I recently read an article on Scary Mommy about how different it is to take kids to the beach now versus growing up in the ’80s. I have to say, I was unable to relate to most of it, despite being born in 1980. Part of this was because my mom was ahead of her time. Those organic veggies the author references bringing to the beach now, vs. the chips/bucket of chicken/store-bought cookies she remembers?
Well, “organic” wasn’t so much a thing then as it is now, but my mom definitely brought veggies to the beach, and some of them were grown in her garden without pesticides. Oh, and the boombox? If we brought a radio, it was because my dad came along, and if he came along, that radio was probably set to NPR or something equally boring for someone under 10. (NPR, I love you as an adult. Seriously. I have become my dad when it comes to the radio. NPR all the way, baby.)
Only bringing a towel, food, and a blanket? Playing with sand and sticks? Okay. You’ve got me there, sister. Although I envied the kids with the giant, ride-on orca inflatable, I was never the kid that had something that cool. I might have had a sand bucket. The little plastic shovel that typically comes with a sand bucket either broke or never existed because I really don’t remember having one at the beach. And since the shovel is not a required element in the sandcastle-building process, my frugal father probably made me use my hand to scoop the sand into the bucket while NPR blared on his (then) 30-year-old radio.
But what really got me was the bit about sunscreen. The author, Katie Smith, says, “During my entire childhood, I remember putting on sunscreen twice.”
Wow. Twice? I remember getting burned really badly twice. And I probably was wearing sunscreen when that happened. Like my mom, I have the superior genes that manifest most noticeably in red hair and “alabaster” skin. And, after even just a minute or two of direct sunlight, a really annoying tendency to resemble a boiled lobster.
Also, I’m an only child. My mother has six siblings. She did not get lathered with sunscreen, which was not as ubiquitous during her childhood (sorry to date you, Mom, but you’ve been around longer than the Coppertone Girl), every time she went outside on a sunny day. And she burned. Oh, did she burn. She told me all about it, in traumatizing detail, when I whined about having to wear sunscreen.
And I did whine. I was a kid; of course I whined. I had no idea how genetics worked. I didn’t understand why my cousin never burned, but rather turned a lovely bronze color that people like me (but not me – well, not since adolescence) try (and mostly fail) to emulate by rubbing (or paying someone to airbrush) odd, oranging concoctions all over our bodies. My cousin’s gorgeous tan simply does not happen on a redhead. Not in nature, anyway. I was convinced it would, if I simply exposed myself to enough sunlight. I was nine.
THANK YOU, Mom, for not allowing me to expose myself to enough sunlight that would have led me to the sunburned horrors of your childhood (which you laid out for me in excruciating detail – thank you for every excruciating detail), and for teaching me the importance of sunscreen to our people.
Today, in my mid-thirties, I am still Casper-like, because genetics, but I am okay with that. I married a man who thinks my freakishly white skin is hot (and not because it’s sunburned). I also have defied age, apparently, because I still get carded pretty much every time I buy alcohol. This annoyed me in my late twenties, but now it mostly just annoys me if I’m juggling a 4-year-old and a 2-year-old in the checkout line. Fishing out my driver’s license usually requires a third appendage with an opposable thumb if I’m simultaneously preventing Thing 1 from ripping the rubber bumper off the checkout counter and Thing 2 from relieving the candy rack of all its Reese’s.
I did not fully comprehend the extent of my outward youthfulness, however, until a couple months ago at an electronics recycling center. The guy helping unload my dad’s truck said that I had to have an I.D. with a local address to recycle my broken tech. “No problem,” I said, digging my driver’s license out of my pocket. “And you have to be 18,” the guy replied with uncertainty etched into his pierced eyebrows. His many and varied piercings would have really done it for me when I was, in fact, 18, and I laughed a flirtatious little laugh as I imagined meeting him when I was 18 and single. “I’m actually 35,” I said as I composed myself and gestured pointedly with my left hand, “but thanks.”
I’m very much on the short side, so some people may assume that I’m simply not done growing. However, the lion’s share of the credit for my continued preservation belongs to my mother and her loyal support of the sunscreen industry. Without it, I would be looking at 40 on the horizon with more than just a few laugh lines around my eyes.
Oh, and there’s that other thing – what’s it called? Skin cancer. So far, so good on not having skin cancer.
(I just knocked on wood. If my mom is reading this, she did, too.)
And, yes, Mom, I put on sunscreen this morning. And, yes, I will make that annual dermatologist appointment soon.