NEWCORN: What you can learn watching kids wash cars

May 31, 2013 

— The flock of kids descended on my car, raised their fists and ...

But wait, I guess I should provide some context here. Courtesy of Mother Nature's sense of humor, the recent rain spatters combined with the ever-present pollen had done an excellent job of making my car look filthy.

Normally, I take my car into a car wash to resolve the problem. But on this sunny spring day, I was lured by the determined tinkle of cowbells at the corner of Orangeburg and McHenry, and decided to take the kids up on their offer for a car wash. What I got was a lesson in life that I will cherish.

The fund-raising washers were a Boy Scout troop, members about age 10. A row of cars of every shape and size were lined up for cleaning; dads helped by tackling vehicle rooftops. It was merry mayhem at its finest.

The kids hauled around suds-filled buckets and huge sponges, and enthusiastically descended on every vehicle, cloaking them in white bubbles. That is, when they weren't lobbing soapy sponges at each other and scampering around the cars playing sponge tag, mixing cleaning with fun. All of us waiting were laughing our heads off at their antics. Frequently, as fathers rinsed the cars, the kids would dash through the spray for a rinse as well. Laughter and giggles bubbled through the air.

Their simple joy was delightful — and thought-provoking. They weren't trudging around doing a chore. They were gleefully enjoying the moment, and all of life's burdens were an irrelevant social issue.

I found myself reminiscing about when I was a munchkin like those lads, and the fun of running through a sprinkler, or playing tag, or laughing just because. Just being. Not worrying about what others thought about me. Or how I looked — oh, dear, did the bubbles smear my mascara? Or how many people were texting or calling me, and that if I didn't respond to immediately, the world would come crashing to a halt. Theirs was a joyful freedom that cost absolutely nothing and brought smiles to all.

Who doesn't know the scene in Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol," where Marley comes trudging in burdened by the "chains he forged in life." The children's happiness revealed how we forge those chains ourselves. We permit our lives to become a host of chores and burdens — or look at them as being so. Consider how often when you ask somebody how their day is going, the answer is a litany of how much they have to do, they don't know how they'll get it all done, and it never seems to stop. To which you respond in kind with your own overscheduled life and list of obligations that you have absolutely no choice but to fulfill.

Or do you? Have we reached a point in our society where we confuse busy-ness with productivity, or believe that crammed schedules equal a superior quality of life? Apparently so. Until you watch a flock of little lads cavorting amidst laughter and bubbles, and suddenly realize that much of your "overburdened life" is of your own making — by choice.

No, the $5 donation I made wasn't tax deductible, and no, it wasn't the most perfect cleaning job. But the gift those children gave me about the importance of keeping joy in my life and enjoying the here and now was priceless. I drove away with a much lighter heart, and a big smile. From now on, my car is getting cleaned at the fund-raising car washes — because who knows what other life lessons I'll discover?

Newcorn is a marketing consultant, author and freelance writer. Send comments or questions to her at

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