Too much - FamilyEducation

Too much

June 11,2008
Professor Mom
Aliki McElreath

Aliki is a writer and college English teacher. She lives in North Carolina with her husband, two children (ages seven and ten), a dog, a cat, a rabbit, and too many fish.

We've been having record heat for the past four days--triple-digit heat, in fact. When I open the back door in the mornings to put out the dogs (yes, dogs in the plural--we're dog-sitting my in-laws' early-rising beagle--I'm convinced he's part beagle, part rooster, actually), the heat hits my face like a blast from an exhaust pipe. The grass is brittle, the air is almost tangible, it hangs so heavily over everything. And even though we have air-conditioning, I still think the heat has seeped into our house somehow, sliding under the doors like smoke, putting nerves on edge, and turning the kids against each other constantly.

My students are tired. And hot. Many of them don't have air-conditioned rooms, and as they sit in the class, faces still shiny from sweat, soaking up the air-conditioning in there, they look tired and hot from hours spent lying still under a virtually useless fan. They can't concentrate--they're done, I think, and we still have three days left before the final.

"Don't lose your focus now," I tell them cheerfully. "We're almost done!" Outside the window a large bee drones, hanging drunkenly in the thick sunshine.

At the gas station later, on my way home, a man in heavy work overalls filled up his tank and cursed. Beads of sweat dotted his face and stained his shirt. Was he cursing the prices? The heat? Both? He caught my eye and apologized for his language."It's just too damn much," he told me, punching his gas cap into place with his fist.

Other people's children are tired, hot, and cranky, too. It took me 30 minutes yesterday afternoon to get the kids ready for the pool (I wish someone would invent a walk-through sunscreen application machine with a conveyor belt: Load your kids up, send them through, and they emerge completely slathered up with sunscreen). Through the whole process--the stifled impatience, the kids squirming, the gobs of sunscreen in my hair and on my glasses, the forgotten towels, the misplaced water toy, I imagined the merciful plunge into the cold water at the other end of it all. When we got to the pool, though, all of my children's bickering and crankiness--the bickering and crankiness they had been directing at each other all afternoon--immediately ended up redirected at all the other kids who were already there, feeling cranky themselves. I watched from the side, astounded to see T. and her new little friend A. locked in combat over a squirt toy. L. snatched his Playmobil boat away from his friend M., even though they had played together nicely with it only the other day. Another little girl, P., bashed her brother over the head with a Dora the Explorer plastic doll. Minutes after our arrival, the shallow end of the pool was soon reduced to a mess of squabbling, tearful, small bodies, wailing their frustrations into the hot afternoon air.

"It's been like this all day," P.'s mom told me tiredly from her deck chair. "I brought them to the pool to get some relief, finally."

"Me, too," I replied, surveying the bickering from my own chair. It was too hot even to intervene. The stack of papers I was trying to grade lay on my lap, wilting under the heat.

Sometimes there's just not much you can do, but let things run their course. It never ended up being all peace and loving harmony at the pool yesterday, but the kids worked things out together--all of them, in their own particular ways, without too much parental interference. Maybe the kids exorcised some demons in the process, too, because when we left, my children sucking happily on ice pops for the walk home, there was a new spring in their steps. Today the temperatures are supposed to drop a little. I hope rain will move in--the kind of sweeping rain that washes the sky clean and clear and sends in the cooler air, blue and shimmering like the pool water,  under our doors and through our windows, to swirl around our ankles and lift our tired, hot spirits up.