As is typical for North Carolina this time of the year, the weather changed very abruptly from spring to summer in the space of one day. Sunday the temperatures reached 90, bees were seen everywhere, hanging drunkenly in the hot air, and we even caught sight of the dreaded first mosquitoes of the summer. We held out as long as we could, then sparked up the air-conditioning on Friday evening, only to discover that it wasn't working.
Isn't that nice?
But you know what, it was kind of nice. I have never been a huge fan of central air-conditioning. I grew up in a house with only window units, and it wasn't until about two years ago that my parents finally put in central air in the house. When we used to spend summers in Greece with my grandparents, being hot most of the time was just a part of life. People woke up early and did their shopping in the morning, or again after 4:00 pm in the late afternoon. Shutters were kept tightly closed to block out the heat, lights were kept off in the evening, people fled out of doors when the sun went down and ate dinner later, after the heat had long gone. We lived like that when we were in graduate school in upstate, New York, too, because we rented older apartments and central air was just not something most people had. All winter long we hardly saw neighbors, unless they emerged briefly to shovel snow frantically so they could head to work or school. When the summer months hit people turned to their porches and front yards and suddenly you realized who the people who lived around you really were (for better or for worse).
In theory I like a life without central air-conditioning. I love to sleep with the windows open. I love to spend almost an entire morning on the screened-in porch, nursing cups of coffee and watching T. paint or build a tower of blocks. I think there is something about an air-conditioning-free life that encourages people to naturally be green: to turn out lights, conserve energy, eat the good foods like cold salads and fresh fruits, to drink lots of water, to spend more time outside, waiting for a breeze, or planning your day around the rising and setting sun. On Sunday morning, drugged from the heat and the whirr-whirr of the oscillating fans in their rooms, the kids actually slept until 8:00 and when L. came into our room in the morning (he slept through the night! A miracle!) he told us the sound of the birds through his open window had seemed like magic to him.
It occurred to me this weekend that if we weren't so reliant on artificial environments and foods and mega-stores and modern convenience we would just naturally be living in a way that would force us all to be kinder to the Earth, and to the people around us. Maybe, just maybe, if we synced our daily rhythms more with natural world, instead of blocking it out so much, the world wouldn't be in the mess it is today, with our children's futures in jeopardy and the ecological balance tipped past the point of no return.
I can write all this because this afternoon the handy A/C repairman will be coming by. A life without air-conditioning is all well and good in theory, except around these parts things can get pretty darn miserable pretty quickly. In a matter of weeks the breezes will be gone, and the mosquitoes will be out in droves, driving us inside. By the end of June it will be so hot at 6:00 a.m. that air-conditioning will seem like a life-saver, not a modern convenience. I hope come June or July I can remember this past weekend, and my vow to spend more time outdoors, living with nature, and less time indoors, blocking it out.
Things to do with kids to stay cool when your A/C breaks:
Make your own slushies! We have a shaved ice machine and instead of buying those bright, sugary sno-cone syrups, we use fruit juices like lemonade or grape juice to sweeten the ice. If the kids insist on colors, you can use a little food coloring to doctor up the fruit juice.
Fill up tupperwares, or bins with water and send them out on the porch or the driveway to mix up "recipes" or make their own sailboats out of scraps found around the house.
Use the heat to get nutritious smoothies into your kids. You can make them out of fresh or frozen fruit, ice-cream or yogurt, and if you add nutrition boosters like Trader Joe's vanilla-flavored hemp powder, or flax seed, then you can feel really good about what your kids are drinking to stay cool.
We still use our sandbox, even though T. is 5 and L. is 8. Except now they build intricate sand sculptures and roads and tunnels for cars and trucks. Strip the kids down to their undies, or put them in swimsuits and turn them loose in the sandbox. If you don't have a sandbox, fill a shallow plastic bin with play sand and then bury jewels and toys and let them dig them out, or plan a mini sandcastle building contest for your older kids, using dixie cups, and other household items to build the castles.
Plant things and then let your kids water. Most kids will stay happy (and cool) for a long time with a bucket of water, a watering can, and some good, wet dirt.