It’s only natural

Some natural consequences are definitely harder to watch than others. Recently, Fenner had plans to spend the day with her friends at the local pool. “Mom, do you think I have everything I need?” she asked. “I really don’t know. Do you have sunscreen?” I responded. “No.” “Okay, here’s the new bottle I just bought. It’s waterproof.” “Okay!” “Do you need help doing your shoulders?” “No, my friends will help me.” “Alright, have a great time!” And off she went.

Fenner has my complexion – blue eyes and fair skin. My mother tried to protect me from the sun growing up, but I still got my share of nasty burns along the way. I remember how much they hurt, but I also remember how much fun it was to peel the dead skin off in big pieces several days later. Skin cancer and wrinkles were just things I sometimes heard grown-ups discuss. It wasn’t anything for me to worry about.

Now I’m forty, facing wrinkles head-on, and I’m also a science writer. I’ve written detailed articles about what the sun does to your skin on a molecular level. And I’ve watched both my parents and also Jerry get treated for various forms of skin cancer, including melanoma. Luckily it was caught in time. Meanwhile, for eleven years, I have meticulously protected Fenner from ever having a sunburn. So when she came home from the pool with a bright pink face and asked me why she felt so hot, I frowned at her. “Did you put sunscreen on your face?” “No,” she said with wide eyes and a nervous smile, “I forgot!” I looked at her arms and legs. Bright pink. “Did you put sunscreen on anywhere?” “No…” she said bracing herself for my reaction. “Are you mad?” she asked. I was a little, but I said, “No … just … that’s really bad for your skin.” “I’m sorry,” she said softly. “Okay,” I said, “I just really expected you to wear sunscreen.” “Sorry, mom.” I nodded and went back to doing the dishes.

As I washed the dishes I thought about how many times I had to learn the hard way about the sun. It seems like every spring I would forget how easy it was to get a burn, even on an overcast day. How could I possibly expect her to just take my word for it? I’ve taught her what I know, I’ve provided the means for her to protect herself, and the rest is up to her. Even knowing what I know, I now have to stand aside and let her learn from experience. (Better put some after-burn lotion on the shopping list …)

The next day I found a note taped to my jewelry box:

I wrote back and taped it to her door: “Dear Fenner, thank you for your note. Apology accepted. I did the same thing when I was your age. I just want to help you take good care of that beautiful skin! And you’re the best 11-yr-old a mom could have!” (Whoops, that was praise, wasn’t it?!) Later I noticed she had placed my note carefully on the shelf next to her bed.

ps That outing at the pool was 5 days ago. Right now her new suit and towel are still in a wet ball in a bag in the mudroom. How many times have I said, “Wet towels left in a ball will start to stink”? Countless. Time to stay quiet and let her discover the joys of mildew all on her own. (And to refrain from saying “I told you so!”)

pps Today was family meeting and I had to contain myself as Fenner read her appreciation for Charlotte. Keep in mind that 3 months ago Fenner would complain bitterly at the slightest chance of being left alone with Charlotte. But this morning, she looked over at her sister and said softly, “I appreciate Charlotte because she keeps me company when I’m alone.” Charlotte beamed … and so did I.

Explore posts in the same categories: Week 11: The Slippery Slope

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