“Can you count how many Dory pictures are on that wall?” The nurse asked my just-turned-5-year-old daughter as she tugged up her sleeve.
“I see one … two…” she counted.
“That’s it! You’re vaccinated!” the amazingly slick pediatric nurse announced.
“But I only got to two Dories!” came the little voice, a bit disappointed to not have more time.
“It’s all done. Did you feel it?”
She shook her head and then looked up at me: “Mommy, I wasn’t even scared. I did it. I got my COVID shot. Now I’m ready for Disney World!!” She did a little dance.
And just like that … after 2 pandemic years … 1 year of waiting for eligibility … months of reading the research … days of finding the right site … my daughter was vaccinated for COVID-19.
Finally. We made it. (For 1 child at least).
It’s a new rite of passage – turn 5, get vaccinated! This newly minted 5-year-old took it in stride. Her biggest excitement was the coloring pages in the observation area and the milkshake treat we had for our special mommy-daughter day lunch.
I, on the other hand, was teary with joy. My mind set to reminiscing about all that she – and we all – have been thru in the last two years. I think back to that first terrifying weekend of March 14, 2020. While my husband attended his grandmother’s funeral and I tried to figure out how to take a worship service virtual, my then 2-year-old daughter got into the medicine cabinet, opened a “child-proof” bottle, tried to eat an adult Tylenol, and thankfully vomited it up. That day, I was enormously grateful for poison control who assured me my little girl was just fine. She was, of course, except for being a scared little kid who heard big people talking about big things and tried to make sure she didn’t get sick. Oh my heart …
I think back to her 3rd birthday, just 2 weeks into the pandemic. No party. Her grandparents watched her open presents over zoom. It rained, so she spent the day looking out the window at her present – an outside playhouse, which I had scoured the internet for when I realized we’d be in lockdown for ‘weeks’ (ha!).
I think back to the car parade that our beloved church family organized to celebrate her birthday, which was so novel at the time that it made the NBC 10 news, The Philadelphia Inquirer, and the local paper.
I think back to her willingness to wear a mask to keep safe at just 3 years old. She abided by the rules so well that she’d scold adults for not wearing their mask correctly. At daycare, she wore a mask all day from 9am-5pm for a year and a half. Our littlest ones are masking masters.
I think back to her own reminiscing about a time when “we didn’t have coronavirus and we didn’t have to wear these mask-es and we could just go places.” At 5 years old, she remembers even though she’s spent most of her young life hearing about, and worrying about, and making adjustments for, and keeping safe from, and getting tested for, and being exposed to COVID-19.
I think of all my fellow parents of children under 5 who have had similar journeys. Our experience has not been harder than others — I am forever thankful that we didn’t have to suffer through virtual school. Parenting small children during this time has been a different hard. For example, two working parents, months without childcare, and an infant brother, meant that my 2, then 3, then 4, and now 5-year-old learned to entertain herself at an earlier age (sometimes making a giant mess, or making imaginative worlds, or being lonely, or vying for attention from stretched thin parents). With every other family in quarantine, it meant missing a lot of those play dates and friendships that are normal for her age-group. As childcare centers and pediatrician offices tried to contain spread, it meant extra COVID tests for sniffles, fevers, coughs, and any childhood illness (just to make sure). Then, as vaccines rolled out, it meant the youngest got left behind. The testing for vaccines for our littlest ones need to go through more trials than for other age-groups (for this, we are certainly thankful). Yet, it also meant as that as our nation, schools, friends, families, and organizations moved on, families with young children (and anyone immunocompromised) were left in the dust. Daily, I’d hear on news: “Get your vaccine! It’s the only way to fight this.” I’d scream back: “My kids can’t! What am I supposed to do?” There were no answers, and until only recently very little attention given.
There was really nothing to do but scream into the abyss … and pray. Pray, of course. Pray and scream. Pray and scream and wait. Pray and scream and wait and wear masks. Pray and scream and wait and mask and get tested. Pray and scream and wait and mask and get tested and be socially distant. Do it over and over and over again, while the rest of the world “moved on.” This is the limbo that families with children under 5 have been living in. Today as my family reaches this milestone for one of our children (but not another), we are grateful for our opportunity and also mindful of those still left behind.
For today, however, I celebrate. I breathe a sigh of relief for all families with children 5+. I am proud of my brave little girl. I am grateful for an opportunity to be a helper. I am grateful for decades of research that have led to a mRNA vaccine. I’m grateful for our scientists who have worked tirelessly for years (special shout out to my favorite virologist, CEN). I am grateful for the children and families who volunteered for clinical trials. I am grateful for pediatric nurses who stealthily put lifesaving shots in little arms. I am grateful for childcare workers who continue to work day in and day out with our littlest unvaxxed kiddos. I am grateful. As the Apostle Paul says to the Philippian church: “I thank my God every time I mention you in my prayers. I’m thankful for all of you every time I pray, and it’s always a prayer full of joy” (Phil 1:3-4).
As my newly vaxxed daughter and I waited the requisite 15 minutes in the observation area, she became very concerned for her BFF Minnie Mouse. It turns out that Minnie also turned 5 yesterday. That meant Minnie is also old enough to get her COVID shot. That’s when my daughter picked up a white crayon, held out Minnie’s arm, and pushed the tip in. Then she took a sticker and put it over the injection site. We both breathed a sigh of relief: Minnie can safely go to Disney World too.