My family visited the beach pretty regularly when I was young. We lived in Florida – that, and visit Disney, is what you did. Now, people always assume that to live in Florida is to live on the beach, and that certainly isn’t the case at all. I grew up in the middle of orange groves and swamp. Cows, there were also lots and lots of cows. But the beach was a solid 90 minutes away, to the east or to the west. Even Donnette, who grew up on the coast, didn’t grow up on the beach. There isn’t even a beach in her hometown, it’s just swamp, then ocean. *1* The particular beach my family liked to visit was almost three hours away, though I’ve heard that the toll roads have lessened that commute. Even with that sort of drive, we went fairly regularly, we just had to pack a bunch of stuff to go. And by a bunch of stuff, I mean sunscreen.
Well, maybe not just sunscreen. There were always several bottles of it nestled into bags, but sunscreen alone was insufficient to protect me from the ever present UV rays. There were hats. Shirts. More hats. My mom would pack everything you could conceivably need in order to keep a pale, red headed kid from coming home looking like a cross between a fire truck and Superman’s cape. Of course I hated it all; I hated the hats, *2* I hated the shirts, and more than anything I hated the sunscreen. I hated waiting to have it put on while other kids bounded for the ocean. I hated that, no matter what the bottle promised, the second my face got wet that stuff would leak down into my eyes, painfully stinging them for the rest of the day. I’m convinced that was actually the signal to my mom that it was time to reapply, “Christopher hasn’t rubbed his eyes in the last few minutes, I bet his sunscreen has worn off.” I would fight this battle with my mom most of my adolescence, until finally, I just abandoned going outside from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm.
There were some memorable exceptions. Once, in middle school, I didn’t put sunscreen on my arms, because, generally speaking, my arms didn’t burn with light exposure. I would have been fine, if I hadn’t spend the rest of 7th grade wearing a watch. My arm didn’t burn, but my “watchband” blistered so badly that even now, a good twenty plus years later, I still have a freckled scar pattern that vaguely resembles a Swatch. Then there was the Saturday before my Sophomore year started, when I thought to myself, you know, my shoulders are a little pale, I bet they could use to spend 8 hours at the lake without any sort of protection on them.” By the time I came inside, my shoulders were already purple, and I knew I was in trouble. *3* I’ve experienced some pretty bad pain in my life, from (intentionally) ripping a toenail off to being bitten by a pit bull, so I can’t say that burn was the worst pain I’ve ever been in, but I’ve never been more uncomfortable for a longer period of time then I was after that blockbuster of a decision. I was fifteen when that happened, and while I’ve occasionally gotten more sun than necessary, it’s fair to say I’ve learned my lesson and have mostly avoided any more bad burns.
Before I met Donnette, I definitely knew that I wanted to marry someone with darker skin than mine. It wasn’t that I didn’t find fair skinned people attractive, I just wanted to give my kids a fighting chance. One of my favorite memories of Donnette came while we were dating. We were dating long distance, and I flew down to see her in early March for a long weekend. In Charlotte, late February/ early March is one of the darkest, coldest times of the year, but in Florida, it’s already hot and sunny, perfect for anyone taking a swimming class and looking to get some sun. I remember walking down the jetway and spotting her, gorgeous in a white dress, as tan as I was pale. Any doubts that I had lucked out all but vanished on that short walk.
I did ignore the fact that her mother, brother and sister all had red hair. With Donnette, it at least seemed possible that our children would be more sun resistant.
We took a short term mission trip to Honduras in the summer of 2009. The first morning we were to head to the field, I layered on the sunscreen, not realizing that Donnette had brought the ultra-thick, ultra-strong bullfrog, SPF 1,000,000. I squirted it on my arms and legs, and then spent the next 20 minutes trying to get it to absorb into my skin, with no success. Our pictures for the first morning reveal 14 normal looking people, and me, serving as the sole representative of the Norwegian delegation. I was greasy for the rest of the day, and I’d bet good money that the inside of the van still has some residue from my presence in it. On the plus side, I came home from Honduras as white, and maybe even whiter, than I’d left, though the hat I’d brought was effectively ruined through the combination of bullfrog and flop sweat. That trip was formative to Donnette and I on a couple of fronts. Our time in Honduras really led us to believe that God was calling us to foreign missions, but that the place he was calling us was not Latin America.
I simply wasn’t made for that much sunshine.
France is sunny too, and if we were going to be working outdoors all day long we might have had to reconsider it too. Fortunately, most of the work to be done in France is of an indoor nature, meaning that sunshine will be elective, not prescriptive. I hope this all doesn’t sound too shallow, there were other reasons for choosing France, but it was a practical consideration, and, I feel, a fairly reasonable one.
The jury’s still out on the fate of our children. Avonlea has beautiful red hair, which would seem to portend a lifetime of sunscreen application, but her eyes are brown, and she does seem to tan a little better than me. Not that we’re really going to let her fund out any time soon. This has been a pretty mild summer, so we’ve spent a bunch of days outdoors, and I’m pretty sure when we add up our expenses for the year sunscreen is going to have to be a line item in our next budget. At least now they make a spray on version, making reapplication a much less painful process. *4* My hope at this point is that, if the kids can’t tan like their mother, they at least won’t burn like their father.
It’s a low bar, but I’m okay with it.
*1* Anyone who tries to argue with me here that the dirty stretch of roped off shore is a beach will be immediately dismissed. Crystal River has no beach, at least no beach anyone in their right mind would want to visit.
*2* Looking back, I realize that I certainly didn’t have the inside track on cool, but even then, those hats were not cool.
*3* To make matters worse, the following Monday started two-a-days for football. I would wear five or six shirts to spare my shoulders the worst of the pain, only to get home and have to peel them off, painfully, due to all the puss and blood that had leaked through. If I’d have known a dermatologist at the time, he (or she, let’s not be sexist) would’ve punched me in the gut for being so stupid.
*4* That is, unless you forget to shake the can. Donnette was occupied, so spraying Avonlea fell to me, and I completely hosed her in the face with straight sunscreen.