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Balancing Act: Pandemic pits safety against hospitality

PAT SNYDER
Pat Snyder

"You can go swimming," my mom used to laugh, "but don't go near the water."

The saying came back to me the other day when I tried to tackle for the first time the contradictions of pandemic entertaining.

I was inspired by a chill in the air and the realization that the opportunity for outside get-togethers is quickly fleeting.

Doomed to Zoom for cocktail hours, coffee hours and communal dining all winter, I felt antsy to go for it and invite a friend or two at a time for distanced socializing in the backyard.

Until then, while others had ventured onto restaurant patios or even crept inside, I had stuck with curbside pickup from local favorites I wanted to support. It was easy to find co-conspirator guests who had been doing the same.

"Yes! Yes! Yes!" was the unanimous response when I invited one or two to coffee in the morning or wine in the afternoon, self-served at a distance outside.

For some, it was a brief escape from a partner; for others, a chance to connect with another human besides a doctor, dentist or -- in the case of the daring -- a hair stylist.

"This will be perfect!" I thought, as I made my way through the latest CDC guidelines. We will be outdoors. We will be at least 6 feet apart. And unless we were eating or drinking, we will be wearing masks. What could possibly go wrong?

I am skilled at imagining the answer to that question before anyone else thinks to ask it, so it didn't take long to figure out that there was more involved here than meeting for an hour or so at the neighborhood diner.

There, it was easy. We could sit at the same table, which would hold all the beverages and food we chose, which someone else would serve, and if anyone needed to use the bathroom, it was right around the corner.

Here, it is a balancing act between safety and hospitality.

Probably a good idea, in an abundance of caution, to disinfect the chairs. But I had to remember to do that ahead of time. Who wants to imagine the germs others might have left behind?

And once the chairs are disinfected, where to place them? I thought 6 feet was safe, but then the very first guest leaned far forward, and my mental tape measure said no. Would it be off-putting to scoot back? Maybe I could say the sun was in my eyes.

That assumes there is sun, and if there is not, what do I do if it rains?

And what do I say if my guest needs to use my only bathroom?

Then there is the question of beverages. BYOB seems inhospitable, but the alternative raises more questions. In my own mugs or wine glasses? In disposable ones? And how about the cream and sugar? Or should everything be self-serve, and if so, how?

Same dilemma on dessert or snacks. I feel safe -- and more hospitable -- with something I've made. But has this become Halloween, where only pre-wrapped treats can be trusted?

Still, it feels hospitable to serve something, and the presence of food and beverages opens up that respectable exception to mask wearing -- eating and drinking -- which raises other questions.

If there's still some wine in the glass, are we still eating and drinking? And is it tacky to be the first to put the mask back on?

To all these questions, my hospitable side says, "Swim." My safety side says, "Don't go near the water."

In truth, my guests and I probably are venturing somewhere in between. Barefoot, we're padding toward the shoreline, walking along that foamy line near the edge until -- whoosh! That big wave pushes us back.

It could be some bad COVID-19 coronavirus numbers or bad news about someone we know. And suddenly, I know I'm a little warier about how far I'll push this terribly rewarding experience of in-person contact.

That's when I see my mom's finger wagging, coming at me with another one of her famous sayings: "I give you an inch, you take a mile."

Balancing Act author Pat Snyder is a northwest Columbus resident and life-balance speaker and coach. Find her at PatSnyderOnline.com.