I'll Be First In Line To Vaccinate My Kids, But I'll Never Forget That We Were Last
For parents of kids under 5, it’s been a long road and we have a lot to process.
I’m thrilled that Covid vaccines for kids under 5 have finally been approved. Moderna! Pfizer! Two shots! Three shots! So many options all of a sudden! Seriously so grateful! Thrilled, though? Thrilled is maybe not the right word for this feeling. I would like to be thrilled. I am not thrilled. Twenty-eight months of breath-holding, life-bending, must-protect-my-babies stress has begun its slow release and it’s coming out of my eyeballs in a salty, ugly, insuppressible flood.
Tears of relief, not to be confused with joy.
I will never forget that schools closed before bars. I won’t forget that mask mandates were lifted long before 18 million children under 5 were granted access to a Covid vaccine, even as new and ever-more contagious variants emerged. I will never forget seeing the phrase “a pandemic of the unvaccinated” used over and over again as an admonishment, as if vaccination was available to all — a terrifying reminder that society was now free to leave the “unvaccinated” behind.
I am eager to open our lives up in the ways that I’ve promised my 4-year-old we will once he’s vaccinated. I will get the first vaccine appointment that I possibly can. I fully expect to sob in the doctor’s office. As much as I will celebrate with Griffin on the day that he finally gets the Covid shot that he’s waited half his life for, for me, a darker feeling lurks.
Once my children are finally vaccinated, what will I do with all of my alienation?
A recent grocery store visit where most everyone was unmasked except for me, N95 tight against my face, led me to an unpleasant realization. What if the lack of care that our society has shown to kids under 5 and their parents during the pandemic is a microcosm for a lack of care that has always been there?
What will I do, I wonder, with this creeping suspicion after my children finally are vaccinated, when I have the time and headspace to really consider it?
How can we, the parents of young children, be thrilled about finally being offered something we’ve begged for? Something that has been dangled in front of us time and time again for more than a year, only to be yanked away just as many times for reasons that are insulting, opaque, or both. Would it have been “confusing” for us to have Moderna approved back in April? Or was that delay actually the result of “typical pharma BS,” as a friend of mine surmised.
The wait has taken a toll. It has sucked the joy from this long-awaited moment.
It was in December 2021, when we opened our family’s circle up a bit, only to have omicron make a fool of me and crush my 4-year-old’s sweet, lonely heart, that I decided to draw a firm line: We’d lock back down pretty tightly and hold that line until the kids were vaccinated. Once they were vaccinated, we would plan to live “normally.”
My line was and is somewhat arbitrary, I know, and deeply personal. Our line for “going back to normal” has hinged on a vaccine approval that has finally come, but now that it’s here, I find that its arrival is an anticlimax. We’re only beginning to understand the long-term implications of Covid infection and it’s not clear yet how well vaccines protect against them. Variants are ever-emerging and we know that they have the power to knock vaccines off their pedestals.
But I simply couldn’t dwell in hope or limbo anymore, opening up when cases were low and tightening our family’s restrictions when numbers went up. It was too stressful and confusing. For my own sanity, I needed to make a single, clear boundary that would carry me through to this chosen end point: vaccine approval for kids under 5. Isolation until shots came at least for the 18 million children who have been unprotected for more than a year after their parents, grandparents, and older siblings. For my own two pandemic children — for almost-1 Nellie and extremely 4-year-old Griffin.
While I believe vehemently in the protective power of these long-awaited vaccines, I don’t expect miracles. We’ve waited for this approval in relative isolation because I saw it as the best of two sucky options: Our family gets Covid before being vaccinated or gets Covid after being vaccinated.
The wait has taken a toll. It has sucked the joy from this long-awaited moment. My compass spins, directionless. I work and care for my kids and I go to bed and I get up and do it again. I have meticulously structured our lives around my hope that my children get shots before they get Covid and understood that it is a brutal luxury to do so. Mothering is a lot of work in the best of circumstances. Pandemic mothering in a society that has left you behind can only be described as relentless.
What worries me most now, more than Covid’s fixed place in our lives, is that my own trust has been so irrevocably eroded. Trust in institutions, in our society’s structures and, depressingly, in my peers to think critically and act for the greater good.
What do I want out of this longed for “normalcy”? Not much, really. More hugs for my kids from all the people who love them. Better overall mental health for my 4-year-old. Indoor play dates when the weather stinks. A beer at my favorite pub on a dreary day. A trip to see relatives we haven’t seen in too long. My 4-year-old wants to go into his cousin’s house — a place he doesn’t remember — and “lock all the grown-ups out.” He and his best friend talk about having sleepovers someday like they’re planning a trip to Mars. He deserves normal and I desperately want to give it to him. He has missed so much in his short life, and it is time to begin to let him live. I’d like him to know openness and joy as well as he knows loss and heartbreak.
It will be scary to get a positive Covid test. It is a luxury to choose to avoid it as we have, and it will be a luxury to choose to open our lives back up.
What worries me most now, more than Covid’s fixed place in our lives, is that my own trust has been so irrevocably eroded. Trust in institutions, in our society’s structures and, depressingly, in my peers to think critically and act for the greater good. Can I carry what I’ve learned about where families really stand in our culture, but somehow still live my life and let my children enjoy theirs? Can I be the compassionate person I hope to be while utilizing and acting on what I have internalized about where mothers and little kids stand in our culture? I can only hope.
After my children are vaccinated, I know I will have to process all we’ve lived through. I have come away from this with a sense of mistrust that I fear will stay with me long after I recover from my first case of Covid.