It was the last day of our vacation, and I was lying out by the pool trying to relax amid children’s shouts and splashes. I’m not too young to remember how annoying it was when a record would skip back and repeat a small segment ad infinitum until you finally gave in and moved the needle past the trouble spot; and although she is far too young to remember this phenomenon, my almost-8-year-old, Natalie, was a genius at recreating it.
“Mom, are you trying to get tan?”
“No. I have sunscreen on. I’m just trying to relax.”
“Are you trying to get tan?”
“I told you, no. I’m just resting.”
“Are you trying to get tan?”
“No! Please stop asking.”
“Are you trying to get tan? Are you trying to get tan? Are you trying to get tan? Are you trying to get tan?”
I began ignoring her, but you can really only handle the skipping so long before you feel like you’re going to splinter your teeth. So I got up and attempted to move the needle by throwing my daughter in the pool. But Natalie is a champion gymnast with the quads to prove it, and I have the upper body strength of a banana, so she remained squarely on the pool deck while I remained beyond aggravated.
On the surface, you can see that this was a simple matter of a child’s finding a way to thwart her mother’s final, desperate attempt at relaxation before embarking on a three-hour car ride with five wired children. But I will let you in on a little secret: What was really going on was that Natalie was insisting on the truth while I was insisting on denying it.
I am of the firm belief that if you don’t mean to do something, you really can’t be faulted for it. I see no reason you should get a ticket if you were unintentionally going 60 in a 45. Maybe you didn’t know the speed limit. Maybe you knew the limit but you didn’t realize your speed. I mean, maybe you even knew the limit and your speed but you simply weren’t feeling willfully disobedient about the whole thing. I hardly think that warrants a $140 fine.
The same goes for drinking. Of course you shouldn’t be getting smashed when you have twin babies to care for the next morning. But if you get drunk without meaning to, who can point fingers? If you set out to have a couple drinks with friends and have no intention whatsoever of actually getting plastered, then you really can’t be blamed if two margaritas somehow turns into three plus a couple shots of tequila. It’s possible you’ve forgotten your tolerance level. Perhaps you just didn’t realize Mr. Cuervo’s strength. All I know is that if you didn’t mean to get drunk, it can’t really count.
Consider, too, that not everyone appreciates the feel of a condom. But just because you throw birth control out the window doesn’t mean you intend to get knocked up your first semester of college. Maybe you figured it probably wasn’t likely to be your fertile time. Maybe you’re a big believer in the power of (pull-and-) prayer. Who can question your faith? When you end up with a bouncing baby boy in time to begin your sophomore year, I just don’t feel there can be room for judgment– you didn’t mean to!
If you didn’t fully and expressly intend it, it’s not your fault. So when I rubbed in that SPF 50, I had my pass. I could sit in the sun all the live-long day, and any rays that sunk into my skin would have done so purely by accident; by their own accord, even. Any tan I could boast would not be intentional and therefore not damaging. I would never end up a leathery old lady because I had made a decent attempt.
But the problem with skipping records was that they could get that repeated phrase stuck in your head all damn day. And the more I heard, “Are you trying to get tan?” the less I could work around it. It made me think of what Anne Lamott wrote about tan skin being damaged skin, and pretty soon the phrase “sun damage” was taking the place of the word “tan” in my skipping-record thoughts.
I remembered a friend complimenting me recently, “You look so tan!” and suddenly the words swapped in my head: “You look so sun damaged!” I thought of my own excuses, and I began to hear them for what they really meant: “I just want a little color sun damage. I need to get some sun sun damage.”
But those dangerous rays just feel so good as they warm your wet body after a swim, and your cancer-bound skin looks so sexy against the colorful palette of your summer clothes. So you just apply a quick coat of your obligatory sunscreen and enjoy. If you forgo the floppy hat and some time in the shade, if you forget to reapply throughout the day, I’m not going to criticize. Maybe you’re not trying to get tan, either. We can take our unintentions with us to the oncologist. I’m sure he’ll understand.