A Very COVID Holiday: A Tough Conversation with Family

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This post is sponsored by Olmsted County Public Health Services

published as part of Think Ahead Olmsted

The holidays have always been complicated with all the expectations, traditions, family dynamics, children, weather, road conditions, and more. They are as stressful as they are magical. Last year was the first time our son started to understand the concept of celebrations. We were so excited to show him off to our family, watch him open presents, wear matching jammies, and the whole ordeal. However, it was exhausting. He cried most of the time. He didn’t want to sit near his cousins for the mandatory photo op, he didn’t want to be looked at or touched by other family members, and he just wanted our undivided attention and to be in a quiet room. He was definitely overstimulated and over it entirely. So were we. The 1.5-hour drive back home from The Cities was going to be the perfect opportunity to rest and recover…or so we thought. Ha! Our toddler had other things in mind: more crying.

Fast-forward to the holidays of 2020. Disappointment has been wafting through the air for months now, more so once the temperature dropped and daylight escaped us. Expectations are still high, romanticism about the holidays is bubbling in those Christmas lovers, stores are packed with sparkly items, and those cinnamon scented pine cones can be smelled from miles away (seriously, for miles). I’ve always been kind of a Grinch during this time of year, because my high expectations were never met in the past. It’s just not my family of origin’s style. As I got older, my family began to travel and ditch the country to celebrate with others. But now that I’m a mom, I want the whole spectacle for my little family. But COVID-19 pulls me in both directions simultaneously: “Let’s go all out!” versus “What’s the point?”

My parents and sister were quick to realize that getting together this year just wasn’t going to happen. There were no dramatic conversations or emotional debates. No one tried to convince the others that it was a simple decision either way. When my sister (who is basically my soulmate) was leaving after a week-long visit back in October, I gave her a big hug and told her that this would most likely be the last time we see each other until Spring. I don’t think she even considered that scenario until that very moment. We both are heartbroken, but after our own quick-lived COVID scare, we knew these sacrifices were worth it in the end.

As for my parents, we still have yet to say the words out loud that the holidays are canceled. We just know. 

Communication with extended family can be complicated, and I fully believe it is because of the love that we all have for each other. Our time together is often limited to a handful of occasions throughout the year and we willingly cut other 2020 events out of the itinerary, faintly hoping this would all be over by the holidays.

With my in-laws,  I briefly and timidly muttered the words “I don’t know when you’ll be able to see Milo again” the last time they were visiting. They didn’t react strongly. But I also wasn’t sure I even let the words leave my mouth. The last thing I want to do is disappoint them. They are wonderful grandparents who live for our boy. They love to spoil him, play with him, and cuddle with him. They just really want to eat him up. And now we are in the position where we have to say “hmmm not this year”. 

I know they will call weekly to chit-chat and we will keep muttering our position on no holiday get-togethers. They will continue to urge us to just wait before making any big decisions. I will keep encouraging my extremely shy, man-of-few-words to repeat the message to his parents. And this process will repeat itself until those special days arrive. I really, really hope we can stay strong and keep our decision cemented in the fact that this is a serious pandemic. They will eventually understand. They won’t lash out. They won’t hold it against us. But the disappointment will kill me. The sadness in my sweet mother-in-law’s eyes will destroy me. I will survive, but it will hurt.

To all the families out there trying to choose safety over love, just remember we are doing this because we love each other. We are doing this to protect each other. For many of us, our circles are so small and we only see our core people. But just know that if one of us gets it, then we are infecting those core people that we hold most dear in this life. 

I choose safety AND love.