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(c) 2014 Trina Lambert

(c) 2014 Trina Lambert

Desperate times call for—a little laughter. OK, any times call for a little laughter, but especially when the news surrounding us is so tough to digest.

My deep water exercise class each summer brings out way more than a little laughter, class session after class session. The challenge is still hearing the teacher’s instruction while doing the workout—and not getting a mouthful of pool water at the same time. Pool maintenance staff may put a lot of chlorine in that stuff, but we all know what all they’re trying to kill in that water—my classmates especially know since I’m prone to telling them whenever I read studies about what’s in pool water.

During most of the summer we share the pool with kids taking swimming lessons, but the last few sessions each year we are the only ones in the pool. The water is pretty still when we first get in, which means it’s easy to see all the way to the bottom of the 12-foot plus deep end. So last week a few of the women saw something at the bottom they thought might be a mouse or some other critter.

The pool maintenance manager was called in to pull out—a broken pair of sunglasses. The water park’s general manager also witnessed this rescue and promptly promised a free eye doctor visit for all of us at our next session.

Well, what if a (rubber) rat did show up at the pool for our final class?

One woman volunteered to seek out the rat, which she found at Reinke Brothers, a local store with a focus on Halloween, magic, costumes, and the bizarre. Though the man behind the counter had two types of rats to sell her, he apologized because the Halloween shipments had not really started arriving so he could not offer her more variety.

But she was good with the scary-looking black rat with evil red eyes—which she later handed me as she declared it was now my job to provide said rat with a raft and sunglasses to complete the effect.

Thus last night found my husband and me scouring Target for something that could float a rat. How often is it that you find a salesclerk who really gets what you are saying when you’re looking for something for all the odd reasons? But that’s just what happened when I told the clerk in the toy department that I didn’t know what I wanted but that it had to float a rat.

His quizzical expression changed as soon as I clarified the rat was a toy. “Ah,” he said, “you’re pranking someone.”

Armed with the “raft” (a Sky Bouncer by Maui Toys—which the clerk confirmed did float since a friend of his accidentally flew one into a lake recently), my husband and I headed for home to make sunglasses for the rat and then attach him to his raft. When you want to put together something really creative in this house, you either involve our daughter Christiana—who, alas, returned to college last week—or my husband Sherman—or both. She gave us the idea for using aluminum foil, I came up with wrapping it around a pipe cleaner, and he molded the shades and then taped the shades and the rat to the raft. My big task? Coloring the tape he had affixed across the shades. Voilà—and then that rat was one cool dude with his blue-lensed glasses.

(c) 2014 Trina Lambert

(c) 2014 Trina Lambert

Mr. Rat (whose real name shall remain anonymous since we named him for the water park’s general manager—he of sarcastic wit) floated along with us as we did our workout this morning, even startling a few women as he crept up on them. When we complained to the pool maintenance manager about the rat, he laughed and ran to get his phone to record the interloper. He even managed to prank the kid who had made sure the pool was ready to go this morning.

Well, I made off with the “raft” because I have a few grand-nephews who plan to visit, but what about the rat?

What about the rat? We shoved him under the opening in the cashier’s box and left him as a gift for the water park’s manager. What water park manager doesn’t need his own shade-wearing rat to help chase away the wintertime blues—and to remind him of patrons, such as us, who delight in plaguing him every summer?

Sherman playing Davey Jones in Cabo 05/09 (c) Christiana Lambert

Sherman playing Davey Jones in Cabo 05/09 (c) Christiana Lambert

Summer starts with a splash—or at least has for me for several summers now. Outdoor deep water exercise almost seems like cheating. I mean, when else do you get to spend so much time in the deep end of the pool without the lifeguards blowing their whistles at you? And to do all that hanging out before it turns hot and the sun’s rays more dangerous—while getting a nice tan but not a burn—is a pretty good deal. Somehow it doesn’t even feel grown-up to be driving home in my swimsuit with my towel wrapped around me.

Never let it be said that you have lost the sense of invincible summer, no matter how deep your winters. If you’re lucky as I am, your childhood memories include some carefree days at some pool.

For me, there was only one golden summer when it seemed my brother and I got to live at the pool, but that summer is the summer that represents just what it meant to be a kid to me. Negotiating tandem bike rides, diving for swim basket keys, crying “Marco Polo,” daring each other up the high board, shivering beneath a blanket after hours in the sun, waking to do it all again. Before the summer our town built a swimming pool, our pool time came during vacations or visits to other towns—except for all those days spent in the blow-up pool in our backyard. The next summer, we were new kids in a new town, far from the municipal pool yet much closer to growing up, fighting like mad to hold onto that sense of invincible summer as we learned to swim in what seemed to be a much bigger pond.

But pool waters always take me back to the me I was when summer still seemed easy. Even though I go to the pool to exercise these days, getting to work out under the blue sky makes the class seem more like the play I knew. Plus, there’s something about being in the water that brings out the talkative kid in most everyone else in class, too. No wonder half the time we’re asking each other, “What did Julie (the instructor) just tell us to do?” So often we only meet each other during summers when we’re wet and in our swimsuits—no wonder we almost don’t recognize one another when we’re dressed in street clothes during the winter. Each June we have so much catching up to do—with each other and with the kids we used to be.

From the shallow end come the sounds of children grouped in lessons. Splashing, learning, feeling afraid, growing brave and strong, playing games—they are us, our children, and all children who have ever sought to drink in summer and keep its eternal sunshine deep within their cells.

In the middle of winter I at last discovered that there was in me an invincible summer. Albert Camus

All of a sudden, it’s supposed to be ninety degrees out and I am surprised by the date on the calendar. My kids are at school taking finals, ready to finish their junior year on Thursday. Where did this school year go?

The truth is I know the answer to that question. It flew by just trying to get through each day. So we have—thank God for that! Of course it is too easy to think of regrets, instead of focusing on the successes. Some years really are teaching years, when the lessons learned come about the hard way.

There are no do-overs—you just have to take your diploma from the School of Hard Knocks and hope you don’t have to re-enroll at that school for long time to come!

So it’s time to celebrate what went right: the victories, both big and small, and the joys we did find. And, look forward to what comes next . . .

including summer, with its scheduled vacation, summer jobs, more opportunities to relax—and sleep a little more, as well as our hosting a student from Spain again for a month. Jackson and Christiana celebrate their 17th birthdays and me, I celebrate my 47th. Time to tear out the old pages from the calendar and start fresh again.

I’ve planted the flowers, now it’s time to water, feed, and weed—and enjoy. You’ll find me in the porch glider taking time to smell the roses (they always bloom in time for the kids’ birthday) and practicing remembering how to breathe deeply once more.

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