Join me on my pandemic cheat day...’s not so easy easing into society.

It’s only one night, two hours from home, in a swanky hotel.

My 5-year-old daughter, my husband, and I went together on a vacation this weekend. My 20-year-old son stayed home to take care of our myriad of pets. I’m sure he’s glad to have this time alone.

I have mixed feelings about this trip. The most obvious feeling is the glorious sense of freedom and relaxation that comes from being away from home. No chores, no demands, nothing I have to do.

It’s the kind of experience I’ve always enjoyed in the past when we would have getaways. My husband could attest to how I love to stay at a hotel.

On top of this is the joy I get to feel while watching my daughter enjoy the trip for similar reasons. She has desperately needed a change of scenery after this past year staying at home to stay safe.

(She asked me if we could live at the hotel. I told her we couldn’t afford to and she’d have to get rich being a rock star—what she says she wants to be when she grows up—so we can live in hotels.)

This isn’t an elaborate trip. Just a night at the Hilton at the Ballpark overlooking Busch Stadium where we had a view from our room of the Cardinals v. Reds Friday night game. We had dinner at the 360 restaurant on the roof of the hotel, with a clear view of the St. Louis Arch. Then a swim in the hotel’s indoor hot tub and snuggles watching TV in a king size bed.

This all sounds wonderful. So where’s the other side of these mixed feelings?

It’s the strange sense of normality hitting against the wall of a year of abnormality.

I was made aware of this in a crystalized way when we forgot to put on masks while going to get snacks from the vending machines. It was a brief lapse, and we quickly put them on. But it was one minute where COVID was just a bad dream.

The moment that the pandemic feels most real on this trip is actually when I see others in the hotel not wearing masks or wearing them improperly, perhaps simply because they have appear to be following the hotel rules.

When I see what I assume is a flagrant disregard for other people’s health, it angers me. We try to steer clear of these unmasked people, taking another elevator or giving them a wide berth.

I understand that my personal risk from these interactions is low. The adults in my family are all fully vaccinated. But my daughter is vulnerable since she can’t be yet, although the risk from getting the virus is very low because she is so young. So, it’s reasonable for me to want her not to be exposed by people not taking the mask requirement seriously.

But, the anger I feel is deeper than that sense of precaution. My thought is: “How dare they act like the pandemic doesn’t exist.” It’s almost been a virtuous burden to be constantly aware of the threat. It’s helped us toe the line, enforce the discipline we’ve needed to not take too many risks.

It reminds me of dieting while around other people eating junk food. The envy, the guilt, the shame, the self-righteousness, all mixed up with the attempt to stay on track despite other people making choices that you know aren’t best for you (having modified my diet this year due to health issues, this isn’t an uncommon experience for me).

And that’s what it’s taken to change our lifestyle this year due to the pandemic. To have an incredible amount of self-discipline. To ignore peer pressure, to say no to risky situations that would normally be fun, to make sacrifices and rearrange our lives for self-preservation and to be good citizens. How dare anyone else do differently!

And yet, there we were giddy in the hallway, sans masks, on the way to get snacks, a moment with no care in the world. Forgetting there’s a pandemic going on. How dare we.

The fact is, we have had this incredible self-discipline combined with luck that has allowed my immediate family to avoid infection thus far. We haven’t made the most sacrifices of anyone in the world. Our lives have been bucolic compared the many people this past year. But, like many, we’ve been living under a guillotine, hoping that one more day it wouldn’t fall.

The fact is, I’m jealous of the people who feel safe enough to not wear masks, or wear them incorrectly because they have to have them on. Maybe I’ve just caught them in the moment where they forgot, got carried away like we did in the hallway.

Or, maybe they just have some way of doing mental gymnastics, some power of denial, or maybe they just simply don’t see the facts as I do. They may have hubris or Herculean self-confidence. They’ve made some calculation with information I am not privy to.

(I recognize the unattractiveness of my self-righteous reaction.)

The fact is, I can’t live their lives or see the world through their eyes. Thus, my anger is misplaced. And that’s where I have the mixed feelings.

I enjoyed our trip, but I also feel incredible anger that we couldn’t have done this before. Or, we could have, but then feeling awful doing it, whether out of fear or guilt. I feel most anger when I think about how the simple pleasure of being in a hotel room means so much to my daughter. It shouldn’t mean that much. It wouldn’t have a year ago.

So, we’ve made another reservation at the end of this summer at another hotel in the city. It’s one of the only weekends my husband’s schedule will allow. We will have months of looking forward to it, taking measured steps to stay safe. It will be another reward for pandemic cautious behavior. Like a cheat day on a diet.

How are you coping with the other side of this pandemic? Let me know in a comment below.

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