Why are you crying, they wonder.
They ask when they see people posting on social media about children getting their Pfizer vaccines. They ask when parents admit to shedding a tear or two while taking the obligatory post-vaccination selfies with their elementary school-aged kids.
Some of them ask nicely enough; affectionately but with an ever-so-slightly patronizing edge – the same way you’d placate a toddler crying about spilt juice or a broken toy. Some of them don’t even pretend to be nice; they just shake their heads and mock the drama of the over-emotional moms of the world.
Why am I crying? Maybe they’re not really asking at all.
But you know what? I’ll answer anyway. Because I’m the mom of a nine-year-old who just got vaccinated, and, yes, I cried.
I held it together while we lined up in the North Surrey COVID-19 immunization clinic that’s been set up in the old Best Buy store near Central City mall. I chatted with my nervous-but-stoic daughter as we waited for the kind and efficient vaccination team to roll their way down to our little pod. I watched without so much as a blink as the smiling nurse jabbed my daughter gently, fastened on a Band-Aid and told her how brave she was.
Then they passed me her COVID-19 immunization record card.
I looked down at it and saw her name and I couldn’t tell you what else it said because the tears started.
I cried because I felt like I could finally exhale. That I could let out a breath I didn’t even know I’d been holding for a year-and-a-half.
I cried because I could let go, just a little, of the anxiety that has followed me around every day I’ve sent my daughter off to school, knowing she was heading into a classroom packed full of kids. Knowing I had no control over what any of her friends and classmates were doing outside of school time. Knowing I had no way of telling who’d bring virus into the classroom and who’d take it home at the end of the day. Knowing I had no clue which children needed extra protection, for themselves or for vulnerable family members.
I cried because for 18 months I’ve had no real power to keep any of them safe, but I knew I had to try because I’m the mom and that’s my job. And I’ve had to do my part – not just for my child, but for everyone else’s children, because looking out for each other is the only way we’re going to get through this pandemic.
Please don’t bother telling me COVID-19 is “almost” never serious in otherwise healthy children. Please don’t bother telling me “very few” kids end up in hospital or die. Please don’t tell me “most” children don’t end up with long COVID.
Because some do, and – particularly for long COVID – no one can predict which ones will. (I went on at great length about this recently; if you really want to know more, you can read that post here.)
“Almost” and “most” and “very few” are extremely weighty words, if you’re a parent.
As a mom, as a human being, there’s very little I wouldn’t do to help make sure my daughter doesn’t become one of the statistics – and, in the bigger picture, to help keep COVID at bay so nobody else’s child does either.
So, since March 2020, we’ve chosen to live cautiously – not in fear, as some have accused, but in the knowledge that our actions have repercussions not just for our family but for all those whose lives intersect with ours. We’ve lived a small life with our small social bubble. We’ve limited non-essential social interactions. We’ve eschewed group activities and crowded outings in favour of weekend hikes and trips to the park.
I cried when my daughter got her shot because it means the world is opening up for her again.
No, it doesn’t change everything overnight. But moving closer to being fully vaccinated means she’s more protected for her own sake and less likely to transmit the virus to others in her life.
So I cried. I cried because there’s a new world in sight now. A world where she can go back to sleepovers and art classes and brunch at White Spot without that constant, back-of-mind worry that this will be the time we cross paths with the virus. A world where we can entertain again, go to movies and shows again, travel again without questioning whether this interaction is necessary and whether we’re doing it as safely as we possibly can.
I cried because we can invite her grandparents over for Christmas and everyone can feel just that much safer about the whole idea.
I cried because my daughter was seven years old when all of that was last true. She was in Grade 2 when she and her classmates came home for spring break in March 2020 and never went back.
She’s nine now. She’s in Grade 4.
The past 20 months have changed her. She’s grown up in ways I wouldn’t have predicted in that not-so-long-ago time when she was sitting at the kitchen table working on her virtual second-grade schoolwork while we struggled to figure out the whole work-from-home thing.
She’s more independent. More confident. Unexpectedly, she’s more social; my shy, reserved child is developing a little posse of friends of her own.
But she’s more anxious, too; I know that talking her into swimming lessons or music classes will be an uphill battle, because her desire to try out new things has been on the back burner for so long that we’ve both kind of forgotten what it’s like to have new and unfamiliar experiences.
I know that no matter how this pandemic unfolds, it’s made an indelible impression on her childhood. She’s part of the generation that will forever be shaped by having been the children of COVID.
So, yes, witnessing the moment that begins her transition into a new, post-pandemic future called for a few tears.
Tears for my daughter. For our lives. For the world.
You’d better believe I cried.