My kids start school in a few days. In the past, I’d be counting the days until I could have a quiet house again and could work without someone interrupting me 27 times an hour to ask me for a snack or to complain that they’re bored.
This back-to-school time is different. Now, I’m terrified.
Now, I find myself lying next to my son as he falls asleep, running my fingers along his eyelashes, desperately inhaling the scent of his hair, trying to bottle these moments when he is safely at home, healthy and well.
Now, I find myself overcome with dread and fear at the most random times. I’ll be making a peanut butter sandwich and have a raw, cold feeling of terror course through my body. The other day, I had to stop what I was doing, hold on to the kitchen counter, and breathe.
I know I sound dramatic. I know that the worst thing that could happen this school year is that one of my kids get COVID. I know that statistically, even if they were to get COVID, they will likely survive. I know sending my kids to school in a pandemic is not the same as sending them off to war. But it feels that way.
Let me backtrack. I have two sons. One is a fully vaccinated teen. The other is going into fourth grade and is too young to be vaccinated. Last year, my kids were fully remote, and our family was totally isolated. It was rough being isolated for that year, and my kids’ mental health definitely took a hit. But with none of us vaccinated, and a pandemic still raging out of control, staying home seemed like the right thing to do.
Back in June, when my husband, myself, and my teen became fully vaccinated, and our COVID numbers were low, sending my kids back to school in September seemed like a really good idea. A large portion of adults and teens where I lived are vaccinated, and although my kids weren’t in school last year, I kept tabs on our district and was happy to see that they did a great job with COVID protocols. There was little, if any, in-school transmission.
At the beginning of summer, I was all set to send my kids back to school, even my unvaccinated son. After a year at home, both of my kids were ecstatic to go back to school. I was happy and relieved that they’d be able to go back and stay safe.
I knew that sending my unvaccinated child back was a small risk, but with those low COVID numbers and our district’s record of keeping kids COVID-free, I felt like it was an almost no-risk situation.
That’s not how I feel anymore.
Once Delta hit, COVID numbers in my community sky-rocketed. Even fully vaccinated people were getting sick. There were multiple outbreaks at local day camps.
Then the news started to break that young people and kids were among the main spreaders of the Delta variant throughout the country. Record number of kids were getting sick. Then my news feed started to fill with heartbreaking pictures of children in hospital beds, struggling to breathe. Then multiple reports of children dying …
Hearing reports of multiple children severally ill and hospitalized—of children dying—is not something a mother’s heart can handle. At least not me. It’s impossible not to picture your own child suffering the same fate.
And so, here I am.
I should be grateful my children’s school district is still taking the pandemic seriously. There will be universal masking, ventilation, distancing, and hand hygiene. They are doing everything “right” and I know that they should significantly reduce my child’s risk of contracting the virus.
But Delta feels different. It’s just so much more contagious. And it’s hard to believe the even the best protocols will stop my kids from catching the virus.
I also know that statistically, even with all the terrible news, only a small portion of children are actually being hospitalized (less than 2% according to reports), and even a smaller number are dying (COVID has a 0.00%-0.03% death rate in kids). I know that some children suffer long-haul symptoms, which is extremely scary. But I also know that most do actually recover fairly easily.
I am going to send my kids to school in six days, even the unvaccinated one. My little guy hasn’t socialized with other kids in 18 months, and for now, my concerns about his mental health mostly outweigh my concerns about his physical health. My rational mind is reassured by the careful protocols our district is taking. My rational mind knows that the chances of something awful happening to him, even if he gets COVID, are small.
But my rational mind isn’t always the one operating when it comes to my kids.
So right now, I’m a ball of anxiety. I am living with an undercurrent of dread. I am going back and forth between feeling like everything is going to be okay, to feeling like I need to keep my kids inside forever.
Mostly, I’m just livid about where we are as a society. Yes, COVID-19 is a virus and viruses spread. Yes, Delta is really freaking contagious. But we have so many tools right now that are proven to at least slow down the spread (vaccines, masks).
Too many people have basically given up, allowing the virus to wreak havoc everywhere in America, just as parents are getting ready to send their kids back into school buildings, some for the first time since the pandemic began.
I am panicking. Most parents I know are panicking. And it didn’t have to be this way. We could have prioritized the safety of our children above all else. No one wants another lockdown, but we could all be wearing our masks, getting our vaccines, and decreasing spread until all our kids are eligible for vaccines. But we didn’t.
And so here we are. It’s September, and parents are terrified. We are bracing ourselves for the worst.
It feels like no one cares about our kids.
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