The moment I stepped onto the playground, my feet sank deeply into the spongy astro turf. I was transported back to a world of make-believe. No longer a student, but their counselor. The highest honor had been bestowed upon me: caring for children. Spotting my favorite camper brought a surge of love and pride to my chest. Dylan was swinging from the monkey bars, his cheeks puffed out with the intense concentration it took to make it to the other side. The moment he spotted me, his fingers released their grip. Dylan hurdled from the monkey bars and sprinted towards me. In the past days we had developed a deep personnel connection. We understood each other. His tiny fingers curled into my hand and the rush of sparks in my palm sent a smile to my face. He jumped up and down, “Kewen,” He could never seem to get my name right, so each time it was a new nickname. “Kewen, we ride bikes now!” He trudged forward, forcefully dragging me to the bikes. Immediately, I saw him hop on the smaller of the two tricycles.
We had established the bike arrangements on the first day.
He had insisted, “I take the big bike!”
I pleaded, “Dylan, I’m too big to fit on the little bike.”
His feet dragged across the ground as he pouted, “I’m faster on the big bike!” Kneeling down so we were on the same level, I put an arm on his shoulder, “Dylan, I don’t think the bike is fast. I think that you make it fast! You’re like a superhero! Like Flash!” His chocolate brown eyes lit up like a tree on Christmas as he immediately switched bikes.
Though my legs were cramped between the wheels and the handle bars, I launched onto the winding bike path. “Watch out!” I narrowly avoided Graham as he stormed across the bike path after a group of screaming girls. To my left, the rest of the kids played on the playground. Isabella led the way across the bridge with her elaborate fabric wings, “Follow me to fairy land!”
Hannah argued, “Why don’t you follow me?”
If a two year old could pull an exasperated face, this would be it.
Isabella drawled, “Because I’m the leader so I go first.”
I snapped back to reality when Ms. Garcia called the children to the grassy area for group circle. There was lots of pushing and shoving and deciding who was going to sit on whose lap. All grass at our school is artificial, so it felt like stiff popsicle sticks on my legs. “Criss cross apple sauce!” Dylan made a bee line for me and plopped into my lap. Though it was hard on my knee, from surgery, I could deal with it if it made him happy.
Our head coach stood in the middle of the circle, barking out explanations for the week to come. He gestured wildly with his hands, somewhat like a crazed gorilla. Introducing the counselors and providing information about study trips was his main and only job. Though he thought he did everything.
“Kewen!” I felt a tap on the back of my neck, and a tiny tickle of breath by my ear. Spinning around on my scooter brought me face to face with Dylan, Jolie, Lochlann, Graham, Hannah, and Camille. Camille jabbed a finger in my face, “Chase us.” I tucked my legs underneath me so that I could lay across the scooter and propel myself after them. “Alright, but I’ll give you a head start. I’m pretty fast!”
Dylan yelled, “Not as fast as me!”
My hands paddled across the floor as I slithered after a group of screaming two year olds. Alas, they turned at the last second and I slammed into the wall. I was about to tag Dylan, but his smile stopped me in my tracks. My cheek was throbbing from my collision with the wall, the muscles in my arms ached and burned, and I could feel the sweat at the nape of my neck. Once I saw his smile, none of that mattered. If I could keep him smiling like that forever, I would. Soon, I was surrounded by dimples, bright teeth, flush faces, and rosy cheeks as they tackled me.
They were so ecstatic and their happiness seemed to be catching on. My heart felt as though it was going to burst when the kids giggled and screamed upon seeing me. They looked up to me, literally as well as emotionally. It felt as though a warm honey glow was radiating from my body. In that moment, I made a promise to myself and the kids. I’d always be back to play with them, make them happy, and keep them smiling for as long as I could.
See you soon!
The Watermelon Radish