The howl came from a man 12 feet above me, delicately balanced on the Black Pearl’s center mast. One hand clutching the climbing net, the other a microphone, Captain Jack Sparrow let out his most ferocious cry yet. “QUEM GOSTA DE BARULHO!?!!?” The ship’s deck doubled as a dance floor as more than 30 eager partiers answered the call to dance. I respectfully preferred not to and was perfectly comfortable staying in my seat. My intentions, however, were clearly not a priority for the pirate crew. Accidental eye contact with a particularly spooky pirate, and the next thing I knew I was hurriedly pulled onto the stage. I, alongside 10 other lucky “volunteers”, was partnered up and thrown into a lengthy dance battle with pauses every few minutes for the crowd to vote out the worst pair. Luckily, my partner was a veteran. She carried our “casal” to second place, losing only because of my miserable attempt at the Tango.
How did I get here? Well, I work at a daycare.
It is my privilege to work with the Creche de Pequeno Príncipe (or Little Prince Daycare) every Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. No lie, I was more of a distraction than a help when I first started. In the beginning, I’d enter the classroom and students (ages 4-6) would drop everything to run up and hug me. It was the cutest thing. My happiness was turned on its head after catching a searing glare from the teacher. Apparently, it was circle time and I’d not only spurred but also encouraged them to break ranks. I hit them with a quick “não pode!” and learned my lesson. They didn't listen. The kids there saw me as more of a friend than a teacher. I can't blame them. I'd draw, play with action figures, play “pega-pega” (tag), and push them on swings all day – stuff the other professors don't usually do. My main priority was for them to like me and to practice Portuguese with them and this strategy accomplished both. It seemed to be a win-win situation until I had to break up a fight. I soon found that most kids don’t think that someone they perceive as a friend will realllllllly take their lightsabers away or sentence them to a time out. They’d often run away instead of taking me seriously, no matter how stern I tried to make my broken Portuguese sound. This was an issue for the first couple weeks, but with support from my wonderful coworkers, I successfully sat a troublemaker down in the corner for biting his classmate. In a serious tone, he told me we weren’t friends anymore. He wasn’t too happy about it, but I was. From then on, I had the respect I needed. I finally found the balance between being friendly and ensuring proper conduct.
Many daycares throughout Brasil have to make do with a lack of resources – a problem exacerbated by the current administration. A Creche do Pequeno Príncipe, however, is doing quite well. With help from generous parents, our creche has all sorts of wonderful activities for students. Every Tuesday and Thursday we have swim lessons at a local pool. Directly after, we have judo class in the same building before returning to the creche. On Thursday mornings I help lead a quick English lesson, and every once in a while we'll walk to an educational theater or nearby beach. At Pequeno Príncipe the students sing, dance, paint, nap, run, play, eat, watch movies, but occasionally have to sit patiently in a circle. Tough deal, I know. For some, sitting criss-cross-applesauce feels like torture and it's often a bit of a mission to calm them down. They really don't know how great they have it, but I'm not going to be the one to tell them that life only gets tougher.
There are roughly 15 staff members at the creche. They are all women and at least 15 years my senior. In September, the crianças (children) had little to no respect for my authority. Coincidentally, neither did the staff. Of course, they were nice to me, but I wasn't helping them with their jobs too much. I did less than a teacher but more than a criança, so I was in this weird in-between state. Once I learned how to maintain the kids' respect and keep them more in line, I made my coworkers' lives a little easier. They felt more comfortable assigning me tasks and leaving me in charge for a while. As the weeks passed, our rapport increased, and I was invited to my coworker Laura's birthday party (hence the pirate ship). It wasn't exactly a place I expected to be this year but it was still a lot of fun.
Right now, the creche is on "férias" which means summer break. My schedule is more open now, so I've been capitalizing on the extra beach time. But even while enjoying this new freedom, I've found myself missing my little friends.