Column: Missing the mark

Marny Stebbins

Sometimes we find things out the hard way.

Often I learn these things in public, with an audience of strangers and have to wave apologetically with a slow nod of my head to prove my health is intact. Dignity is typically bruised, but general vitals are still ticking.

For example, this weekend I discovered sunscreen and air mattresses are a slippery combination for women who drink beer. Or vodka. Or, in my case, even sparkling cran-grape juice.

Believe me, I’m versed in the attributes of sunscreen. Every single day I wrangle my children out of the pool to apply obscene amounts of the thickest, whitest, goop I can purchase. Because of my dedication, it is officially July and we remain an alarming shade of pale blue, one that suggests oxygen deficiency or maybe Smurf ancestry. My 7-year-old is so transparent, I swear I can see the raspberry Popsicle moving through her digestive tract like the red blinking dot on my treadmill machine.

When transparent people skimp on sunscreen, they turn into bacon. So I have become a child-noodler, reaching into the deep end of the pool like a catfish fisherman, to pull them out of the water with my bare hands (and often a bribe of ice cream).

None of us enjoys this ritual. If I reach for their shoulder, they duck and take a step to the left. If I reach for their forehead, they turn their necks and I end up generously coating their bangs with fresh dollop of Coppertone 50+ SPF. Only the threat of a full-body straddle frightens them into submission.

But, if they are slippery little fish, then I’m a greased baby hippo.

You guys, I do not have words. After dragging the kids behind the boat on a tube for approximately 48 hours in the summer sun, I was hot. Angry hot. Make-bad-decisions-hot.

“It’s my turn on the tube!” I heard myself say.

A gaggle of 7-year-old girls put down their juice boxes and clapped their hands. My two boys reached for the video app on their phones. My dear father, handed me a lifejacket with a smile. Red flags were popping up all over the place. Still, all could I think of was the cool lake.

Then I leaped off the back of the boat for the giant tube. It is a “Super Mabel” which resembles a floating red and yellow sofa. It’s a big target. Hard to miss.

And yet, freshly slathered in a coat of sunscreen, I landed butt-first on the “Mabel,” only to slide over, across and into the lake like a hot glazed donut sliding out of the fryer. Or a greased baby hippo. Both are equally unflattering.

I did not go down silently, and there was, admittedly, a hefty splash. And a corresponding wave.

When I came up for air, I was greeted with a chorus of cheers. Five boats full. I swear the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker, were all there. With their cell phones. I expect to reach a million hits on YouTube by the weekend.

It isn’t the first time I’ve traded in my dignity for laughter, and I imagine it won’t be the last. There was so much goodness bubbling out of my kids, I could practically see the bubbles of joy lifting into the blue sky. Nothing makes them happier than watching me wipeout in public. In a swimsuit. Amongst strangers.

It was a reckoning for every time they had been forced to stand still and weather the application of a new layer of sunscreen.

As a seasoned child-noodler, I should have known my limits. I should have predicted a slippery landing, with uncontrollable speed and an unpleasant ending. In the very least, I should have aimed for the middle of the Mabel.

But, sometimes the truth sneaks up on you and you find yourself slowly nodding your head with a wave to strangers and checking your vitals. Even though we knew better, we are humbled.

Life can look like a butt-first leap into a cold lake with a chorus of laughing strangers. And what is better to show our kids than how to laugh at ourselves?

Laughing at ourselves teaches them we’re not destroyed when life disappoints us and we can choose to bounce back up and try again. People who can laugh at themselves understand they are worthy of self-forgiveness. They understand the joy of jumping is worth the risk of missing the mark.

Even if the mark is a giant floating sofa.

I’m laughing. And believe me, they are too.

Marny Stebbins lives in Stillwater with her husband and four children. She is a staunch believer in early bedtimes, caffeine enhancement and humor therapy.