Summer Daycare 

Denise squeezed her eyes shut and ground her knuckles into her temples. Just one more day, four more hours, fifteen minutes…

“That’s all for this afternoon,” said her babysitting partner Amy, closing the picture book. The ring of children at her feet let out one big, Awww! “There’ll be more tomorrow,” she promised. But now it’s time for everyone to do one last look around the room. Are there any crayons on the floor? Any scraps of paper?”

“I found one!”

“Make a basket!” one boy lifted the already full trash bin over his head.

Denise grabbed it just in time. “We only play basketball outside or in the gym, Adrian. But thanks for cleaning,” she put weight on the last part so he knew she saw through his ‘help.’

“Sorry, Miss Denise,” he scuttled away to his cubby. All the children were pressed together at once, tiny hands reaching for tinier boxes.

Amy came up beside her, pulling her straight brown hair into a ponytail. “You ok? Still got a headache?”

“Yeah. Probably means there’s rain coming.” An early August thunderstorm, violent and taunting her with the promise of cool air which might, might make the summer more bearable.

Amy patted her on the shoulder. “TGIF, amiright? Ok, Group A with me! Group B over with Miss Denise! Make a nice straight line now!”

Denise lead her group of third and fourth graders to the black top at the side of the school. Today was their turn to run around with chalk and balls and jump ropes while Group A got to run around the jungle gym and try to out-swing each other. She stood in the center, handing out play equipment and keeping watch for fights. Kids from other parts of the summer program joined them in batches. Kindergartners and preschoolers. First and second graders. Fifth and sixth graders. A seething mass of elementary schoolers.

She looked up at the sky. She hoped that wasn’t just shadow on the clouds overhead. She wanted rain.

Pick ups could take as much as an hour and a half. Parents came in different varieties. There were the early birds who waited on her. There were always some who came just before five-thirty, the absolute last call. Most came between five and five-thirty, clearing coming straight from work. Denise envied them. They went to offices in nice suits and got to talk to grown ups all day. They didn’t have to smile at someone else’s brat to avoid a lawsuit that would get them fired. The afternoon wore on.

A piercing shriek went right to her forehead. Janine swung around, squinting painfully. Where was it coming from? There weren’t so many kids now, some of the other summer care instructors were sitting down. She spotted them immediately, a posse of girls bent around something.

“Miss Denise! Mandy’s hurt!” She jogged over to see. A jump rope skittered out of her way as the girls cleared a space for her. Many was curled on the ground, sobbing and hanging onto her knee.

“Mandy? What happened, are you ok?” Tripped, fell, twisted something, snapped something, bleeding, attacked, victimized.

“I–want–my–mommy!”

Of course she did. Any reasonable kid would. Denise sat on the hot tarmac next to her and gently eased her upright. The other girls chattered worriedly, giving her the story in pieces. The jump rope caught her ankle. She fell, scrapping her wrist and her knee. Denise inspected it: a shallow but bloody rough patch the size of an Oreo. “It’s ok, Mandy, you’re gonna be ok. I know it hurts right now but it’s not that bad. I promise you’ll live. Someone get me the first aid kit?” Three girls ran off to do just that. They came back with the kit and another instructor.

“Just as well it’s the end of the day,” he said wryly.

“Yeah. Your mommy will be here soon,” she told Mandy, who was red in the face but had stopped whimpering. It started again when Denise took out an alcohol pad and began cleaning the scrape. Order was slowly coming back to the blacktop.With it came the first rain drops. Denise started to relax. It was coming fast, they’d have to move inside soon.

“ATTACK OF THE BATTLE MONKEYS! OO-OO-EE-EE-AAH-AAAAH!” Denise looked up to see a small army of third graders descend upon the kindergartners, scattering them like leaves.

“Hey! Cut that out!” bellowed the other instructor, and the boys reined in sheepishly.

“Battle Monkeys always attack the Cobra People. It’s the Law of the Jungle.”

“We’re not in the jungle, Adrian.”

A horn blared and tires squealed. Everyone looked around in time to see a towheaded kindergartner go stock still in the middle of the road. The black Saab swerved away from the blacktop, and instead bumped over the next curve and into a row of hedges. Now flat hedges. The back tires spun on the slick surface of the tarmac. The kindergartner began to wail.

“Jesu–ze.” The other instructor caught himself and ran to the kid.

Denise took Mandy’s hand and pressed it and the alcohol pad to her knee. Before she knew it she was on her feet and her head was swimming. The air was as thick as soup.

They don’t pay me enough for this, she thought before it all turned to stars.