I remember when my girlfriend first asked me to come to a baby shower with her(1). I agreed, expecting it to be at the new parents' home, a handfull of friends and family taking turns saying "oooooooh", "what a nice baby! " and "oh, look...(s)he smiled at me! how cute " while being served a drink. You could call that an understatement. The 'handful' were two families, friends, relatives, colleagues and perhaps some local hobo's to pack the party venue to the brim. My girlfriend was from another Belgian province, and it was one of the first (and certainly the most obvious) clues that family was IMPORTANT to them. The food...imagine that banquet they hold at the end of Asterix novels. Or the buffet of those 'all you can eat' restaurants if that doesn't ring a bell. Sandwiches, pies, soup, desserts, rivers of drinks...you name it.
"When we ever have kids, expect the same thing," she told me somewhere during or after the event. Yeah...I there was clearly no escaping holding such event.
...or was there? As all my followers (all 5 of 'em ) can tell you, I became a father on January 17th. We had already taken first preparations on a venue location about a month earlier (it was freezing cold that day), and were set to hold our baby shower somewhere mid-April.
Then the pandemic happened. Started with a few inside jokes (someone coughed, others backed tongue-in-cheek away). Then mid march the country went in lockdown almost overnight. Everyone was glued to their television screens, we were introduced to experts who calmly but firmly told the politicians that closing schools, stores and public venues, and encourage working from home was absolutely necessary to stop the rising disease numbers. More so: they told us the numbers would continue to rise for about two weeks after the measures were going in effect.
As such, our "babyborrel" was almost instantly dead in the water. Perhaps if we peaked earlier it wouldn't have happened. Perhaps if Italy had taken measures before us it wouldn't have happened(2). Perhaps...
Anyhow: we canceled the event. They understood (more so: they were glad we called them rather than them having to call us). Yes, we'd call back later.
...and so we did. Belgium's peak was early april, almost exactly as promised. Unfortunately, equally promised was that the statistics with diseases and death counts weren't going to drop off a cliff all of a sudden. It was going to take some weeks before the numbers were safe enough to SLOWLY CONSIDER opening SOME areas again. About a month passed, and the idea of holding the event started piping up again. We picked a date in July, hoping that wouldn't be too optimistic. As it turned out...it was okay. And not. Lemme babble a bit more...
It's easy to look at America (now including Brazil and other countries on the continent along the US) to see how NOT to do it, but knowing what to do depends on knowledge that need to be researched(3). I've seen Belgium people going from downright fear and admiration of the experts and politicians to a level of distrust and annoyance in a way that's directly opposite to the threat level (4). As such, the new rules aren't so much vague as interpreted...pretty creatively.
I know this sounds like "yet another covid-rant" (and in part it is), but it's important to sketch the reasons to motivate how the preparations went. So we've flattened the curve. Hooray! But what about a second wave? What will we (the general 'we' that I use to point at Belgium, but is obviously also influenced by at least the EU) be able to still do socially while still making sure the T doesn't go over 1.0 (5). We've had lower infection rates for some weeks now, and only very recent it has gone up again(6). But more worrying than the mere 1.15% increase in patients is that it has pretty much stagnated for some weeks. Meaning: it's likely it'll go up again. And this time there's no unpreparedness or unwillingness anymore: as of last saturday, mouth masks have become obligated in stores and outhouse venues like cinemas. Things like mass scale concerts were never allowed, but what about smaller scale venues? Would those still be okay?
The answer is, luckily for us, yes. Not without preparations, though. Our one mayor luck from last year was that the party location we've inquired was large. Very large. This was quite a relief, as it would allow...erm..."semi social distancing". It's not an official term, but it describes itself. My father's side of the family is pretty close with each other. They visit each other almost every week, and certainly have done so in some level since the re-opening. Same goes for the family of my girlfriend's side. So we created two large table groups, seperated from each other enough. We had to tell people not to intermingle so much with people they didn't know. A bit of a shame (we both have great family members who would really get along fine with each other), but...yeah.
There was hand sanitizer on each table, and a clear entrance and exit (the idea being that people wouldn't bump into one another on the buffet or going in or out). The area behind the bar was off-limits but to a handful of us, but luckily everyone was understanding about that.
There was also a maximum limit of 50 persons. We...took a gamble on this one. We invited 57, with the expectation that some would call off (which obviously happens even without crisis). And indeed: my colleague/friend got some (non-covid) disease that prevented him from coming, the partner's of my girlfriend's friends stayed at home and we've got a very emotional call from my gf's godmother: she had had cancer. Is cured now, but her immune system is practically zero. Even with the precautions, it would be unwise to be in a public event.
Most of this is hindsight, however. Preparation of the room is one thing, but remember my intro where I talked about a walking buffet the size of an Olympic swimming pool? Yeah...there was that. My parents-in-law got us cava (24 bottles) and pies (forgot how many...about a dozen), and my gf had a contact who made special pies. So among the regular ones were two almost wedding-style pies towering over the rest of the buffet.
There was one upside to the entire crisis: we scheduled the party event on sunday, but they had nothing planned for saturday. This meant that we could set up and decorate the place since then. And man...it certainly took that much preparation. Setting up tables, decorating them, making sure the children had something to play (note: there was a playground outside, but this was - of course - out of sight for the parents), and making sandwiches.
I now HATE sandwiches. These weren't just made by the dozen, but by plateau. Without exxageration, I think I made about 200 to 300 of 'em. And for hygiene sake I washed my hands...I lost count around 8, but probably also a dozen times. But again: because we could spread it between saturday and sunday (before noon), there wasn't so much of a rush (I'd be batshit insane if I had to set it all up AND take it down again in one day).
The afternoon itself was like a fairy tale: everyone was happy and understanding. My family was cracking jokes as they always were. A former study mate of my gf still had her humour. My dad talked to my circle of youth friends. My brother's kids hardly stopped playing. My brother's girlfriend helped out a large amount on washing dishes and refilling glasses (many prefered just the small bottles...not sure if it was corona-related or just for convenience). I hardly had time to eat any of the sandwiches (great) or pies (the large ones were delicious), and only had a small bowel of soup.
Now...we knew in advance we would have too much food (heck...I'd even go as far as to say that this was meant to be). The problem was that the DEGREE of which we had too much was too much. It's one thing to have one or two plateaus of sandwiches and a few untouched pies. We had about two full fridges left. So when people left, we just didn't give them sugar beans or a "thank you" card...we gave them entire bags full of sandwiches and pies.
Cleaning up...I'm glad my friends and brother's family helped out because I was starting to get exhausted. All the decorations had to go. All the nuts and chips that wasn't eaten had to go. Removing the paper towels, table decorations, and so on, and so on. We didn't have to do the disinfection cleaning, which was great as well.
Back home, I almost fell down because of my fatigue. But still: the extra fridge is now filled with 4 plateaus of sandwiches and half a huge-ass pie. Our regular fridge holds a double plateau and our freezer four remaining pies. So we've still got enough to feed a regiment, but at least it's not an army.
And our daughter? She had a blast. I know pretty much every parent will tell you this, but really: we've got a wonderful child. A bit cautious when seeing so many (not so) strangers, but quick to burst into a smile or into playing. Of course she ended the evening as exhausted as we were, but still: we couldn't have wished it any better.
(1) important sidenote: the Dutch word is "babyborrel", which also points to the difference in culture. perhaps the idea in other countries/languages is to "shower" the baby with presents, here it refers to a drink ("borrel") to celebrate the baby. And
(2) our first outbreak came just after spring break. Many came back from skiing vacations in Italy, and brought covid-19 with them. Of course Italy was hit by surprise even more than us (and as the rest of the world), so pointing blame is never serious. It's just easier to blame someone knowing that they're innocent than not blaming anyone.
(3): the discussion around mouth masks is just ridiculous. I get that people don't like wearing them, but they've proven their effectiveness to stop the spread far beyond quack medicines like chloroquine. No, the WHO didn't explicitly pushed for them at the start of the epidemic because they needed more research at that time. That they're recommending it now means the opposite of ignorance: they've made enough tests to ensure it helps.
(4): granted: my girlfriend's a former nurse. She still sees the sector as heroes, but sees a "return to normal" as some form of oppression (why do politicians have to postpone, delay and/or interpret experts and listen to the economy/public?)
(5): I'm fairly sure it was 'T' but perhaps I'm not using the correct letter. Anyway...the idea is that if every covid-patient on average infects LESS than 1 other person, the virus will eventually die out. If it's more, the virus increases. The idea is simple, but it's pretty much a gamble as to what activities influence it.
(6): last week: on average 87 known infections per day. This week: 88 per day. Note: just today: a report of 90 for yesterday.
You need to be logged in to comment