Suddenly, I am surrounded. Three of them on my right. Four more to the left. One shoots across the room, headed straight for me. I freeze, and hesitancy floods my mind; I am unsure of my next move.
“Got you!” Tyler shouts as his hand collides into my arm.
“I tried to make a break for it, but you’re just too fast,” I confess. He looks up at me. A smile stretches across his face, and his eyes crinkle right at the edges, gleaming with gratitude for the compliment bestowed upon him by a “grown-up” — despite me being only 16 years old at the time. Tyler returns to the game, and the gleeful shrieks of children resume, echoing off the walls of the small playroom. Panting, I take a quick respite in the timeworn sofa in the corner, careful to maintain a close watch on the intense game.
Child care at the local Single Mothers Outreach offered these children a couple hours of carefree play. As a child care provider, it was my responsibility to ensure the safety of more than 10 children, but my position meant much more than that. When I pinned on my nametag, I became the referee in a game of indoor soccer, the keeper of the all-powerful key to the snack room, and ― most importantly ― the reliable companion that the children could open up to about anything.
In my early high school years, I avoided anything involving kids. Period. The crying, the screaming, the filthy diapers. Children were charming ― but only from a distance. However, my decision to work with youth at the outreach transformed my cynical perspective. As the weeks passed, the children I watched over became some of my closest confidants. Each class, I was updated on all of the exciting news from the previous week: everything from the playground ghost stories Thomas heard at school to the latest Disney film starring Isabelle’s “favorite-est” princess. As I gained their trust, I became someone these children could turn to, someone they could rely on in good times and bad.
“… and Cinderella danced the night away,” I read aloud, closing the fairy-tale book that I had read three times in the past hour. As the other children eagerly began a roaring game of hide-and-seek, I joined Sofia, an outgoing fifth grader, on the couch, striking up a comfortable conversation. I had met Sofia only a month earlier, but with her effervescent personality, we quickly grew close.
“How was your weekend?” I inquired, expecting to hear one of her typical tales of the “coolest day ever” in response. However, as I turned to her, her usually joyful hazel eyes were brimmed with worry. Longing to share her troubles with someone who listened, Sofia described the overwhelming anguish she felt each time she fell asleep to the sound of bitter arguments between her parents. With an outpour of emotion, Sofia recalled the evenings of missed tuck-ins and mornings without goodbye kisses.
At only 11 years old, Sofia was old enough to feel the loneliness of a broken household and fragmented family, but I was determined to assuage her ache. Armed with a princess-themed Mad Libs and a Twister mat, I made Sofia laugh again. I made her forget (if only for a short while) about the sorrow that had stolen her smile. As both her caregiver and companion, I touched her life in the same way that she touched mine: by creating joy.
Each day at the outreach was an exhilarating adventure. Whether I was pretending the floor was lava or I was getting caught in a fierce tournament of tag, the children I looked after added laughter to my life. Children, with their contagious enthusiasm, bring happiness wherever they go, and my background in child care reminds me to preserve that same sense of wonder and elation even as I mature. I embrace my curious nature, learning to look for amusement in life’s everyday adventures. These children changed me, and each time I think back on their infectious giggles and eccentric imaginations, I can’t help but laugh.
Contact Brianna Brann at [email protected].