I have been contemplating how to tell this story, and whether to tell it at all.
But as a writer my therapy is words—and as a mother, 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. After months of being able to manage childcare with friends, my parents and my children’s father, I finally needed to find a nanny—to pick up the children three afternoons a week.
I went to a popular and successful agency, which another mum had recommended. And she was right—it was comprehensive and efficient.
After posting my job, I spotted a wonderful nanny I had used a few years back when my children were toddlers. She was sweet and smart and had first-aid skills. The kids loved her and she had been completing a bachelor degree in a paediatric field at the time. I messaged her immediately and was disappointed to hear she had found another family and our afternoons clashed.
Back to the drawing board.
I selected a short list, interviewed them all and ended up with a delightful nanny named Georgina*—a university student who loved kids. She met the kids, I took her through our schedule and she was hired.
My three months with Georgina were super smooth—she did everything I asked, the kids were happy and she had cancelled only one day due to illness.
But Georgina needed two weeks off. If you have a nanny or a son or daughter at university right now, you’ll know it’s exam time. Her exams clashed with most of our days so Georgina and I realised in plenty of time, we’d have to find a temporary replacement.
It occurred to me that my old babysitter who wasn’t available before, might be able to cover for the two weeks. But I couldn’t find her profile on the agency website. I went through my phone contacts and messaged her. Relief—she could cover the two weeks.
As I hadn’t seen her for a few years I invited her for a casual dinner that Sunday night to reacquaint, meet the kids and see our new apartment. She was just as I remembered her—although she told me she’d had a bit of a rough time romantically and was taking antidepressants for anxiety. I appreciated her honesty. She was sweet, funny, played with the kids while I cooked and we shared a bottle of wine she had brought. I felt relieved to be leaving the children with someone they knew.
The following Tuesday, I was high-fiving myself on what a great nanny I had found—I nicknamed her Mary Poppins and boasted at work. I had arrived home the night before to find freshly washed and fed children who had done their homework, been outside on their scooters and had even done their music practise. She’d even made the lunches and put on a load of washing. It was like having a wife.
The next Monday, my boyfriend Paul stayed over at my apartment after a late flight in from overseas. Together we got the children ready and headed off for school drop off before driving to the city. Everything was going smoothly until Finn piped up and said, “I forgot my rugby gear for training!”
Paul laughed and calmly turned the car around to head back home so I could run upstairs and pull together Finn’s uniform from the dryer. I noticed how messy the kitchen was, but thought, my nanny will sort it out. It was a typical fun, fast-paced family morning.
After lunch that day I noticed it had started to rain. At around half past two I got a text message from the school saying training was cancelled. I quickly rang my nanny and asked if she could make it to my son’s school by three? She said she could make it and I was relieved. I reminded her Venus’s dance class finished at 4.45pm and there was roast lamb, mashed potato and veggies all cooked and in the fridge for dinner.
I went back to the article I was writing and was deeply engrossed in my work when I noticed my little boys face pop up on the phone. It was 39 minutes past four.
“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 dancing 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.”
Oh fuck. 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, 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 find someone to pick up my daughter. By the time I’d get there she would have been waiting outside in the cold and rain for twenty minutes.
I rang three mothers, no answer. I rang the dance school. No answer. One mum rang back—she had the dance teacher’s mobile. I was hysterical, she rang them, and she rang me back and told me the dance teacher had Venus. What if Maya was on her way there now too? I just couldn’t think about it.
My ex 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. She didn’t want me to hug her.
“Mummy stop it! Where’s Maya?”
“She’s sick bubba – let’s go get Finley. Daddy is there looking after Maya. Isn’t that nice?”
When we arrived, Damien told me not to come inside. He said take the children somewhere and I’ll call you. We rushed out into the rain. Me clinging to Finley. The ambulance had pulled up behind my car and I couldn’t back out. A kind neighbour helped me reverse past it with just centimetres to spare. I’m still not sure how I did that. Now that I had my babies, I wanted to get away. And fast. But I also started worry for Maya. What was wrong with her?
I drove through the pouring rain straight to my best friends house nearby. We knocked on the door and thankfully she was home. 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? Do we know her parents number? Has she had a stroke or something? What did they say?”
“She’s off her face.”
“What? What do you mean?”
“She’s been drinking since 8am. I hid behind the wall and 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. I wanted to kill her. 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 rang because I knew what time it was on my laptop and I knew we had to pick up Venus.” I marvelled that he remembered what time his sister finished dance. And silently thanked an unknown higher being.
“Mamma—I went to get my phone and I got it out of my school bag and I saw it was charged. I thought phew!”
“Why did you think that?”
“I was worried. Maya wasn’t acting right.”
“What was she doing?”
“I said I better do my homework, because she didn’t ask me to do it. She shouted, ‘Don’t do it!’”
“She was looking at me in an stern way.”
“Then I said I better have my shower. I asked her to get the temperature right.” (FYI: Our hot water is tricky).
“She said – you do it.”
“Then 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?
As my angel-faced children slumbered in my bed that night, tangled in the sheets and holding each other, I sat up alert, unable to sleep, listening to my heart beating and every noise (my spare set of keys were still in Maya’s bag) and thinking about what to do next. My darling Paul said he would drive over and sleep on the floor beside us. I said no. I didn’t want him to be uncomfortable.
I was also thanking God for small mercies, and for my intuitive little ten year old.
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.
Immediately after Maya was taken to hospital, my ex Damien and I searched for, found and liaised with her family, after breaking into the phone that she’d dropped in my apartment.
They told us a disturbing tale. She’s been in and out of rehab and should never have been driving or looking after children.
That night, her sister raced to the hospital and contacted us afterwards. Maya was discharged despite her sister begging for her to be able to stay and see a mental health professional. The doctor stated, this isn’t a mental health issue, she’s drunk and we need the bed for emergencies. Maya’s sister begged to see a psychiatrist so Maya could be committed. Her sister stated Maya is going to kill herself driving or somebody else, and we need to stop her looking after children. Maya was discharged despite her sister’s pleas.
This week, after knowing Maya was not in a facility, Damien and I investigated pressing charges. After much consideration, we have decided not to go ahead for many reasons. Our already anxious and traumatised son would have had to give a statement and go on the stand in court to be cross-examined. The police advised us that the only charge they could realistically pursue would be drink driving. As it’s Maya’s first offence, she would most probably not go to jail, not get a record and only lose her licence for 6-12 months.
We asked if there was an endangering a child charge and the Senior Constable said there was none. I asked why Maya had a work-with-children certificate on her profile, and here’s the kicker—he explained it’s only a check of your criminal record. That’s it. No mental health check and no reference check. Sobering isn’t it. She has no record so can hold the work-with-children card.
Further investigation into the agencies she had registered with (we’ve now managed to pull her from three) revealed the reason I couldn’t find her on my favoured agency profile—they had deleted her profile because of seven recent no-shows.
The police suggested a Mental Health Intervention, and her family are now implementing that process as we speak, to get her forcibly taken to a rehab facility.
Let’s hope it works this time. I feel Damien and I can’t do anything else. But we feel so guilty and frightened, because if another family goes through this—we feel we will have blood on our hands.
Hug your children, use nannies with a family recommendation, know your neighbours and teach your children your phone number.
*names have been changed to protect identities