It’s the last week of school for AISD students, and the heat of summer is fast approaching. Do512 Family Featured Babymaker, Virgina Woodruff from Great Moments in Parenting, shares her breakdown of what the Texas heat is like for non-native Texans.
If you’ve seen the movie “Frozen” (and if you have a girl between the ages of two and 14, I’ll bet you have, more than once), you’ll remember the Broadway-inspired scene where Olaf the Snowman sings about what he imagines summer must be like.
Olaf confesses, “I’ve always loved the idea of summer, and sun, and all things hot.” Ice-man Kristoff replies, “Really? I’m guessing you don’t have much experience with heat.” “Nope!” says Olaf cheerfully.
That’s how my conversations go when I try to describe summer in Texas to my Olaf-like friends “Back East.”
In Pennsylvania, we looked forward to summer all year long. We played in pools from Memorial Day to Labor Day, warming ourselves afterwards with hoodies and grilled cheese; we lay out on the beach, trying to get a tan; we stayed out until the sun went down, actually chasing fireflies through fields.
But now that I live in Texas, I know of a new kind of summer. A summer that’s hot, really hot, and that looms over each year like a descending fireball.
When we moved to Austin six years ago, the first thing we taught our toddler son was what “shade” looks like, and how to run across hot asphalt from shade spot to shade shot like a frog jumping on lily pads. In Pennsylvania, you moved beach towels to find the sun; now I appreciated how shade can make the air pocket under a big Live Oak tree ten degrees cooler.
If you’re new to town, let me spell out some other details of what a hot summer really means…
Door handles: You will not be able to touch the metal handle of your car or your home if they lie in direct sunlight. Your kids will find out the hard way when they race from the car to the house, only to have their hand burned by the shiny door hardwear your builder thought looked so stylish.
AC: When you do fall inside your house, you will send up a little thank you prayer to the engineer who invented air conditioning. You will religiously bring your car in to get its AC fluid levels checked, or learn to replace it yourself.
Shoes & Clothes: By late April you will throw your sneakers (and any other toe-covering shoe) to the back of your closet until fall. It’s too hot for anything but flip flops now. Likewise clothes. Skip the “summer clothing” section of any national store and accept that you feet, pits and nether regions will need air. That means cotton tank tops, short skirts and loose shorts. Don’t worry about thinking, “l look too fat to wear shorts.” Everybody who plans to live comfortably here will be doing it.
Gear: Just as residents of winter climes prepare for ice storms, take the time now to stock up you car and home with your summer essentials: rash guards so you and the kids avoid melanoma, serious, waterproof (see “Water” below) sunscreen, sunglasses and more sunglasses, and anti-itch remedies (see “Bugs” below).
Water: You will never appreciate a pool, water hole or plastic baby pool as much as you do in summer in Texas. You will seek out water like a camel. Not only to drink, but to submerge yourself in. Map your route to the nearest city pool, and start looking for alternate parking spots now, because Deep Eddy/Big Stacey/Shipe Pool fill up fast. Pools are how you stay active all summer long. Otherwise you’ll wind up with cabin fever from staying inside with the shades drawn and the AC spiked.
(Warning: though everyone sings the joys of Barton Springs, this mamma finds it too cold, ironically and especially, on the hottest days of summer. For some of us, transitioning from 100 degrees to 70 degrees sends our bodies into a state of near-shock. You have been warned. )
Indoor Play: Parents, you will Google “indoor play places” again and again as the summer wears on and you realize your little ones risk heat stroke playing in the backyard in the afternoon. I’ll get you started: My Gym, Jumpoline, SoccerZone, Loco-motion, Hoppin’ House. Also consider a membership at a YMCA, JCC or other indoor gym-like place.
AM: You will get your non-water exercising in early—the hike-and-bike trail crowd hit their peak at 9 AM. If you plan on adventuring around Austin over the summer, leave your house by 8AM so you have plenty of time (about 2.5 hours) before it gets too hot to be riding trains or petting dinosaurs or viewing wildflowers.
Bugs: When the sun starts to set, you might be tempted to go back outside. After all, when you’re “Back East” and “Out West,” this is prime time to be outside. But in Texas, summer dusk is the time of the daily mosquito raid. You can’t entirely avoid it, especially if you don’t want to slater your kids in DEET, but you can look for open, windy spaces without overhangs or trees (skeeters congregate underneath). Another thing you’ll need to teach your toddler about right away: red ants. These painfully stinging insects aren’t the kind they draw in kids’ books about picnics. Inevitably they’ll learn the hard way, but it’s worth the effort to teach them to recognize a red ant pile now.
At the of your first Texas summer, you’ll be older, wiser, tanner and mosquito-scabbed. But you’ll also have earned the right to roll you eyes when your coastal friends talk about a hot week they lived through. “Hot? Let me tell you about hot.”
Virginia Woodruff is going on her seventh year in Austin. She runs the open blog Great Moments in Parenting.