Mothering in the heat wave

We hit the first hot summer day when E was 3 weeks old. Our second floor bedroom was 85 degrees and I panicked. Between frantically googling “safe temperature for infant to sleep in,” I strategized: Should we sleep in the living room under the big ceiling fan? drag the mattress into the basement? Put a box of ice next to a fan? After a few hours of worrying and when sleep deprivation finally took over, I reluctantly convinced myself that babies all around the world regularly sleep in such temperatures and I’m probably way overthinking the situation. (In the end, she slept just fine in her diaper with the window open.)

A few weeks later, we installed mini-splits in our house (scheduled before I gave birth) and just like that, concerns for an overheated infant went away. And while I stay indoors all day nursing around the clock and rarely leaving the house, sometimes I’d be completely oblivious to the temperature outside.

Then this week, extreme heat waves swept across the country and I was brought back to those hot summer nights spent with my grandmother in China. Our apartment was small, and I shared a bed with my laolao until middle school. On hot nights, she would lay on her side towards me and fan us both with a folding hand fan until I fell asleep. “Laolao, I can’t sleep, it’s too hot,” I’d complain, and grandma would always tell me that “you need to calm your heart and mind first. If you are cool in your mind, you’ll naturally feel cool.”

Sitting in my comfortably cooled house this week where my only annoyance has been not being able go out for a walk with our newborn (my partner said our car registered 108 degree yesterday), I thought about how easily modern conveniences make us disconnected from nature. And how privileged we are to have the resources to install ACs that I would never have to fan my child to sleep.

I don’t want that first hot summer night to fade in my memory. Because I know extreme heat is a reality that so many people live with day in and day out globally and here in the US. As a new mother, I feel the overwhelming urge to love and protect this tiny child of mine, and that makes me ache for the mothers who feel that they don’t have what they need to take care of their own.

A friend told me that “being a parent is like putting on colored glasses. The world is the same, yet somehow everything looks different.” And it’s so true. The climate crisis has always been front and center in my mind, but motherhood is ushering in a new level of urgency.

If creating a safe future for our children to flourish in won’t even get our society to act, what will?