The doorbell ringing persistently, almost angrily, should have been our first clue to what we were going to find on the other side, when Mom opened the door. Well, not really: nothing could have prepared us for what was on the other side. Or rather who. It was Mrs. Robson, the woman for whom I had babysat for the first time, a week ago.
Shortly after taking the St. John’s Ambulance course at what I now consider to be the ‘too young’ age of 12, I made up a little flyer offering my services and hand delivered it to the houses along our street that had kids. We knew some of the families, in that ‘nod and wave’ way that most of us know our neighbours. Others, we knew not at all but the plastic toys on the front lawn gave them away as potential customers.
Based on my cunning marketing, Mrs. Robson had called on a Wednesday, a little out of sorts because her usual sitter had cancelled for Thursday night and she really needed someone to watch her two boys for a few hours while she went to a class. They would already be in bed by the time I got there, so it was just a matter of hanging out on the sofa and watching a little television. Jackpot babysitting job, right?
The evening went smoothly and both kids stayed in their beds: probably the easiest $12 I was ever going to make in my life. Or so I thought until l came in to the living room to see what the doorbell commotion was about and saw Mrs. Robson standing at the doorway in front of my mother, arms crossed and face bright red, as if she had run around the blocks a few times before coming to our front door.
“Chantal, Mrs. Robson has something to ask you.” I walked forward but I was nervous and suddenly felt guilty, in that way that one feels guilty if an anti-theft device goes off while you are exiting a store, even though you have stolen absolutely nothing. “Hi Mrs. Robson” I said, a little bit shaky. She glared at me and then ignoring my greeting, launched in with: “When you were at our house, did you see any toys?” “Ummm… toys? What do you mean?” She seemed annoyed, as if I was being evasive on purpose. “The toys that I had put away for Christmas. MY boys Christmas presents.” I shook my head: “No Mrs. Robson. I didn’t see any toys.” Thankfully, my mother intervened at this point: “What are you asking Mrs. Robson?” The latter tightened her arms across her chest “Well, I had a stack of toys put away for Christmas. I bought them the morning your daughter came to sit and when I went to get them out this afternoon to start wrapping them, they were gone.” I was struck silent: this woman thought I had stolen toys from her home! I hadn’t even SEEN any new toys aside from the usual baskets of beat up trucks, cars and figurines that you would expect to find in any home with a toddler and a kindergartener living there, let alone stolen any. My mother responded for me: “You must be mistaken, Mrs. Robson. Chantal did not come home with any toys; she did not steal from you. I think you had best go home and look again.” And with that, she stepped forward, starting the push the door closed in the red woman’s face. Mrs. Robson backed up a step from our doorway: “Yes, well, we’ll see.”
What was going to happen? Was this woman going to call the police? With the strong sense of injustice that a child feels when an adult holds them to account for something they did not do but cannot prove they did not do, I felt flattened. I was scared and flattened. My Mom sat me down: “I know you didn’t take that woman’s toys. Don’t worry about it. I’m sure she’s just hidden them so well from those wretched boys of hers that she can’t remember where now.” The way she said ‘that woman’ bolstered my ego. She believed me. She was behind me.
Sure enough, not more than an hour later, Mrs. Robson was back at our door, somewhat rueful though still managing to seem indignant: “I found them. My husband had moved them so the boys wouldn’t find them. I called him.” My mother nodded at her, while I stood behind and peeked up at Mrs. Robson, something I hadn’t done since I was tiny: “Next time, you might want to check with him before going around flinging accusations like that.” Mrs. Robson blushed but just nodded and turned to make her way down our porch steps. She had only gotten a few feet away when my mother added: “And an apology wouldn’t go amiss.” Mrs. Robson slowed her step but kept going without turning back. My mother smiled a half smile of triumph and harumphed as she slammed the front door shut.
“Well, I expect that’s the last we’ll see of her” she said to me, tucking my hair behind my ear. And it was. But to this day, I remember the sting of that accusation. Maybe that is a good thing.