When Your Kids' Camp Doesn't Take Sunscreen Seriously

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Earlier this week, I caught wind of the Michener kids, who got severe sunburns after a field day spent without sunscreen due to a state law preventing adults from applying sunscreen to kids (even if they have the required prescription to put the sunscreen on in the first place). I thought to myself, "At least I don't have to worry about that." YES, THAT IS FORESHADOWING.

Michener wrote:

Common sense missing + fear of being sued = my kids pay the price. Not okay.

There were a lot of comments on her blog and a lot of people blaming Michener for everything from letting her kids wear tank tops when it was raining to sending them to school without sunscreen in the first place. While I felt horrible for Michener and worse for her kids, I took comfort, I admit, in knowing I have received the necessary forms and signed them and sent sunscreen along with my daughter to her summer camp along with communicating in writing to put it on her every time she goes outside. I had nothing to worry about! Smug old me, what with the taking every precaution and catastrophizing and helicopter parenting and whatever else people like to say about parents who are ON SUNSCREEN.

Then, yesterday, my daughter's summer camp went on a field trip to a water park. Knowing it would be 100 degrees and sunny, I worried. I slathered her in sunscreen in the morning, as I always do, but she was not in her swimsuit. I sent along a brand-new can of spray sunscreen so the teachers would not have to touch her to apply it (she has face sunscreen that's separate). I mentioned my concerns about sunscreen and sunscreen reapplication to the teacher who signed her in when I dropped her off. And then I thought about maybe writing this post but never got around to it.

At 6 pm after my husband picked my daughter up, he walked in the house first. "You might want to prepare yourself," he said. "She's roasted."

My stomach dropped.

Even though we were just at a water park last weekend and go to the pool for hours every weekend day, my redheaded daughter has never had a blistering or severe sunburn before. BEFORE. Because look at her now.

sunburned face

sunburned back

sunburned front

You may wonder, is this the secret shame of a working mother? No, it is my public pissed-offedness over adult professionals whom I am paying not to parent my child but to take care of her while I work falling down on the job. And not only falling down on it, but also refusing to take responsibility for it and defensively posturing when called on it. When I talked to the camp administrators this morning, they said things like this:

But we put sunscreen on her.

We put a t-shirt on her because she was getting a little pink.

Don't worry.

What they didn't say?

I'm sorry, we screwed up and you are not over-reacting because you pay us to look after your daughter.

My daughter told me one of the other fair-skinned kids' moms asked if she should take her daughter to the hospital when she picked her up. (She was worse off than my daughter, who was only burned on the top half of her body.) I left an irate voicemail last night when my daughter got home and as of noon haven't received a callback from the camp leader, even though I talked to the front desk and left my number again asking for clarification on how the policy will change so that sunscreen application happens once an hour when they are outside and is supervised by an adult who can make sure every spot is hit.

WTF, AMERICA?

I've put up with sarcasm from people my daughter's entire life over my fastidiousness about her sunscreen use. When she was a baby, people would chortle at her sun tent (you're really not supposed to put sunscreen on a baby -- you're supposed to keep her out of the sun). As she got older, teachers and daycare providers would look at me quizzically when I reiterated how often I wanted her to have sunscreen applied. I've even heard the teachers at her summer camp say things like, "Yes, Rita, we KNOW about your daughter and her sunscreen." I'm not fond of being made fun of to my face, but I was willing to overlook it as long as nothing bad happened. Then came yesterday, and I hit my boiling point.

After I went outside and beat the earth with a plastic baseball bat, I came back in and sat down the only person in the situation who I think was actually taking me seriously (well, besides my husband): Little Miss Sunburn. I told her about a family friend who has really severe food allergies and how he knows what to do if he has a reaction, even though he's younger than she is. I told her some kids have sensitivities, and adults don't always take them seriously. And then I told her I wanted her to assume her teachers had no idea how badly sunburned she could get and to ask them to help her stay sunburn-free by reminding her to put on her sunscreen and watching to make sure it was evenly applied.

Should an eight-year-old have to beg the adults her parents pay to watch her to take care of her properly? Hell, no. But I don't trust anyone anymore. I've been through this not-taking-sunscreen-seriously stuff with almost every school and daycare we've encountered, because it's true -- most kids do not have skin you can see through. Most kids do not match a white tank top. But my kid is not most kids and listen up, world -- TAKE ME SERIOUSLY when I tell you that.

Thank God someone's common sense kicked in by 2 pm after two hours of sun exposure with apparently no reapplication and put zinc oxide on her face and a t-shirt on her back. If she was burned that badly after just two hours, think of what could've happened if this slipshod procedure were used for six?

My husband and I intend to keep talking to the camp until they have showed us a revised written policy to ensure no kid ends up boiled like a lobster after what was supposed to be a fun summer outing. I won't apologize for working. I won't apologize for using childcare. But I will insist on the people who aren't parenting my daughter to act like adults with brains in their heads when it comes to her safety and to admit it without getting defensive when they screw up. We all screw up. Learn from it. Apologize for it. And use your head better next time.

Rita Arens authors Surrender, Dorothy and is the editor of the award-winning parenting anthology Sleep is for the Weak. She is the senior editor for BlogHer.com.

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