Every Friday, I buy my seven-year-old a donut. It’s one of many little nuggets of joy we employ to get through the hellscape of the last 13 months. She now counts on it — counts the days until she gets it, in fact — so I keep it up to keep her spirits up. I think of it as a reward for getting through five days of pandemic school, where she can’t hug her friends or talk to them during lunch.
Last Wednesday, even though she was on spring break from first grade, the countdown began: “Two more days until my donut!” In the middle of some other activity, she would start wondering aloud about whether or not she should get sprinkles.
So it was that we found ourselves on Friday, a sunny but unseasonably chilly afternoon in April, waiting in a long car-line at a donut shop. I chose one a bit further from our house because it had a drive-thru. Plus, I needed an excuse to kill some time.
It had been a long week. And, as everyone says, a long year. I was feeling all the feelings we’ve had since the pandemic began: Soul-crushing fatigue, boredom, and a never-ending sense of doom. But this week featured a new emotion I hadn’t experienced until now.
On her last day of school before the break, my daughter bounced home, gleefully declaring her teacher was flying across the country to spend spring break in California, and a classmate was going on a Disney cruise. Other families I know also got on airplanes; some were seeing relatives, others were just sight-seeing. Every day during her spring break, more than one million travelers went through TSA checkpoints. And we’ve all seen the pictures from Florida.
But I am not vaccinated, and the CDC recommends avoiding travel until that happens, so we spent spring break in our driveway. And our living room. And our kitchen.
Many local outdoor activities were sold out due to COVID-related capacity restrictions, and the cold snap made those options less appealing. Instead, I crammed all my work into a few hours in the morning while my daughter binged YouTube, then I threw my all into teaching her how to ride a bike on our driveway, playing spies with walkie talkies, learning the choreography from the “Treat People with Kindness” video, and competing in our made-up version of the Netflix baking show “Sugar Rush,” where she and I concoct random foods inspired by random themes (sleepovers?), and I spend the next half-hour cleaning up.
Some of that may sound idyllic. But after 13 months of being my kid’s primary playmate, this week of home-bound forced fun almost destroyed me. I checked social media only sparingly, trying to scroll past images of friends in new locations, hugging relatives or crowded together in group shots. When one caught my eye, I took a deep breath and tried to tell myself that maybe they’re all fully vaccinated, even though the odds of that are very unlikely. Still, I was happy for them. They deserved a break.
That feeling only lasts so long.
For some reason, the drive-thru line at the donut shop took forever, and we inched forward for 25 minutes before it was our turn. As I approached the window with the employee handing over orders, my daughter spoke with alarm from the backseat: “Mom, he’s not wearing a mask!” Surely she must be wrong, I thought to myself.
As I pulled up to the drive-thru window, the 20-something employee handed us her donut, smiled, and told us to have a nice day. She was right: He had no mask. It wasn’t pulled under his nose or chin, or hanging by its loop from his ear. It was totally absent. (But what if he has a medical reason for not wearing a mask? Yeah, not likely. )
I was stunned. I hadn’t seen a stranger’s teeth up close for months. Unsure what to do, I grabbed the donut bag and sped off, throwing it into the front seat and telling my daughter she couldn’t eat it.
I know that surfaces are not a major source of transmission; it was probably safe for her to eat the donut. But I was angry — I had just been assaulted by a toothy smile, and I wanted her to know that was not okay.
So we drove another 15 minutes back towards our local donut shop that has no drive-thru, dodged the indoor diners and got her donut (no sprinkles).
There’s been a lot to be angry about over the last few months. And I’ve always been bothered by people who refused to take COVID restrictions seriously. But at this stage in the pandemic, anyone’s laissez-faire approach sends me into a blind rage. I’ve been seething about that drive-thru for days.
I get why people don’t want to abide by the recommendations anymore — believe me. But we are SO CLOSE to putting the worst of this behind us. SO CLOSE, PEOPLE! And every unvaccinated person who throws away their mask, takes a trip without quarantining, or invites friends over for dinner because they’re lonely, is making all of this harder on the rest of us. I’m dying to do those things, too — but because they are doing it, I have to wait even longer before I can. It’s like I’m stuck forever in that drive-thru line, watching cars cut in front of me and move up to the window, while I’m in the same goddamned spot.
According to the New York Times, people in my area are considered to be at a “very high risk” of exposure to COVID-19 (hospitalizations are up 42%), meaning we should avoid nonessential travel. During the five days my kid was off school, more than 4,000 Americans died of COVID. And have you heard of Michigan?
I checked in with some other people I know who are mustering up the energy to continue to take COVID seriously, and they are feeling the same white-hot rage at rule-breakers that I am. One unvaccinated parent who also spent spring break at home told me some of her co-workers had recently flown to Jamaica and England. “Have you screamed recently?” she asked. When I told her my kid is always around, she suggested I lock myself in the car. “It will take a few times to let it go,” she added.
I’ll try it. In the meantime, I hope everyone enjoyed their spring break. If you aren’t vaccinated and went somewhere great, please don’t tell me about it.