…by Julie Clark Robinson

I remember one summer not too long ago when I felt that I had lost custody of the back of my minivan for the summer. Instead of having room for groceries, I had four arm floaties, three towels, two pairs of water shoes, a killer shark boogie board and a big plastic tote bag. In the big bag I had two paint brushes, two buckets, three water balls, two pairs of goggles, a dolly, a squirty bottle of sunscreen, two boats, a torpedo, a whale squirt gun and a little plastic bag. The little bag held my car keys, some cash, my cell phone and some loose change – including, as luck would have it, a penny. The penny that bought my five-year old son and me an afternoon\’s worth of fun.

            The poor kid had been stuck at the baby pool because it\’s too hard for me in the big pool to handle his three-year old sister and watch him at the same time. (What can I say? I wasn\’t quite the lifeguard other moms seemed to be.) At the baby pool, my daughter was thrilled with the ducky slide and went down it for the bulk of the afternoon. Which left my son bored. After a cursory spin of the plastic boats and a few shots of water to my head with the whale squirt gun, my plastic bag of tricks had lost its luster. 

            That\’s when I spotted the penny and had a flashback to my own earplug years. I told him to go find the penny and heaved it across the pool. Eager to do anything that involved his newly acquired skill of looking underwater with his goggles; he took off like I had thrown a sack of cash. (Green dollars had come to mean a lot to the guy who sees everything in “how many Legos can I buy with this much, Mom?”) 

            He brought that penny back to me with a kind of enthusiasm I\’d not seen from him in a while. So I heaved it again. Then, again. I was looking for signs that this game was becoming as boring as watching the same episode of Sponge Bob, Square Pants for the tenth time. But, all I saw was a kid having a ball. With his mom, no less.  

            The funny part is that I was having fun, too. Not just because I was sitting by a pool and dangling my feet for a change, instead of negotiating who gets to play with what first. Not just because no one was hungry, thirsty, or had to go to the bathroom. But because I felt like I was a kid again, too. 

            That feeling was so refreshing that even though I thought I was looking forward to summer before, I was really looking forward to it after that day. I vowed to try to stop thinking of sidewalk chalk as messy. And so what if catching lightening bugs kept everybody up too late? Then, I decided that s\’mores might just be considered a food group if you count marshmallows as a dairy and a graham cracker as grain.

            I went out and bought a buy a jump rope. I couldn\’t remember any of those great old rhymes, but thankfully there was a plethora of websites that enlightened me. That summer I gave up on counting calories and I made lemonade that tastes good again — with lots of sugar. We just jumped it off. 

            We ended up with a jar, with air holes, of freshly dug worms in the garage. I learned that if I use the entire driveway for a chalk beach mural, my son and daughter can actually work on the same project yet be far enough apart that they don\’t even fight.

            The laundry piled up. Hot dogs replaced pesto chicken. But when fall rolled around and we all felt like hibernating again, we felt like we deserved the rest. All because of something we had come to see as worthless – something to make a wish on and toss, at best. A penny.

Action exercise: Lighten up and go find some kids to play with this summer. Put your “to do” lists away and chase fireflies or stare at clouds for a while. Believe me, if I can do it, anybody can!