On a recent night, as I put my two kids to bed, we decided to scroll through the Good News Movement Instagram page for a serotonin boost. The page offers snapshots of real-life acts of heroism and kindness through photos and videos from across the world.
We marveled at a sixth-grader who saved a classmate from choking on a bottle cap and helped a woman escape a house fire.
We smiled at the scene of a crowd cheering on a buffalo as he flipped over a turtle that had landed on its back.
We were feeling good. We weren’t thinking about school or work or covid-19.
Then we came to a video that made me regret not turning off my phone after that buffalo sauntered forward, looking proud of himself. In it, two boys open their front door and see their grandparents standing on the porch. One boy runs forward for a hug. The other jumps up and down and repeats, “Oh my God!” The caption explains their excitement: “‘I’ll be home for Christmas’: Grandparents reunite with grandchildren after 2 years. They traveled from Australia to California. This reaction is priceless!”
I quietly hoped my sons, who are 7 and 9, weren’t paying close attention. But they were already doing the math.
“It’s been longer than that since I’ve seen Grandpa,” the 7-year-old said.
“It has, but we’ll see him soon,” I assured him, hoping, but not knowing, if that were true.
Like many people, we planned to travel for the holidays.
Like many people, we no longer know if we will travel for the holidays.
I’ve bought the plane tickets. I’ve pulled out our luggage organizers. And I’ve made my mom receive packages on her doorstep for a month, all of them filled with gifts I planned to wrap for family members once I got to Texas.
But I’ve also, like you, seen the charts that show coronavirus infections rising to concerning numbers. In the D.C. region, they’ve broken records.
If you are waiting in a line to get an in-person or at-home coronavirus test to make sure you don’t carry the virus to family members over the holidays, I see you.
If you are checking on the return policy of a ticket you bought during a hopeful moment in case you have to cancel during a disappointing one, I see you.
If you are torn between traveling and staying put, and feeling whiplashed by the advice from experts, I feel you.
Our plan had been to wait until my children could get vaccinated before we traveled to San Antonio to see my mom, my siblings (and their children) and my dad, who has a respiratory condition that makes him vulnerable to the virus. For months, whenever the news carried an announcement about the timeline for the public availability of a kid vaccine, my dad would call me to make sure I saw it. It didn’t matter that I can’t avoid reading the news in my line of work, he wanted to make sure that particular article didn’t slip past my eyes.
Now, my children have their two shots. My husband and I have gotten our boosters. And most of my immediate family in Texas have gotten theirs.
We have done everything right. We have masked and double masked. We have stuck swabs up our children’s noses when their classes have been forced to quarantine. We have avoided unnecessary gatherings. I haven’t even gotten a real haircut in more than two years. Instead, whenever my locks have gotten unruly, I’ve handed the scissors to my husband (a benefit of having dark curly hair is that mistakes are easily hidden).
And yet here we are, among the many people who, because of the highly contagious omicron variant, have to make careful calculations and weigh risks and benefits to decide between spending the holidays with loved ones or putting off seeing them until who knows when. Weeks ago, before much was known about omicron, when I told my 79-year-old dad I had booked our tickets and we would arrive just after Christmas to celebrate a second one with the family, he let out an excited “All right!”
“I don’t know how many Christmases I’ll have left,” he said, “and I want my family together for at least one more.”
I’ve since told him I’m monitoring the situation and will let him know if we can still come.
I’m not concerned about us catching anything before we leave. We’ve been self-isolating in preparation for the trip. I am worried that, despite wearing masks and taking other precautions, we will carry something from the airport to my family.
One of the most clicked-on stories on The Washington Post’s website in recent days has been this one: “You’re vaccinated and boosted. How should omicron affect your plans?”
That it has remained at the top of the Most Read list for several days shows just how torn people are feeling about a question that has no clear answer right now: To go or not to go?
The article specifically addresses parties, concerts and restaurants, but my mind extended it to holiday travel.
“Infectious-disease experts give a range of answers,” reads the article. “Some think it’s best to skip the New Year’s Eve party, as the country weathers a new wave of disease. Others underscore that Americans must ‘live with the virus’ — especially as vaccines seem to protect well against the worst illness but are less effective at stopping milder cases of omicron.”
Road authority AAA has predicted that more than 100 million people will travel during the holidays, an increase from last year. But recent days have also seen many people post on social media about canceling their holiday travel. For some, that means choosing to spend that time alone.
There will be people who are quick to label those who travel as irresponsible and selfish. They are if they aren’t vaccinated and refuse to wear a mask properly in public. But for the vaccinated and cautious, the decision is more complicated and more deserving of grace than judgment.
Amid all the unknowns omicron has brought, one certainty is this: Many people in the D.C. area and beyond will either not be spending the holidays with the people they want or be carrying worries along with their luggage.
I don’t know yet if we will step on that plane or if I will have to tell my sons they’ll have to wait a while longer for that reunion with their grandparents.
I don’t know yet if I will find myself on my mom’s floor, wrapping those presents I sent, or if they will remain in those unopened boxes.
I don’t know if I will welcome in the new year surrounded by my extended family, or spend it hoping that year ends differently.
I have a few more days to make that decision. In the meantime, I plan to try to avoid reunion videos.
I made the mistake of checking that Instagram page again on Wednesday. A video posted that day starts by showing the Christmas wish list of a young girl. One line reads, “A hug from nana.” In the next scene, her grandma can be seen stepping out of a truck, running toward her and hugging her so tightly she lifts the girl’s feet off the ground.
Read more from Theresa Vargas.