Love and Sunscreen
Monday, October 1, 2012 • 12:00am
Our family spent a week this August on Lake Norman near Charlotte, North Carolina. We were a full house of sixteen: G, me, our five kids, G’s mom and step-father, her two aunts, and her brother, his wife and their three kids. Some of these people I know quite well. I sleep with one of them, I gave birth to two of them, I live with six of them and I’ve spent large blocks of time with others. One I met on this trip for the first time.
About the ones with whom I live, I know a lot…I can tell you who hums all the time, who balances his dining room chair on two legs, who loves Thin N’ Right pretzels, who finally got his Mohawk, and who we’ll all be paying good money to see on Broadway. One tiny moment on this lake vacation taught me something I didn’t know. When I say it was a tiny moment, I mean tiny. It involved something we do a hundred times in the course of a summer, something that’s generally a pain for all who participate, something about which I’ve never given a second thought. However, here I sit, in mid-September, with school in full swing, and I can’t stop thinking about it. G had gone to the supermarket, as was someone’s lucky chore every day (we did have sixteen mouths to feed), and I was on lake duty, which meant I had to douse everyone in sunscreen and play lifeguard. I loved being down on the dock with the kids. They lined up for spray on their bodies and lotion on their faces.
The last one to get lathered up that morning was Curls, my nine-year old step-son. He and I get along great. He’s a sweet, thoughtful and gentle person who loves the Mets and the Giants like his Dad, and looks exactly like his mom. I sprayed his arms, legs, back and belly and then picked up the face cream. He closed his eyes and stayed perfectly still while I spread the thick, white lotion across his cheeks. Just then, I realized that I’d never really touched his face before…I mean, kneaded it in the way you have to when you’re protecting it from the super-strong southern sun. I found myself surprised and a little giddy at the pliability of that skin. I pressed lightly on his nose and it almost flattened. Soft like putty. I didn’t know his face and he was letting me discover it. It was, in my mind, the most intimate exchange we’ve ever had, and to me it represented a degree of trust similar to that which people feel when they fall asleep while you’re driving. They leave it to you to get them there safely. I’m sure that while I rubbed the stuff in, Curls was holding his breath and counting the seconds until I was done so he could cannonball into the lake. I could have gone on forever.
I can’t imagine that Curls has given a millisecond’s thought to our hand-to-nose exchange under the wooden roof just above the wobbly dock, and he likely never will. I thank him and I wonder what tiny moment he might be thinking about right now…a way someone deeply affected him about which they have no idea.
Liz Kingsley lives in Westfield with her girlfriend and their five children. During the day, she writes poetry and columns about her family, directs and teaches at The Writers Studio, and helps out at a local elementary school. At night, she collapses from exhaustion.
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