An Ode to Room Darkening Shades
Southwestern sunlight is streaming through the tightly drawn curtains and blinds of our Arizona home. We have just ended the summer equinox, and as the blinding sunlight bounces off the cinderblock walls around our back yard and the white stucco homes behind it, I am reminded of cliche characters in a bad western movie, squinting in the sunlight and ultimately missing their mark as they duel to the death. My mistress the sun has foiled their plans as she has foiled mine!
The time is 5:30 in the morning and my two children, Stinky Cheeks (1) and The Atomic Bomber (3), have been diapered and fed, and are now ready for a good 4 1/2 hours to 5 hours of active morning play. Their circadian rhythms are jolted awake every day about this time, when the sun streams through the tightly shut windows and teases "rise and shine little sleepy heads!"
I would do almost anything to go back to sleep. My youngest child has been waking up incessantly at night. We finally moved her crib into a separate room from her brother so we can close her door and let her cry. It is the only way to preserve our sanity and retrain her to soothe herself.
We have recently moved from the country to a neighborhood of attractive suburban homes, most of which are way too big for their families of two working adults and 2.3 children, a dog, and sometimes a goldfish named fluffy. I am always mildly surprised as I hear the rumble of the air conditioners kicking in around 6 o'clock in the morning. I remember laying in my bed in the country listening to the warbling and cooing of quail outside my window, and the occasional crackling call of a cactus wren. I would cock one eye open, listen to these pleasant sounds for a moment, then drift back to sleep for an hour or so.
My home has two of air conditioning units, and we can program them to different temperatures during the day. We keep them set at a comfortable 79 degrees Fahrenheit during the night hours when the desert cools as much as 30 degrees from its daytime highs of 108 degrees plus. With the ceiling fans running in each rooms we can get to a cool sleeping temperature without stressing the expensive a/c units too much. By 8:00 a.m., the air conditioning unit that cools the master bedroom and the mostly unused living room is reset to an almost uncomfortable 82 degrees.
It is Sunday morning, and the only sounds I hear are my two babies, who vacillate between their new favorite toy (a ball ramp that beeps and sings as golf-ball sized plastic balls pass through them) and me, their mother, whom they sidle up to, clutching at the soft hem of the long fuzzy robe I wear more as a matter of habit and comfort than for warmth. There is nothing about an Arizona morning that would suggest a chill, at least not here in Phoenix, in the low desert at midsummer.
Hear in the outlying suburbs, at daybreak, you might hear landscape crews driving by in their flatbed pickup trucks heavy laden with the tools of their trade. They rumble by with large, 15-gallon round orange coolers filled with water, mounted to the back. In the middle of the development, we can't hear the sound of the produce trucks filled to capacity with small, seedless watermelons, but they are there, as are the migrant workers who pull the fruits from their vines so early in the day, then load up the trucks.
Lately I have even seen the inmates from a woman's prison wearing uncomfortable-looking heavy orange jumpsuits as they go to work removing weeds under the watchful supervision of guards. I'm glad I'm not in prison. Those jumpsuits look cruelly hot.
But today is Sunday, and all the world seems to be at rest. Except for me.
This early in the morning, the non-native, broad leafed flowering plants aren't yet wilting in the unforgiving afternoon heat. I know I should get up to water the basil and oregano pot I have been trying halfheartedly to keep alive during the past month. Its days are numbered, as we are going on vacation soon. The large agaves in my front yard have grown thick and lean, though the only signs of distress they show is a certain dullness in the sheen of their blue gray skin. The largest agave called century plants look fierce with their long, needle shaped tips. They look like rapiers.
My young daughter (stinky cheeks) is fighting her circadian rhythms' natural reaction to the intense sunlight. She sidles up to me and buries her face in the worn plush hem of my robe. She shoves her hand into her mouth repeatedly as she vocalizes loudly. She picks up the remote control of the nearby television and directs her impish gaze and those over-sized chocolate-brown eyes at me. Then she pushes the buttons one by one. She looks at me again to make sure I have noticed that she is big like me. When I return my gaze to my writing, she rubs her eyes, missing the sleep she gave up to rise with the sun.
Like it or not, my two tots are "children of the morning light", a fanciful title from a children's book about East Coast Indians. Mine are literal children of the morning light, and some days it is torture! I imagine the filtered northern light and the sun streaming through the fog off the waters of some exotic-sounding river in the unspoiled woods of the Northern United states. Sun worship is for those who don't get enough of it. Perhaps it should be renamed sun envy.
My head is filled with songs and literary allusions to the sunshine.
"My Mistress' Eyes are Nothing Like the Sun" from Shakespeare's sonnet. Young Shakespeare's England, if anything like the England of my experience, is gray and overcast most of the time. In England the sun sparkles. In Arizona, the sun blinds and burns.
It is Sunday, and a familiar hymn pops into my mind. "Oh there's sun-shine, blessed sun-shine, let the peaceful happy moments roll, as Jesus shows his smiling face, there is sunshine in my soul."
It is now 8:30, and my husband staggers into the living room. How long have you been up? Since 5:30. He pauses for a long time, still trying to wake up. Go back to bed, he orders me.
I comply. Anticipating the delicious cozy pleasure of my lightweight summer quilt, and a few more hours of late morning sleep like an addictive substance, there is truly sunshine in my soul.