It is summer, which is a bad thing, I await the change of seasons, but things are not as simple as they once were.
There was a time when winter didn’t bother me in the least. Not only am I an introvert, and therefore already inclined to spend my time indoors, and therefore unhampered by the inability to engage in outdoor activities, but I also have a powerful aversion to heat and humidity.
This aversion is related to my distaste for doing things outside. In fact, it’s kind of a result of that distaste, and also an augmenting factor. Okay, it’s a chicken-and-egg kind of thing.
Let me try and sum this up briefly. I am and always have been extremely poor at sports and other physical games. Even lighthearted attempts at participation in these activities almost inevitably ends in intense feelings of humiliation, shame, self-loathing, and utter alienation. They make me feel as though I belong to an entirely separate and wholly unwanted species of semi-ape. This is on top of the physical discomfort: I am quickly exhausted, and my lack of skill and coordination are exacerbated by my psychological and emotional struggles, which cause me to perform even worse than I already would.
The outside also exposes one to the sun, which has never been friendly to me. I sunburn very easily, very quickly, and I find the application of sunblock fairly gross, so I don’t put it on every time I ought to.
This physical discomfort abetted by the sun leads to sweating. Now, some people like to sweat. it tells them and those around them that, hey, I am really playing hard here. This is not how it works for me. I find sweat, first off, simply icky. Of course, it also smells. There is no scenario in which I feel like a salty, oozy wetness seeping from my pores is favorable.
But in addition, the appearance of being sweaty is something about which I have become hyper-aware. This goes all the way back to gym class in middle and high school (doesn’t everything?), where the other boys, seeing me sweat in the pathetic performance of gym activities, would mock 1) how quickly I would break said sweat, and 2) the quantity of sweat I would produce, when they, so they’d boast, would have yet to do so. At the same time, I was also often ridiculed for my hair: I had no idea how to style or keep up hair in a way acceptable to late-80s/early-90s teenage America — indeed, I didn’t know how to keep it at all. My hair was often overly long, unruly, and mangled, despite my poor attempts to mitigate the problem. Add what sweat can do to even nicely-kept hair, and the problem is multiplied many times over.
So among the arsenal of weapons my very existence in gym class already provided to my tormentors, my sweat would serve as a physical, visible sign of my ineptitude, my awkwardness, my quasi-speciation. Things were already terrible. Heat, the outdoors, the sun, made it all much worse.
So, winter. Frustrating to many, particularly in my adopted home of Maine, for the unforgivingly low temperatures and frequent snowfall that keep regular Americans from enjoying the outside world over which God has given them dominion. (Hey God, if you’ve given us domain over all this shit, why do you make it so freaking cold that we can’t enjoy it?!?!) Not so for me. You can have your outdoors, I will enjoy the sight of the falling snowflakes and the accumulation of white over everything, happily barring us from vigorous activity, wonderfully sucking the heat from the air.
The cold is a state of cosmic neutrality, in a way. Though life requires sunlight and heat, the universe is a cold place. Heat is an exception to the rule, an anomaly that mostly secrets itself within stars and those objects within their orbits. Life may want heat, but Everything Else tends to cold.
Is it tougher to, say, drive to the store because of snow? That’s okay. I’ll go slowly, or I’ll wait it out. I work from home these days, but even if I didn’t, well, did the snow make me late for work? How awful. So bring on the winter! From my heated-to-comfort home, I will pass the season unbothered, barely aware.
Or so it once was.
Today, I am a father of two small, wonderful children, now aged 1 and 3 1/2. These two children require transport to daycare every weekday. They require transport to activities and doctors. Have you ever tried wrangling two struggling, grouchy small children into a car, while trudging through two feet of snow in the bitter cold? Also, these children require amusement at an incredible rate, and unlike their daddy, they are not satisfied by remaining indoors, even in the heat, even in the cold. No longer burdened by gym class or other obligations to outdoor activities for myself, my kids must play. The boy must run and yell and throw, the girl must crawl and explore and toddle. They can’t do that exclusively indoors.
In the summer, this is not a happy state of affairs by any means, for as much as they may enjoy galavanting in the sun, I am as miserable under its oppressive radiation as ever. I suffer for their delight. Fine.
But in the winter, when the temperature is too low or the ground is deluged with impassible mounds of snowfall, I can’t even do that much for them. Apart from brief stints climbing about the snow and slush for the boy, the winter forces us all indoors, which makes for stir-crazy, cranky kids. Stir-crazy, cranky kids makes for a raw-nerved daddy. (And mommy.) Mitigating my children’s discontent is now a greater priority than mitigating my sports-and-heat-related humiliations. Winter, in Maine at least, has become an enemy of my middle adulthood.
“Enemy” is too strong. Let’s say “respected adversary.”
Winter has another benefit I have as yet not mentioned. Really, this is more of an appreciation of its true power, which is exemplified by its keeping me and everyone else from being pummeled by the sun and humidity.
Winter’s true power, what makes it beautiful to me, is its place as a great pause button on the ecosystem around us. Apart from heat, humidity, and sun, I am also at odds with much of the rest of the natural world. Insects invade my home, violate my person, and attempt to feast on the blood of me and mine. Summer rains drench the ground and soil, bringing mud and a sickly haze. Moisture in the air makes the wood in my house sticky, leaves a film of condensation on bathroom fixtures and metal. Sun not only overheats my home, but blazes through windows causing glare on my prized electronic screens. Summer brings about a slime of life that I would do without.
Winter, a force of nature itself, puts a damper on, and often kills or makes dormant, the rest of nature. It is a respite from the summer miasma, which I so badly crave. It is necessary death so that life can start over.
So I will handle my kids. Winter is not the utter joy it once was, but it is still wanted. When it comes, though I will brace for new difficulties, it will also have my welcome.
Summer, meanwhile, can bite me. And so it does.