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The Best Gift We Could Give Our Son During the Pandemic

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The morning started with my 12-year-old son sitting in a pale beige chair that blended in with the wall behind him. He looked up at the pharmacist with his big blue eyes that were swelling with tears. Not the kind of tears you get when you are scared, but the kind of tears you can’t help but hold back when you feel the kind of relief that allows you to breathe again.

Looking at the pharmacist, I could tell he was taken by surprise when from behind my son’s black athletic face mask, he softly and simply said, “Thank you so much for giving me this vaccine, it means everything. I am going to keep others safe now.”

The pharmacist paused. It was the first morning since the guidance had been updated to allow 12 to 15-year-olds to receive the shot. The grocery store pharmacy was overwhelmed with appointments, with every chair in the makeshift roped-off waiting area occupied by nervous teens. The chaos of the past year was clearly weighing heavily on the pharmacist that morning.

But when that pharmacist looked into my son’s grateful eyes, the mood shifted. He slowed down and responded to my son by thanking him for being a part of our community. He explained that everyone who does their part in getting vaccinated will help us all return to normal. It was just what my sweet boy needed to hear.

Getting the COVID-19 vaccine was something that our son desperately longed for. Not necessarily for his physical health, but for his mental health. In all likelihood, if our son contracts COVID-19 he will have mild symptoms and quickly recover. His sister, however, is immunocompromised, we don’t know how her medically complicated body would respond to COVID. Carrying this fear weighed heavily on his kind heart.

Over the months we saw his anxiety increase and personality begin to change. He became incredibly cautious; the days of him being a carefree child were fading. This was the first time in 15 months my son had been indoors anywhere but our home or the hospital. Just stepping foot into the grocery store that morning was unbearably anxiety-provoking for him. His shoulders were so tense they almost touched his ears, every movement was calculated and his behavior was awkward in a terrified preteen kind of way.

Once that needle hit his arm, you could see a physical change in our kind boy. His shoulders relaxed, his facial muscles calmed. He thanked the pharmacist 600 more times before turning to me and hugging me. Our son who is not a cuddler clutched me tightly and wouldn’t let go — right there, in public, in front of everyone. With those same big blue watery eyes, he looked at me and said, “I am going to keep her safe now.”

He knows he has five more weeks before he is fully protected, but the weight he has carried so heavily for the past 15 months slowly started to fade away. His toothy grin is a little bit brighter. For him the healing process can begin. While this pandemic didn’t affect him physically, mentally he was suffering. This vaccine was the best gift we could have ever given our boy. It was the gift to breathe again. The gift to be a child, to worry about things like homework and playing ball. The gift to begin to repair the world, starting from within.

Originally published: May 19, 2021
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