Our single most valuable educational toy was an old inner tube tractor tire that taught 6 valuable lessons and helped raise kids on Summit Lake. Like my siblings and me, my children and their cousins drifted through every stage of childhood floating on that old black tube. Society keeps inventing more high-powered vehicles and electronic toys, but what kids really need is non-motorized, unstructured downtime to be bored and learn how to play.

Kids need non-micro managed moments to be kids. To sky gaze. To float. To doze. To drift. To dream.

That patched up piece of rubber provided endless hours of entertainment. It kept us adrift through the stormy waters of life by creating happy memories to sustain us during hard times. We passed on the art of living in the moment from one generation to the next.

On the water, we learned to share and take turns, balance and agility, team building and muscle making. Off the water that old tube taught us to slow down, relax, and savor stories. While grandma read a fairytales or grandpa recounted sagas of the Summit Lake ghost, kids perched on the side of the tube and learned to love stories.

Creativity. That old tire sparked their imagination. They once invented a new sport, Tubastics, which consisted of bouncing on a tube in the yard and jumping up off in perfect 10 point landing. That event inspired their first Summit Lake Olympics complete with an opening parade, special events, posters, prizes, and spectators.

Courage. Younger kids learned bravery by holding hands of an older cousin and jumping off the side of the tube into the dark, cold water.

Leadership. Older kids learned responsibilities by helping younger ones learn to jump, swim, and dive.

Balance. In a sequence of challenges, they tested their dexterity.

  • First step – standing alone on the tube.
  • Next test – balancing upright holding hands with a partner.
  • Add another cousin.
  • Plus a friend.
  • Grand finale – a big splash as the lake echoed with laughter.

As teens and young adults, their games required more skill. Pass and catch while standing on tube became a favorite. Then pass and catch in air while jumping off the tube was added to the repertoire.

Love of books. On windy days, when the tube absorbed heat from the sun it was warmest spot on the dock and perfect place to read. From Bernstein Bears, to Death on the Nile, from Harry Potter, to Lord of the Rings. Minds enlarged with one mystery after another. Story after story.

Peace of mind. Kids float through summers chilling out in quiet moments of stillness on a silvery lake that rocks in a crib of evergreen under powder blue skies.

Children grew up daydreaming about the doctors, nurses, teachers, engineers, coaches, and counselors and high-spirited, nature loving, compassionate adults they would one day become. Every summer we drift back in time releasing that inner child in a state of mindfulness.

Yep, blissed out on that black inner tube.

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Happy 4th of July!