My Turn to Seek

Babysitting isn’t just same without the baby.

Ryah Cote, Special Contributor

It was a usual Thursday night of making dinner for the girls, assisting with the overwhelming amount of homework, and tied in with everything else the constant bickering between the two sisters. By this point of the evening, they were winding down, their bedtime ticking closer. The movie they were watching on and off, was on a significantly high volume for my liking. I asked Jaelee and Jersey to turn it down; they gave an empty response, save for the slow decrease in sound.

I continued sweeping the kitchen floors until I needed to make the announcement of getting ready for bed; I was mentally preparing myself for the backlash of arguing to stay up later.

When they were finally aware that it was time to start working toward sleep, there wasn’t much of a fight. As they scurried through the long hall to their bathroom, I turned my back to continue washing the dishes.

It was routine at this point, after having watched them for almost half a year, that the girls knew what to do, so they never wanted or needed my help. They were both in their phase of wanting to be independent; I found it very frustrating when I tried to interfere with their decisions and ways of proceeding with a task.

I heard slow feet coming from behind me, and turned around to see a confused Jersey; she was the older of the two girls by a few years.

“What’s up girly?” I asked, not thinking anything was wrong.

She blankly stared at me as if I was supposed to already be aware of what had, or maybe had not happened.

“Jaelee’s missing,” she finally said as if it was supposed to be evident.

My first instinct was that she was trying to mislead me. The girls always kept me on my toes when it came to getting ready for bed so when she claimed that the four year old was lost, I didn’t trust her proclamation. I told her I wasn’t playing any games with them and that she needed to go find her and get in bed before I got agitated.

Once the tears came, then I knew then she wasn’t lying. Jersey isn’t an overly emotional person; I had only seen her cry one other time before that night.

“I actually don’t know where she is. I checked our bedroom thinking she was going to go change, but she wasn’t there. I checked the playroom and in all the closets, and I couldn’t find her!” At this point she was sobbing, barely getting the syllables out.

The hysteria finally set in.

I kept telling myself there’s no way she’s actually missing, over and over in my head thinking it was going to keep me feeling calm.

I immediately started checking all the same places that Jersey said she had just searched, not because I didn’t trust her, more for my own sake. I check the bedroom, she’s not there. I check the bathroom, she’s not there. I checked all the closets, she’s not there. At this point I couldn’t decide if I should call someone; the police seemed unnecessary, my parents maybe, and then their parents. The thought of having to call their parents made me sick; it was the last thing I wanted to do. I have never been in this type of situation before and didn’t know what to do.

The only thing I could think of was to search every corner of the house with Jersey; however, after the first search through the residence proved no luck in finding Jaelee, I decided to try a different tactic that may be more effective than just yelling her name with empty threats.

I opened the freezer and pulled out the vanilla ice cream now using that as bait.

“Jaelee! You’re going to miss out on ice cream!” I yelled into the echoey, muted house as tears built up in my eyes.

There was no response, no reply to my frantic call. It was time to add more water to the already boiling pot.

“Jae! Jaelee if you don’t come out right now I’m going to call your Mom! I’m not joking I will! I’m actually serious, Jaelee!”

So I did. Through this chaos Jersey clung to my side, never leaving me, in fear or safety I don’t know. I pulled out my phone desperately, opening and typing in my password with my tears spilling onto the screen. I clicked on the contact name and called. With every ring my concern grew.

Ring! What should I tell them?

Ring! Pull yourself together.

Ring! They will never ask me back.

Ring! I lost their child.

“Hello, what’s up, Ryah?” Answered the calming voice.

“Jen.” So much for keeping myself together because the waterworks came once again.

“Ryah, just breathe, okay. Talk to me, what happened?” Jen, their mother, immediately knew something was off by how I was reacting.

“I- I lost Jaelee. I told—I told her to go get ready for bed and—and then she was gone. I can’t find her.” Sobs interrupting my hurried words.

“Ryah, she’s fine. She has to be inside the house somewhere; she couldn’t have left. She probably just fell asleep somewhere, okay? We are on our way back right now. Just breathe.”

I didn’t even think of the possibility that she could’ve walked out of the house and left.

That’s when I remembered the weather. After our phone call, I hung up and pressed my face to the front window and looked out. The snow was falling down fast in thick flakes. Relief washed over me when I saw no footprints. Jen was right, Jaelee was in the house, somewhere.

Those five minutes before they got home were the longest five minutes, we continued walking and searching throughout the house before detecting the front door opening.

Jen and John walked it without even bothering to take off their snow-covered shoes before hugging and comforting me. I blamed myself for this whole situation, but they didn’t in the slightest. They had me walk them through everything that had happened, Jersey added little details I had forgotten about.

Then there was the sound of little footsteps running on the light hardwood floor.

“Mommy!” There was Jaelee skipping toward her parents, full of amusement the polar opposite of how I was reacting in the moment.

I checked their room though. I thought to myself, feeling dumbfounded. Jen and John were not thrilled or fascinated by their daughter’s behavior. They sent her to her room with disappointment in their voices.

“She’s never done anything like this with a sitter. I’m so sorry.” Jen embraced me once again.

“No, I’m sorry I probably overreacted and I didn’t handle the situation right,” I replied, still trying for my voice to sound normal again.

“You handled it perfectly,” she reassured me.

I left that night feeling overwhelmed with different emotions swirling around my head. After that incident, I vowed to be more attentive when I babysat other households, their family still included.