“I have a sunburn,” says my daughter, calling me after getting home for the night near a beach far, far away.
“Didn’t Daddy remind you to put on sunscreen?” I nag. I don’t mean to nag. I don’t even mean to sound as accusatory as I probably just sounded. He grew up on an island, in the dark ages before anyone knew the link between excessive sun exposure and cancer, constantly burnt to a crisp, so he doesn’t have the same kind of slathering urgency that I have. I, on the other hand, have been mostly a light-averse vampire my whole life, which is why at my advanced age I don’t have any crow’s feet whatsoever. (It’s one of my favorite parlor tricks, telling people my age when they comment on my skin. It pays in middle age to have been a cavern-dwelling mole).
“I’m sixteen,” she drawls, like somehow that means that if she forgets to reapply her sunscreen, no one should remind her.
“Well, by the time you get the skin cancer, I’ll be dead, but I will come back and haunt you from beyond,” I joke. “Wear sunscreen.” I mother in sarcasm.
She laughs. “I did. It washed off and we were at the beach for a long time. Can you stop mothering for once? Overseas mothering is not allowed.” She sasses across time zones surprisingly effectively.
I consider a rant on the necessity for regular reapplication, but I know I have lost this round. And her skin is already burned. I groan inwardly at being pushed another millimeter from the perfect job I was sure I’d do before I had them.
Can I stop mothering? Unlikely. Every time she reminds me that she’ll be “an adult” (giggle) in a year and a half, with her brother right behind her, it’s as if someone stole my toddlers and locked them up in grown humans. My son is taller than my ex by half a head, and my daughter gives me all the latest make-up tips, highly upgraded on YouTube since the days I pored over Vogue magazines to figure out cat eyes. They look and act nearly grown. But to me they still seem like babies, or maybe one of my arms that fell off and grew into a whole person that somehow doesn’t realize it was once a part of me and now wants to run amuck in the world. Without sunscreen.
Distance doesn’t change it much either. My ex is a great dad, but he’s not me. So I stress the curvy Mediterranean roads that meander from the picturesque village where they stay down to the stunning pebbly beach they visit every day. I love that they drive past ancient archeological sites and breathtaking beauty, but I spend most of my time worrying about the hairpin turns. Before they go, I drill the kids constantly with “put on your seat belts while you’re over there,” along with motor vehicle fatality statistics from their father’s country. I tell them that getting on one of the omni-present motorcycles with one of their cousins is tantamount to jumping off a cliff. I stress the food and remind them to eat only thoroughly cooked meat. I give them Zika virus updates, even though they’re thousands of miles away from the nearest mosquito carrying it.
I am a serious nag.
Which is funny, because it’s not really in my nature to be this way. I’m not one to sweat the details. I believe that things work out as they should, for a reason (although the reason often only becomes clear way later). But with them I can’t make myself leave the outcome to chance. They are just everything, a thing I planned before they even existed, the way my world keeps spinning, no matter how much we all go on to do and achieve while we’re apart.
So can I stop mothering? Nah, they’re stuck with me. My influence will wane, of course, as they start their own lives and take their own chances. But there I’ll be, a text away. Gently suggesting sunscreen.