Opinion | Not Home for the Holidays

This Thanksgiving, none of our grandchildren will be at our table. But the pandemic winter still leaves room for the imagination.

Credit…Illustration by Alvaro Dominguez; photographs by Getty Images

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By Peggy Wehmeyer

Ms. Wehmeyer is a former correspondent for ABC’s “World News Tonight.”

As Covid cases in my city climb to record levels and county officials warn the vulnerable among us to shelter in place, I feel as if I’m living in the cursed kingdom of Narnia, in C.S. Lewis’s children’s fantasy, “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.” In Narnia, it’s “always winter and never Christmas.”

Like Americans everywhere, my family and friends have begun planning for the holidays. Some will ignore the Covid curse in our midst and gather anyway. My husband and I are battening down for a long winter.

When my three-year-old granddaughter recently came over to play, I blocked the door she usually enters into the house. “Sorry, Eliza,” I said, stooping to her eye level, “We have to play outside from now on.”

She looked stunned.

“Why, Gram?” she said. “Are there germs in there?”

“Germs,” in our family, is code for Covid. They are what make the places our grandchildren know and love, like Pops’ and Gram’s house, off limits.

I’d already pulled Eliza’s “Frozen” dollhouse out of the playroom and set it up on the back porch. She put the tiny pieces of furniture in the castle where they belong, but left the two sisters on the outside.

“Why don’t you put Elsa and Anna in their home?” I asked.

“They can’t EVER go in!” she said adamantly. “It’s not safe!”

Is this my grandchildren’s world now? A place where even their grandparent’s home isn’t safe? Will they look back at holiday photos and wonder why Gram and Pops weren’t there?

This Thanksgiving and Christmas, for the first time in our lives, none of our 10 children and grandchildren will be at our table.

When the pandemic began, we tried to form Covid bubbles, where groups of us followed enough safety rules to continue doing life up close.

But our secure little pods developed leaks whenever our adult children had responsibilities that exposed them to risk. A daughter who’s a lawyer spent days in hearings at the courthouse where someone was infected. Eliza’s mom, a pastor, is back at church, singing with her congregation. One son, who’s an EMT, now swabs suspected Covid patients at an urgent care center.

Now, as I string Thanksgiving garlands across the mantle and pull the straw pilgrims out of their boxes, I face the depressing reality that no one else will be in our home for the holidays. By Thanksgiving, our Covid bubble will have popped.

Even when it worked, when small pods of us had our groceries delivered and worked from home, the waltzing in and out of each other’s bubbles created stress. When does a leak require a confession?

“Your nanny goes to the college with the Covid outbreak?”

“Are you wiping down your groceries, Mom?”

“Your husband is meeting clients in person?”

Someone tumbles out of the bubble, and suddenly, icy walls separate family members. You’re in and then you’re out.

We all want off the Covid-coaster we’ve been riding: dropping our guard when cases slide into the yellow zone, upping our vigilance when infections rocket back into the red zone, where they are now.

I posted the color-coded risk scale on my refrigerator, so that when I’m tempted to meet with friends or hug a grandchild, I can rehearse the latest warnings:

No restaurants, haircuts, manicures or teeth cleanings. And now … no holiday gatherings.

Few people in my circle follow Anthony Fauci’s guidelines or CDC recommendations. It’s made me wonder, “Am I the one who’s crazy?” Or have we so blurred the lines between fantasy and reality that some of us have forgotten that Narnia is cursed … that Thanksgiving and Christmas in a pandemic spell disaster.

“Come meet us outdoors at the restaurant for dinner,” several close friends texted me weeks ago, the day our community moved back into the red zone.

“We’re not supposed to be meeting now,” I typed into the group chat. How would we all sit six feet apart at a dinner table?

“Don’t be so extreme,” a friend texted. “You’re missing out on so much of life.”

When it comes to grandchildren, almost all of my friends ignore the warnings.

“No way I’m going to live in fear and isolation and miss out on the joy of being with my grandchildren,” one close friend with six of them said.

My friends and extended family may be right. I am missing out on joy and I’m probably the most isolated in my little world. But when I catch even the mildest respiratory virus, I develop asthma, so I probably fear Covid more than most.

Wrestling with both the virus and a contentious election season has left me in a state of low-grade anxiety and righteous indignation.

As Eliza’s mother strapped her into the car seat to drive home after one of our awkward backyard visits, my granddaughter looked at me and said, “Gram, are you sad?”

I thought I’d hidden those feelings.

“Yes, I’m sad,” I said.

“It’s gonna be all right,” she reassured me. “When the germs go away, we’ll be together again.”

When Eliza’s old enough, I’ll tell her how the curse in the magical land of Narnia was eventually broken.

Aslan did it. Eliza’s seen his portrait hanging in my library. Aslan is the powerful lion C.S. Lewis created to fight the curse and make the world safe again.

The Narnia allegory sprang from Lewis’s own childhood struggles with loneliness and despair. Lewis credits his faith with restoring his hope. Aslan is the Christ figure in the chronicles.

While we’re waiting for a vaccine to reach us and end the Covid curse cast on our land, I’ll take shelter from the cold of winter by writing daily in the gratitude journal I started in March during the first lockdown. And I’ll hold onto the hope my own faith provides that even if there’s no Christmas this year, there will be an end to this long winter.

Peggy Wehmeyer is a former correspondent for ABC’s “World News Tonight” and a writer living in Texas.

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