.” She was always one week away from making the nanny deal of a lifetime. I knew that would never happen though because Ms. Sandretto wreaked havoc everywhere she went.
Mrs. Clarke told the officer, “I’ll walk the kids back home.” And the relieved officer got back in the cruiser and backed out of our site.
I was so embarrassed. Mrs. Clarke had been so nice to us even though she had to call the police. And now she was going to have to meet Ms. Sandretto. I wanted to tell her I didn’t like Ms. Sandretto and that she liked to get things from my mom, but I was too embarrassed to even say that.
She tried to make small talk with us on the way home. I knew the moment was imminent that nice Mrs. Clarke was going to meet mean Ms. Sandretto. I kicked the pea gravel up our driveway dreading what was up ahead. “Is that your babysitter?”
I look up, and there she was. Mean old Ms. Sandretto, hand on her hips, mouth clenched, and shoulders rounded.
I hurried in the house and ran upstairs to my bedroom leaving Mrs. Clarke to talk with Ms. Sandretto. I stood real still waiting to hear her car start and listening for the crunch of the gravel as she went away. But instead I hear Ms. Sandretto’s grandma shoes clomping up our front porch!
What was she doing? She wasn’t supposed to be at our house! I HAD TO LOCK HER OUT!
I fly off my bed and scramble down the stairs trying to beat her to the front door. But Ms. Sandretto was faster. She threw the door open and yelled in my face, “I CAN’T BELIEVE YOU KIDS CALLED THE POLICE ON ME!”
She rambled about something I couldn’t understand and said my “mom would think it’s ok” if she was here. She finishes the story and wags her finger, “So don’t you kids ever call the police on me again!”
I screamed, “YOU DON’T BABYSIT US IN THE DAYTIME! AND OUR MOM DID NOT SAY IT WAS OK!” I marched up the stairs back to my bedroom and slammed the door. I couldn’t wait for Ms. Sandretto to get in trouble with my mom.
At 4:30 I heard my mom’s van pull up under my bedroom window. Obviously my mom could see Ms. Sandretto’s car in the driveway. And I waited with my ear next to the crack at the bottom of my door…this was going to be good!
I hear the surprise in my mom’s voice. And then Ms. Sandretto said something about she needed somewhere to go until her next job and I couldn’t tell if that meant the next night, the next week, or next month.
All I know is my mom said, “Since you are already here, you might as well watch the kids.”
And there you go! Ms. Sandretto got what she wanted. And she probably got more than just money. My mom probably promised her some warm cookies, a bus ticket, and a vacation somewhere exotic. Except this time she ALSO got a visit from the police!
We were angry! My mom just shrugged her shoulders at our protesting and the moment the front door shut it took one psycho second for Ms. Sandretto to shift into full on mean babysitter mode. She sat us down with scissors and made us cut coupons. She yelled us for not minding. She scolded us for calling the police. But she never did murder us.