Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Sunscreen Wars

Right here, kids. Damage from the summer of '85.

June is here and I spent my morning in the same way I'll spend my summer: chasing a child while he tries to dodge my slaps of sunscreen.

Today I was lucky. I was able to land a couple of good smacks along the ridge of his nose and his forearms. But not without his Kermit flail that he usually reserves for when he's told to unload the dishwasher.

It's summer and that means time for sunscreen wars.

Ask your kids why they hate sunscreen and they'll spit their reasons out like seeds in a watermelon eating contest:

It's greasy.

It's cold.

Too much creeper touching.

I don't like to be manhandled.

It takes too long.

My clothes stick to it.

It feels itchy when it dries.

I don't like to stand and have people rub cream into me.

You make me look like a little kid when you don't blend it in.

You don't blend it in.

You're bad at blending it in.


I don't need it because I've never had a sunburn.

Yeah right! Maybe it's because I'm so damn GOOD at my job!

What my children forget is that parenting is not a democracy and that means sunscreen use is not debatable. No votes will be taken. It will not come down to you voicing your choice.

I hate sunscreen season and have tried to find ways to lessen the hysterics and wails that come with the months of June July August. I've fallen into the trap of following sunscreen trauma lessening advice like, Let them feel independence and they will cooperate! I took my kids to the store and let them pick out their own sunscreen. Purple sunscreen is what they decided.

You know what happens to a kid when he sees you slathering purple on his arms and forearms and is screaming so loud about This is why I don't have friends that he drowns out your own screams of “IT BLENDS IN!” You end up going back to the shimmery pearl hue of Coppertone.

Here's some more parenting forum advice of shared sunscreen strategies that I got suckered into, Let them decide where to apply it first.

"OK, honey, since you're a big kid now, I'm going to let you tell me where you want the sunscreen to go first. See, because you are in charge."

“Nowhere.” That's what they told me. “Nowhere is where I want the sunscreen to go first.”

I tried even more genius suggestions from parenting groups:

Get the sunscreen stick!

Nope. Strike one. My kids screamed that I would get it mixed up with the purple glue stick. Make a mistake like that once and they never forget.

Apply it while they sleep!

Nope again. What you'll get instead is one sunscreen stained $89.00 bedspread from Pottery Barn.

Sunscreen them up while you put in a movie!

You know what's worse than a stained $90 bedspread? A stained thousand dollar sofa.

And my own solution:

Apply while they sit with a cotton candy tub in front of them. Bingo. And my go-to ever since.

Today, I'm wiser than I was 18 years ago in my first summer as a parent. I bark out orders in a baritone developed across two decades, so I tell my kids to take a deep breath and hold it, 'cause mama's spraying and she's a human titanium dioxide crop duster. So get ready, young'uns, and make a mad run out of the cloud and toward toxin free air.

After I've sprayed them down, I ask them if they want to hear the story again about the number of nose reconstructive surgeries I had to witness while assisting a dermatologist in a job after college. They throw five bottles of sunscreen at my head and beg me to make them look like Data in Star Trek.

My children may never give up their resistance movement. But as long as I'm in charge of their health, my summer will begin and end with a sunblock stick SPF60 to their faces. With the noon day sun, I'll move into a heavier SPF80 cream for all over their bodies. If their protests continue, their day will feature pictures of skin cancer. More swatting away of my sunscreen filled hands will just grow into a homeschooling unit of science experiments about the sun and potential damage of its powerful rays.

But it won't be all terror and trauma around sunblock season. I've got some fun set aside too. Like scheduled refreshing sunblock breaks during the day. I take the light approach then and let them use spray versus stick. And while everyone is going in for summer haircuts, I'm letting my three go for the built-in scalp and face protection of a Shaggy do. Ear tips, foreheads and back of the necks are now safer with less struggle. The little one looks adorably like a tiny Einstein.

I have accepted that as much as I dread it, my kids will continue to fight me as long as the sun rises in the sky. Other than applying sunblock at home to minimize public spectacles, there really isn't a whole lot more that we can do. And I'm not giving up the sunscreen way of life.

Any desperate measure is acceptable in the name of Sun Safety to me. I will use myself as a walking caveat--"look at me" I say and show them my sun spotted cheeks. While they sit frozen in terror, I dab a blob on each of their cheeks, noses, foreheads and say "Let me rub it in. I'm getting better at blending now!"

Solidarity, my fellow sun protectors. Remember that you are not alone in your misunderstood ways. Find strength and resolve in knowing that all we do, we do in the name of love.
Slather on. And sunblock the crud out of your crew!
* * *


  1. Switch out your eye and hair color for blue and blonde and I have your exact face from 1985. Three hours on a side, I would lie on a raft or by the ocean with BABY OIL on my skin. And lemon juice squeezed into my hair.

    Ah, what we did for beauty. (Why was that beautiful, again?)

    In my adulthood, I now bear the scars (from many excisions of irregular cells). The cautionary tales are real. You are wise, mama. Wise.

    Cotton Candy and Coppertone. A mantra worth embracing.



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