My kids and I are vampires. We do not sparkle. Instead, we glow with the paleness of a cave people who have not seen the sun for generations.
My people come from Eastern Europe, around the Tatra Mountains. Bear’s people come from, I think, England, Scotland, and England. Our people are a white people. We once had a pale-ass contest in my dorm. It came down to my Irish boyfriend and me. He was basically brown freckles and milkmaid skin. I won by unanimous assent. My husband is always the type to have weird tan lines, like where his shirt cuffs hit his wrists, or where his sunglasses rest on the bridge of his nose.
Basically, my kids had no chance.
They all came out as red screaming bologna loafs, stayed red through the newborn period, and then paled out to their natural coloring around six months. Because they were all winter babies, this was somewhere around early summer, and I sort of panicked each time. By “panic,” I mean “went fucking shopping.” At the time, only Boden was making rash guard and pants sets, so Mini Boden it was. My kids went to the beach more clothed than they went to church.
As they aged, I accumulated more Mini Boden rash guard/pants suits. My kids wore them the fuck out because they got passed down from boy to boy. My youngest two are still wearing them at times. Now I’ve relaxed a little. Because my oldest sits on his knees when he kayaks, I let him wear regular swim shorts. But he’s always got on a long-sleeved rash guard — in South Carolina. In the middle of the summer. Swimming means putting on more clothes than it does taking them off, at least for us.
My screaming bologna loafs were also born bald. They also took forever to grow hair — at least a year per kid. That meant that I was either slathering sunscreen on bare heads, or they were wearing hats. And what if I missed an ear?! So since no baby was actually going in the water, and in fact for most of their lives they were just sitting on the shore, playing in the sand, they wore hats. Not baby bucket hats, however – those were too hot. I got straw fedoras from Target and made the kids wear those.
And once I got a look at how cute those hats looked, there was no way they were taking them off. I mean, sunburn, right? So I made a rule: The kids had to wear their hats, or they had to go inside. We developed an enormous collection of child hats, from gray to straw to blue dinosaur. Baseball caps didn’t count because they didn’t shade the back of their necks. After a while, they learned to accept the hats as something to be endured, even if they itched their heads (as my oldest constantly complains). People marvel that my 3-year-old wears a fedora everywhere. “It’s so cute!” they squeal. Yeah, he knows he has to wear it, or he’s banished back inside. He internalized that rule pretty young.
And to top it all off, I still have to sunscreen the rugrats. I need to get their hands. I need to get their legs. And most importantly, I need to make sure I sunscreen their feet, or they’ll end up with sunburnt sandal-marks criss-crossing their feet, and that hurts like hell. So we sunscreen feet, back, and sides. But I also put my kids in real shoes if it’s possible. I’m the mom buying the water shoes from Target, the one who doesn’t just use last year’s sandals. And if they decide to go barefoot, woe unto them, and may they have the sense to stay the hell out of the direct sun.
We sunscreen the requisite 20 minutes before going outside. I know that no one else does that, and it makes me the biggest, palest, helicopter-y-est mom dork in the world. I do not care. We use the no-fragrance, no-parabens, as-few-chemicals-as-possible stuff that’s marketed for babies and costs more than its weight in gold. But if I’m rubbing them down from head to toe several times a day, I feel better if we take the more natural route. We also make sure it’s the SPF 60+. According to Dr. Steven Q. Wang, MD, writing for the Skin Cancer Foundation’s “Ask an Expert,” once you go above SPF 50, the difference is minimal. I happen to feel better about the bigger number, so that’s what we do to calm my anxious mind.
Kids done, I have to do myself. I rely on my face moisturizer and makeup to keep my face unburnt. But I wear a long-sleeved, long-dressed cover-up. My bathing suit also consists of a long-sleeved shirt or rash guard. And then I sunscreen up to my bikini line and down between my toes because have you ever had your sandal thongs burnt into your feet? Ouch. I managed to get through last year with only one tan line — on the back of my neck. This year, I’m going to make sure I remember it, and hopefully I’ll maintain a perfect pallor for the entire summer.
Yeah, I wish I could tan. I like the way it looks, even if it does show my stretch marks. But my daddy has had more melanoma removed from his body than I can recall. My grandfather-in-law is the same way. Both of them spent too much time in the sun without protection. So it’s in my genes, it’s in my husband’s genes, and worst of all, it’s in my kids’ genes. I don’t want them to develop melanoma one day because I was too lazy to sunscreen their ears, so I’m unapologetically neurotic about sun protection. They’ve never been burnt. And as long as I’m praying for shade, they won’t be.