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Mama Said: It's suncream season. Cue the stress

The sun’s out, but don’t get too excited. It just means we have to “suncream the children” writes Emily Martin

It's suncream season. . . (56248527)
It's suncream season. . . (56248527)

When I sat down to write this column (which is about suncream), I could not have imagined that I’d be so triggered by it. Or that I would have so much to say. I could have easily written 10,000 words about suncream, but I can’t do that here. But at least now I know the title of my future memoir: SUNCREAM by Emily Martin.

So, remember that hit record back in 1999? It was by movie director Baz Luhrman and it was called Sunscreen? It began with an American male voice saying “Wear sunscreen” and then he proceeded to dole out loads of Instagram-worthy life-advice quotes like “Be kind to your knees” and “Don’t be reckless with other people’s hearts”. It was in the days long before Instagram and everyone basically loved it and lost their minds over it. Pre-social media we were clearly hungry for a good quote-sharing opportunity and “Wear sunscreen” seemed a good one.

23 years later, as my face begins to wrinkle and crack (I’ll be 40 this year and sorry but what is actually happening? I look 100 years old already), I spend as much time suncreaming my children’s beautiful little faces as I do remembering how little sunscream was ever applied to my own facade.

Being born in the 1980s was to be born to a world where grown-ups were just beginning to understand that things like smoking, destroying the ozone layer and sunbeds weren’t brilliant for you, but were still 100 per cent doing all of them most weekends. My parents would buy suncream in ever decreasing strengths as the summer went on and our “tans” developed. (If you’ve seen us you’ll know there’s no tanning possible on these freckled chops.) But there was no automatic Factor 50 for 80s children, even the freckled ones.

If we went on holiday, my Mum would pack aftersun and calamine lotion to daub on my raging burns at the end of a day at the beach. It was pre-meditated sunburn. An acceptable fact of summer where you’d start off in your swimming costume and by the end of the holiday be swimming in the sea in your dad’s massive T-shirt, the swathes of wet cotton clinging to your lobster-red shoulders.

Fast forward to 2022 and we’re obsessed with sun safety. I get emails from my daughter’s school all the time reminding us to suncream her in the mornings, and to make sure she has a hat and water in her school bag. My son’s nursery wants a whole bottle of suncream, labelled with his name on, and sent in so they can reapply it to him throughout the day. I ask you, did a teacher ever put so much as a napkin on your head at school in the 80s? Did anyone care if you had suncream on your legs while you baked out on that sport’s day field? No they did not. And you’ve got the wrinkled old face to prove it.

So, basically thanks a lot to the 80s mums and dads. And grandmas, they’re not off the hook either. Thanks for our premature wrinkles and hands that look like the woman in Titanic when we’re only 39. That’s point one.

Chapter Two of my hit memoir (SUNCREAM) is that suncream is really expensive and the source of one of my greatest resentments. Picture the scene: It’s a sunny day and you’ve met up with a friend and her child for a picnic in the park, but wait. Oh dear, your friend has forgotten her suncream and the sun is beating down on her child’s head. She thought it was in her bag but it’s not. “That’s OK,” you say, “just use mine.” And then you hand over your well-packed and organised bottle of Factor 50 and watch as she pumps out gallons of it onto her child’s great big arms and legs. And then does her own face and arms too.

And I don’t only resent my best friends and their sweet children. I also resent my own family for using up this liquid gold I’ve purchased at sometimes up to £8 for a tiny bottle. When I see Tom covering himself in the suncream, or I hear tss tss tss sound of the fancy spray suncream, and look to see him applying it to his head and chest, I feel resentment. Why am I penalised for being the organised one? It’s galling. Like you paying for the petrol just because we’re going in your car.

And Chapter Three - please bear in mind in the memoir there will be around 8-10 chapters - is anguish caused by suncream. And this perhaps lets mum, dad and grandma off the hook. The sheer nightmare of trying to suncream a child might explain why our own elders never bothered. Children hate suncream. You have to prepare them first. Explain it must happen. That there is no choice. And while they start to protest “No, no! Just on my arm then!” you then ambush them. Hold them between your knees while they flail about, grab their slippery little arms as they try to run off. Put loads of suncream in your hands and sort of grab them by the face, hoping some of it will transfer.

No amount of trying to explain to them it’s all much worse because they won’t stay still has any effect. After a suncream ambush, my son marches straight to the bathroom, tears streaming down his angry face, and spends ages washing it all off. But hey, at least when he’s 40 and he turns his wrinkled old face to me accusingly, I can say I tried.


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