Dear Jenny

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Dear Jenny: Should We Risk It & See The Friends Who've Been Everywhere?

Dear Jenny

Our resident advice-giver-outer Jenny True provides shouty, full-hearted answers to your questions about pregnancy and parenthood in her column Dear Jenny. Warning: This is not a baby-and-me singalong; this is about yelling into the cosmos and actually hearing something back, sometimes in the form of an all-caps swear. Jenny isn't an ~expert~, but she has a lot of experience being outraged on your behalf. To submit your questions to Jenny, email

Dear Jenny,

Now that school has "started,” we are beyond ready to start seeing friends again. We have been the most conservative of all our friends through COVID and have seen almost no one. Recently, one set of friends, people we really do like, have been asking to hang out so our kids can run around together, but we know from Instagram that they are pretty lax about social distancing. Our kids are crying out for playdates, but it's hard to roll back all the protections after so long, especially for the sort of people who for many weeks wore their masks like chin straps. (They are better now.) Should we hang out with them for our mental health (and risk getting COVID), or do we stay home for our physical safety (and risk our mental health)?



Dear YOLO or FOMO,

Isn't this the million-dollar question.

Every U.S. family right now is making decisions about physical safety and mental health based on vastly different sets of circumstances, many of which change from week to week (or day to day).

We want to stay safe at home, but we need to leave for work or essential errands. We want to be healthy, but gyms are closed, wearing a mask to exercise is uncomfortable, and sometimes, we just don't f*cking feel like doing a ridiculous workout video or eating cruciferous vegetables. We want to socially distance and keep our elders safe, but some of us live in multi-generational households with essential workers or in apartments full of various people with varying commitments to social distancing. We want to take care of our mental health, but every social interaction is fraught with the possibility of sickness and death.

More than anything else in the last five months, this is what is breaking me.

I recently watched my 3-year-old run toward our 7-year-old neighbor to hug her, then stop, confused, when she jumped back. He remembers, weeks later, that he has not been permitted to hug a single other person in the last five months who is not his mother, his father, or his sister.

More than anything else in the last five months, this is what is breaking me. AND THERE'S NO END IN SIGHT.

Now that we're all thinking positively: If these friends are people with whom you can have a frank conversation, have a frank conversation. Try to be as direct and clear as possible. Ask questions like: When do you wear a mask? When do you not wear a mask? Are you ever indoors with other people when you're not wearing a mask? With whom do you have regular physical contact? Does your job require you to work with the public? Do you take public transportation? Has your kid been in a summer camp recently? What were the safety precautions? Is your kid getting in-person instruction (public school, private school, pod, etc.)? What are the safety precautions? Do you have child care for your kid inside your home or outside of it? What are the safety precautions?

For me, the most important thing is being in agreement on what we are going to do. Are we going to spend time inside or outside? (Me: Outside, and if I'm at your home and I need to use the bathroom, I would like the doors and windows to be open, I will wear my mask, and I am happy to wipe down all high-touch surfaces once I'm done.)

Will we always be wearing our masks? (Me: Yes, and if we're going to have a picnic and food needs to go into my mouth, I will take my mask off from the ear while I put food into my mouth and put my mask back on while I'm chewing, and I would like other people to do the same.)

Will we stay 6 feet apart from each other even though we're both wearing masks? (Me: We'll try.)

If you can't have a frank conversation with these friends, then you might consider why you're risking your life to hang out with them.

Will the kids? (Me: This one's harder for me. Probably not.)

Will the kids always wear their masks? (Me: Yes, and I will call after them like a harpy when I see their masks starting to slip.)

Will the adults touch? (Me: No.)

Will the children touch? (Me: Probably.)

Will an adult be permitted to hug a child? (Me: Decisions made on a case-by-case basis based more on emotions while still taking safety into consideration.)

Even though we're all dealing with the same virus, you will have your own set of boundaries. Mine are not "correct." They only represent the level of risk I'm willing to take, based on what's breaking me (see above) and my experience with the virus, which includes: knowing someone who has died of COVID; having had three close friends who are my age, and one of their children, get COVID; knowing that one of these friends, who has no underlying health issues, continues to experience respiratory problems months later; not being able to fly home after the death of a family member (not from COVID); knowing the mother of a close friend who recently contracted COVID; and having many family members who are at high risk of poor outcomes from COVID, either because of age or underlying health issues or both.

If you can't have a frank conversation with these friends, then you might consider why you're risking your life to hang out with them.

Either way:

1. Wear a mask.

2. Stay outside.

3. Stay 6 feet away from each other.

4. Wash your hands frequently and/or use hand sanitizer.

That's all anyone's got right now. Be as safe as you can, and be consistent and proactive with your safety measures. It's everyone's job.


<3 Jenny

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CDC. (2020, August). Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19): Older Adults.

Scheimer, D., and Chakrabarti, M. (2020, March). Former Surgeon General Vivek Murthy: Loneliness Is A Public Health Crisis. WBUR.