When we decided to buy our house, we knew a few of its problems. One of them was that the air conditioning wasn’t working. No big deal, we figured. We’ll be gone part of the summer, and we’re pretty tough people. (We thought this in February.)
It might be tempting to argue that our Floridian upbringing has made us immune to heat, but almost the opposite is true, especially for J. In Florida, central air-conditioning is the norm; my grandmother is literally the only person I’ve ever met there who doesn’t cool her house more or less year round. I mostly haven’t had central air-conditioning as an adult, first in the mountains of Uganda, and then in Massachusetts, where we limped along until the summer I was pregnant with Pip.
Look, I’ve read Laudato Si, which, while frustratingly short on specific proposals on what measures to take for our environment, does highlight air-conditioning as a particular excess worth examining. The whole idea of taking the hot air and pushing it outside so it’s someone else’s problem is obviously a little morally questionable. Still, in places like India, where air conditioner use is exploding, “It is cheaper than a car, and arguably more life-changing in steamy regions, where cooling can make it easier for a child to study or a worker to sleep.”
We knew when we bought this house that the air conditioning was broken, but we have friends here in Virginia who survive summers without air conditioning, and we were challenged by the Pope’s words, and also, we really, really didn’t want to have to pay for major repairs right now.
The past couple of weeks, I quite like the seasonality that life without air-conditioning fosters: eating dinners out on the porch, spending more time outside because it’s just as hot indoors, cooking special summertime meals that don’t heat up the house.
But you know what? Without air-conditioning, you get a lot more mold. And without air conditioning, my hot-blooded husband is really wilted and pitiful. I can’t cook things I want to cook, and I can’t take a shower the night before and be clean in the morning.
The clincher was arriving back from vacation to a stifling house with a feverish baby who sleeps in the eaves upstairs. (If it’s 85 downstairs where the thermometer is, what’s it like up there?!) We lasted a little over 24 hours before we bought ourselves a window unit.
I suspect I struggle more with ambiguity than some people: I want clear, universal answers about how I’m to live, and factoring in that other people have shadier yards, or aren’t home all day, or have single-story homes feels like cheating. Through force of will, we’ve made it seven years as a single-car family, which feels both like a sign we could slog through the heat if we really wanted to, and an excuse not to have to: we’ve proved our green cred, and our frugal.
At the moment we are in talks to get the central air-conditioning replaced, and I’m both guilty and excited. I am sweating as I type this, and I’ll be sweating as I go to bed, even with that contraband window unit cozied up beside me.
It’s probably just time to chill out.