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A Very Covid Christmas

By Grechen Wingerter, President of the Board of Trustees

“It's coming on Christmas

They're cutting down trees

They're putting up reindeer

Singing songs of joy and peace

I wish I had a river

I could skate away on”

I’ve always loved this song by Joni Mitchell. It reminds me of my childhood. Thanks to my step-father, I grew up listening to a lot of folk music. “The River” was one of my favorites. I first discovered it as a cover song by a folk duo, Reilly and Maloney. I was fortunate to see them perform live several times as a kid — often being the only kid in the room. I don’t know what it was about that song that struck me then. I think I just liked the simplicity and beauty of the melody. The lure of skating away down a river appeals to me more now — as the melancholiness of the song hits harder as an adult. Yeah, sometimes, I just want to run away and be that carefree kid again.

That’s something I’ve thinking about lately — the carefreeness of childhood. And if 2020 has shown us anything, it’s that the carefreeness of childhood is fleeting. Our kids, my kids, are missing the carefreeness. They are losing out on it. And, quite frankly, so are the grown-ups. This virus, Covid-19, has put us all on high alert. Well, most of us anyway. The reasonable, rational among us. We recognize its danger, its unpredictability. We’re hyper-vigilant when it comes to taking precautions. And yet, sometimes, we come face to face with it.

We’re in day 12 of quarantine at my house. On Friday, December 11, my younger daughter tested positive. She had extremely mild symptoms — a bit of a sore throat, a little tightness in her upper chest, and some stuffiness. We wrote it off as sinus congestion/allergies. She is the one of all of us who rarely leaves the house after all. She’s 12. But, I took her in to the doctor anyway — just to be safe. They did a strep test that came back negative. I’ve never hoped for a positive strep test before, but here I was hoping… Then they did a COVID test — which even the nurse said seemed to be unlikely — given that at the time I took her in she had zero symptoms. And yet, my heart dropped into my gut when I got the call that next morning — “Your daughter tested positive for COVID-19.”

My older daughter and I immediately went to get tested on Saturday, December 12. It took 4 hours to finally get seen! I was terrified she or I had somehow brought it in and had been asymptomatic and didn’t know it. We are the ones who interact with people outside our house the most. I was torturing myself with so many thoughts of guilt and fear and whataboutisms — most especially with the idea that I had, despite all my precautions, exposed people I love to this dangerous virus.

After an excruciating three days, I finally got our results — she and I were both negative as of that Saturday. I sat on the floor and cried tears of relief. The likelihood of it coming from us was small — not impossible due to the whole 14-day incubation period and it could still have been possible one of us had been exposed earlier, been asymptotic, and brought it in. But the odds were in our favor.

Of course, we are still at risk and are under quarantine until Dec 30 — ten days after my younger daughter’s 10 days are up. She is pretty much symptom-free — with only a lingering low fever off and on. I can’t seem to get it to stay down below 100 without Tylenol or Motrin. And yet, she doesn’t feel warm to the touch, says she feels perfectly normal, and doesn’t have any other symptoms. . Doing her best to maintain a carefree childhood in the Age of Covid.

The rest of us can re-test on December 24 if we want. I’m going to wait until after December 30. For now, we are wearing masks in our house, keeping to our separate chambers, checking temps, washing hands and surfaces obsessively (well, I am anyway). None of us have shown any symptoms this far. Maybe we have beaten the odds once again and this virus will not overtake our household.

And yet, I am still wondering how it got here…. I’ll likely never know for sure. And I guess I am just going to have to let it go and live with that uncertainty. I’m usually calm in the face of uncertainty. It’s the nature of theatre. You never really know how a production is going to turn out until opening night, and even then, it’s never quite exactly how you had planned. But this isn't’ theatre. This is life. And it’s the lives of people I love. So, I’m not so calm right now.

I worry I may indeed be asymptomatic and the possibility I could pass it on to someone else. I worry about the unknown lingering effects this virus may have on my daughter and her health in the long-term. I worry about how this whole pandemic is affecting the mental health of both my children, in addition to friends and family and all those I hold near and dear. I worry my girls are losing out on the carefreeness of childhood. I worry about a lot of things.

So, in an effort to do what a dear friend has said to do many times, I am going to spend this Christmas being present. I’m going to try to be more present going forward, too, but I am focusing on Christmas first. We’ll be without any extended family for the first time ever so that will be strange, but, I’m going to do my best to make this as “normal” of a Christmas as possible. To make this Christmas fun. To create happy memories for my girls. To continue traditions and maybe create new ones. To break the rules of how things are supposed to be and allow them to just be. To be present in the moment – another lesson from theatre. To make a Covid Christmas a Carefree Christmas.

Peace, Love, Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and all the best carefree wishes for the new year.

Grechen Wingerter

President, Board of Trustees

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