I Love My Grown Children, But I’m Not Willing To Die Because Of Their Pandemic Choices

"I worry that you simply hanging out with your friends will be the end of me."
Julia_Sudnitskaya via Getty Images

I love you, but I do not want to die because of your good time.

Not that I am opposed to your personal enjoyment. I am all for recreation — within reason, of course. But the eschewing of caution, throwing it all to the wind in order to hang out with your friends and laugh for a few hours, stand near each other, drink, eat — well, it’s just too reckless for me.

Because you will come home and breathe on me.

Now that two of you are living back home because of COVID-19 ― and there is room for all of us and you are welcome here, of course ― it becomes my business where you go and what you do on the weekends. And when your middle brother comes home to visit for Thanksgiving, we all need to be vigilant.

I know you have had multiple tests, but not lately. I know you have no symptoms. But I worry that you simply hanging out with your friends will be the end of me. You wear masks in public, I know, but you don’t wear masks with your friends; I’ve seen the photos.

You are my sons, and I love all three of you, but this takes priority. The more than 11 million cases nationwide and 247,000 deaths are up 800%. If you’re in doubt, just watch this visualization of how COVID-19 spreads through the air indoors.

“This common-sense gap is not generational, but perhaps informational and emotional; an empathy gap about how personal actions lead to communal reactions and harm.”

I understand many around the country feel and act the same way you do, especially young men in your 20s and 30s — you feel an immunity to the reality of COVID-19 contagion and consequence. The photos and videos of the maskless gatherings, rallies and celebrations all over the country make me cringe.

The thousands of University Of Notre Dame students who rushed the field recently after winning a football game in double overtime were mandated to have coronavirus testing.

Or there’s Justin Turner of the Los Angeles Dodgers, who had learned he was COVID-19 positive just minutes before he refused to refrain from celebrating the team’s World Series victory with his teammates and family. No masks, no distance.

I am relieved all three of you are years out of high school and college, because as athletes, you would have likely insisted you compete. I would not have gone along with parents like the ones who recently attempted to sue the Illinois High School Association so fall sports could resume.

This common-sense gap is not generational, but perhaps informational and emotional; an empathy gap about how personal actions lead to communal reactions and harm. Everyone’s behavior has consequences beyond themselves.

Did I fail to model that, or did you miss that key point?

It’s true no one in our large family has contracted COVID-19, only parents of friends or friends of friends, so I don’t know what it feels like to you when I say these things on the phone, at dinner or in passing about positivity rates, death tolls, local incidents. Do I seem overly cautious with my nagging superstition and unnecessary worry?

The blue bowl of masks and plastic gloves by the phone in the breakfast room and the hand sanitizer in almost every room of the house are not for show; these are because this pandemic is real, even if you don’t think it will happen to you. Or me.

You may not have noticed, but March 15 was the last time I left the house for anything other than a weekly trip to the small grocery store a few blocks away, occasionally Target and CVS, or an evening walk alone. I dined outside twice this summer at restaurants where we sat a few tables away from other customers. I miss going out with my friends, too; now we Zoom. All of my work is remote.

Of course, you love me, I’m your mom, and I love you always. I’m not so sure if it is denial, lack of understanding, or blocking out “worst-case scenario” thinking, but at this address, I am the only one in the family who is wearing a mask when the Amazon delivery person drops off another package that one of you ordered.

“What did you get today?”

That’s why I open the windows when we drive together somewhere, and I wear a mask. If I can control it, I do not want to be one of the 1.3 million deaths worldwide. I’m 62, and a cancer survivor with asthma and high blood pressure. Three strikes and I am out. Even if I am lucky and survive, I can’t be away from work for a lengthy sickness; I am on contracts.

Is it because you think I am strong? Thanks for that, but COVID-19 has nothing to do with strength.

Perhaps all this worry I project feels made-up to you, fiction, a fairytale, like fearing the boogeyman, the wicked witch. I remember when each one of you was afraid of the dark. But this is not a childish fear you naturally outgrow. Nothing like this has ever happened in my lifetime; I am afraid.

I remember as a child throwing trash randomly out of the car window; everyone seemed to. Smokers threw cigarette butts anywhere and everywhere; that was before public ashtrays outside of buildings were the norm. And more people smoked.

Then national advertising campaigns helped shift societal norms, instructing everyone to throw their trash into garbage cans so as not to be a litterbug.

Sure, in my 20s, I went to clubs, waited in line to get in, stood close to strangers and danced and laughed and drank glasses of wine bought by men who waved at me, then came over to say hello. It was the early ’80s, when herpes and AIDS scared and scarred my generation; neither was airborne.

At the ages you are now, I considered myself independent, but not invincible. I think that’s the difference.

It could be incredulity, disbelief in the severity of it all, or does it feel like a game of odds to you? Is this all about calculating risks, performing exercises of chance? You think your privilege means you can’t be touched by the pandemic?

I was never one for gambling, never liked the idea of randomly throwing away money without something guaranteed when I could easily buy a pair of shoes with that money — for me or for you. Why risk losing $20 on this bet or that horse? I never even liked betting on football games. I never took chances with your health or your safety. I was cautious.

Just to be clear, we’re not doing the usual Thanksgiving this year with all your favorite cousins. I know you adore them, but maybe we can Zoom.

I am happy you all will be home for Thanksgiving in this house. I ordered a small turkey and will make most ― not all ― of the sides for the four of us, but I am still a little skittish. We can sit six feet apart, maybe? I may wear a mask, yes, even indoors.

It’s odd for me too, not to put a 25-30 pound specially ordered fresh turkey in the oven at 7 a.m. and make mounds of cornbread stuffing, gravy and Brussels sprouts, but the CDC guidelines recommend no more than six people indoors together at a time, and for sure no buffets. Last time I checked, our family holidays were for more than 40.

Risk-averse, I guess you would call me, but I am not sure that it is a bad thing to be now, because what if you are wrong? What if the chance you take is not just an exercise in free will and asserting your right to enjoy yourself, but a decision that harms someone other than you?

What if that someone is me?

Michele Weldon is an author, journalist, emerita faculty at Northwestern University, senior leader with The OpEd Project. Her latest book is ”Act Like You’re Having A Good Time.”

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