There are seasons of our regrets and I'm guessing that many midlifers would point to their teenage summers as principal ones. The ringing of the final school bell unleashed a sense of freedom and teens being teens, well, it was time for some letting loose.
Here are five things I did in my teenage summers that I now regret.
1. Poured baby oil over my body to lay out in the hot beach sun.
The theory when I was growing up in the 1960s was that if you intentionally burned your skin to the point of blisters, the skin would peel off leaving you with a lovely dark tan for the rest of the season. Yes, we poured bottles of baby oil all over us.
This was long before the medical community knew that sun exposure and tanning could cause cancer and it was common practice to lie out in the sun for hours with baby oil slathered on your skin.
Today, I of course use sunscreen with a SPF of 70 and. even with that, stay in the shade wearing a hat and a coverup. I, as should every midlifer -- especially those who live in sunny climates -- get checked over annually by a dermatologist.
2. Refused to go outside my comfort zone, which was anywhere but Bradley Beach, New Jersey.
My parents never had much money to spend on vacations, but they scrapped enough together most summers to spend a week in Bradley Beach. It was where the families from the Weequahic section of Newark would summer and was nicknamed "Bagel Beach" because of the large Jewish community that came there. Wealthier families would stay for a month, with the working dads remaining home in Newark (and suburbs) and coming down the Jersey shore on the weekends. We stayed in boarding houses with communal bathrooms and came with ice chests of food we brought from home. It didn't matter. It was where all my friends were and where I wanted to be.
My regret is that when relatives from California and Arizona invited me to come and stay with them, I steadfastly refused. I wanted to be in Bradley Beach. Period. There was one summer when my parents forced me to go to the Catskills as a "mother's helper" to a cousin and I was miserable all week.
My eyes didn't open to the wonders of travel until college. And yes, I regret it.
3. Drank gallons of Tab and Kool-Aid.
Tab was a diet soft drink brought to us by the manufacturers of Coke. It was introduced in 1963 and it was the beverage of choice of every self-respecting teenage girl of my generation. (It was marketed to those who wanted to keep "tabs" on their weight.) It ran into a sea of bad publicity in the late 1970s after scientists linked its main sweetener, sodium saccharin, as a cancer-causing agent in laboratory rats. Even though those studies were later debunked, the drink died a quiet death, replaced by other diet drinks in teenage girls' hearts.
As for Kool-Aid, well, who can think of it without thinking of the 908 people who died in the 1978 Jonestown Massacre? Jim Jones' followers drank a grape cyanide-laced drink in an act of coerced suicide. The expression "drank the Kool-Aid" was birthed, although somewhere along the crisis management PR spin pipeline, reports switched it to a Kool-Aid-like drink that the good folks of Kraft would prefer you think of as "Flavor-Aid." An unfortunate blow for branding, without a doubt, but less despicable than rewriting history.
4. Didn't get my driver's license the minute I was legally eligible.
I was a late bloomer when it came to driving. Actually, since we lived in a city with real public transportation, it wasn't necessary to own a car and my parents didn't.
But the summer after my 17th birthday, I saw all my friends proudly sporting drivers' licenses. I mooched rides for a few years and then had a day of reckoning around my 20th birthday: I needed to drive for my own independence.
I live in California now where kids get their learner's permits at 15.5 years old. My daughter reminds me daily that she turned 15.5 on March 14. Uh, was car insurance always this expensive? Maybe she should wait a few years...
5. Didn't learn the words to Freddy Cannon's "Palisades Park."
Cannon released the song in 1962 and it was the song that everyone sang all summer (yes, everyone in Bradley Beach). It was an upbeat rapid-lyric song about a New Jersey amusement park that I had never heard of, never visited. For years, I tried my hardest to understand the lyrics and memorize them; never happened. The Palisades Amusement Park closed on September 12, 1971 -- without me ever visiting it, or learning the words to the song.
Why are the lyrics important? The song was a summer beach anthem and not knowing them was like trying to fake the words to the "Star Spangled Banner" at a ball game.