Who goes to a birthday party in the middle of a PANDEMIC? Who would be so careless as to risk the health of her family and her community just to attend a party? Who, I wondered, would be so reckless at such a delicate time? Me, that’s who. I judged and condemned and then I did it myself.
It was mid-summer and somehow, though it seemed as if years had passed, we were on month five of the pandemic. We had conquered (or barely managed) homeschooling, working from home, and isolation from all our friends. We had spent all our money tipping Instacart shoppers and curbside restaurant workers. Our kids had worn out their inflatable pools and watched more direct-to-video Disney sequels than we were aware existed.
Eventually, we stopped seeing the inspirational chalk art on the sidewalks. We had flattened the curve though the pandemic continued to rage on. And at some point this summer, we collectively decided it was time to bring back some normalcy.
For my family, who I felt was more cautious than most, that meant slowly expanding our social circle. We allowed our children to spend time with grandparents they hadn’t seen in months and to play with a few neighbors outdoors. Then we received a birthday party invitation.
We absolutely weren’t going. It was one of my daughter’s best friends, but I assured her that we could still drop off a present. I second-guessed myself hundreds of times as the RSVP deadline drew nearer. I lost sleep considering worst-case scenarios. I felt the guilt of keeping my very social child away from friends that she hadn’t seen since March. I waited until the very last second before reluctantly responding that we would be there.
It was going to be a brief party visit. We would stay outside, keep our distance, and of course, at all times, we would wear our masks. Somehow, while hardly even noticing, we both broke every one of those rules.
There was something so disarming about getting together with friends again — she with her classmates and me with their parents. It was the easiest thing in the world to slip out of quarantine mode and feel like everything was normal again. I was doing everything I said I wouldn’t, but it never felt wrong or unsafe.
It was only on the way home from the party that I began to feel regret. I took many pictures, but I knew I wouldn’t post them anywhere. I was a hypocrite and I knew it. But in the moment, it seemed easy to justify every action. I still felt angry and disappointed with others who were attending gatherings or going on vacations, but at least I could now understand how they made their decisions.
I still don’t know if I’m making the right decisions on a near daily basis. How can any of us know? There are heightened risks and benefits in every choice we make. What I do know is that we need to be the most on guard when we feel comfortable and safe. Returning to normal will always feel right, but that doesn’t mean it is.