By Thérèse Vargas / The Washington Post
A playground slide eventually prompted me to start looking for dates.
My family was walking by a playground not far from our house when an unexpected sight of friends prompted my 9 year old son to engage in a game of cat.
The laughter and the shrill screams made the pandemic a fading background. You are. No you are. None of the children wore masks, but the risk of them transmitting anything seemed minimal. They were outside, playing a game that required them to keep a certain distance. The forward movement of one child met the dodging of another child.
They were repulsive magnets.
That is, until they weren’t.
My son was and was chasing two other children. They rushed down the slide, which was basically an inclined tube, and he followed.
I expected to see his head come out of the top or his feet come out of the bottom, but the minutes passed. The band had decided to play inside this tunnel for a bit. When they finally emerged, it was in a heap.
At other times, I would have seen a sweet scene in those tangled limbs.
At that point, my only thought: I cannot delay the search for coronavirus vaccine appointments for my two sons.
Even before a vaccine was approved for children aged 5 to 12, I had seen parents discussing when and where they should register to get their children vaccinated online. A few even mentioned that they made an appointment in advance with their pediatrician, which of course led others to ask for the names of these doctors and where they were located. I have no doubt that the phones in these offices immediately started ringing and kept ringing.
It was heartening that parents were trying to line up for these orange cap vials before they were even available.
Witnessing it left me with the feeling that we could finally make our way to the end of this dark tunnel.
But then when it came time to get on that train, I surprised myself. I hesitated.
I thought I would be among that first wave of parents to refresh CVS and Walgreens websites, looking for dates. But I wasn’t.
I understood the eagerness of parents to have their children vaccinated.
I also understood the need to think long and hard about everything that affects your children.
My hesitation was not really a hesitation. More like a break, really. But that was enough to make me realize that we have polarized the problem in this country so much that we could leave unsure parents behind rather than drag them on the train with us.
I’m concerned that we haven’t created enough spaces where they can ask questions without judgment, request information in the languages they are most comfortable with, or speak openly about their fears. I’m worried that parents right now are parading past Instagram photos of their friends’ kids smiling while holding their immunization cards because it’s easier to avoid a decision than to struggle with it.
In the week after the vaccine was approved for children aged 5 to 11, more than 35,000 children in Virginia had received their first dose, according to the state Department of Health.
It’s a promising start, but that’s it. Real change will not happen until people and organizations can convince hesitant parents, including those in communities that are not theirs, to understand that by having their children immunized, they are protecting them.
They also help other parents get closer to what they need: relief.
The pandemic has been brutal for parents of young children. This has forced many people to quit their jobs and left others to sacrifice their health to keep their income.
It has mentally and physically changed some of us, even aged us.
Before the pandemic, I had a small cluster of gray hair, so little that I could pull it out. Now they’re woven into my brown hair. Once when my 7 year old son was younger he asked me if the white hair came from grief and I said “sometimes” to him. He now refers to mine as my “favorites”. I’m not correcting it, because in some ways this explanation seems more precise than the scientific explanation.
During the pandemic, I was most worried about two of my family members: my father and my oldest son. Both have respiratory problems that make them vulnerable to the virus.
For this reason, we haven’t traveled to Texas to see my dad for over two years. My kids didn’t sit down with him at his kitchen table and soaked dulce in milk. They haven’t looked at the old watches he repairs and marveled at the way he brings them back to life. They didn’t kiss him. I haven’t kissed him.
I’m waiting for a vaccine for the children, so we can make this trip safe.
I also waited for him to be able to plan beyond a day again.
Like many parents in the Washington, DC area, every morning when I drop my kids off at school, I don’t know if they will be sent home. It only takes one child to come into contact with someone who tests positive for the coronavirus to quarantine an entire class and working parents into chaos. When children are forced to stay at home, so are their parents.
That won’t change if only enthusiastic parents get on this train.
Some hesitant parents might just need a helping hand to get their children vaccinated. Others might need a lot of convincing, scientific evidence.
I just needed to do my own research and see a reminder of what we’re working towards: kids playing together on slides, with no masks or worries.
After we got home from the playground, I started looking for dates. I booked two for later in the week at a grocery store not far from home.
The next morning – with these appointments still at five days – I picked up my children from school and only found my youngest son waiting at the usual door. I was told I had to go to another side of the building to pick up his brother. This is where they kept children who would need to be quarantined.
A child in his class that day had tested positive for coronavirus.
Theresa Vargas is a local columnist for the Washington Post. Before joining The Post, she worked at Newsday in New York. She graduated from Stanford University and Columbia University School of Journalism.