Friday was a hard day for me. When the kids’ school decided, with only about a week’s notice, that they would take Friday off . . . I was left in the lurch again. I didn’t want to call in sick due to the fact I am taking a couple days to get them to the airport and packed and all that for Nebraska coming in a week or so. I asked my wife’s sister, but forgot she was running a race on that very day. My wife’s father offered to watch the kids, and I had no choice so I dropped them off at the house so I could work. After all, they live in the same house as my wife’s sister, so . . .
It was lucky for me I dropped them at the house because I was playing reporter for the day (actually on the air this time, too, which is rare for me!) and they needed me to work that day. Too many other people had already called in sick. So I thought, with no worries, that they could spend the day, their aunt has a pool, and they’d be fine. I arrived early enough that they seemed just fine. My wife’s father was doing yard work. I took Hannah, the senior child, and asked her to keep an eye on them. My last words for the kids as I walked from the door to the car was “Make sure you use sun screen, it’s going to be hot today!”
You can see the writer’s foreboding there, right? I looked back and they were already readying their swimsuits to head to the pool.
I had no indication there was any problem through the day, though I was pretty swamped. At one point Abbi, my oldest daughter, texted me and asked when I told her grandparents the kids would get picked up. She’d taken it into her own hands, though, and went to pick them up.
When I got home, somewhere around 7:30 in the evening, pizzas and root beer in hand, I walked in the door and saw two of the reddest faces I had ever seen. I immediately knew what had happened. My final advice, on the way out, had been completely ignored. Hannah, still a few weeks from being an official teenager, had her period and didn’t want to get in the pool, so she had minor burns on her arms. Noah, one of the twins, is extremely modest and wears a swim shirt all the time, so he had burns to his face and arms.
Sam, though, he’s the victim here. He had burns on his face, front, back, legs, all of it. I think he had a touch of heat stroke, and was barely able to move. Abbi had already put aloe-vera gel with some pain killer (solarcaine) on him. I told him to leave off his shirt. By mid-evening he came up and said he didn’t feel very good – sign of a severe burn. I’m fortunate, I suppose, in that I was married to someone who would burn like this. I have Mediterranean genes, so it has to be hours and hours of intense heat for me to burn. It’s days on end for me to burn like that.
By the time Sam had come to me feeling sick he hadn’t noticed the blisters forming on his shoulders and back. Hundreds of them. Some very large. He was so freaked out by the awful looking pustules that he started to cry. It was at this point I realized that we’d always kept the boys, the girls, so well protected that they’d never had any kind of severe burn. Maybe it was good . . . maybe it was a bit too sheltered. Sunburn is awful, I know. It’s even worse if you’re fair skinned, and Sam & Noah are fair like their Mom. Thanks to her, I knew how to care for them. I knew that if he laid back and burst the blisters it was worse. When they got too big or hot I drained them like Andrea and my father – two medically trained people – had shown me. I kept putting aloe on. I gave him Tylenol.
And he spent Friday and Saturday nights unable to sleep much.
“I don’t want to swim again,” was his lament.
“You’ll swim again. You just need to get over the burn.”
“I hate this, Dad.”
I didn’t have the heart to remind him that I’d told him first thing in the morning to use sunscreen.
We had so much to do this weekend and I couldn’t bring myself to force him to do it. We did wander out – him wearing an old t-shirt of mine while bandaged loosely so the shirt didn’t touch his back – and shopped for shoes.
As I sit here tonight, after watching a movie with my oldest daughter, 12:00 in the morning, I realize that these are the things that I have to face from here on. The trials of parenting that seem so difficult when you’re a young parent are coming back just as difficult now. You can’t protect them from everything, and though his skin will be tender for awhile now, it will be a little tougher as a result.
Sam’s such a well-built, hard kid it’s difficult for people to see that inside he’s such a marshmallow. He is outgoing, flirtatious (yes, even at 9) and strong as an ox. He’s cute, and happy and seemingly the kid you’d see as the friendly high school jock that fools you when he quotes Dickens followed by the “Dead Parrot Sketch.” But when things are too hard he folds. He’s almost closed himself down into a corner with some blisters and a sunburn.
I see that sometimes we protect them too much. But sometimes, he just has to be out in the sun and take his beating, feel the heat, and live with the blisters. It’s a hard balance. I want some of that soft center to remain, but how do you harden him without losing that loving, soft part of his being? I watch him today and without berating him, try to remind him the lesson of the week . . . that you cannot go out in that much heat (98 Friday) and not use sunscreen.
But the blisters will fade, and as I put him to bed tonight he smiled and said he loved me. Maybe the gooey center’s still there, underneath the blisters.