June is here and I spent my morning in the same way I'll spend my summer: chasing a child while he tries to dodge my slaps of sunscreen.
Today I was lucky. I was able to land a couple of good smacks along the ridge of his nose and his forearms. But not without his Kermit flail that he usually reserves for when he's told to unload the dishwasher.
It's summer, and that means one thing. Time for the sunscreen wars.
Ask your kids why they hate having you put sunscreen on them and they'll spit their reasons out like seeds in a watermelon eating contest:
Too much creepy touching.
I don't like to be manhandled.
It takes too long.
My clothes stick to it.
It feels itchy when it dries.
I don't like to stand and have people rub cream into me.
You make me look like a little kid when you don't blend it in.
You don't blend it in.
You're bad at blending it in.
And my favorite:
I don't need it because I've never had a sunburn.
Yes, child, you are 100 percent right on that one. Maybe you've never had a sunburn because I'm so damn GOOD at my job!
What my children forget is that parenting is not a democracy and that means sunscreen use is not debatable. No votes will be taken. It will not come down to you voicing your choice.
I hate sunscreen season but not as much as I hate the effect of the scorching sun on my children's beautiful skin. My summer job has become researching ways to lessen the hysterics and wails that come with the sunscreening months of June, July and August. More than once, I've fallen into the trap of following sunscreen trauma prevention advice. Sage sounding commands like, Let them feel independence and they will cooperate! The day after I read that I took my kids to the store and let them pick out their own sunscreen. Purple sunscreen is what they decided.
You know what happens to a kid when he sees you slathering purple on his arms and forearms and is screaming so loud about "This is why I don't have friends" that he drowns out your own screams of "IT BLENDS IN!"? You end up going back to the shimmery pearl hue of Coppertone is what happens.
Here's some more sunscreening parenting forum advice that I got suckered into" Let them decide where to apply it first.
"OK, honey, since you're a big kid now, I'm going to let you tell me where you want the sunscreen to go first. See, because you are in charge."
"Nowhere," they said, "Nowhere is where I want the sunscreen to go first."
I've tried even more genius suggestions, this time from live parenting groups:
Get the sunscreen stick!
Nope. Strike one. My kids screamed that I would get it mixed up with the purple glue stick. Make a mistake like that once and they never forget.
Apply it while they sleep!
Nope again. What you'll get instead is one sunscreen stained $89.00 bedspread from Pottery Barn.
Sunscreen them up while you sit them in front of a movie!
You know what's worse than a stained $90 bedspread? A stained thousand dollar sofa.
And my own solution:
Apply while they sit with a plastic tub of cotton candy between their legs.
Bingo. And my go-to ever since.
This summer, I'm wiser than I was 18 years ago in my first sunscreening season as a parent. I bark my orders in a baritone developed across two decades as I tell my kids to take a deep breath and hold it, 'cause mama's spraying and she's a human titanium dioxide crop duster. So get ready, youngins, and make a mad run out of the cloud toward toxin free air.
After I've sprayed my children down, I ask them if they want to hear the story again about the number of nose reconstructive surgeries I had to witness while assisting a dermatologist in a job after college. That usually does the trick and they throw five bottles of sunscreen at my head and beg me to make them look like Data in Star Trek.
My children may never give up their SPF resistance movement. But as long as I'm in charge of their health, my summer will begin and end with a sunblock stick SPF60 to their faces. With the noon day sun, I'll move into a heavier SPF80 cream for all over their bodies. If their protests continue, their day will feature pictures of skin cancer. More swatting away of my sunscreen filled hands will just grow into a homeschooling unit of science experiments about the sun and potential damage of its powerful rays.
But it won't be all terror and trauma around sunblock season. I've got some fun set aside too. Like scheduled refreshing sunblock breaks during the day, where I let them use spray versus stick. And while everyone is going in for summer haircuts, I'm letting my three go for the built-in scalp and face protection of a Shaggy do. Ear tips, foreheads and back of the necks are instantly safer with less struggle. My littlest looks adorably like a tiny Einstein.
I know that my kids will continue to fight me and my bottles of sunscreen as long as the sun rises in the sky. Other than applying sunblock at home to minimize public spectacles, there really isn't a whole lot more that we can do. Five years ago, I had a precancerous spot removed from both my forehead and under my left eye. That's all the reason I need to never give up the sunscreen way of life.
Any measure, no matter how desperate, that does Sun Safety right is acceptable. I will even use myself as a walking caveat -- "look at me!" I warn and point to my summer of '85 sun damaged cheeks. While they sit frozen in terror, I dab a blob on each of their cheeks, noses, foreheads and say, "Let me rub it in. I'm getting better at blending now!"
During this season of sunscreen wars, we must stay strong. We must slather on and remember that we are not alone in our misunderstood summer ways. We will find strength and resolve in the assurance that all of our attempts in sunscreening are done in the name of love.
Now go forth, my fellow skin protectors, and sunblock the crud out of your crew!
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