The kids were squealing in the backseat.

For the five minutes prior they were begging me to spill the beans on where we were going as I had only told them to get their shoes, get in the car and buckle up.

It’s one of the ways I’ve learned to make a simple trip out of the house one that is a mysterious adventure to them.

As we took left and right turns away from our house, they were trying to guess where we were going . . . and when we finally pulled up to a brand new playground we had never been to, the cheers bursting out of the windows of my SUV said that this adventure was already a success.

My kids love playgrounds . . . and as a kid, I did too.

It was the place I went to pretend I was an Olympic gymnast while twirling my body in a dismount off the monkey bars. It’s the place I would mindlessly fly back and forth on a swing while singing my favorite song. It’s where I would make up games with my friends like who could go the longest without touching our feet onto the “hot lava” ground.

It was about dreams, freedom, fun and imagination.

As my kids ran out of the car and sprinted toward the play land they had to themselves, I slowly walked behind them and eventually made it to my spot on the bench. 

I was EXHAUSTED.  

The kids had been extra demanding. Life was busy. My body felt like it was dragging. And this was my time to rest for a little bit.

So while the kids’ imaginations turned the structure into a pirate ship in front of me, I went to auto-pilot reach for my phone to scroll.

But, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a swing that was moving back and forth in a light breeze. For some reason, all I could think is that it was moving the way it would if someone was sitting on it with her head hung down in sadness. Just ever so slightly back and forth as she mindlessly kicked a foot in the dirt as she grappled with feeling lonely.

An emotional wave came over me as I imagined my inner little girl sitting sadly on that swing. 

The one who loved playgrounds.

The one loved using my imagination.

The one who loved to laugh and be active.

The one who sought out any feeling of freedom.

The one who never sat on the sidelines when fun was in play.

I imagined her . . . just sitting there . . . wondering when I was going to remember she existed.

I immediately lifted myself off the bench and onto that swing with purpose, wanting to rescue that little girl the way I would want to comfort my own children if they were sitting there sadly.

I closed my eyes and transported myself back to my favorite swing from my favorite playground when I was seven. Worry-free. Not a care in the world besides being present in how awesome it felt to be present. I pumped my legs with a strength that could have flipped me right over the pole the chains hung from.

My kids awed at how high I was swinging . . . before yelling to me to join them on their pirate ship. I sailed off the swing and joined them in climbing tubes, swinging from the monkey bars and sliding down twisty slides with my hands in the air before catching myself at the bottom, so as to not put my feet in the “hot lava” I imagined our ship being on.

As we got back in our car after our imaginary adventure on the high seas was over, I felt more alive that I had in a while.  

The exhaustion disappeared, and the happiness was all over my face.

Before heading home, I looked over to the swing that lured me off my spot on the bench.  

It was no longer moving . . . because that little girl wasn’t sitting on it sadly anymore.  

She was joyfully in the car within me.

Ready to remind me to not let fun sit on the sidelines anymore . . . but instead, to use it as a tool to make the stress and exhaustion of adulthood become the only one sitting on that bench instead.

Brea Schmidt

​Brea Schmidt is a writer, photographer and mom advocate who aims to generate authentic conversation about motherhood and daily life on her blog, The Thinking Branch.  She also owns the Ohio-based family photography business Photography by Brea.  When she isn't writing, photographing or Mom-ing her three kids under the age of five, you can usually find her listening to country music or aggressively cheering for her favorite sports teams.