I haven't seen my parents in person for a full year now. It's technically doable, but it would involve driving an hour and a half each way, which is awfully far to go with no very safe way to go indoors and use their restroom. Plus, my parents live in a rural area where their local stores do not offer curbside pickup, so they're still shopping inside of stores regularly and are thus at higher risk of getting sick than Barry or I are. Plus they're old and therefore need to go to doctor appointments regularly.
(Barry and I are getting all our groceries via curbside pickup in the grocery-store parking lot, supplemented occasionally with mail orders when we don't receive significant amounts of what we had ordered. And we have canceled all our doctor and dentist appointments for the duration of the pandemic, with one exception: I have an MRI breast-cancer screening scheduled for this coming Monday.)
I also hadn't been inside of Barry's parents' house for the entire duration of the pandemic, until Christmas Eve. Barry's parents live only about a 15-minute drive from Barry's house (where I also mostly live these days . . .), but also, Barry's parents have a little two-room bungalow that is a wholly separate building from their house, separated from their house by a mere eight- or ten-foot wide walkway that the roof extends all the way across. This bungalow has its own separate kitchen and bathroom, so for the duration of the pandemic, Barry has been using the bungalow to cook our food when we visit, while Barry's parents use the actual house to cook food for themselves. Then we've been sitting outside, usually in that little walkway between the buildings, so as not to breathe the same indoor air as one another. And as far as I'm concerned, it's worked extremely well. (Barry's parents have been getting all their groceries delivered directly to their door, and additionally they always wait 15 minutes for the deliverers' contaminated breath to disperse from the air before they even open the door to bring the food inside, so in that sense they're being even safer than we are. However, like my parents, they are old - pretty much identical ages to my parents - so they still need to go to doctor appointments regularly.)
But Barry's dad - despite how he keeps repeating to us on nearly every visit that if he ever catches COVID-19 it will "definitely" kill him - has been wanting to take fewer precautions as the weather gets colder. He first suggested eating together indoors for Thanksgiving, but we didn't actually end up going indoors together at all on Thanksgiving. Instead, for Thanksgiving, we just relocated to eating around the outdoor fire pit to stay a little warmer. And we wore warmer clothes, of course. Anyway, for Christmas Eve, Barry's dad brought up the idea of going inside again, and since both of Barry's parents assured us that they hadn't interacted with anyone but each other since a doctor appointment on December 9, and Barry and I also hadn't interacted with anyone but each other in all that time, we agreed that this should make it safe to go indoors together. So, for the first time since pre-pandemic times, we went indoors together and shared food together. (It was only the four of us. It's only ever the four of us, because Barry's brother and half-siblings live out of state.)
I didn't really want to be indoors. I do trust their word about how long they had isolated for, so it wasn't that I thought we were at any significant risk of getting sick. It just didn't feel necessary to me to (sort of) break the "rules" that way; staying outside did not seem to me like it had ever been any significant hardship, so why not just keep doing it, so as not to set ourselves up to become hypocrites when we wish others would follow the rules better? I also found the decisions about which other rules to follow and which other rules to disregard to be very random and strange. Barry's parents seemed to feel that we should continue to stay six feet apart at all times (and thus they still haven't hugged their own son for the full duration of the pandemic), but that there was no need to wear masks even when not eating. I feel like one quick little hug would have been a lower risk than going maskless indoors for a couple of hours. But I deferred to their judgment. We are all fine, as expected.
I do find it a greater hardship not to be able to see my own parents in person. My father is losing his hearing; he recently had it tested and confirmed that he needs hearing aids, but he has not acquired any hearing aids yet. So I'm unsure how much of the video call he can even hear, and the sound quality is such that I don't always understand some of the words myself. Also we are all a bit socially awkward and tend to end calls a whole lot quicker than we would end an in-person visit, so I don't actually get as long a conversation with them as I would normally get. But hey, at least we're dong video calls now; I didn't even start getting that much contact with them until September.
The difference in our parents' pandemic situations makes me very aware of economic differences in the pandemic experience nationwide. Barry's parents have more money than my parents, and this largely determines who lives near grocery stores that offer home delivery or even curbside pickup and also who owns a house with a separate bungalow so their children can safely visit.
Anyway, we opened presents at Barry's parents' house on Christmas Eve and then opened additional presents on the video call with my parents on Christmas Day. We took the presents that we gave to each other to Barry's parents' house and opened them there. Barry's biggest present was a 3D printer from his parents. There was some confusion with one of his parents' gifts to me, however: his parents had seen his online wish list and not mine (they do not necessarily bother with holiday gift exchanges, so we were not particularly expecting gifts from them and thus did not make a point of sending them our wish lists), and on his wish list they noticed that he had asked for bath bombs. They were convinced that the bath bombs must surely really be for me, because, I guess, bath bombs are only allowed to be for women? But I discovered at four or five years old that I was allergic to bubble bath, and I have not been inclined to try out any bath bombs or bubble baths ever since then just in case they might contain whatever ingredient I'm allergic to. Also the idea just doesn't seem appealing to me? I'm happy with showers; sitting in a bathtub doesn't sound significantly fun to me. Meanwhile, we have a friend (my former housemate/lodger) who has become totally obsessed with making homemade bath bombs and giving them away to all her friends, and so we have received bath bombs. I do not want anything to do with these bath bombs, so Barry uses them. And he decided he liked them well enough to want more of them, and so he asked for storebought bath bombs on his Christmas wish list. So, on Christmas Eve, when I opened the gift wrapping and found a box of bath bombs addressed to me, we were both momentarily confused, and Barry explained that I am not girly so the bath bombs were for him, and his parents looked confused because they did not think their son was girly, and then they were apologetic because they thought they had gotten me a nice present and it turned out not to be for me at all. But they did also get me some hand lotion, which I will at least actually use, and in any case, I wasn't particularly expecting to receive presents from them at all.
Now, here is my usual list of all the gifts I received. I received the following books:
- When My Brother Was an Aztec (poems) by Natalie Diaz (from my parents)
- Where the Dead Sit Talking (novel) by Brandon Hobson (from my parents)
- The Back Room (novel) by Carmen Martín Gaite (from my parents)
- The Folded Leaf (novel) by William Maxwell (from my parents)
- Coal Run (novel) by Tawni O'Dell (from my parents)
- There There (a novel) by Tommy Orange (from my brother)
- The Book of Disquiet by Fernando Pessoa
- Calendar Boy (short stories) by Andy Quan (from my parents)
- Ceremony (novel) by Leslie Marmon Silko (from my parents)
- In the Eye of the Sun (novel) by Ahdaf Soueif (from my parents)
And I received the following other stuff:
- a bunch of chocolates from all over the world (from Barry)
- a bunch of fleece-lined slipper socks (mostly from Barry, plus one from my parents)
- egg-poaching trays to be used with Barry's sous vide (from Barry, wrapped with a tag marked for me to open it and then give it to Barry so he could use it to make me more gifts)
- an electric toothbrush (from Barry, in a box containing a pair - one black and silver, the other white and gold - wrapped with a tag marked half for me and half for Barry - I chose the white and gold one as Barry knew I would)
- a felt sack designed for planting strawberries in it (from my parents)
- a fluorescent yellow "cooling" hat (from my parents - you soak it in water before putting it on and it uses the water to make you feel cooler; I have in mind using it for summer gardening)
- some goat milk-based hand soaps and lotions (from my in-laws)
- bath bombs for Barry, due to confusion (from my in-laws)
I gave Barry an expansion pack for the board game Wingspan, a complete DVD set of the TV show Torchwood (a spinoff of Doctor Who), and various clothes. It was a good holiday.
And so far, our social circles have not suffered much from the pandemic. A couple of our younger friends caught COVID-19 from their shared roommate, but they recovered well. A couple of my older relatives caught COVID-19 from who knows where, and the man (a cousin of my mom's) was hospitalized for nine days as a result, but they both seem to be recovering well now also, and they are sufficiently distantly related that I didn't even hear they were sick until after they had already largely recovered. A few single acquaintances or more distant friends of mine have caught COVID-19 but have also recovered by the time I even found out about their illnesses. Several more of our friends have lost jobs, or intentionally left their jobs because the pandemic made their jobs unsafe. But considering how many people nationwide and worldwide have been suffering, both economically and healthwise, we've been remarkably well insulated so far - which I suspect is yet another sign of how much protection money and education can offer. I'm just hoping our social circles remain safe, because we both have parents in the 73-76 age range, and we don't want to lose any of them. Nor do we want to lose anyone else! But our parents are the people we know who are probably most likely to be vulnerable if they get sick.
I would be plenty worried about the two of us ourselves if we had more exposure - not so much worried about dying, but definitely worried about long-term organ damage and such. But we both already worked from home long before the pandemic started, so my only serious worry for us has been fear that I could be laid off because of the crashing economy. And I think I'm starting to feel less worried about that than I was in spring and summer. It's certainly not impossible that I could be laid off, but for a while there, I felt like it was impossible that I wouldn't be laid off, and that doesn't feel true anymore.
So . . . maybe things are looking up for 2021? Let's all hope so.