It’s a common slasher movie plot and the stuff of urban legends: a teenaged girl is babysitting the neighbor’s kids, when creepy things begin to happen. Phone calls without voices. Scratching sounds on the sliding glass doors. Mysterious thumps from the basement.
The tension escalates as the hapless girl, on her own and in a strange house, tries to protect her young charges and herself against a maniac intent on causing terrible harm. She must call on all her resources to survive, but sometimes that isn’t quite enough. R.L. Stine used the convention in is YA book, The Babysitter, and there are scores of movies built around this same scary premise.
Vicki Doudera here, recalling these terrifying stories, wondering if they induce even more fear in women because so many of us babysat as teens. Remember the odd noises echoing through the neighbor’s house at one a.m.? The child that cried out in her sleep and scared you silly? The drunk husband who drove you home and (as if that weren’t scary enough!) then tried to cop a feel while he paid you five bucks?
The babysitter as victim may be an all-too familiar theme, and yet it sure does resonate. But what about when the babysitter is the villain? (Fair warning: if you haven’t already guessed, this isn’t going to be one of my cozier blogs.)
“Eula-Beulah was prone to farts – the kind that are both loud and smelly,” writes Stephen King in On Writing. “Sometimes when she was so afflicted, she would throw me on the couch, drop her wool-skirted butt on my face, and let loose. “Pow!” she’d cry in high glee. It was like being buried in marshgas fireworks. I remember the dark, the sense that I was suffocating, and I remember laughing. Because, while what was happening was sort of horrible, it was also sort of funny. In many ways, Eula-Beulah prepared me for literary criticism. After having a two-hundred-pound babysitter fart on your face and yell Pow!, The Village Voice holds few terrors.”
Parents who have left their children with a babysitter have a hard time chuckling along with King. Many of us squirm, remembering the guilt we felt when we came home from a night out to find a red-faced toddler, or a frightened child who’d been allowed to watch an inappropriate television show. We have a hard time forgetting the day we spent on the slopes, returning to the expensive daycare center only to learn that our baby had been howling away in the mechanical swing, because the daycare provider didn’t know (or care?) that the child hated swings. (True tale.) As my Uncle Bob once observed, we pay people upwards of $25 per hour to mow the grass, but only a tiny fraction of that to watch our most precious possession: our kids.
Which makes the recent stories in Maine about a 10-year-old babysitter — charged last week with manslaughter in the death of baby Brooklyn Foss-Greenaway — all the more horrifying. Police say the 3-month-old from Clinton was drugged and then smothered by the 10-year-old, the youngest Maine person to be charged with manslaughter in at least 25 years.
Now evidence has surfaced indicating that another baby overdosed in the same home on the homicide suspect’s medication, only weeks before Brooklyn’s death. That baby, Jaylynn Tenney, survived her ordeal, with everyone believing she had ingested the amphetamines accidentally. Detectives are now finding disturbing facts that may indicate Jaylynn, too, was poisoned by the girl.
Neglect. Irresponsibility. And an obviously disturbed child with access to dangerous prescription medicines. These are the real babysitting horrors, the ones that give all of us – parents or not – our worst nightmares.