It’s incredibly disheartening that after more than 100 days on lockdown – having gone virtually nowhere and suiting up in full PPE whenever we did venture out for even as much as a neighborhood walk – we find ourselves in a situation where Covid-19 numbers are actually rising, and steadily.
What complicates things even further is that this is happening precisely at the moment when all of us, including our incredibly resilient kids, are reaching our thresholds for isolation. Right when they’re finally starting to pine to see their friends somewhere other than on an iPad or computer, we parents are being forced by the reality of surging numbers to rethink our social re-emersion.
As we traverse this new ground — figuring out whether to socialize and if so, with whom and under what set of circumstances — it all becomes incredibly complicated and challenging. Do we limit ourselves to just a masked wave from across a street, or do we attempt a socially distanced backyard visit, or join a selectively curated pod within which we can actually touch one another and perhaps even see each other’s mouths and noses?
It’s like solving a variable equation when determining the risk-reward ratio of a potential visit. Take 4 restaurant deliveries + 1 outdoor haircut + 1 teenager (with questionable social distancing skills) in the household, divided by 15 days of not leaving the house = 0 meal deliveries + not washing down the groceries with Clorox divided by diligent mask wearing + 0 trips to the grocery store.
First of all, everyone seems to think, or at least maintain, that they’re being insanely cautious with regard to coronavirus safety. And perhaps that’s true by their definition, or as compared to life as they formerly knew it. But I can’t tell you how many times people have claimed to be vigilant and then revealed themselves to be otherwise — or, at least, nowhere near my standard of vigilance. From mentions of regular trips to the bank (ever heard of online banking?) to dining out at restaurants (you can’t wear a mask while eating!) to “socially distanced multi-family pool parties” (how’s that even a thing?), I never cease to wonder how anyone could consider engaging in those elective activities as “being cautious.”
As a result, I spend a fair amount of my time artfully crafting polite ways to decline invitations, with questionable success.
It’s not that I don’t want to see people. I’m a highly social creature and I miss my friends and relatives terribly. It’s just that I want to see them when it’s safe — and given how little we truly understand about this insidious monster, and how impossible it is to know where each person has gone, with whom they went there, draped in what matter of PPE, and just how vigorously they decontaminated upon their return, I’m taking a pass for now.
Fortunately, I happen to have a slight advantage, as my resolve is bolstered by the firmly embedded belief that if anything bad can happen, it will certainly happen to me. The two words I most associate with my beloved mother — who never failed to answer the phone with her fingers crossed — are BE CAREFUL. Thanks to her tutelage, I’ve been doing Naomi Campbell-style airplane wipe-downs for over a decade. So, the lifetime of catastrophist training I futilely attempted to deprogram in therapy is finally coming in handy. Thanks, mom!
Still, shimmying your way out of an invitation can be awkward. And while I’ve exercised the diplomatic skill of a seasoned ambassador, I’m certain I’ve offended some people. I’m sure I’ve been labeled “hard core” by some of my friends, but I don’t really care because this is when my mama bear instinct trumps all else. This is life or death — or at least a potentially excruciating illness — as far as I’m concerned. I’m not going to take any chances.
Luckily, I’ve found some kindred spirits along the way. I even know a couple who out-caution me — Silkwood showering if ever they come within 100 yards of a UPS delivery truck — but they’re few and far between. When we do discover one another, it’s like finding a fellow English speaker in the middle of a hostile, foreign land, and it’s only a matter of seconds before we start diving into our mutual disbelief-bordering-on-disdain for our less meticulous contemporaries.
Emotions are high and endurance is waning, so the thought of other people not taking coronavirus seriously is incredibly frustrating. Like the rage I feel when I walk by unmasked idiots screaming at the top of their lungs on their Bluetooth headphones, frivolously spewing all matter of germ particles into the air with reckless abandon. It’s why I’m beyond angry at the hordes of young people carelessly partying it up without a thought about the consequences for the vulnerable among us. We can’t help but be resentful when it feels like we are carrying their dead weight and it’s making it impossible for us to cross the finish line and get out of this mess.
Nowhere are these divergent viewpoints more evident than when it comes to the question of school — more specifically, whether or not buildings and campuses will open in the fall. There seems to be a Sharks vs. Jets divide brewing between parents intent on a reopening and those advocating for remote learning. As you might’ve guessed, I happen to be in the latter camp, and I definitely feel a sense of judgment from those on the other side of the issue. The divide only seems to deepen as the fall draws nearer.
So, when my daughter’s Jewish day school laid out their reopening plans at the last parent town hall two weeks ago, my head nearly exploded. I would’ve assumed that, as Jews, we’d all be on the same risk-averse page, but I was wrong. I vaguely remember hearing about pods, temperature checks, testing protocols, and deep cleaning. There was something about UV Rays, and a magical germ-removing carpet — but as my anxiety swelled I sort of checked out. I began to imagine my 6-year-old having to navigate this new landscape and all of the draconian measures necessary to maintain a safe educational environment and it all felt insane. Meanwhile, the chat window was blowing up with happy faces, thumbs up, and exclamation points. Clearly, the gulf is wide.
I completely understand that some people have no choice but to opt for in-person learning, due to financial, professional, or a host of other reasons. And if the numbers continue to soar, it’s possible that the school question might very well end up being a moot point. In any case, our kids are going to have to see their friends in some form or another in the not-so-distant future, and we are going to have to figure out how to make that happen as safely and devoid of anxiety as possible — even though the risk tolerance of our parent pool runs the gamut from near shut-ins (us) to people who share guacamole at barbecues.
Just as we will eventually have to unlearn the Covid-induced instinct to immediately dodge out of the path of an oncoming pedestrian, we will also have to figure out how to regain our social sea legs. Every parent may be handling this differently, but we all love our kids and, ultimately, we are in this together. I guess the best we can hope for is that we come out of this alive, largely unscathed, and with most of our friendships still intact. I cannot wait for that day to come. In the meantime, I’ve got to go wipe down some groceries.
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