I’m scrolling through Twitter, and I see a news article about my home state of New York. “The emergency is over,” the caption reads, quoting the governor of our state, Andrew Cuomo. “It’s a new chapter.”
And I cringe, like I do anytime I see a headline or caption like this.
Later, I’m scrolling through social media and I see a mom who’s taken her kids to a birthday party at one of those indoor climbing places. The kids are all young, definitely ineligible for vaccines. They aren’t just climbing on the play equipment, they are climbing all over each other. Not one of them is wearing a mask.
I’m trying not to judge other parents as harshly as I did when the whole country was on fire with COVID. This has been a long freaking pandemic and we are all exhausted and depleted. Honestly, at this point in the pandemic, I’m past judging. I don’t have the bandwidth for anger anymore. People are going to make the choices they make, and that’s that.
But I don’t understand. Yes, COVID rates in this country are (mostly) super low. Yes, the vaccines that we have work really well, and most level headed people I know got them when they were eligible. Three out of four members of my family are fully vaccinated, including our teen, who just became fully vaccinated last week.
Yes, there are reasons to be optimistic and to resume many of the activities that we couldn’t do when COVID was spiraling out of control.
Every single child under the age of 12 still can’t be vaccinated, still can’t be protected. So how are parents with kids in that age bracket living life as though the pandemic is over?
For us, until our eight-year-old son can be vaccinated, we are continuing to be very cautious. We are only letting him socialize unmasked with vaccinated people, which still means no unmasked playdates with other kids his age. We are allowing him to do many more outside activities than he used to, thanks to our community’s very low COVID rates. We are even allowing him to remove his mask outside when he is socially distanced from others.
But we aren’t going to allow him to get up close and personal with another unvaccinated kid or adult, even outside. We aren’t going to take a chance that he exchanges droplets with anyone who could potentially be infected with COVID.
Our son has asthma, triggered by respiratory infections. But even if he didn’t have that vulnerability, we’d still be vigilant. Yes, he’s a kid and therefore much less likely to die of COVID than an adult. But the risk is not nothing (over 300 kids have died of COVID in the U.S.). I worry about multisystem inflammatory syndrome for kids and “long COVID” symptoms, which happen to kids as well as adults.
Still, being vigilant is getting lonely.
I feel like everywhere I look, people are acting as though the pandemic is over. People are constantly talking about it in the past tense. And I get that. There is something markedly different about being vaccinated, getting to hug other vaccinated family and friends again, getting to renew some of the old activities you once loved. Our family is doing many of those things too.
But until my little guy gets his shot, I can’t fully celebrate. I can’t really relax. Even though I’m fully vaccinated, I’m still being super cautious, because I don’t want to be one of those people who has a breakthrough COVID case and brings the virus home to my son. I’m still being extremely cautious with him, and won’t let him go maskless in public, unless he’s outside and can keep a distance from others.
Until my son is vaccinated, I will continue to be afraid of him getting sick. I’m still up at night worrying about whether the school district we live in will make masks “optional” in the fall. I worry that the goal of “vaccines for kids under 12 this fall” is somehow not going to happen, and I will have to wait even longer for him to be protected.
It’s a weird feeling to be celebrating the fact that my husband and I likely won’t die of COVID and leave our kids orphans … yet still feeling worried sick about possibly losing our child to this horrible virus, or having him suffer from long-term effects.
It’s like half of my body is experiencing deep relief—like I can finally exhale after a year of trauma—and the other half of my body is stuck in a fight-or-flight loop.
Worse than that, I’m afraid that the fact that I’m vaccinated will make me too relaxed and I’ll forget to have my son put his mask on at CVS or something. Or I’ll just plain forget how awful this virus can be and start to believe that my son is invincible. It’s a mind trip for sure to be in this in between place of extreme relief combined with extreme hypervigilance.
It’s confusing, annoying, infuriating, and isolating.
I thought I was the only one still feeling this way, but I recently posted on Facebook that I think parents with kids under 12 who can’t be vaccinated need a support group. And I was pleasantly surprised to learn that I’m not the only one who is tortured by this “half relieved, half terrified” reality so many of us parents are living under.
“Yes. This. It’s been weighing on me,” one of my friends said.
“FOR THE LOVE OF GOD PLEASE,” another friend said.
“Checking in for duty,” said another.
Some of my friends told stories about encountering gaggles of unmasked kids while still making sure their kid wears a mask. Others talked about inconsiderate folks whose vaccination status is unknown and who walk around without masks and get way too close to their unvaccinated kids. Or people who mock their families for continuing to mask their kids up.
It was a HUGE relief to know that I’m not the only one continuing to take this pandemic seriously for the sake of my still-unprotected child. But it was maybe even more comforting to know that I’m not the only one who is experiencing the psychological torture of living in a country and community that is basically acting like the pandemic is over.
I know me and my friends aren’t the only ones feeling this way. I know there are others feeling the exact same way. If you’re out there, please know you are not alone. This freaking sucks. While everyone else celebrates and burns their masks in a bonfire, we are here feeling stressed the eff out. We desperately want to feel “normal” but we know that that won’t happen until our young kids get vaccinated.
If you want to join the support group, we meet every night at 2 a.m. while everyone else is sleeping soundly. Come join us as we doomscroll about the Delta variant (freaking terrifying, right?), the timeline for the kids’ vaccine (can ya’ll please move it up to August or something?), and the mask mandate for schools in the fall (please for the love, make it mandatory for unvaccinated kids).
All new members are welcome. Just wear a damn mask.