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The Young Babysitter, the Snake, and a Dead Child

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Louise returned home from work to find her children six-year old, David and four-year old, Josh gone. On the kitchen table was a note from a social worker. The note read: I have taken your children to Ms Peterson's at 438 Logan Street to stay until you return home. I've instructed Ms. Peterson to give me a call before releasing your sons to you. Today, I received the second complaint this month that you are leaving the children alone on a daily basis. The note was signed, Tom Hanson, Wright County Social Services.

Tears welled in Louise's eyes as she took the note and walked the three blocks to the Logan address. She was very tired after working on her feet for eight hours and walking the seven blocks home. It had been an especially trying day at the Grayson Nursing Home where Louise worked as a Nurse's Aide. The night shift had left many of her patients messy. To make matters worse, she had arrived to work late. Rushing into the building, she could hear Ms. Walters, her favorite patient screaming for her breakfast. Louise liked her job. But the salary just didn't pay all of the bills much less leave enough to pay a babysitter, even a young babysitter. She had chosen to work rather than receive Welfare. Louise believed that in time it would prove to be the best decision.

When Ms. Peterson answered the door, Louise introduced herself. The woman invited her in with a smile. The boys ran to their mother with big hugs and tears. They had been afraid she wouldn't come for them. Afterall, she had given them strict instructions not to open the door for anyone and they had disobeyed. Ms. Peterson explained that she had to call Mr Hanson before she could allow the boys to go home. Louise nodded her understanding.

When Mr. Hanson arrived, he explained to Louise that he had taken the children to Ms Peterson's because she ran a licensed foster home. He knew they'd be safe and well cared for there.

Louise looked at Ms. Peterson, smiled nervously and thanked her. She clung to her children, one at each side as they all left.

Once they were all in the car, Mr Hanson explained in a rather stern voice that if he found the children alone just one more time, they would be placed in foster care. He left them off at home and drove away. Inside their home, they all cried and embraced one another. After thinking things over, Louise walked to the corner phone booth to make a collect call to her mother who lived a hundred miles away in Waterloo, Iowa. She needed help with her problem.

During their conversation, her mother mentioned that perhaps Walt, Louise's seventeen-year old brother might come and stay with the children since he was laid off from his job anyhow. Walt came to the phone. "Sure, I'll come for as long as you need me," he told her. Their dad would drive him down. They'd leave the following day.

The next morning Louise called her employer to explain she wouldn't be in to work because she was sick. She planned to report for work once her brother got into town. Later, when Walt finally arrived he was carrying a huge covered aquarium. When he lifted the cover, there was a large snake. Immediately, Louise protested. "You didn't say you were bringing a snake. I can't have it in the house with the kids." But Walt insisted, where he went, Snooky went. Louise gave in after he promised he'd keep it locked up. Besides, what other choice did she really have except to accept the help of the young babysitter?

Walt had been there for three weeks and during that time Mr. Hanson had stopped by three times to make sure that David and Josh were not being left alone. Because of the snake, Louise wasn't comfortable with her brother babysitting. She found herself wishing school would resume so they'd be in class and not have to be at home with the snake. It had been more than a month since Walt's arrival and things were going quite well. In spite of that, Louise came home from work feeling especially uneasy about the snake one day. She insisted that her brother get rid of it or he could return home and she'd make other plans for the care of the kids. Walt agreed to make different arrangements for the snake. The next day it was gone. Just two days later, Louise came home to find an ambulance with its lights flashing parked in front of the apartment building. In the hallway, neighbors were gathered around her door and she heard David's sobs before she entered her apartment. Walt had not gotton rid of the snake. He had threatened to let the snake bite the boys if they told their mother that he had not in deed gotton rid of the snake.

He had also been punishing them daily by locking them in the closet whenever they got on his nerves. On that particular day, he had forgotton that he put the snake in the closet where he sometimes hid it from his sister. Walt, the young babysitter, had gone to the convenience store a couple of blocks away to get a pack of cigarettes and a quart of beer. Upon his arrival back at the apartment, he was met with mad pounding from the closet door. David was crying and screaming for his uncle to help get the snake off his brother.

When Walt remembered the snake was in the closet, he quickly unlocked the door. Four-year old Josh was dead.

Questions:


1. Should Louise feel guilty over Josh's death?

2. Do you think the children would have been better off if Louise had continued to leave them alone until she could make arrangements rather than leaving them with a young babysitter like her brother?

3. Should Louise have quit her job and gone on Welfare?

4. Do you think the neighbor(s) who made the complaints should feel any guilt?

5. When Walt assured Louise that he had gotten rid of the snake, should she have checked it out more thoroughly?


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