After every return to school, I am asked – as I am sure everyone else is – what I did with my summer. The idea of summer is either an idyllic scene of beaches and relaxation, or the drudgery of going back to that semblance of the ‘real world’ in the form of work. In my case, I experienced quite a bit of both.
Finally escaping from years of summer food service work, I entered into the exciting realm of childcare. I worked for a daycare service.
Everyone who knew me seemed skeptical; indeed, even I was skeptical. Running around all day after screaming children, dealing with accidents and bruises, and being asked to play silly little games with them? It seemed like my idea of a nightmare. The job was accepted from necessity, but I didn’t have to like it.
I went into my first day with trepidation. Would they hate me? Would I hate them? Would I lose my temper on an off day, or worse, every day?
But I went in with a plan. I already had one girl on my side, a pseudo-family member, so that was already one out of over 30 kids. I got to the local pool where they gave them swimming lessons, in shorts and a t-shirt – already a plus over fast food uniform – and was greeted by a small redheaded boy with, “Are you Miss Carly? We’ve been waiting for you!”
Some days were great. I dressed up as Eloise for movie week as we ate popcorn and watched Gnomeo & Juliet (the children expressed their dismay at gnome kisses). I watched them as they played Super Mario out on the playground, one little boy roaring and chasing after the others; they ran from him to save ‘Princess Peach’ from ‘Bowser’. I played seven-up with them, guessing who chose me right only so I could pick those who hadn’t gotten a turn yet. I remembered my old job and how I dreaded it, and smile, because I had found something that I enjoyed going to every day.
Some days were absolutely awful. I lost my voice and had to scream to make myself heard. That is, until we took a whistle out of the desk and had to have the kids sit with their heads down in the dark for 10 whole minutes (an eternity in child time). I would have to tell them to stop hitting each other with things, and for the boys to stop fighting over their video games. We all would have to deal with bullying when it, unfortunately, yet inevitably came up. The girls would be catty and the boys would be rough, and an unlikely ‘love triangle’ even had to be resolved. Kids can be cruel to those who don’t fit in, just because they don’t quite understand yet why they’re different.
When I stopped to think about it, what hit me the most was what I saw in myself, and indeed also within my peers. I could still see those traces of stubbornness, isolation and judgment; but I could also see an innocence that persists, and unwillingness to stop doing what we believe in, no matter who says we shouldn’t. I shouted when I didn’t understand one child, and felt ashamed when another girl stepped in calmly and resolved the issue. I would drink ‘tea’ and eat grass ‘sushi’, and played with puppets when Mother Goose came around to sing and entertain the kids. My redheaded friend refused everything we planned, but he still always wanted me on his team. I will miss receiving hugs from the kids, who would give them just because they felt like it. So now, when asked if I like kids, I will smile and say, “maybe.”