I read about how to hug through shower curtains. I read about how to hug safely if you absolutely must: wear a mask, make it brief, turn heads in the opposite direction. Don't talk, don't laugh, don't do anything that would cause extra droplets to escape.
I guess my son and I will continue not hugging. Not even on Christmas. He graduated from high school and moved out during the pandemic. Virtual prom from his room, drive-by grad party, skipped graduation, a new job, a new city, a move. All ceremony erased, every transition in 2020 feels like grief.
I haven't touched my son in five months.
When he was a teen, I used to worry if I was hugging him enough. I wondered how to fit in enough squeezes a day when each morning he rolled out of bed too late for school and stayed holed up in his room most of the rest of the time. Physical touch is a human need but the pandemic has turned those we love into seeming pariahs that we aren't allowed to touch.
Months ago, a single friend tweeted that they step out into the rain just to feel something touch their skin. It knocked the wind out of me. When I think of my son, I think of that tweet and break.
On Christmas, my youngest, teen, partner, and I open our gifts in the living room. Later, my oldest joins us outside, masked, in 20 degrees. The snow comes down in thick flakes. Ordinarily it would be pretty. It would be a "Christmas miracle!" which is what my 9-year-old exclaims it is. This year, though, it's a Christmas nightmare. It covers us like living snow people; like Jack Nicolson in The Shining.
I brush my body off every few minutes. My coat turns from silver to deep ash. I pull down my mask to take sips of coffee that turns ice cold in minutes.
Huddled around a fire we can't get close enough to or we'll break the six-foot barrier, his long hair turns to a snow doily. We complain about the timing of the cold and snow, but not too loud or not too long. My teen and grown son both think we should break and rules and be inside. It's one of many things I'm not sure I'm doing right.
Their discomfort reminds me of when they were small and we'd go sledding and they'd complain about their feet getting too cold. My partner would sit on a bench and peel off their boots and socks, one at a time. He'd hand them hot chocolate from the thermos, take off his gloves and shove their ice-cold feet into his furnace hands until they smiled. He'd tell them stories about winter camping and how they used to keep warm: of laying out straw under their tents and large fires that burned all day and night. He'd talk until they could feel their toes, until they were ready to take the hills again and again.
To read the rest of this story, visit Motherwell.