Child Labor
by Jennifer Hernandez

I learned to drink coffee that summer.
No sugar, no cream. Sixteen years old &
the dark, rich cupsful were so different
from the instant crystals at home.

Every morning early, I’d arrive at
the Andersons’, wave them off to work,
sip my coffee, listen for Aaron to wake up.
He was almost three. All boy, nonstop.

We played a lot of He-Man. An avowed pacifist,
in my action figure universe there was no fighting.
He-Man and She-Ra met up with Skeletor
for double scoop cones. They were all great friends.

On outings to the park, I’d push Aaron on the swings
while mothers shot me suspicious looks. They thought
I was a teen mom. I looked around at judging eyes
and shrugged. Just the babysitter. Not my kid.

No booster. Front seat. (Mid-80s, remember?)
Aaron once opened the door as we were driving.
First my heart stopped, then the car. I’m sure
I never told his mom. (It’s okay, Sharon. He’s fine.)

Mostly, Aaron and I talked. A lot.
More than once, his mom told me
how much his vocabulary had grown
during our three months together.

And when Aaron napped in the afternoon, I recovered.
Read my novel. Watched Karate Kid on the VCR.
Learned that while good, strong coffee is a useful tool
in child care situations, naptime is even better.

AUTHOR’S PHOTO CAPTION: Aaron in the backyard blowing bubbles (1985).

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR:  I’d been babysitting for neighbor kids since I was eleven years old (and before that for my younger brother), but this summer gig was my first Monday-Friday, full-time work experience. Working for family friends has advantages — beyond the perk of good coffee. I still see my former employers from time to time, and a few years ago, I had the opportunity to meet Aaron’s daughter, around three years old. Her grandma was surprised when she climbed into my lap for a story, saying that she didn’t go easily to people she didn’t know.

J. Hernandez

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jennifer Hernandez lives in Minnesota, where she teaches immigrant youth and writes poetry, flash, and creative nonfiction. She has performed her poetry at a nonprofit garage, a taxidermy-filled bike shop, and in the kitchen for her children. Recent work appears in Disarticulations, Mothers Always Write, Silver Birch Press (“Lost & Found” Series), Sonic Boom, and the Nancy Drew Anthology (Silver Birch Press).