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“No Fair!” When Vaccinated Big Siblings Don't Have To Wear Masks

How do I keep my sanity until a vaccine for younger kids comes out?

Originally Published: 
Dear Jenny

Dear Jenny,

I'm a single mom with two kids, ages 12 and 5. As soon as the Covid vaccine was available for kids, I had the older one vaccinated. She is blissfully, and vocally, sans mask now. This has led to a huge number of fights about what we can do as a family, when the younger one needs to still wear a mask everywhere she goes but continues to want the same privileges as her big sister. How do I keep my sanity until a vaccine for younger kids comes out?


The Mask

Dear Mask,

A couple of weekends ago, a friend had a 10-year anniversary party in a rented house three hours north of San Francisco. Normally I don't go to these f*cking things. Hippies dancing under the stars? Uncertainty about sleeping arrangements? The sounds of snorting coming from a private corner? In all ways, I have considered myself TOO OLD FOR THIS SH*T for many, many years.

But this was not a normal year. This year I have mostly been inside. This year I wrote a book (inside) while balancing full-time work (inside) and a 2-year-old, who became a 3-year-old, who became A 4-YEAR-OLD who does all the things small children in captivity do.

Plus, I thought the pandemic was over.

So when I got the invitation, this time I said YES. That Friday at 5 p.m., I threw my sleeping bag in my car, kissed my family goodbye, and drove north, listening to anything I wanted for THREE AND A HALF HOURS. I arrived at 9 p.m. and spent the next six hours dancing in a yurt amid a laser show, laughing and hugging a lot of people I barely knew, thinking, "I thought these parties didn't exist anymore!" and, "This is what rich people in Northern California do!" At one point I found myself insistently telling a stranger, "I use my words all the time to express myself. But I forgot I can use my BODY." I hugged another woman and told her I felt my uterus sparkle next to hers.

Was I worried about not wearing a mask? NOT AT ALL. Sure, we were outside (at least the windows on the yurt were open), but I also spent half the next day inside under a ceiling fan as Northern California baked. I DIDN'T EVEN THINK ABOUT THE CORONAVIRUS. I shared food, drink, and airspace with many unmasked adults. The only bad things that happened were my CBD gummies melting in the trunk of my car and me getting a ticket from the Nevada County Sheriff's Office for $162 for parking in the middle of a street near the Yuba River which, when they phrased it that way, I saw I had done.

Happy and relaxed, I drove back to San Francisco, where my partner informed me that San Francisco has become a hot spot for vaccinated people getting the Delta variant. Since then, we have personally known two vaccinated people to get infected.

Back to masks!

The coronavirus, as I have sort of accepted, is not over yet. It's possible that everyone, vaccinated or not, should still be wearing a mask, and unvaccinated people, such as children under age 12, definitely should be. In fact, the nation's largest county, Los Angeles, reinstated a mask mandate indoors for everyone, and many additional municipalities have already followed suit.

But that's not your issue, Mask. Your issue is what life is like with two kids of different ages.

The age split in your family is similar to the one in ours: My stepdaughter is 11, and my son, as I mentioned, is 4. One of them idolizes the other, and I'll let you guess which one. The "end" of the coronavirus has introduced a dynamic that previously didn't exist — preteens thundering through our house, watching YouTube videos about some truly boring sh*t, and leaving sweatshirts in places we won't find for days, while our 4-year-old valiantly tries to impress his new "friends" by crying out at intervals, "I pooped in my underpants!"

The thing is, Mask, once both your kids are vaccinated, this particular problem will go away. But others will arise, forever and ever.

Sometimes his sister is amused. Sometimes my partner or I is solicited to remove him, which is heartbreaking, and I have empathy for everyone involved, especially me, since I have to hold a tantruming child who's bawling his f*cking eyes out because he's been rejected by the Second Coming herself as well as by some people he thought were his "best buddies."

When it comes to masks, our younger one is used to his, and his sister still has to wear one, so in our family this is not an issue. But in all other ways, the different treatment and expectations we have for our two kids creates conflict. (Our kids also share a room, so bedtime is what I would describe as a "melee" or an "opera," with one kid demanding story after story and the other thudding in and out for endless things she's forgotten so it's a wonder anyone falls asleep.)

The thing is, Mask, once both your kids are vaccinated, this particular problem will go away. But others will arise, forever and ever.

You could ask your older kid nicely to wear her mask sorry I'm laughing so hard I have to wipe my eyes. Asking nicely doesn't work! Bribe those f*ckers with screen time and sugar.

Why do parenting websites always have advice for a certain age of kid but not for families with multiple ages? (Maybe because most households have zero kids or one kid.) If there's a solution for you, Mask, it's going to be specific to what motivates your kids as individuals in the moment, and it's going to be temporary because it might work a few times and trick you into thinking you're doing something "right," and then it will fall apart and you'll have to find another solution as you realize, again, what a failure you are as a parent.

At least some of our adult friends are still having ragers in the woods, and I recommend that you avail yourself of every opportunity to avoid your family and shake this f*cking pandemic off your f*cking bones (while wearing a mask).

MULTIPLE KIDS MEANS MULTIPLE THE LOVE AND MULTIPLE THE CONFLICT. I live for the days when the older one decides to give the younger one a bath. The nights she demands juice for dinner, knowing her brother will fall apart because he’s not allowed, I eat my dinner wearing earplugs. There are no winners here. You got this.

<3 Jenny

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Jenny True, aka Jenny Pritchett, is the author of You Look Tired: An Excruciatingly Honest Guide to New Parenthood (2021), available now from Running Press.

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