Elf You!

This post originally appeared on December 5, 2013.

elfIt happened again this morning–another reminder of how I am depriving my children, something that I’m sure will leave an emotional scar for decades to come. You see, our house is elfless. You read that right. We do not have an”Elf on the Shelf” (brought to you by Hasbro…batteries not included). Sorry, certain marketing gems bring me back to the commercials of my childhood.

Anyway, there we were, getting ready for school, the boys eating breakfast at the kitchen counter, when a neighbor dropped off her two kids for my wife to put on the bus. “Now, Adam, don’t forget to have a good day at school,”she calls out to him as he bounces through the kitchen. Then, she turns to us and says, “Blinky had to make a special trip to the North Pole to give Santa a report.” The boys and I exchange confused looks. Pam says, “Oh, you have an elf.” “Yep,” she says, smiling, although I can’t tell if her look is one of rejoicing or regret. “He’s helping Santa keep a close eye on them.” We all laugh nervously–my wife and I with the fear that our boys will ask why we don’t have an elf. Thankfully, they don’t. Yet, as we continue with the morning routine, I feel a bit sad for them. They are excluded from this new holiday tradition. We are completely disconnected from the elf craze. This is what it must be like for my Jewish friends who did not grow up with Santa, I think. Lucky them!

I am kind of a curmudgeon when it comes to Christmas. I hate all the hullabaloo about shopping and buying presents, of giving and getting gifts. “We have to get Soandso a gift because they get us one.” “Another pleather wallet! You shouldn’t have, Uncle Marty.” Really, you shouldn’t have. It’s worse with my own kids, who start making preliminary Christmas lists in June! I think they’ve made six this year (so far). I’m such a Grinch that I look forward to the day when they no longer believe in Mr. Claus. Then, I won’t feel bad about shooting down their wish lists. Now, we have to invent stories about why they couldn’t get a thousand dollars worth of Legos from Santa.

I enjoy family get togethers. I like the idea of decorating a tree and eating Christmas cookies, but the whole consumerism thing gives me a headache as thick as Target‘s Christmas catalogue–which arrived before Halloween. And that’s why I was actually glad when we dodged the snowball of Elf on the Shelf. It has gained popularity just as our sons’ belief in Santa is waning. They are seven and nine for Kringle‘s sake. My wife almost caved last year, but I begged her not to give in. Thankfully, she was strong. But it is awkward for us when others mention their elves. Anyone with younger kids, toddlers and such, HAS to have one, like my poor neighbor this morning, whose son is in kindergarten. If our kids were younger, we’d have an elf. And I’d be in HELF–Elf Hell.

I don’t think American culture needs any more encouragement when it comes to celebrating Christmas. As a matter of fact, I wish there was a little more coal handed out. Plus, I’m bothered by the whole “Watching You” concept. It’s bad enough to invent the omnipresent eyes of the invisible Santa, but now to have one of his minions looking in on you, well, in that case why not just call him Big Brother? Sorry to be such a downer, but you can’t convince me of the value of this. Parenting is just one idle threat after another–I don’t need a plastic pixy to do my dirty work. Just as I try to stay away from Black Friday sales–which are still going on a week later, I might add–I try to avoid all things elf.

elf2

But I did have fun on my way to work. I fantasized about what I would tell the boys if they do ask why we don’t have an Elf on the Shelf. “Mommy’s allergic.” No. “They cost too much money.” Nope, they know how much they cost because they’re on display in every toy and card store. “They will leave poop in the house.” Definitely not. Knowing my boys, that would make them want one even more. Finally, I fantasize about having a conversation with them where I explain how we can’t get an elf because we have two new dogs under the age of one. Huck and Rosie would attack the elf, and could possibly even kill it, I explain. Next, we would all imagine the elf torn to shreds–its pointy nose and impish smile chewed to bits. Then one of the boys would ask if elves bleed, and I would nod yes. Their eyes would widen, as they hug me and thank me for saving one of Santa’s helpers. Then they would go to their rooms, clean them without asking and see all the toys they already have. “Dad,” they would holler, “come here, quick!” I would run upstairs to find them finishing a note to Santa that reads: Christmas List–Revised (in my fantasy, they know what revised means). “Here,” they would say (in my fantasy, they would speak in unison). Then, they’d hand me the piece of paper, which would state: “All we want for Christmas is peace on Earth.”

My boys…I shake myself from the fantasy just as I am pulling into the parking lot at work. I feel good. I’m oddly proud of my sons for wanting world peace. I remind myself to enjoy Christmas with them this year–it’s probably Owen’s last year “believing”.

And then an image pops into my head that warms my heart: It’s of our two dogs lying by the fire Christmas morning, gnawing on the last remnants of an elf ear . Ahhhh. Don’t you just love the holidays?

Photo credits: Michael Kappel

 

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Dying to tell you…

I spent Saturday night at my brother’s house with family and friends. His house is always lively, where anyone is welcome, where shouts of playing and laughter echo through the halls–and I’m just talking about the grown-ups. It was a great time, and always fun to catch up with friends new and old.

My mom was there, and also enjoys reminiscing with our friends– the people she watched grow from boys and girls into men and women. One of my brother’s friends, Dom, was regaling us with stories of my dad, and the years disappeared as he recounted spending weekends at our house as a teenager.

As we were leaving, my mom gave Dom a big kiss and said, “Be sure to come to my funeral, Dom?” “Mrs. Trainer!” he replied, shocked, “I’ll see you again.” “I’m only teasing,” she said.  He hugged her tightly. “Well, don’t talk like that!”

But talk like that she does. Daily.

I have been preparing for my mom’s death for as long as I can remember. My mother has always been fixated on death–hers and others. I know the reasons–a father dying in front of her at five; an only child due to her mother’s numerous still-borns.

Sure, I understand why. But that didn’t help my youthful angst. Angst that lie with me in bed each night after kissing my mother and saying, “I love you. See you in the morning.” And her reply: “God willing.” Angst that rode next to me in the passenger seat as I drove to places with my mother’s directions, explained in tragic landmarks: “Go up to the road where that little boy was killed on his bike, and then turn right at the funeral home where Uncle Jimmy was laid out…” Angst that stayed with me for decades–each day a body count from the news she watches, each week a report as to how many people we know–or I do not know, as is often the case–who are sick and dying.

Yet, in my later years, I do not meet her comments with anger or angst. I laugh. And I laughed when she said this to Dom in the kitchen. My mom, the Gram Reaper.

My wife was indoctrinated into my mother’s morbid ways early in our marriage. During that first year, my mom came to our house one Saturday afternoon with coffee and a garment bag. As she handed the bag to Pam, she announced,”This is my funeral dress, hon. I want you to be in charge of it.” Pam laughed and cried at the same moment. I just shook my head and smiled. Yet, that dress has hung in my wife’s closet for over 13 years–it has moved two times with us. Pam has her job.

At school, the teachers marvel when I mention the various paraphernalia I receive from my mom: a handful of “Living Wills” to distribute to my friends; the deed to her cemetery plot; her living will. And most recently, the letter announcing she can officially have her funeral mass at the Villa where she resides in an apartment building run by the Sisters of St. Joseph. “Here you go!” she announces one night while over for dinner, thrusting it towards me with the gusto of a high school senior who has just been accepted to college. “Now, I just need to make a copy for everyone else.” “Why?” I ask. “You didn’t even need to give me a copy. I’m sure Sister would tell me when the time comes.” “I just thought you should have it.” Translation–you may not have thought about my death in the past few days, and I didn’t want you to forget!

If there is one thing that is unforgettable about my mom, it is her passion for all things tragic. She has had her share, as have I, as have all of us. But the funny thing is, the more I have embraced my mom’s sense of the tragic, the more I have made it my job to emphasize the comic. “You’re going to outlive us all!” I say when she hands me the latest item for her funeral. And she just might. She’s beaten both breast and ovarian cancer. But I know that does not comfort her. There’s no fun in dying if no one’s there to mourn.

Last year, after reading the book This Is Where I Leave You, by Jonathan Tropper–a book about a dysfunctional family sitting Shiva–I had an epiphany. I called my mom the next day. “Mom, I have a great idea for your funeral.” “What is it?” she said, excited I had started to take a genuine interest. “Well, you know how Jewish people sit Shiva for seven nights?” “Yeah.” “Well, to eliminate any drama, why don’t each of us take a night–each of your seven kids could have a night where they get to sit with you, and their friends can come and pay their respects. And other relatives can come whenever they like.” “There’s a thought,”she said, but I got the feeling it allowed for too little drama and not nearly enough pageantry. It sounded like the right approach to me, though.

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In the car today, just the two of us, we chat about my brother’s party. “Isn’t Dom funny,” she says, “the way he remembers all those things about being at our house?” “He’s a riot,” I say. “It was good to see him.” Then the conversation quickly turns to death. She begins, “You know, we had a guy in this week from Holy Sepulchre Cemetery–a real young guy, handsome, to talk about planning our funeral costs.” “I know, you told me already. The one Sister had a crush on.” She laughs. “Guess how much less it is to get cremated than buried?” “How much?” “He said seven-hundred dollars.” (I can’t tell if that’s good or bad.) “Oh!” I say, “Are you going to be cremated?” “I don’t know.” Then she launches into a story about someone who buried a box of their relatives ashes on top of someone else’s grave. “Didn’t cost them a thing,” she says. I try to comprehend this logic. “What happens if they have to bury someone else in that grave?” I ask. “Oh, I don’t know,” she says, now wondering.

“So, if you get buried, who will you be with?” I ask, although I should know. The answer comes without pause: “Pop [her stepdad], Daddy, and Phil.” Phil is a neighbor who died in his thirties–long story on how he got to be in the family plot. “Oh, God!” I say. “You can’t be buried with those three–you’ll never rest in peace. That settles it–you’re being cremated.”

We laugh. My mom and I laugh. It may sound like a weird approach to others, but that’s what we do. It’s certainly what I do. And in a strange way it makes me feel closer to her. I don’t shut down when she brings up this sorrowful topic. I no longer yell at her out of fear and confusion. I just acknowledge it, and then try to see it from a lighter perspective. It helps.

As we drive, I feel this sense of satisfaction. My mom and I driving around on a cloudy Sunday afternoon in November.

I try to change the subject so she’s not thinking of her impending demise too much. “So,” I say, “do you have any funerals this week?”

 

Photo: Courtesy of Steve Hardy, flickr.com

 

Happy Birthday, Owen.

“Ten years come and gone so fast
I might as well have been dreaming
Sunny days have burned a path
Across another season…”  –Paul Simon

I took this video from inside the house while Owen discovered the hose in the back garden. If you listen closely, you can hear my laughter.

song credit: “Can’t go back now” by: The Weepies

Wee the People

The voice of democracy rang through our house last week. Owen (9) came home to inform us that he was running for student council. “Only 4th and 5th graders can be classroom representatives,” he told me excitedly. “Each class elects one boy and one girl. A lot of boys are running, but I think I have a shot.”

As he walked out of the kitchen, I already felt like he had won. I was so proud of the fact that he decided to run on his own. As a parent, you’re often not sure if your kids are getting the message. We don’t keep a checklist on the fridge of all the things we do/do not want them to do. So, we try to lead by example. But, more than that, we hope. We hope a lot. Hope that they will understand all that we cannot put into words. That they err on the side of what’s right. That they just be nice, and kind, and president.

Over the next few days, Owen worked on his campaign. He sat in his room creating posters that highlighted his policies and platform. Posters that looked like this:

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“Wow, Owen!” I said, impressed. “This looks awesome!”

“And I made him this one, Dad,” said his little brother, Hayden (8):

photo (50)

And just like that, I beheld the candidate and his campaign manager. For the next few days, it felt like I was in the presence of a young JFK and his brother, Bobby. The boys continued their work in earnest.

“Dad, did you notice on my signs where I ask everyone if they got their cards?”

“Oh, yeah,” I said.

“See, you can’t give out candy or prizes, so I thought it would be neat to give each of them a card before they vote.” Cards. He made 28 little cards for his classmates. Cards that looked like this:

photo (52)

“Here’s the one he made for me,” piped in his manager, Hayden. And he showed me this:

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“Now, Owen, you should put all of these in a folder so you don’t…” directed Hayden, and the two boys were off again. I saw them cutting and folding, and placing everything in what I am sure was the first file cabinet for many of us–underneath the couch.

The day before the election, the boys and I were driving in the car. “So, Owen, if you did win, what is something you think you might do for your fellow classmates?”

“Well,” he said, “every month we go to a meeting with the principal and some teachers and tell them of any problems.”

“What do you think might be a problem you would bring up?”

“Umm, like, let’s say the buses are too crowded. Then I would work to fix that.”

“Okay, how?” I implore.

“By telling them we need more buses!” he answers emphatically.

Would that it were that easier, my son. Would that it were, I think. Yet, I say, “Sounds good, buddy.”

That night, I watch him craft his speech. He doesn’t let me read it, but he allows me to show him how to write it in big letters on several indexphoto (56) cards. Since I will not see him in the morning, I wish him well before bed.

“Good luck tomorrow, O. And just remember, no matter what happens you can still be a leader.”

“Okay,” he says.

“You’re a leader just for wanting to run in the election. No matter what happens–you’ve already won in my book.”

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I first thought about writing this post before the election took place, and I thought it would be cool not to reveal if he won or not. I truly believe he is a winner just for trying to do this at such a young age. And not a “winner” in the sense that every kid gets a trophy at the end of the season regardless of their record, but a winner in the sense that he took a chance, he stood up, he wanted to be a part of something bigger than himself.

But now that I know the outcome, I must inform you–and not for the reasons you might think.

Owen won. He did, and I am proud. But the victory was enlightening for other reasons.

For one, some of his “friends” said mean things about his winning–one even claimed they were no longer buds (the same boy who was playing with him at a birthday party two days later)–and therein lies a hard lesson for anyone. As the wise sage Taylor Swift once proclaimed, “And the haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate…” An important lesson indeed: there will always be people who will try to dampen your spirits, who don’t want you to succeed. But I am happy to tell you that Owen seemed quite unphased by this.

The second insight from the election comes from the fact that two of Owen’s running mates wore oxfords with bow ties and delivered Power Point presentations. My son wore his usual shorts and sneaks, delivered a heartfelt speech and gave everyone a colorful voting card–looks like Owen’s on his way to being a Democrat.

Regardless of his political leanings–he’ll always have my vote.

God Bless America!

 

 

The Last Kiss of Summer

hardyboys-4 One of the first times I felt the painful sting of death occurred the night of  October 1, 1978. I had just celebrated a birthday days before, and my ninth year was ushered in by tragedy. Her name was Jamie, a beautiful young woman who had her whole life ahead of her. She was an artist and she loved the beach. I had known her for all of 15 minutes, including commercials. You see, Jamie was engaged to be married to one of my closest childhood friends, Joe Hardy. Yes, the season premier of The Hardy Boys dealt me quite a crushing blow. That Sunday night, my world shattered before prime time.

zombiestookmybike+rolled+image+what+I+got+last+christmas+_d7ded52666da932739d4ef48c9abdf52I was too young to see the warning signs: For one, the title of the episode — “The Last Kiss of Summer.” Plus, Jamie never appeared in season 2, yet, here she was in the season 3 opener, already the better half of one half of the Hardy Boys. And the telltale sign of all– Joe and Jamie opened the episode with a car scene–lovingly looking over at each other–a harbinger of doom in TV land. Any time there is a driving scene, there will be an accident. But the creators of The Hardy Boys knew how to stretch the drama. The death scene happened the second time the couple were in the car together–on the way from their wedding rehearsal, no less. Jamie and Joe were cruising down the coastal highway in a convertible, when the evil Jocco and his girl were drunkenly swerving all over the road. Jamie wasn’t the only casualty in that episode; something died inside of me that night.

 

I could not believe my eyes. How could the world be this cruel? How could two people so good looking and83d3e16352d1b39916bdd4b5c895e25a nice, with perfectly feathered hair, suffer such a tragic fate? My goal in life was to BE Joe Hardy (Shaun Cassidy)– never Frank (Parker Stevenson).  Everyone wanted to be Joe. Solving mysteries, going on adventures, helping his brother and dad fight crime. I even thought he selected the perfect partner for us. Jamie was drop-dead gorgeous, wore a bikini like it was her second skin, and seemed like she’d never said an unkind word in her whole life.  How could I go to school the next day? There was a death–and I needed time. So did the Hardy Boys, apparently–the episode was a two-parter.

That whole week I was haunted by images of the happy couple. I searched for the girl in the third grade who was most like Jamie–I wanted to know who I was marrying. But then fear would strike me. What if I found my true love and she was taken from me? The thought was too much to bear. My sadness overwhelmed me.

I wanted to be alone when I walked home from school. The warmer days of Fall allowed me to linger. I comforted myself by trying to sing the song that was played and replayed throughout the episode: “If” by the kings of seventies soft rock, Bread. Freakin’ Bread man, can you dig?

“If a picture paints a thousand words then why can’t I paint you? The words I’ll never know, the you I’ve come to know. If a man could be two places at one time, I’d be with you, tomorrow and today, beside you all the way.” PAUSE. Please note: these lyrics were written from memory. These were the words I sang in the hopes of recreating the emotion I felt for Joe, for Jamie, for me! I made up words to fill the gaps. Let’s remember, I couldn’t Google the song. Hell, I didn’t even know it was sung by Bread til I was in college and ordered The Best of Bread as one of my free cassettes when I signed up for a Columbia House membership–yeah, Columbia House–Google it.

I sang that song for the next five years, walking to and from grade school. It was almost Pavlovian–when I was by myself, walking up the hill from St. John of the Cross, the moment my foot hit the sidewalk at the corner of Thomson and Woodland, Bread would images (5)come out of my mouth. “And when my love for life is running dry, you’d come and pour yourself on me.” You’d love me so much–yes, you Jamie–that you’d come and pour yourself on me. Your. Own. Self.

And maybe you haven’t picked up on this, but the song tie-in is genius because it sings about painting a picture and Jamie–soon-to-be-but-never-will-Hardy WAS a painter. Do you see the nuances laden in this episode? No wonder it was on at seven o’clock eastern time–that’s when educated people settled down for a stretch of Sunday night television.

The following week’s episode was anti-climactic for me. Joe mourned. Frank swam with sharks. And the evil Jocco got his comeuppance. But Jamie was gone from our lives forever. The end of part 2, however, left us with a cheap ploy–Joe spied a girl on the beach who he thinks is Jamie. He starts running towards her white bikini, and I believed. For the length of a Hamburger Helper commercial, I believed that Jamie was still alive. That it was all a sick joke, a horrible dream. But when Joe grabbed her slender arm and she turned around, it was NOT Jamie. Just another pretty Southern California blonde. She looked at Joe eagerly, flattered by his attention. Yet, he was not ready to move on. Eventually, though, he would. I’m glad one of us was able to.

 

 

 

“Alright, Mr. Demille, I’m ready for my…armpit fart?”

Huffington Post. THE Huffington Post. It’s the calling card that every blogger aspires to receive. If you are featured on the Huffington Post–you’ve arrived.

I have not been featured on HuffPost, as they say. Oh, I’ve submitted posts. I’ve tweeted them. I’m friends with HuffPost Parents on Facebook. I’ve done the sort of thing that most daddy bloggers have done, but still no bites.

So, imagine my surprise when, a few weeks ago, I received an email from a producer of “Tell Me Why…,” a video segment on HP featuring kids asking and answering questions. It read:

Hi Michael,

I’m a producer at HuffPost Live and I produce a segment each week called “Tell Me Why” where we invite a kid to come on and ask a question or explain something he or she is passionate about.  
We’ve covered everything from String Theory and Evolution to Space… but perhaps one of our favorite episodes was one about Boogers 🙂  I just saw this post about your son’s “to do” list, photo (40)which brilliantly ends with armpit farts.  We’re hoping to pick up where we left off with boogers, and discuss farts on “Tell Me Why” and I wonder whether you think your son may be interested in joining.
A strange request, I know… but I look forward to hearing from you, nonetheless!
All best,

Well, I called Claire right away and she could not have been nicer. The premise was pretty simple. They would Skype with Hayden and talk to him about armpit farts. We didn’t even have to leave our house. I set out to convince my eight-year-old that this was a grand adventure.

First, I inquired about his talent. “Hey, do you still know how to do armpit farts?” I asked as we walked from the bus stop. He proceeded to do a lopsided chicken dance with his hand inside his armpit: (place tongue one inch outside closed lips and blow)–yeah, that sound. Feel free to make that sound for the rest of this post.

Then, my other son, Owen (9), joined in on the action. “Dad, I can do them with my knee!” And he did. Right there in the driveway. He sat down and flopped one leg in the air with his hand cupped behind his knee. “And some kids can do them with their neck,” which he then attempted, unsuccessfully.

At bedtime that night, I showed the boys some “Tell Me Why…” video clips from HuffPost.

“That’s weird,” said Hayden.

“Wouldn’t you like to be in a video like that? It would be like being on TV,” I say wide-eyed, channeling my inner Willy Wonka.

“No way,” says Hayden, scrunching his nose.

I look at his brother, Owen, who is more of a natural ham–always performing for audiences both real and imaginary. “How about you, Owen? Would you do it?”

“Maybe,” he says. And I think I can convince him. I don’t push too hard, for fear I might lose. I’ll continue to goad tomorrow, I think.

I come downstairs after putting the boys to bed.

“Honey,” my wife says, “this is so exciting! The Huffington Post…” and she doesn’t even know how to classify it. It is then that I reveal my trepidation. “Yeah, I’m not sure. Is this really how I want to be recognized by Huff Post?”

I think about how I’ve been trying to work over the boys, to enlist them in my quest for publication. Then, I think about how this really has so little to do with me, or my blog, or what I’m attempting to do as I tap away at this keyboard, putting words down to capture my experiences.

And that’s just it. This is not MY experience. This is my son’s experience. And even though I am proud of the collection I have captured on this blog for three years, a sinking feeling begins in my stomach. These boys are no longer toddlers, they are not cute props, but individuals. My boys, and my blog, are changing, and I need to be more mindful of their rights, their boundaries.  As they get older, I am feeling I have less of a right to tell their story, as they are telling more of their own.

I am embarrassed. I feel a bit ashamed that I am trying to pimp out my son’s penchant for all things fart on a national platform. I envision a video feed popping up years from now, when one of the boys is running for president of a class or the country:), a video of them demonstrating the art of armpit farts on the Huffington Post. A video that went viral, that has more hits than Grumpy Cat or “delirious boy riding home from the dentist” combined…

I resolve not to push my boys to do this. If they’re not interested, then it’s not happening. This is their decision. This is THEIR life.

**********************
“I’ll pay you,” I say, desperately.

“What?!” says Owen. Yes, Owen. I’ve decided to put the full court press on him. There’s no way Hayden would do it. I’ll see if Claire would be cool with Owen filling in for him, even though it was Hayden’s drawing.

“I will pay you. Twenty dollars to do the segment.”

“Twenty bucks!”

“Yep. But once I call this lady, you can’t back out.”

I don’t even recognize myself. I smell the desperation in my plea. Inside, I’m panicking–but what if this is my only shot? What if this leads to more features on Huffington Post? A spot on the Today show. A three book deal with movie tie-ins. Happy Meal toys of the family Grinch…

My thoughts whirl. I’m such a sell-out.

I give him a few hours to think about it–to spend the money in his head.

After dinner, I try to mask my eagerness. “So, what do you think, buddy? Will you do it?”

“Nah,” he says.

Dream deferred.

And with that, the wind is let out of my sails. I am deflated. For one brief shining moment, there was Armpit-fart-alot.

But, truth be told, I was also relieved. If my quest for a gig with HuffPost had already made me act like this, I could just imagine what I would have been like during the actual interview.

I call Claire and let her know that the Trainers are a no-fart for her upcoming segment. Again, I am struck by how nice and approachable she is. For her, it’s just another day producing for one of America’s largest news outlets. But for me, it’s the silencing of the knock of opportunity.

Yet, in the end, I was relieved. One of the primary goals of my blog is to make sense of my world in a way that makes me a better father. I want to understand my past and make sense of my present, so that my family will have a better future. I want my boys to be proud of me and what I have created. What I will continue to create–for me, for them, for us.

 

 

 

Sunscream

While my friend is away this week, I’ve been watering her beautiful gardens and taking care of her pool–a job I relish because the boys and I go swimming everyday.

Yesterday, however, I was there by myself. It was the perfect day: bright, crisp, a gentle breeze and a cloudless sky. As the sun danced off the water, I was drawn to lie on a raft and just float in the pool.

Why is it that in these moments I feel guilty? When we are at rest, and our mind is clear, we should commend ourselves, not chastise.  I pushed those feelings of guilt aside, and as I closed my eyes and the raft drifted aimlessly, my thoughts hearkened back to other memories.

Now if you’re normal (and I know at least two of you reading this are), then you might imagine my mind sailing back to other peaceful memories of floating, like my honeymoon in Napa or a trip to the Virgin Islands. No. Not me. My mind drifted back to childhood, to a memory that is seared in my mind’s eye. You see, whenever I’m on a float in a pool, alone, I end up thinking about a time when I was six years old.

Although it’s hard to believe, when I was very young, my family had a pool. An above-ground pool. A legit above-ground pool. The kind that is meant to stay up for several seasons. The kind that had a filter. It was the most extravagant toy of my youth. And one day, I remember walking out to the pool by myself and climbing the ladder and getting on a float and drifting off to sleep. The reason I remember this, the reason it is seared into my memory, is because I slept for so long that when I was awoken by my sister, I was badly sunburned. I spent the next week nursing a blistering burn–literally popping blistery bubbles all over my skin. If you’re grossed out, imagine how I felt? Sunburn_flickr_02 About a decade ago, I had to go to a dermatologist for a skin check. I had a “questionable mole”. The mole got the answer I was hoping for–not cancerous–but in the process, I received more insight. For some reason, I found the doctor’s questions humorous. As if the answers were obvious and she was teasing me.

Have you ever had a sunburn? Ahhh, yeah. I grew up in the seventies.

Have you ever had a blistering sunburn? You mean sunburnS, plural. Is there another kind? I basically shed more skin than a snake in my youth.

People who have had even one blistering sunburn before the age of fifteen have a fifty percent greater risk of WAHWAHWAHWAH…At that point, I had to block her out. One blistering sunburn? I was human bubble wrap back then–all seven of us kids were.

I left the doctor’s office feeling very scared.

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When my wife and I were dating, I remember telling her my pool/blister saga while on a road trip. We were driving in the car one summer afternoon. “I just wish we had sunscreen back then,” I said, finishing my story somewhat awkwardly. Here she was, getting a glimpse into my wacky upbringing.

She looked at me with a sad expression, “Honey, we did have sunscreen back then.”

NO! No we did not. There is no freakin’ way we had sunscreen.

“Really?” I said, trying to mask my anger.

“Unhunh,” she said with a nod, feeling bad about being the bearer of such news.

“But that doesn’t make sense! Why would my parents not use sunscreen? We could always afford the Noxema afterwards to cool our scorched bodies. My mom even joked about how rich she would be if she had stock in Noxema.”

I was incredulous. I thought about all the times we were left out to bake in the sun like little potatoes: The trips to Wildwood, the days swimming in the pool, every outdoor event of my youth, with nothing but my white Irish skin to fight off the evil sun’s rays. And this was before the era of willfully laying out in lounge chairs with tin foil and baby oil.

What were we thinking back then? What!?

Sweetie,” Pam said to me, trying to draw me back from the past, “Are you okay?”

“Yeah, it’s just pretty messed up, you know?”

“You know what’s more messed up?” she said.

I did not.

“What?”

“The fact that you were in a pool by yourself at the age of six. How could you be out there so long by yourself?”

Oh. My. God. I had never thought of that! In all the times I’d thought of that event, it was the sunburn that made me mad. I couldn’t even claim I was a good swimmer. I even failed swimming lessons. (More on that saga here ).

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And now, a decade and a half later, I think about how different my children’s experiences are. Christ, we put sunscreen on them if they’re coming to the food store with us. We sit outside the bathroom as they take a shower in case the water turns hot or they need a fluffier towel.

So different from my own experience as a kid. So, so different.

Then, the other day, Pam tells me that the FDA just announced that kids should no longer use spray-on sunscreen as they are inhaling too much of the fumes. Cry me a river, I think. When I was their age I was inhaling second-hand smoke. Hell, I had even tried a few cigarettes by their age.

Just sayin’.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, it’s time to go water my friend’s garden. And not to worry, I’ve got SPF 50 on this bald head of mine.