I can finally hug my grandkids

What I needed, urgently, were the joys of an indoor life with my granddaughters: sitting on the couch with them to snuggle into a book; crawling on the floor, building with blocks; sharing a meal; giving them a bath; putting them to bed; breathing them in. These were the activities my husband and I used to do every Thursday, which was our day to pick up the girls from school and day care so their parents could have an evening off and we could spend one-on-one time with our grandkids. How could we have failed to recognize those simple moments—invisible in their very ordinariness—as the precious things they were?

Now we are indoors with them again, without masks, without distance. The first time this happened, the girls kept elbowing each other out of the way to get closer to my husband or me, calling our names, almost as an incantation, even when we were in the same room as them. We have all this back—the hugs and the books and the baths and the bedtimes—because of the COVID-19 vaccines, which no one really expected to arrive this quickly and with such robust protection. The vaccines have led to a subtle shift in my mindset, the first tenuous bit of optimism I’ve allowed myself this whole corrosive year…

The hug that made me weep was not a granddaughter hug but the one I finally gave to my fully vaccinated brother, whose health problems this past year have been the subject of many anxious phone calls but no in-person visits. “First maskless hug!” he yelled as he greeted me at his front door. Hugging him felt so good, so familiar, and I realized as I held on that it felt a lot like hugging our long-dead father. My brother pulled away from the hug and looked me in the eye. “We made it,” he said. For reasons having nothing to do with the pandemic, I wasn’t always sure that he actually would make it. At the very beginning, when everything was so terrifying, I wasn’t sure I would either.