Back in the aughts, after living in sunny Southern California and balmy Central Texas for almost two decades, our family moved to Chicago for my husband’s job. We arrived on the first day of December, and the temperatures were bitter. Adapting to life in a new climate was difficult. With a toddler to wrangle and a baby on the way, we were dismayed to discover that gearing up in coats, mittens, hats, boots, and scarves to leave the house took ages. Lumbering my marshmallow-shaped bundle of a son into a car seat, warming the car, and clearing the windows of ice meant we set off for any excursion a full hour early. We brought our baby daughter home from the hospital in late April in a bright red snowsuit. I didn’t meet a single neighbor until May, when leaving the house stopped being an exercise in preparation. I remember thinking, “Ahh, the temperature is above freezing; feel that warmth!” Oh, how my baseline had shifted. It was such a relief just to be able to walk outside.
This summer back in Austin, as we endured 78 triple-digit days between mid-June and early September, those feelings of isolation and frustration with being stuck inside the house returned. When the temperature finally dropped to a high of 99 degrees, I briefly scurried from tree shadow to tree shadow in my yard. I could feel the difference. “Ahh,” I thought, “that breeze is almost refreshing. It doesn’t feel quite so much like a blow-dryer!” Shifting baselines, indeed.
Like the cold, the heat is dangerous. The human body moves blood to try to maintain homeostasis. In the cold, it all goes to the core, to keep you warm. That’s why the fingers, toes, and nose are the first to succumb to frostbite. In the heat, it’s the opposite: blood goes to the extremities, where evaporation is maximal. Your brain suffers. You stop thinking clearly and make mistakes. Heatstroke, burns, and dehydration are real threats. The last time I saw my neighbor on the other side of the fence, we waved as limply at each other as the leaves of the vines that clung to sun-scorched posts between us. And then we headed right back inside.
Summer is supposed to be a time for being outdoors. School is on break. Families take vacations. Pools are open. There’s a summer camp in a state park nearby, an iconic week themed around the Percy Jackson books that is the highlight of many kids’ summers. The campers are outside all day long. This year, a friend’s kid who attended had heatstroke and ended up in the hospital. “Go outside and play!” is the classic directive of a parent to a child in the summer. I said it to my own kids. But not this year.
Inside yet again, I found myself watching a TikToker from Japan who posts about fashions that would surprise people in the U.S. One of those was air-conditioned coats. I googled it, of course. They look like puffy jackets with vents near the kidneys. A battery-powered fan blows air up your back and out your neck, aiding with evaporation. Some also have cool water circulating through radiatorlike coils. Still others add ice packs to the design. My fingers itched to buy one to see if they really worked. But then I paused, because I remembered from those harsh Chicago winters how much I dreaded gearing up just to go outside. I wasn’t ready to go there yet.
Still, the long weeks of summer sequestration in my climate-controlled house got me thinking. If we can’t be outdoors in the summer, maybe we need to treat it like winter in the North. Should Texans reconsider our calendar? It might sound like the heat’s gotten to me, but hear me out.
Let’s put Texas kids in air-conditioned schools in June, July, and August, when it’s a hellscape outside. A 2017 survey found that our six largest school districts already have air-conditioning; those that don’t, or that need to update aging HVAC systems, should be prioritizing this for students’ safety. If we flipped the schedule, kids could stay cool while learning during the day and then play indoor sports usually reserved for winter after school. Basketball, volleyball, and wrestling would all work in the air-conditioning. And what better time to fill a cool, dark theater hall for the big musical production than in the heat of summer?
Fall can remain fall. The earth’s tilted axis will shift us from the sun’s strong glare; temperatures will dip. The heat dome will finally, thankfully, collapse. Football can still happen in September, October, and November (though moving the start of the season a little later seems like a good idea). Homecoming and all the autumnal festivities are a go. Some things are sacred.
Then, during winter, we could act like it’s spring. It’s not too cold for outdoor sports such as baseball, soccer, or track in December, ice storms notwithstanding. Prom in late January will be lovely. Graduation can happen at the end of February. The weather will still have a bit of delightful crispness. The redbuds will be just showing their blossoms, as will an intrepid bluebonnet or two.
And guess what: school’s out for spring! Instead of three months off from June to August, vacation would last from March through May. This has always been the ideal time to be outside in Texas, and now that’s even more true. Instead of one fleeting week for spring break—it never feels like enough—this will be a long, luxurious spring vacation. During family camping trips in March, at camps in April, and at festivals in May, everyone can enjoy the gorgeous weather. We won’t be sweating through our clothes. We won’t be chugging cold water and rubbing ice across our wrists. We can be outside during the best season in the South.
When temperatures hit triple digits in June, the kids can return to the air-conditioned safety of school. I really think it could work. Let’s make summer winter in Texas!
Look, I’m realistic that those in a position to make this kind of radical change won’t jump at the wisdom of such a seasonal switcheroo. (We’re so stubborn about even one hour in that whole daylight savings issue.) And sure, cutting ourselves off from the Northeast’s calendar could stoke some old rivalries that might better remain cool.
But I will make one prediction that I believe will come to pass. There’s going to be a new parental directive that Texas kids will start hearing all summer long, and it will have the echoes of the northern winter: “Put on your coat before you go outside!” Though there’ll be one more piece to the admonition as our kids step out into the sweltering air: “I sure hope you remembered to charge your jacket’s AC unit last night.”
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