By Ethan Tan
Most doctors recommend a maximum intake of two cups of coffee per day for teenagers, and with good reason. By my third day of babysitting at Singapore’s 2019 Homeschool Convention, I had consumed eight cups of coffee and could see sounds. Queen’s Don’t Stop Me Now looks like modern art with explosive colours that meld together seamlessly, construction noises look like obtrusive jarring grey matter with no distinct form, and children’s voices look like angels—the third of angels that fell from heaven and are now demons.
We had one last hour till we released the kids back to their parents, and I felt for the first time the slightest hope that I might escape at least slightly sane. As I finished up lunch and prepared to clear out the trash, one of the young boys came up to me tugging on my shirt, the perfect picture of youthful innocence. He looked up at me, smiled sweetly, and said with no context whatsoever, “Ethan, a for ass.” It has been four weeks, and I am not okay.
Don’t get me wrong, I love children. I genuinely enjoy spending time with them. As much as they wear me down sometimes with their incessant questions, confusing behavior, and uncanny ability to need the bathroom every twenty minutes, their untainted, youthful, almost naive quality refreshes and inspires me. They remind me that beyond the stress of college applications, global warming, and Trump’s general existence there are simpler things—things I too frequently forget.
As a general rule of thumb, we volunteers were asked to avoid physical contact with the children. Unless a fight broke out or someone needed a band-aid, we avoided physical touch to avoid attachment, as a form of respect, and to keep the parents’ minds at ease. I took this rule especially seriously as I wanted to make a good impression on the parents and gain the children’s trust as unfortunately, sixteen year old boy does not exactly scream trustworthy babysitter. For the most part, I followed this rule consistently avoiding physical touch unless completely necessary. However, as the end of the first day drew to a close and we started to dismiss the kids, a young six year old Muslim girl took my hand and asked me to help her find her mom. How could I say no to that?
This little girl in her pink hijab, barely reaching my waist, held my hand as we searched for her mom, and at that moment I never felt more frightened or fulfilled. Frightened by the fact that she trusted me this much, by the fact that parents were turning heads, and by the sudden realization that I was actually responsible for these kids. But at the same time, so fulfilled in that she did trust me this much, in that religious and racial differences transcend the perception of children, and in that this simple pure act of trust could exist in a world so confusing and cruel.
The states are raising tariffs, North Korea is testing missiles, Ebola has returned, and teenage depression has reached an unprecedented rate. We all know the world we live in has innumerable and constant tragedies that occur every day, but children don’t know that. The colloquialism “ignorance is bliss” has no greater commonality than amongst young children whom the world has yet to mar. Although it certainly does not excuse us to live an ignorant, selfish life, taking a break to refresh and remind ourselves of the good in this world by spending time with them would benefit us all. We too frequently forget in our worry and stress the end goal of creating something pure and good—a goal children might not necessarily epitomize, but one they can certainly remind us of.