By Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3
A few days ago, I locked the door and stood naked in my bathroom, ready to perform my annual spring tradition – the head-to-toe application of self-tanning lotion. It’s a humbling, sometimes humiliating experience, even though I’m alone in the room. I have to look in the mirror to make sure I’ve applied the lotion evenly, and looking in the mirror during April makes me realize that calories consumed during winter didn’t melt away with the snow.
But there’s no avoiding this seasonal rite of passage. Without self-tanning lotion, I spend the spring and summer looking like one of those scary albino fish that live at the bottom of the ocean and never see the sun. Even though I get plenty of sun, I’ve got the kind of skin that doesn’t tan. It won’t. It can’t. The only color I ever get from the sun comes in freckle form.
It’s not as if I haven’t tried to tan. When I was a teenager in the 80s, Coppertone tans were as popular as Van Halen and acid-washed jeans. My friends and I would put on bikinis, slather ourselves in baby oil and lie down on a trampoline, literally baking our bodies in the 95-degree heat and the sun’s most harmful rays.
We were still living with the delusion that you had to go through an initial sunburn to establish your “base tan.” But my burns never turned into tans. They turned from red to pink to peeling and then quickly back to white. Now they’ve turned into regular trips to the dermatologist, who examines my skin to make sure the sins of my past haven’t grown into suspicious-looking moles.
I’ll admit I’m a little jealous of people like my husband Tom, who seems to get a tan every time he walks by the microwave. He doesn’t even know how lucky he is that he can get a summer glow without the aid of an expensive “bronzing mousse.”
Thankfully, two of our three kids inherited Tom’s skin. By June, they’ll look like two sugar cookies that have turned a beautiful golden brown, even after being coated with sunblock during trips to the pool.
Our oldest son inherited my complexion. But he’s smarter than I was at his age. He has embraced his paleness and is content to wear swim shirts and hang out with me under the shade of an umbrella.
What I haven’t told him yet is that I’ve caught a glimpse of the future of our pale skin and it shocked me. I took my 80-year-old dad to the dermatologist’s office last week for his regular checkup. He worked as a landscaper for 40 years during a time when men his age thought SPF was scientific hooey for sissies. So now he, too, must go to the doctor to make sure the small pre-cancerous spots on his face haven’t returned.
During his most recent visit, I watched as the doctor scanned his arms and hands for any signs of trouble. I pointed to a patch of whitish, bumpy skin on his arm that looked like a rash.
“Is this anything we need to be concerned about?” I asked.
“Oh, no. That’s normal in old age. This is what they call a wisdom spot barnacle.”
I nodded as if I understood perfectly, but on the inside my mind was screaming: “Are you saying that in 35 years I’m going to look like a white, weathered whaling ship with barnacles? Nooooo!”
I can only hope that, by the time I’m 80 years old, scientists will have developed some overpriced anti-barnacle cream that I and my friends will buy by the barrel.
Or who knows? Maybe in another 35 years, I’ll have enough wisdom not to care.
Gwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of nwaMotherlode.com. You can read more of Gwen’s work by clicking here to visit The Rockwood Files.