Not Quite Jolly

Do you ever attempt to soothe your soul in an absolutely nonsensical way? Common advice for anxiety sufferers is occupying your hands to distract your mind, as if knitting an afghan would erase your constant stress. It certainly wouldn’t do the trick for me, since I never had the mental fortitude for knitting — instead of learning to correct or embrace my mistakes, I threw out my knitting needles.

I got all my shopping and wrapping done weeks ago so I could enjoy the holidays. I cooked meals and froze them so I’d only need to reheat and serve. I made lists of fresh items to retrieve at the last minute. We delivered our teacher gifts two weeks before school got out on the advice of the teachers in my life (if you are giving a gift certificate, they may want to use it to purchase things for their own Christmas festivities, so earlier is better). I even hot glued pompoms to my daughter’s Santa hat for her Christmas program.

And then, the Tuesday of the last week of school, we were informed our son had been exposed to COVID-19 the day before. A student at his table had symptoms the teacher noticed, and by the end of the day had a fever. After school her parents took her to be tested and she was positive, and so we were notified that our son was a “high risk close contact.” I kept everyone home the remainder of the week.

Sure, maybe that’s a bit hysterical. My other children were exposed to a child who was exposed, not sick, but I figured since the child was symptomatic, she could have been contagious the previous Friday. As I started to think about how this would affect our Christmas, I worried about accidentally bringing this fate upon others in our community by sending my children to school until they developed symptoms as was recommended by the school nurse. My daughter especially, who attends a daycare run by several women who would reach into the high risk age group for severe complications of COVID-19, needed to stay at a safe distance.

To pass the time as I wrung my hands and picked the polish off my nails, I baked. Because what is prescribed for a fear of plague, but the mass production of Christmas cookies! I cannot honestly say it helped, because after finishing a batch I’d feel okay, but when it came time to stash them in the freezer for Christmas I’d open the drawer to find five other bags of cookies inside and feel like an absolute lunatic. Also, I don’t really like cookies. I’m more a cake person. I thought it would help to give me something to do, but now we are buried under an avalanche of cookies.

After five long days of constant temperature taking, we had our son tested and he was negative! I could not imagine a more perfect Christmas gift than sparing our household from a very COVID Christmas. I still couldn’t shake the funk I was in, though. I am worried about January and the kids returning to school when the cases in our city have been escalating and there are no mask mandates, making my children some of the only masked kids in their classes. Mercifully, the child in my son’s class was also a mask wearer, and I’m sure that’s why we aren’t all sick right now. Masks are most effective when everyone wears them!

Texas does not offer a virtual school option, so I can’t keep them at home indefinitely. I don’t want them to miss out on learning and social interaction, but if most children don’t wear masks, and two of our teachers don’t either, we are bound to get hit sooner or later. My husband and I are both vaxxed and boosted, and our boys are vaxxed, but my daughter is too young at this point. I’ve also read that cloth masks aren’t sufficient anymore, and N95s are preferable, but who is supplying an endless supply of medical masks to kids?

And now, after much anticipation and hype, half our Christmas plans have been cancelled anyway. Two people in my family tested positive in the last two days, and another is in quarantine from exposure. My social media feeds are littered with cancelled plans and sick friends and families. Obviously, it’s better to get sick now, much later in the pandemic when we have some idea how to treat folks with serious symptoms, but there are still breakthrough deaths occurring along with evidence that immune compromised people still aren’t mounting a significant response to vaccination and are still at high risk of complications.

This year feels heavy. Last year we were having a small and intimate Christmas to keep from getting sick. This year we are having a small Christmas because people are sick, with more people we know testing positive every day. People are getting careless and not following guidelines, putting others at risk. Everyone is sick of being in a pandemic, and we are no exception, but being sick of something doesn’t mean it’s over.

If we want it to be over, we have to treat it like the serious problem it is today.

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