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June 27, 2006

Keeping cool? That's hot

Well, summer is definitely here, judging by the number of 100+F-degree-days we've been experiencing in the Bay Area.  In the Philippines, where I grew up, every day is 90 degrees, so nobody really complains about the hot weather.  Then again, no Filipino is his right mind actually wants to spend any time out in the sun, let alone play in it.  The Bay Area's temperate climate lends itself naturally to the outdoor lifestyle, but how does one enjoy it when the sun is blazing and burning my back, and worse, my kids' backs?  They have inherited my husband's fair English complexion, so I am ever mindful that people get 80% of their lifetime sun exposure by the age of 18, and that excessive sunburn in childhood increases -- by three times! -- the risk of developing malignant melanoma (skin cancer) later in life.

So how does my family stay safe and cool in these summer months?  Most people know the guidelines, of course.  But for me, honestly, it is easier said than done.  As I said, in Manila, we just avoid the sun and seek airconditioned malls.  But getting outdoors here is one of the things we most enjoy.   I've listed several EPA guidelines, along with the ways I make them work for me. 

(1) Limit time in the mid-day sun.
Uh-oh, strike one for me.  10AM is just about the time when I have gotten my 3 kids fed, cleaned and dressed for the day.  By 10AM, all the oatmeal and yogurt they have consumed have turned them into little racecars, all fueled up and raring to go.  Then by 1 or 2PM, they are more than ready for their naps.  So unfortunately, this timeframe is probably when you are most likely to see my kids outdoors! 

I guess the key word for me is "minimize".  Dressing my kids is always a fine balance between keeping them cool and minimizing skin exposure.  I try at least to keep their head and shoulders covered.  We also try to go to parks with at least some shade.  Sometimes I am able to keep them home with the promise of going to the park in the late afternoon and packing a picnic dinner (the summer evening concerts in Palo Alto are a great help here!).  When temperatures soar to the high 90's, I give up on outdoor parks altogether and seek the comfort of indoor, airconditioned places.  Fortunately, stores like IKEA and malls like Valley Fair have children's play areas.   Children's museums, such as Habitot in Oakland or the Children's Discovery Museum in San Jose, make a great outing. 

(2) Always use sunscreen
At this point, I'm going to ask you not to call the bad-mommy-cops because I'm going to admit that I HATE putting sunscreen on my kids.  It makes my hands goopy and icky!  I probably don't apply the recommended amount (1 ounce, or 1 shotglass full) because it's so hard to rub in.  This is compounded by the fact that children hate having lotion put on, and to avoid this, will resort to wriggling and squirming the whole time.  Then, as soon as my kids are all "lotioned" up, they lie down on the sofa and get everything all goopy and icky.  Then you have to do this all over again because you are supposed to reapply every 2 hours or after being in the water or sweating.  What a pain!!!

Parents, if you feel this way too, my gentle suggestion is, make it easy on yourself.  Buy sunscreen with fun spray-on bottles and fun-smelling lotion so that your kids might actually cooperate.  My favorite sunscreen right now is Coppertone Kids Continuous Spray sunscreen (other brands also carry this type of lotion).  Unlike the old spray bottles which basically spray the same old lotion, this is sort of an aerosol mist.  Think Lysol spray -- you just whip it out of your pocket, a la John Wayne, and spritz it all over your kid.  You don't really have to rub it in.  My kids like the ticklish sensation of being sprayed, so they actually stand still (but they think it's stinky, so I still use regular lotion for their faces). Marvellous!

(3) Wear a hat
Fortunately, my kids do wear hats for hours without losing them or tearing them off.  Actually, luck had little to do with this -- when they were babies, Graham and I would patiently replace their hats every time they came off, until they got the message and gave up.  They usually wear hats with SPF-rated fabric, which cover their ears and the backs of their necks.

(4) Cover Up
With this heat, my kids go around the house practically naked (more on this in a future post), but when we go out, I do attempt to clothe them.  But did you know that a regular white Tshirt only has a SPF rating of about 8?  Fortunately, many companies make SPF-rated clothingnow.  Just Google the words "sun protective clothing", and you'll get a whole bunch, for clothing in and out of the water (I like Land's End and One Step Ahead).  On days when I know we will be in the sun for a significant amount of time (i.e. swimming or berry picking), my kids wear these shirts and hats, which have SPF 50 or more.  For other days, I've treated all their summer clothes with Rit SunGuard, a laundry additive that can boost the UPF protection factor of a shirt from UPF 5 to UPF 30.  So I only need to apply sunscreen on their arms, legs and face, and still feel like they are getting the maximum protection.  And if I'm having a bad-mom day and don't get around to reapplying as often as I should, I tell myself that most of their body is protected anyway.

(4)  Watch for the UV index
Every day, log on to the EPA website to find out the UV forecast for the day and plan your day accordingly, just like you would do with any weather forecast.  But hey, do Californians really check weather forecasts daily anyway?  Hmmmm.... might be a difficult habit to get into!   A product that I have recently discovered might be able to help me with this.  It's called Sun Signals, and it's basically a sticker that changes color when you've had too much sun.  You stick them on your skin or clothes and they will react to UVB radiation, changing from yellow to orange when the maximum recommended level of daily UVB exposure is reached.  When it turns orange, get out of the sun or reapply sunscreen.  I haven't tried it out yet, but it sounds great!