My nanny left my kids in a hot car – why I didn’t press charges

By  | February 13, 2016 |  Comments | Filed under: Feminism

I never hear from my nanny during the day. On the first day of a new extracurricular class, she might text a pic of the kids in their leotards, or call if one of the kids is truly sick, but we don’t really chat during business hours. So I knew something was up when she asked me if I was busy at 1:30 PM on a Thursday. Of course I was busy. I called immediately.

“Jenna? Someone called the cops on me. We’re at the police station and the officers want to talk to you.”

Was this more racism? My nanny is black and I’ve boiled myself into a fury witnessing racism first hand, like the time we went to a bakery and they ignored her in favor of me, the white woman standing behind her, or the time we went to a bridal shop and the sales lady fawned over me, then dismissed us to “look around” when they found out my nanny was the bride. Someone probably saw her in the Q7 and asked questions when her name wasn’t on the registration. 2016 in America, am I right?

“I left the kids in the car while I went into a building. Someone spotted them alone and called 911; the fire department arrived before I came back to the car. This is my fault.”

It’s hot in L.A. already. The weather has been in the 90’s. My two younger kids, the two-year-old and the newly minted five-year-old, had been strapped in their car seats and left in a hot car in a parking lot while the nanny, whom I trusted, left them for apparently 30 minutes or so to basically go shopping. (The story is she was applying for a cash-advance loan . . . because we don’t pay her enough? She lives with us. I give her a place to live, a car, a credit card, buy all her food and pay her every week.)

I feel the need to protect your feelings as you read this. My kids are okay. Maybe I should have said that first, so you don’t have a heart attack like I did as I drove like a bat out of hell, shaking and crying to some town called El Monte to collect my people from a police station.

Paramedics had arrived at the scene nearly immediately and the windows had been cracked enough to not boil them alive. Then they waited on the nanny. And waited. The police officer told me a group of wandering homeless people had heard the baby cry, did something about it like good humans, and kept my kids company until authorities arrived. The paramedics checked them over. The police officers tried not to scare them. The baby was not wearing shoes for some reason.

I’ll never meet the people who alerted 911 and rescued my children, but I am so, so grateful for them.

A few lessons:

1) Never assume. I don’t think my nanny was malicious, she’s just incredibly ignorant. Apparently I have to say things like, “don’t leave the kids alone in a hot car – or anywhere alone, for that matter”. Yes, things were different in the 80’s when we were growing up and there was more freedom to leave a kid to run in a store for milk, but hot cars are a different ball game. Also, I buy the milk. You have zero things to do in your day but care for my children.

2) If you see something, SAY SOMETHING. Don’t be that person who gives the mother the benefit of the doubt when you see kids left alone. Those kids might be in the care of a neglectful nanny and their mother wants them returned to safety. Make the call. Look in cars as you walk through parking lots. You’re not snooping or invading anyone’s privacy by looking in the direction of a baby crying.

3) It takes a village and our village includes the homeless.

I’ve been struggling since this all happened. Am I doing the right thing by working? No one will ever love my children the way I do. How can I put a job above their safety? Yes, the nanny was obviously terminated immediately but my trust of everyone has now been violated. Can anyone really care about my kids but me?

Then again, my children are all going to be women one day and I want them to see me working so they can aspire to do the same. I mean, great if you can find a man to take care of you, but you can’t depend on that as your inevitable future. We all need to know how to work. I know in my brain this nanny indiscretion was a fluke thing. Our back-up babysitter was horrified when I told her. Millions of kids don’t die in the care of nannies every day.

Now for my fault in all of this: I didn’t have the right conversations  with my kids about when it’s okay to “tattle”. Apparently the nanny had been leaving my kids alone in the car a lot. The reason we found out about it now is because the weather turned warm and passersby became concerned. How many chilly days were my babies left alone in the car in the middle of parking lots?

I’ve decided not to press charges against the nanny. She knew she was doing something wrong but I don’t think she realized how dangerous and illegal it was. We all make mistakes, but legal mistakes made by a young black person in America carry more weight. She doesn’t need to be in childcare but she does deserve to work again.

I know, you’re going to come in with your cape on in the comments about how you would have committed murder on the scene. I just figure the nanny lost her job, her reference and her standing with the agency who placed her with us. She gained some knowledge. The important thing is that my kids are okay and they know that I will never stand for them to be mistreated.

Am I angry? Now that some time has passed and I’m out of survival mode, yes. I have the luxury of getting angry now. You wouldn’t treat a carton of ice cream the way my kids were treated.

I’ll have to sort out this working mom/priorities/philosophies/safety/etc ball of knots in the coming weeks. For now, I’m just going to snuggle my babies.

Edited to add – The agency who connected me with this nanny, Meredith & Co in Pasadena, CA has not been gracious about this. I do NOT recommend Meredith & company’s services for obvious reasons.

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