Some of childhood’s best moments are steeped in innocent dangers, the joys of not-knowing, and unblocked, high noon sun.
I am a lizard. Which is to say, I am most content imprudently toasting myself on a hot rock. Or, as my girlfriends used to say, “laying out.”
“You wanna lay out?” “Let’s lay out this weekend!”
Laying out was a chief preoccupation in my high school years. Right up there with scoring Def Leppard tickets and sneaking peach-flavored schnapps. This was before skin cancer was widely understood. Before sunscreen was a mandatory accessory. Instead, we’d spritz ourselves with coconut oil and bake atop towels we unfurled in the yard. When there was time, we’d drive to the beach 20 minutes east and lay out there. Same towels, same oil, same innocence of adolescence unwise to any future of consequence.
I remember we’d pinch our arms and thighs on the way home, marveling as the white of the squeezed skin darkened to a chestnut brown. We were human Butterballs. Roasting ourselves into submission. This was not about vanity. I don’t recall any conversation about the aesthetic value of a Coppertone tan. It was more about the native sweetness of being idle. That uniquely Southern condition of being drunk on languor and heat.
So it was when we were young. When we traveled the highway bouncing around loose in truck beds. When we walked the railway tracks home at night. When we fell in love so deeply we stopped breathing. When there was nothing dangerous about the sun.
My girls do not lay out. These are different times. Wiser. Safer. And that’s for the better, of course. And yet, what I wouldn’t give to see that same naive abandon on their faces. To let them travel untethered in the back of a truck, their hair whipping violently as they squeal and cling to the side rails. To allow them to explore the grubby alleys and overgrown spaces of our neighbor-hood. To crush every single cell phone and electronic device into a fine powder and free them from constant scrutiny masquerading as “connection.” To risk a tan line.
I do none of this. I am protective. A worrier. They have never traveled sans seat belts. I carry neosporin in the car. (And Imodium.) They wear bike helmets. They are slathered in sunscreen as we speak.
Perhaps when they are older, they will break free. Discover their own minor rebellions. Carve out time to do nothing—literally nothing—and suffer no shame in the stillness. Learn what it feels like to lay out, relaxed, peaceful, and unconcerned, as we all once were, about the burn to come.