Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV


July 6, 2014

Playing hard in the summer

— — One hot summer day, my stepdaughter eyed the sunscreen lotion in my hand and said, “Do you know how to do this?”

Four-year-olds are pretty smart.

I smeared the white goo on her tiny cheeks, arms and legs.

“Uhm ... yes,” I said.

She didn’t seemed convinced and she looked a little white. But at least she didn’t get burned while playing in the hot pink plastic pool in our backyard. I vowed to get the spray-on sunscreen next time. It wasn’t that I didn’t know how to put sunscreen on a child. I just wasn’t an expert, yet.

Later when I told my mom about the sunscreen overload, she said, “Tell her your mom taught you how to put sunscreen on children.”

It was the best advice and has worked in many different situations when the stepdaughter gives me that amused look.

Summertime is an adventure. So far, there has been bug bites, sunburn, bike accidents, blisters from flip-flips and busted lips. I was unprepared for the battle of summer. It is a war zone. I am one of those anxious stepmoms, armed with an arsenal of sunscreen. Does it get any better? I hear stories about little boys with banged up knees and shins. But they don’t know my stepdaughter. She plays hard and proudly points out all her bruises and scrapes like badges of honor.

It reminds me of my childhood.


 Thirty years ago, I stood patiently, waiting for my mom to smear on the white goo called sunscreen. There weren’t any spray-on formulas in the 80s. But we did have some nifty colored sunscreen for the nose and cheeks. It seemed like it took Mom forever to work the sunscreen into my skin. I hopped from one foot to another, straining my neck to look at the water and sand. Mom would remind me to stand still and hold out an arm. She moved  fast, but not quickly enough for my energy. When she was finally finished, I took off running, away from the sunscreen. I wasn’t patient enough to stand still for sunscreen or bug spray.

As for the bruises and scrapes, I had my fair share. I liked Band-Aids, but not the sting of meruricome. It felt like fire on my skin. As soon as Mom stuck the Q-tip in the small bottle, I braced myself and blew air on the scrape. The red stain would linger for a day or two. Now, they are just scars, but still a badge of honor. I can connect the imperfections to the injury and I don’t regret any of them. I am glad I rode bikes down hills, climbed trees, raced friends on pavement and jumped steps, missing a few. My mom and dad made sure I didn’t do anything dangerous, but they let me be a kid. I played hard and passed through the rites of adolescence with Band-Aids and scars.


In age where video games triumph over bikes, I am happy to see any child play hard during the summertime. I made more memories on a bike than I ever did playing Mario in the living room floor. My summer was filled with bumps, bruises and bug bites, but I woke up every morning ready to do it all over again. I was dirty, sweaty and covered in something sticky like peanut butter and jelly. We ate lunch outside on our red picnic table, squashing ants with our sneakers. It was summer, after all. Red popsicle juice dripping, we flew back down the hill on our bikes until dinnertime. With a heavy heart, I realize that 30 years has made a big difference, not only in how children play, but how we keep our children safe. With hope, we can find a balance of letting children play hard — with Band-Aids in pockets, sunscreen in hand and eyes open. I might not be an expert, but I  have experience when it comes to summer and have the scars to prove it.

Jamie Null is the lifestyle editor of the Daily Telegraph. Contact her at or on Twitter @BDTParsell.

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