(Not?) seeing family

Since DH’s sister was expecting (and has since had) twins, DH’s mom has gotten an apartment in her town. Her plan is to spend most of each week there so she can help SIL out with the four kids, now so that SIL can drive to the hospital BIL’s town every other day to be with the babies and give them her breast milk, and in the future with the babies since SIL has very little maternity leave. and will have to go back to teach a limited number of special needs students in person in December.

DH’s mom is high risk for covid complications.  She has diabetes, she’s missing lymph nodes from metastasized breast cancer, manages with medication high cholesterol, blood pressure, etc. etc. etc.  Just a whole host of health problems.  DH’s dad is in pretty good shape (he’s a hunter with no major health scares in the past other than a bum knee and back problems), but they are both over 65.

Before the babies were born, MIL had said that we’d probably want to not visit at Christmas because it would be too high risk for the babies, but maybe we could do something after Christmas.

Since then, the babies have been born and MIL has noted that SIL’s family has been taking zero covid precautions.  They act as if there isn’t a pandemic going on (Update:  I don’t think this is entirely true because SIL sent pictures of nephew at a boy scouts meeting wearing a mask… though also she sent a picture in front of the elementary school first day with neither of the older kids in masks, so…).  And to be fair, they live in a small town with very few Covid cases, so this is probably rational.  Because of this MIL has said well, maybe we could all do Christmas together in SIL’s town.  But not at SIL’s house because it is too small.

DH countered that even though it’s pretty safe in SIL’s town, we’re still in a Redzone and he would feel terrible bringing Covid up from the South and infecting someone from the midwest.  The only way he could think to make it work would be to travel to BIL’s town and rent an Air BNB and then just quarantine there for a couple weeks before seeing his family and that didn’t sound great.

This weekend, BIL noted that they’d spent a lot of time this past week doing boyscout activities and their (legally blind) daughter was back in person school although their son is still doing virtual schooling.  Out of curiosity, I looked up their covid rates and… they’re pretty much the same as ours.  (They’re also in a town with a state university.)  On Sunday they drove over to MIL’s apartment and spent the day with her.  We would be no bigger risk to MIL than they are… possibly less so, assuming we manage to avoid picking up an infection while traveling to the midwest.

Drive between SIL’s town and MIL’s town:  4 hours
Drive between BIL’s town and MIL’s town: 3 hours
Drive between SIL’s town and BIL’s town:  1 hour
Drive between us and MIL’s town:  12 hours (flight + driving is generally 5-8 hours)
Drive between us and SIL’s town:  16 hours (5-7 hr flights + 3 hours driving)
Drive between us and BIL’s town:  15 hours (flights, 7-14 hours, very little driving)

I’m still concerned about toilet plumes.  There’s still, of course, risks to us.  It’s possible I shouldn’t be worried since DH is in good health (knock wood) and as far as we know kids aren’t that affected (though we still don’t know about long-term complications).  But if anything happened to DH I would be devastated.  I’m somewhat high risk with the PCOS, but not as much as MIL.

So I don’t know what to do.  I have no real need to see DH’s family (though also I don’t have any problem with it– they’re good people).  DH is very worried that he will inadvertently kill his mother.  Especially since when she’s gotten a regular cold or the flu over the holidays from the grandkids she’s gotten very sick from it.  I can’t think how to make the logistics work since it’s such a long drive, unless we stop in MIL’s town for the night, which adds 3-4 hours to the total drive.

How are you handling the holidays this year?

63 Responses to “(Not?) seeing family”

  1. Michael Nitabach Says:

    We are not parsing out any complexities of risk-reward calculus & are staying alone in our house at least through the end of the calendar, except for transient activities (exercise, drug store, coffee store, food store, etc). Zero intention to spend any sustained time interacting with anyone in person other than each other. So far, family members who have been making other decisions have not attempted to use judgmental manipulative tactics to alter our behavior, but this could easily change…

  2. Jen Says:

    We are spending the holidays with my parents and sister in Florida (12 hour drive away from us). All three families have been taken precautions but we have been the strictest. The adults are taking COVID tests a few days before and all families are strictly quarantining between the test and getting together. We plan to be there for a few weeks.

    I think if the adults in all the families get tested and people are strict during the time after the test and before seeing each other, it should be relatively low risk.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I was planning on doing something similar with my sister for thanksgiving, but she’s not getting her plans straight and right now it sounds like she wants to do thanksgiving with her boyfriend’s family full of trump supporters followed by a day with us. Which, no. Either us with precautions or them without.

      • solitarydiner016 Says:

        You guys can get tests without having symptoms? Not a thing in Canada (unless you lie), as far as I know.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        Not only that, but my uni has random testing! (I haven’t gotten picked yet, but one of my students tested positive via random testing… the others were either through contact tracing testing or symptomatic testing)

  3. Omdg Says:

    Not going to opine on what you should do, but I found this calculator, which is based on data from clinical studies and epidemiological data collected by JHU, which provides the risk of specific activities inside/outside with/without masking. I’ve found it helpful for making these sorts of decisions.


    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      If that’s the same calculator I used earlier, it is telling me I put myself at high risk twice a week by teaching. :(

      • solitarydiner016 Says:

        Thanks for sharing! Reinforces my avoidance of restaurants.

      • Omdg Says:

        In addition to giving you a low, medium, or high score, it will give you an actual probability of contracting covid in the fine print. For instance, for my daughter to play with her neighbor in my specific county, outside wearing a mask, < 3ft apart, with me being a front line worker, and we don’t see anyone else ever, the risk of my daughter giving them Covid is 6 in 1,000,000. The algorithm defines that as “low risk” (ffs I would hope so), but it will also tell you how your risk increases if you move inside or don’t wear a mask or live in Nashville TN (or wherever) or if one of you frequents bars. The categorization is less useful than the probability it spits out imo.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        Teaching once is “a roughly 5,000-in-a-million (0.5%) chance” … of course, this is something I do 2x/week.

      • omdg Says:

        Yeah 0.5% is unacceptable. Boo.

      • Jenny F. Scientist Says:

        I (very snarkily) told a friend who thinks it’s okay to drive to Indiana and back, with her kids, to visit her elderly mother with many health problems, or to go to a recycling meeting, but God forbid we have a playdate when our whole county had 3 cases a week, that anyone teaching at a college was her highest exposure risk for the foreseeable future.

  4. Steph Says:

    Nobody in my family has been talking about holidays yet, but I’m fairly certain I won’t be doing any traveling. My parents have not been following covid safety rules very well recently. My Mom is still going to work (in healthcare, though at a non-COVID site). Despite that, they’ve recently had my grandmother over for dinner, and had a non-masked gathering with my Mom’s side of the family. They are not in an area with low COVID risk. My sister is also in healthcare and DOES work with COVID patients in another state. Since neither my Mom nor sister could take 2 weeks off to quarantine before we all got together, I can’t see it being safe. So I doubt I will be doing any major traveling for the holidays.

    I have one set of relatives that lives closer to me; if they are also not traveling and take good precautions, I may try to spend one of the holidays with them. But I know that will cause an even bigger fight with my parents, if I choose to see my cousins but not them.

  5. Katherine Says:

    We are doing holidays with my mom, who lives about 30 minutes from us and is in our bubble anyway. The rest of our family lives at least a 12 hour drive away. I have an extra-long winter break, so I’m toying with the idea of driving with the kids to see the closest far-away family. I probably won’t do it because my husband won’t be able to take the time off work to come with, and driving that far by myself with an infant and a toddler doesn’t sound like any kind of fun.

    I was talking to my dad yesterday about how much he wants to see us, and how glad we are that we all went on a wonderful vacation together last Christmas – even more so now that we know it was the last trip for a long time! But he (and most of my side of the family) live on the other side of the rockies. Experience has taught us that even if you take the most southerly route across the rockies you have to be prepared to sleep in your car when you get stuck in a snowstorm, and there is NO WAY I’m taking that risk with my kids. (Taking a more northerly route it’s more likely you’d be able to get a motel room, but could still get stuck for several days due to storms closing the interstate.)

    I’m most anxious to see my grandmother – she is newly diagnosed with vascular dementia and I worry that if we don’t see her soon we’ll miss our chance to have her meet our new baby. If it doesn’t feel safe to fly next summer, we’ll take the road trip then.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      We have an extra long winter break too. :/

      That drive sounds dangerous! And driving long distacnes with a baby and a toddler is no fun. The potty breaks alone… even without fear of toilet plumes. (They always seem to realize they have to go *right* after you pass a turn-off when the next turn off won’t be for miles.)

  6. Ann Says:

    Ugh…it is just the pits. I’m so tired of coronavirus.
    But I’m a grown up, so I’ll do the right thing. We are extremely lucky that our 4 adult kids live in town. One of those ‘kids’ is extremely high risk. So we only do out-door gatherings. We just bought a patio heater and another propane heat blower. Hoping here in NC the weather for Thanksgiving and Christmas Day will be warm enough to sit outside or in the garage with both doors open. Sigh….
    We won’t be traveling and we won’t see anyone outside our family. And we won’t get to visit DH’s family in NJ, won’t get to meet the new niece. Sad sad sad…

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I’m hoping it won’t rain on Thanksgiving if my sister does decide to come then, since eating outside seems safest. I guess the garage could be a good alternate if it does rain. That’s a good idea.

    • kt Says:

      Yep, we got a patio heater too — gotta buy the propane now — and we’re planning on Garage Thanksgiving. My grandfather is in his 90s and we visit him every weekend outdoors. My spouse works in a hospital so we are just not comfortable hanging out indoors with grandpa basically no matter what. Spouse does cook things inside with a mask on and the windows open while grandpa hangs out with us… then we eat outside. Trying to figure out winter accommodations.

      Any decor ideas for Garage Thanksgiving?

      Re: the original post, the second-best wedding gift my dad gave me was when he gruffly took me aside and said, “Don’t be driving around trying to do holidays with everyone. Pick us, pick them; we’ll be here no matter what, so don’t stress yourself out driving around in bad weather.”

  7. gwinne Says:

    Have not sorted all this out for myself. We’re about 4 hours drive from family. My sister and her spouse are high risk, and my mother is high risk (just by age). My brother is a nurse, and his older two kids are back in school. One of those kids doesn’t tolerate a mask (special needs). I don’t think anyone of is taking COVID as seriously as my family, and Tiny Boy’s “micro school” arrangement makes me reluctant to visit them. We did a strict quarantine over the summer (and COVID tested before) so my mom could visit us. We could do that again….

  8. solitarydiner016 Says:

    These decisions are so hard! Canada’s rates are increasing, so while I was less cautious in the summer, I’m getting much more cautious now. My personal challenge is dealing with the fact that I live alone, so there is zero human contact without risk. For now, I’m trying to keep as many things outdoors as possible (soon to be limited, because Canada/winter), and I do occasional indoor gatherings in people’s homes with just their household and distancing/masking as much as possible. I had Canadian Thanksgiving with my mom/her friend at her house last night, and I’m really hoping there was no COVID spreading!

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      One of my single friends in the Northeast has purchased a heat lamp thing for outdoors to keep the outdoor events going a little bit longer.

      • omdg Says:

        We have also purchased a heat lamp. Unfortunately I was cold outside last weekend, and it was 65 degrees. It’s going to be a LONG winter.

      • Leah Says:

        I love hearing from people in different parts of the country about relative temps. It was 65F this afternoon, and I walked the quarter mile to pick my daughter up from school wearing a tshirt, capris, and sandals. Soaking in the warmth as much as I can before Minnesota winter! Tho I love winter too — just will have to change the wardrobe.

  9. Quail Says:

    We are not traveling and probably won’t host anyone. It’s a 10 hour drive to my parents and a 6 hour drive to my in laws – so it’s doable. But we are not comfortable with maskless indoor gatherings, and it will not be warm enough to eat outside where 2/3 families live (and unreliable for the third). We just hosted one set of grandparents to see the new-ish baby, and everyone over 2 wore masks inside. Spouse and I got tested a few days prior. We ate all meals outside. And it was still super stressful and the mask-wearing got tiring. I just know if we did the holidays with anyone, mask compliance would devolve. And we can’t afford to keep the kids home for two weeks of quarantine, or even the time to get a PCR test and results, because we have to work and kids are little. One set of grandparents is high risk for age and medical conditions and the other just age.

    We are just calling it off now and setting expectations that way. If by some miracle rates drop we would reconsider, but I don’t see that happening (our big city has been hovering at 4% for months and both sets of grandparents live in rural red areas, so low-ish rates now but mask compliance is low.)

  10. Alice Says:

    We aren’t inviting people to our place, nor are we going places for the holidays or anything else. I’m currently not expecting to see family/friends face to face until late 2021 at the earliest, with a more likely if-we’re-lucky date in 2022. And any family members who try to pressure us are being politely rebuffed. In many ways, it’s the easiest thing for us to navigate.

    The harder navigation is the fact that we’re actively breaking the seal despite this lack of travel. I have an early-teens stepdaughter who’s recently resumed visitation at our house. We aren’t saying “no” to visitation for compelling emotional/developmental reasons… but since March, her mom has hosted and sent her kids on multiple sleepovers, allowed lots of friend hang-out times, and there were two family trips we know of. It’s like her mom and her mom’s family are living in an alternate reality. We know there have been at least two rounds of respiratory ailments at her mom’s house, too, but there was no testing so we can’t even know what my stepdaughter has/hasn’t had or has been exposed to. There is no way for her to be coming to our house without its being a constant dance of balancing emotional niceness vs. virus precautions, of choosing when to push on hygiene/distancing/mask-wearing and when to let it slide. Or when to accept that we can’t do something that’s advisable (we’re close enough to the fires for rains of ash to happen 1-3 times/week). I feel like I’m failing no matter what I do or don’t do in a given moment.

    If you decide to go visit your in-laws, I think you can expect to be having to do that dance yourself. When you’re dealing with people who haven’t internalized pandemic behaviors and boundaries, they’re going to try to drop them and they’re going to push against them with you, too. And when it comes to dealing with people you care about, that whole emotional relationship situation gets tangled up in when you hold firm and when you give in.

  11. bethh Says:

    I’ve been thinking about the holidays for months. My parents are in their late 70s/early 80s and in okay to not-awesome health. They are bored and lonely and haven’t seen any family since January. They are going a good job of isolating/masking and live in a state with pretty good rates right now. I can quarantine pretty well before I go see them. It’s a cross-country flight to see them. I have already paid for a direct flight to the city nearest them, so logistics are as sorted as they can be.

    But it’s not without its risks, and I don’t know how to weigh those risks. What if this is their last Christmas and it’s sad and lonely? What if I go see them but bring them disease and it kills them? At this point we’ve agreed to not make any decisions until early November. If I had to bet, it would be that at least one of us is going to go see them over Christmas, but it’s stressing me whenever I think about it.

  12. Jenny F. Scientist Says:

    My in-laws have said they don’t want the spouse visiting, though I bet they’ll cave before Christmas.

    My parents live 2 hours away and come here every week. They will likely come for Thanksgiving, because they pretty much always do.

    We have family friends in the next town over who are super paranoid (except when they’re going to the beach with 30 unmasked family members from SC and TX), so they keep getting tested before they visit people. It just reminds me of someone I read recently saying “Testing does not prevent an outbreak; it describes an outbreak that has already happened.”

    • Lisa Says:

      That reminds me of a recent bit from Stephen Colbert – it’s like taking a pregnancy test and then telling your partner that you can have unprotected sex because you’re not pregnant. Just because you’re negative today doesn’t mean you’ll be negative tomorrow!

      • Jenny F. Scientist Says:

        Oh, and there’s a 10% false negative rate too. It’s deeply ineffective as strategy, but I guess it makes good theater.

      • teresa Says:

        Even better analogy because there’s similarly a lag between the activity that gets you pregnant and when your test is positive. Can’t even count how many times I’ve had to explain that a negative pregnancy test today doesn’t mean you didn’t/won’t get pregnant from having unprotected sex yesterday.

  13. Lisa Says:

    The decisions are very hard, because it’s difficult to accurately predict the risks and even more difficult to accurately predict the future (and which of the many possible outcomes you’d regret the most). I’ve been trying to think of alternatives that could make this year special – ways to bridge the gap between traveling to share meals indoors and having a lonely and sad winter. My parents and in-laws both live very close, so we’ve been able to see them fairly regularly throughout the summer (outdoors, properly distanced). But we have also been very risk-adverse and are very unlikely to have any indoor meals with anyone in the family (especially considering the skyrocketing rates of infection in our area and the seeming trend of refusing to get tested so your kids’ positives don’t shutdown the schools). I think we could convince at least some of the family to do a zoom party (eat and chat over zoom? play online games?). We could take a socially distanced, lantern-lit walk on a snowy evening. We could go caroling (maybe “Say Anything” style so we don’t actually have to sing). We’re going to have to find a good compromise for Halloween pretty soon. Does anyone have examples of successful connections with extended family that don’t increase the risk of transmission?

  14. CG Says:

    We usually host my big extended family for Thanksgiving and then go to DH’s family’s big extended family gathering the day after. Neither of those events is happening. My in-laws have decided that they’re just going to be part of our bubble so they come to our house every week and no one wears masks. Is that a good idea? I don’t know. I want it to be! Our county is in decent shape, except for the students, but so far they seem to be keeping the virus to themselves. My mom lives 45 min away and is much more cautious. We do see her, but try to be mostly outside. So far the weather has stayed nice enough to do that, but it is very unlikely to be nice enough to sit and eat a meal outside by Thanksgiving. Ideally we could do Thanksgiving at our house with my mom and in-laws, but I don’t know if my mom will go for that. My sister lives near my mom and I really have no idea how cautious she is.

    We are fairly cautious. We have not been in anyone’s house except for our parents’ since March. We are now doing a small pod for the kids’ school, but when they have to come inside everyone wears masks. So our risk of catching/transmitting the virus is fairly low, but certainly not zero. But we are going to have to figure out some way to keep see my mom, or her mental health, which is already somewhat fragile, is really going to suffer. I’m not sure what to do.

  15. revanche @ a gai shan life Says:

    We will share a remote only Halloween “party” call with local friends, and have Thanksgiving with the one family member who can stay quarantined before they come over and drive straight to us, skipping the airport entirely, because we also need their help for a bit, and that’s it. Christmas and New Year, we’ll stay at home, I don’t NEED to see anyone but my own family and have no interest in figuring out the logistics of who is being careful enough for me to see and parsing out whether there’s going to be any issues. My side of the family knows we’re not venturing forth and has nothing to say about it regardless of what they’re doing and I’m fairly certain PiC’s family knows we’re not going anywhere or receiving anyone. With everything we have to navigate this year, I simply have no interest in taking on any extra planning to make safe travel happen.

    I’ve also been planning to take other holiday things off our list. I’m not doing year end holiday cards, and I have already sent out 80% of the holiday gifts that I intended to gift. If I can do the other 20% before end of October, great. If not, pass.

  16. Leigh Says:

    We’re handling the holidays by spending them just the two of us. We wanted to do that last year, but one relative invited themselves to our house, which was okay. I’m excited we get to spend it just the two of us and a blessing of COVID is that it has eliminated the ability to see our families or them to see us due to the travel restrictions, so that really reduces the drama and expectations from our families. I foresaw things going like this back in the spring, so I’ve been looking forward to Christmas just the two of us all year. I assume we will FaceTime with our families and that’ll be nice. I’m glad in a way there is no nuanced decision making because we are being much more cautious than the rest of our families. My sibling recently flew to see our high-risk parents, my parents plan to play indoor sports this winter, and my (also high-risk) in-laws recently drove several days to see their grandchild. My husband and I both work from home and I haven’t been inside anywhere other than my house other than once I went to the pharmacy in 7 months now and once I went to the office to reboot my computer. I thanked my husband yesterday for being so introverted he’s extremely willing to go along with my cautious level and not try to skirt the rules.

  17. Bardiac Says:

    As a single person who lives about 2000 miles from loved ones, I’m not looking forward to any of the holidays. I can’t see flying to try to visit my 89 year old mother and risk infecting her, nor can I see driving across two big mountain ranges in winter. My sister in law is at greater risk, and I can’t imagine going there (flying or driving) and risking infecting her.
    But it’s not going to be easy.

  18. Katherine Says:

    Emily Oster’s ParentData newsletter today was about this question. I thought she had an interesting take on it, especially her “third layer” of risk mitigation – if you do decide to do holidays, knowing that there’s a risk you’ll get COVID, how are you going to reduce the risk of spreading it in your community after you get home?


    Reading that makes me want to consider keeping my kids home from daycare the week after thanksgiving (although given that it will be online finals week for me, and my husband will need to go to work, that’s probably not feasible for us).

  19. SP Says:

    We aren’t planning on seeing anyone. It is very far away (~24 hours by car) to get to anyone, and I”m not comfortable flying yet. Driving with a toddler for so long seems problematic even without quarantining on both ends.

    My parents recently offered that they would drive, stay in motels 1-2 nights, and get a test TBD days before they drive. I’m nervous even about this because they won’t be able to quarantine for a full 14 days. My mom is still working as a nurse, so there is still some risk. They are in a very hot spot right now, and I don’t know if it will get any better by December giving the lack of local regulations. And of course we have to pull LO from daycare 2 weeks before they come, but we could probably coincide that with daycare holiday closure. Plus, I just worry about them driving so far in the winter, and whether it will be worth it. At the same time, my kid is almost 2 and my mom hasn’t seen her in nearly a year.

    We do brief FaceTime pretty much every day, but it isn’t the same. I do basically hate traveling for holidays, but I used to visit at least 2x/year.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      DH is doing remarkably well given we haven’t seen his family since last Christmas.

      I wonder if it is safer to drive/use public restrooms/stay in hotels for days vs. fly with a K95 mask and lots of hand sanitizer for hours. It probably depends on how well people are adhering to safety protocols both places and what the underlying disease rate is along the route.

      My uni is suggesting only 10 day quarantines… not sure how I feel about that.

      • SP Says:

        That’s true, flying has potential to be safer, even if it feels less under your own control. Certainly is much quicker…

  20. accm Says:

    Almost certainly staying put rather than risking a 5-hour flight to my vulnerable parents, who are in a more dangerous zone than we are, anyway. It’s the right thing to do, even if sad.

  21. nicoleandmaggie Says:

    Hey the Atlantic is also asking if there’s a way to safely be home for the holidays.

  22. Turia Says:

    We just had our Thanksgiving. We met up with my Mum and my sister and her family for an outdoors, socially distanced lunch where we all brought our own sides and my sister BBQed a turkey breast and wore a mask the whole time she handled it.

    I have absolutely zero expectations that we will be able to see anyone for Christmas. Our numbers in Ontario are terrible and our premier is just unwilling to make the hard decisions required to get things under control.

    If things get so bad that the schools shut down, we will invite my Mum back into our bubble after two weeks and then we could have her over.

    The kids already know they won’t be trick-or-treating this year.

    My dad is a ventilator dependent quadriplegic (catastrophic accident in 2016) and his care facility currently has an outbreak. We haven’t seen him since last Christmas and probably that’s not on the cards for many months to come since he’s several hours away by car.

    It’s awful, but we know it has to be done. I’m so frustrated with everyone who has pandemic fatigue and seems to have given up on even the most basic precautions. And our provincial government’s inaction is frankly criminal.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      How awful for your family. :(

      So… speaking of frustrated… right now DH is zooming into a home owners association meeting because a bunch of trump lovers are trying to take it over. They’re at a clubhouse for another HOA and large groups of people, including several speakers, are not wearing masks, despite the law and clubhouse rules. I feel really bad for anybody who has to clean up in there. We almost weren’t allowed to have a virtual option but fortunately enough people complained that they’re letting us stream in.

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