Sweating in the sun

Posted: Saturday, June 20, 2009

The weather has been freaking me out. I sweat from the sun, but then I sweat some more when I pull up the weather calendar online and see all those suns looking back at me, marching in a row across our days.

It's just not normal, and wildly unpredictable stuff makes me nervous.

I really don't think I'm the only one unnerved by the recent streak of good weather. I see other people, sunburned in their tank-tops, a slightly shifty, apprehensive look in their eyes. It is, in fact, an easy way to tell a local from a visitor; a visitor looks at the good weather with the unjaded perspective of someone who does not expect the weather gods to be like a petulant lover who keeps score.

But when I wake up and the sun is out again, my thoughts race from gratefulness for one more day to a feeling of intense obligation and pressure: Is this the last one? Will it be nice again before next summer? I can't waste it on things like grocery shopping (though our refrigerator is looking sparse) or washing dishes (though my kitchen counters are a serious embarrassment and I have to hide the dishes before the ACS guy comes to fix my phone). Finding more time to be outside is really all I am allowed to do by de facto Juneau law.

My daughter, who has lived in Alaska her whole life, gets up each morning and puts on fleece pants and thick socks, topped off by a long sleeved shirt. Each day I send her back to her room saying, "No honey, it's going to be hot today. I know it's not hot now, but you need to dress like its summer." She starts crying, not because she wants so much to wear fleece pants, but because she greets this day just as I do: Completely exhausted.

The end of the school year, paired with this weather, has forced us to use every bit of energy we have on picnics and bike rides and swimming at the glacier and playing in the yard and watering our plot at the community garden.

A few days ago, on a school field trip to the park, my daughter got a scrape and started to howl. Though she bathed the night before, she was so dirty that the tears made little muddy puddles on her cheeks. She told me later that when she got the scrape, she was already considering crying because she was too hot.

Yesterday, while I was mowing my yard, my daughter ran up to me. Again she was filthy, but here after more than a week of sun, she has finally dressed herself almost appropriately (shorts, with a black long-sleeved shirt). She was flushed, as she almost always is these days and her knees are bruised and scraped. Her hands are clutched tightly together, and she peels them apart to show me a moth she had caught between them.

It is a small, dusty moth, but to her it is beautiful, just as she is to me. For the first time, this tiny moment in her childhood reminds me of my own. Of long hours of random play outside. Of playing with the hose. Of being able to sit in the shade and still feel warm. Of bare feet hitting the warm floor on their way out the door onto the crisp grass. Of not taking a raincoat along "just in case."

She is not worried about tomorrow's weather, or next week or even November. It is summer, even if it is too short to learn how to dress for it. And right now the yard is full of those little moths, so she might as well catch them.

• Marie Ryan McMillan is a parent and teacher in Juneau.

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