Thursday, July 25, 2013

A Day in the Life: Heat Wave!

The hottest day of the year in the Boston area was last Friday. The temperature reached a record-breaking 99 degrees, and the heat index -- a combination of air temperature and relative humidity that gauges just how hot it feels to a person -- made it seem more like 108. As if that wasn't bad enough, it was our sixth of seven 90-plus-degree days in a row! Hang on. That's not all. We have had several heat waves this year dating back to May 30. Memorial Day weekend, folks -- not even the official start of summer. Usually, Beantown gets a total of about fourteen days above 90 degrees each summer. We have reached that mark already, and the season is less than half over!


It's been brutal, to put it simply -- especially for those of us with no air conditioning in our homes or cars. With each successive sweltering day, it's just been a matter of pushing through it. Here's how we, as a family, dealt with July 19:

6:50 a.m.: I got up and found Christopher watching Wizards of Waverly Place.

7:00 a.m.: Charlie woke up. Knowing I wanted to watch the news and weather, Chris handed over the remote. I turned to Today.
The boys became very rowdy very quickly. Charlie was the instigator, of course. He's always the instigator. You would think in this heat that he might have felt sluggish. Not my seven year old! The child is wired differently than Chris and me. I often say that I'm not sure he even needs to eat as he doesn't appear to get his energy from food. (He doesn't consume a lot and never finishes a meal.) So slender Charlie tackled his huge nine-year-old brother. Chris protested as always, and I was reluctantly thrown into the position of referee.

I suggested they play a game. Charlie wanted to battle gogos (small, colorful plastic figurines) while Chris agreed to play Battleship, though he complained that Charlie cheats. I suggested they play cards with one of the small decks they got in their kids' meals at Burger King the night before. They tried, but it didn't work. Too much squabbling. They gave gogos a shot then Battleship, yet the brother power struggle -- probably exacerbated by the heat -- raged on. The thermostat read 87 degrees.

I had planned for the boys to come with me somewhere cool such as Starbucks or Dunkin' Donuts until our favorite branch library opened at 10 a.m. While the boys hung out in the children's room playing computer games or others on their devices or (I could only hope) reading books, I would sit in a comfortable armchair in the adult room finishing (fingers crossed!) my four-days-late blog post. Then we would go back home to pick up our bathing suits before heading out to the community center we belong to in another town. We would spend the rest of the day there in and by the large outdoor pool. I would remember to bring lots of beach-type toys to hold Charlie's interest all the way until closing at 7 p.m. He got restless too early the day before, and we had to leave.

However, as is so often the case when children are involved, I changed my mind to adapt to the circumstances. I decided to send them to Summer Playground, their day camp at the elementary school. The kids would play outside on a field or the blacktop or maybe take refuge in the auditorium watching a movie -- each day is different -- but they could cool off with "post," breaks from the action during which they can purchase drinks and freeze pops. The heat combined with their irksome behavior had put my mood over the edge. I needed a break from them!

9:00 a.m.: Heading to Playground, the boys wore sunblock and their most breathable tee shirts and shorts. Each carried a bottle of water straight from the fridge and $1.50 for post. At dropoff, I talked to two counselors about not engaging the kids in vigorous sports that day.

12:00 p.m.: I picked up Chris and Charlie, and we drove to the air conditioned library. Yes! I had spent the morning at Starbucks working on my blog post. As expected, I hadn't been able to finish it. The heat was seriously seeping into my brain. I'd been having trouble concentrating for days. I was very unproductive! I could have caught more work time by sending the boys to Playground that evening -- it's closed in the afternoons -- but that would have meant extricating ourselves from the lovely pool and shady lawn of the community center thirty-seven minutes away. I didn't want to do that, and I couldn't bear to do that. We stayed at the library until we were all starving.

1:30 p.m.: The temperature in my eight-year-old SUV read 110 degrees! No joke. That's the highest I've ever seen it. The a/c broke long go. We swung by Pride's Deli and Pizzeria on the way to the community center. I never stop there, so I didn't know if they have a/c. There was no way in Heat Wave Hell we were staying for lunch at any place that didn't have air conditioning. Period. I popped my head in to ask. Affirmative. The deli has one window unit churning out glorious 60-degree air to the table in front of it. And that table was EMPTY. I snagged it faster than you can say Jack Robinson. (I don't know if anyone uses this antiquated phrase anymore. I haven't heard it said since childhood. Then again I'm quite old, which brings me to another reason why I needed -- and greedily took -- the prime seat directly in front of the unit: menopause. I can't tell if I have personally entered this dreaded female life phase, but I am at the frequently cited age of onset.) For the record, the boys did not object one iota to me taking the seat.

So there!

Needless to say, we took our dear, sweet time at lunch. Subs all around and chips and/or a cookie for the young ones. I made sure everyone chose a bottle of Dasani for maximum thirst-quenching, its cooling effect, and hydration. And I discouraged Chris from ordering a spicy sub because he would need more water to cool it down. (We were in, if not survival mode, then coping mode after all.) A mother of a boy in Charlie's grade walked in with her son, and we chatted. They had recently moved out of our town to a home with a pool. Jealous!

2:30 p.m.: Back to the air conditioning (I mean, library) for more blogging and children's room whatever. On our way in, we discovered a sprinkler watering the lawn and beautiful landscaping. We gratefully ran through it.

3:00 p.m.: Next stop: Orange Leaf, our favorite froyo spot, which happens to be conveniently located on the route to the community center. We filled our bellies some more with creamy, fruity, or sweet concoctions.

4:30 p.m.: Finally arrived at nirvana, otherwise known as the Jewish Community Center. (We are Christian, incidentally, like 60 percent of the other members of this terrific athletic, cultural, and educational facility. Go figure.) Anticipating our swim, I had put my clothes on over my bathing suit first thing in the morning; the boys changed at the library. My feeling about the pool on this day could not have been too unlike that of The Amazing Race finalists upon seeing host Phil Keoghan at the final "Pit Stop" during the last leg of the reality television game show: great relief at the end of a trying experience. Even better, I could see as we approached that the pool was empty. Adult Swim, hooray! I could immerse my sweaty self without worrying about children jumping on me or knocking into me. Hey, wait a minute! Why was the pool completely empty? Surely, many of the adults here also wanted to cool themselves off, didn't they? I was just about to dip a toe into the shallow end when I got my answer.

"You can't go in!" a woman blurted out in my direction.

"What? Isn't it Adult Swim?" I asked.

"No," came the reply. "No one can go in. The pool is closed because someone threw up in it."

"Ohhh!" I moaned. For the love of God. "How long is it going to be closed?"

"About fifteen minutes."

Just my luck. It had closed literally the moment we arrived. Only Charlie among the three of us was fast enough to get in the water before everyone was sent out by the lifeguards!

Fifteen minutes turned into forty-five as the throng of children and parents patiently waited. I had never experienced this situation before at the JCC -- we've been members for one year -- and to have it happen on the hottest day of the year, well, it was a tad annoying to say the least. It was not something, however, that I couldn't relate to on a personal level.

When I was a child growing up in Darien, Connecticut, I raced on our beach club swim team. Practices were long and tiring, and I frequently felt what I called "waterlogged." In other words, nauseous. I was on the verge of vomiting fairly often, and a couple of times I actually did . . . right in the pool in my lane. Our no-nonsense coach did not suffer fools gladly, however. So when I shyly approached him to tell him I was about to lose my lunch, his response was always a very unsympathetic: "GET IN THERE!"

Understandably, my teammates were disgusted, and they were very vocal about it. "Oh, GROSS! Shelby threw up in the pool!" they shouted. Still, our coach -- nicknamed The Silver Fox for his shiny, gray slicked-back hair and deeply tanned skin -- was unmoved. He nonchalantly wandered over to the long-handled bug scooper and lifted out the floating glutinous mess, which he ceremoniously dumped into the shower drain at the pool entrance. A yank of the long metal chain washed away the vomit. No closing of the pool. Swim team practice must continue! Following my public humiliation, I was allowed to leave, my mother trailing close behind.

5:15 p.m.: The JCC pool reopened! After the long day, make that LONG WEEK, I couldn't wait any longer to cool off. So imagine my disappointment when I found the water to be, gasp, lukewarm. Not quite bathwater but not refreshing either. Don't misunderstand me. I don't want to sound like I'm complaining because I am beyond grateful to have access to this awesome pool. It's just that the outdoor shower nearby turned out to be the water source that did the trick. (Major shout-out to the woman who tipped me off!) The shower was deliciously COLD. If I closed my eyes for a moment and blocked out the adult chatter and laughter and squeals of kids splashing in the shallow end, I could imagine myself being washed over by a pristine mountain waterfall. The deserving reward following a strenuous hike -- or an endless day during a heat wave.

The boys had plenty to do while I relaxed on a comfortable lounge chair under a tree. They swam, slurped Popsicles, and played games: ping pong, S'Mores The Card Game, and King's Corner. We ordered Caesar salads for dinner because there was no way in Heat Wave Hell that I was cooking in our residential sauna. Not surpringly, we were the last members to leave at closing.

8:35 p.m.: Back at the house, I asked the boys if they wanted to sleep in the tent in the backyard. They said "sure." The temp inside had risen to a stifling 94 degrees, so I expected a rough night for all of us. I sleep downstairs where it's cooler, but the boys have a ceiling fan. Problem: it can only be run on "low." They broke it last year playing a game in which a large, empty Easter basket is hung from one of the whirling blades while they, standing on their respective twin beds, try to toss tennis balls into the basket. Eventually, the weight of the balls snapped a blade. Argh. When set on "high" or "medium," the fan with its unbalanced blades now clatters and shakes furiously as if it's about to separate from the ceiling and fly around the room like a helicopter! It could do someone serious damage if it came loose. That's why it must be kept on "low" or "off."

The previous two nights had been quite comfortable outside despite the daytime heat. They would have been perfect for camping. This night, on the other hand, still felt unbearably sticky. It was almost dark, but I can pitch our tent very fast. So I got to work pronto. First, I carried the ground cloth, tent, tent poles, sleeping bags, and sleeping pads out of the house and stacked them on two lounge chairs in the yard. I opened up the kelly green plastic sheet and spread it out on the grass near the swingset. I snapped the four tent poles together and set the yellowish orange North Face tent on the ground cloth. But after slipping only two tent poles through their sleeves, I had to quit. I couldn't take it anymore. I was being ATTACKED by mosquitoes! They were all over me, attracted to my sweat and my O blood type. (I read about that recently.)

I hated giving up on the idea of camping, yet the air like the pool water was just too hot. Too hot in the house. Too hot outside the house. There was no way around it. Before dismantling my half-erected portable shelter, I needed a second and third opinion. So I called on my trusty soldiers. The boys weren't perspiring as much as me because they had not just been putting up a tent. Still, they agreed that the annoying critters were especially bad this night. "Okay, that's it," I announced. "We're not sleeping out tonight."

9:00 p.m.: Christopher and Charlie went to bed.

11:30 p.m.: I hit the sack after watching TV, doing Facebook, and taking a cold shower.


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