Awkward Questions We Must Ask During This Pandemic —
Even if It Means Losing a Friend
By Jane Tawel
July 1, 2020
When I first became a mom and had my four wonderful children, now all grown and adulting, I loved being with them, caring for them, watching over them like a mother hen. And so most playdates included me. I was always a bit cautious about dropping my children off with other people, even if I knew them, was good friends with the parents, or possibly even was related to them. It wasn’t exactly that I didn’t trust them but….. I didn’t trust them. I mean I didn’t trust anyone but their loving dad, to truly love and watch-over and protect and care about my kids as much as I would. I never minded other parents dropping their kids at my house and was always a hawk on the sidelines trying to ensure safety to all the children, even the ones who were not mine. If I had to leave the swimming pool as a lifeguard, ALL the kids had to get out of the water (“But Mom we’re teenagers now”. “Too bad, out.”) The one time my kids were in a hot tub at a friend’s house, and I asked her to watch my kids while I went to breast-feed the baby, my daughter almost drowned right in front of my friend. Luckily her sister was there to save her. So, call me overprotective, call me a worry-wart, call me a helicopter mom — all true — if it was about safety and protection. I didn’t try to protect my kids from risk or failure, or learning or fighting their own relational battles — but physical safety — heck yeah! I believed that as long as I could, I would do my very, very best to protect them. Now, since they are young adults, the most I can do is caution and pray (and they will confirm I do plenty of both — still my job).
But then all the kids started getting old enough to want sleep-overs. It would have been rather weird for them if I had insisted that if they wanted to sleep over at a friend’s house, their mom — I — would have to sleep-over too. And of course, I didn’t do that. But I did often have to say no to sleep overs, especially if I didn’t know the family or other kids or parents that well. But even if I did know them fairly well, I would always have to ask this very awkward question: “Do you have guns in the house and if so, where and how to you store them?”
Asking someone if they keep guns at home is a bit like asking someone on a first date if that’s a pimple or a cold sore on their lip. Awkward! However, this thing about guns in this country is something people think very, very differently about, and so when you ask a very reasonable question, it feels intrusive because people see it as political. For me it had nothing to do with my view of guns or my view of my friends — it had to do with, “will my child be as safe as possible at your home, and do you consider this an important safety issue like I do?” This was something I had learned to ask as a careful, discerning parent, and yes, some people got offended, and yes, some people might have lied, and yes, some relationships fell apart even, but at the same time, asking might have made not only my kids safer but made those families safer too, if they found out they or their own friends were not treating gun ownership and storage with the seriousness it should be. I knew without a doubt, that even if it was an awkward conversation, I would rather my children and I be “safe and not sorry”. You see, my children’s lives are the most precious gifts I have ever, ever received and I wanted to treat them as such. I would never get another one of J, C, V, or G — my unique and oh, so special four children — and so I didn’t mind being considered a bit overprotective, even if it cost us a “fun time”; even if it cost us a friend.
Fast forward to 2020, and some of us who would rather be “safe than sorry” have got to start being “the careful parent” of our own lives and the lives of others. As Corona Virus continues to rampage through our nation, we may not be able to control other people’s foolishness or lack of care about their own or our safety — but we CAN control their access to us, do our best to not be unaware of or ignorant of their behaviors both in our presence and apart from us, and speak out when necessary. We do have the right, awkward as it may feel, and the responsibility to protect ourselves and our children, and our children’s children. We must truly take seriously any possible threat to our well-being, even if “those people” do not. But just like guns, some people see the safety precautions and their rights to do whatever they want with the weapons of this virus as a political issue. Don’t let them do that to you. It is not — any more than gun safety is a political issue. It is a life-issue and a safety-issue and an issue about how much we care about each other. And so it feels intrusive and awkward to bring the subject up, but if we start caring more about our health and safety and the health and safety of others, more than we care about our feelings or egos or politics, then we will make having these awkward conversations just one more part of the new normal. We will make asking the right questions of others a matter of caring about them, and we will willingly share with others what they need to know before they decide to meet with us. We will be honest, even with our most casual acquaintances and we will be truthful with ourselves when we ask, “is this event worth my giving up something in the future with people I love?” And dear, dear folks — we need to start having these conversations before we get together with other people.
And sometimes the hardest conversations are with the very people who are your best friends and your beloved family. Having to ask your parent or child, “by the way, before you come over, what have you done this week, how safe were your co-workers this week, and are you still wearing a mask and washing your hands like a surgeon”? Last week, when we were lulled into a sense of security (false as it turns out this week) that maybe we could have another couple over for a socially distanced, outdoors, bring your own food and utensils, keep it distanced and keep it short little get-together at our house, we made all the arrangements until I mentioned the time. Then my friend (who is 70 years old and has been quite careful about following all the protocols during the pandemic / quarantine) asked if we could make it later in the day since the day before we were to meet, they would be hosting a party for a friend’s son who was graduating high school and she would be hosting 30 -40 other people. Yep. True story. I was rather flabbergasted and yes, blindsided. So my hubby and I discussed it and I texted her a very kind, sweet text asking if we could delay the get-together and she was very kind and texted back, ‘of course we could’. But here’s the scary part — if she hadn’t mentioned it in passing, I would never have known how many other households I would be exposed to through her the very next day. I never would have known if she hadn’t let it slip that her “gun was loaded in an unlocked drawer” so to speak.
So here is the gist, the bottom line, the stern warning, the upshot, the please, please, please let’s all commit to doing this. We absolutely must start quizzing people about where they have been and with whom and for how long and what protections they used when they did it — BEFORE we get together with them. Remember that old adage that every one your mate has had sex with, you technically have also had sex with? Well, corona virus is like that, y’all, but the thing is — if you’re asymptomatic or have just recently been exposed — you don’t even know that you’ve “had sex” with the virus. So, abstinence is finally the right solution folks — and we do that by sacrificing pleasure for the long term health of all us, and by masking up, social distancing, washing like a surgeon, telling each other the truth, and making good (even when tough) decisions for those we love.
We can’t be embarrassed around each other or irritated if someone asks us about our exposure or if we have been following protocols with the Corona Virus — this is killing us folks! We certainly cannot keep being offended if someone asks us to follow the safety guidelines when we are with them and we must stand up to those who act offended by our desire to protect ourselves and our children from them — (do I need to say it again? THIS IS KILLING US.) Just like asking if someone’s guns are stored in a safe, locked lockbox, we have to start asking people if they have been “locking down” the threat of their corona virus possibilities. Just like I never believed (without proof) someone who would say, “oh don’t worry, I’ll watch your kids” or “how dare you ask, my kids would never do such and such” or “don’t worry I’m very careful with the gun I keep loaded in my bedside drawer” we can’t pretend that all of us don’t stretch the truth to protect ourselves from criticism or from having to change our behaviors. We can’t really keep expecting to believe that others are being careful to protect their own health or mine, unless we are willing to converse, and communicate, and dialogue. And we should not shy away from a little bit of questioning and a commitment to get some reasonable answers on the part of those we would like to be with.
I will promise to never be offended if family or friends quiz me about whether I am doing my part for their safety. I won’t get my hackles up even if my very own children say to me, “Mom, we can’t come over this Saturday because you went to such and such a place and were with such and such a group”. I know they are saying no to being with me in order to protect me and because they know how much I love them. They may understand my choices to do “such and such”, just like I might understand their choices or a friend’s choices and we may be perfectly fine, even in agreement with — even applaud — some of those choices to do things with other people or attend something that is important. BUT approval and agreement for each other’s choices as important enough to perhaps do something that risks our health, means that we will not be able to do “our things” together if it means we won’t be safe together — not until this horrible plague is over. And God willing, someday it will be over. Then — we can all literally and figuratively breathe easy, and “let the parties and concerts, and museum trips, and play dates and sleep overs begin!!
What it means to do the right thing right now by all that we have been entrusted with, is that we must be willing to be seen as overprotective if necessary, even if it costs us a “fun time”, even if we lose a friend, even if someone is offended. We just cannot risk the worst by hoping for the best. We absolutely must not send off our lives to a risky play-date situation or entrust our health to an unsafe sleep over. We must prove that we can trust each other, by honestly communicating with each other. And — If we haven’t already, we must begin to treat our health and well-being as the precious gifts they are. We won’t be getting any other lives with which to replace these very unique and special ones we have, and just like our children, our lives are counting on us to protect them.