It has been a couple months since I’ve written, and what an unexpectedly wild couple months it has been…! I, like so many of us, have spent the past two years trying with all my might not to get COVID, not to spread COVID, and to protect my family and our school from COVID. And then, despite all of my best efforts, I got COVID.
The first person in my family to test positive was my two year old son. He had very mild symptoms—low appetite and a mild cough, though he had slept in until almost 9am that morning, which was the giveaway that something was amiss. Though we didn’t believe he would actually have COVID, we gave him a rapid test to do our due diligence for the community; after all, this is why we had stocked up on tests, to be extra cautious. When the fifteen minute timer went off, my husband looked first and uttered a word I won’t repeat here. I was shocked. “You’re joking,” I said, though obviously there would have been no reason to joke about such a thing. After looking at the test myself, the two unmistakable dark lines glowing against the white plastic, then looking back at my child, sitting in his high chair with his untouched scrambled eggs in front of him, I had to excuse myself to go to the other room and cry. “He’s my unvaccinated baby,” I kept saying, through tears. I called my parents, of course, but first I called Jen, our Health Operations Manager. She understood the anxiety I was going through and told me to breathe and that he would be okay, we would be okay. Then I called my parents, apologizing over and over for having unknowingly exposed them the day before.
Finally, when I had pulled myself together, I came back into the kitchen, where my son was happily chatting with his Dada; he grinned at me and said “Mama mask!” noting the KN95 masks my husband and I had donned as soon as we realized he was positive. As a quick aside, I will mention that I’m not sure this was really effective or necessary, as we both inevitably ended up getting COVID as well. Our thinking was that perhaps we could delay the infection, so that we weren’t all sick at the same time. Though I did end up seeing a social media post shortly after this that really resonated with me, something along the lines of, “my three year old tested positive for COVID and someone asked if I was going to try to socially distance myself from him. I thought about it, but then he sneezed in my mouth and I said, ‘nah.’” And this was pretty much our experience as well.
Well, my toddler was sick for a couple of days. He mostly slept a ton, ate very little, and was whinier than usual. It wasn’t fun watching him in discomfort, but it also wasn’t any worse than any other time he’d been ill. I got far sicker than anyone else in my family, and still I was lucky. I’ve said several times this year that “mild” COVID symptoms simply mean alive and not hospitalized, and clearly there is a wide range of health statuses that fall within that description. I am more grateful than ever for my vaccination status, and am certain that I would have fared far worse had I not been fully vaccinated and boosted at the time I contracted COVID.
I won’t say that COVID was fun, for it most certainly was not. But it was also far, far less scary once my family actually had it. For us it was very similar to any other flu, along with stricter quarantine status and State medical professionals calling to check in. And my son recovered in record time, and was bouncing off the walls again within a few days.
After this I started reflecting on the fear of the unknown; COVID was far scarier before I had it than once we were finally home sick. And I was reminded of my first solo living experience, the night I moved into my own single room my sophomore year of college. On that first evening I’d ever lived alone, I soon discovered that I wasn’t actually alone. I was face to face with my first ever New York City cockroach. In my mind it was huge, but in reality I think it was an average-sized roach, of which I would see many over the next decade. My now husband (and future child play therapist) coached me through my fear over the phone. He encouraged me to give the roach a name, which would make it less scary. So soon I was calling it Wendel, and we realized together that when I couldn’t see Wendel (who was hiding under the bed) I was incredibly fearful, but then when I geared myself up and leaned over the edge of the bed to look Wendel in the eye, I was much calmer. When I could see Wendel, the roach itself and in turn my fear seemed to shrink.
There is definitely something to the idea of naming a fear, and making it known in order to face it. Often with young children, we help them turn their feelings into more tangible beings by giving them names and personalities, which helps them learn to recognize and master their feelings, just being comfortable living with their emotions. Not that anyone should necessarily need to live with a roach, but interacting with Wendel definitely helped me feel less fearful.
I understand the instinct to keep health information from young children, as COVID has been this mysterious scary thing for two years, that is now making its way into our families and close communities. It makes sense that children would be scared of something they can’t see or understand. So if the goal is to name the fear and make it known, then we shouldn’t avoid talking to children about COVID, or any other illness. We should certainly help them feel safe, and let them know that we will take care of them. And in most cases when a child or a vaccinated adult in our community gets COVID we have been lucky that the cases of been fairly mild. So we can share that with children, telling them that we are lucky they are healthy and okay. But we can also teach them that along with taking care of ourselves it’s important to take care of others, and we can explain that for some people the germs can make them really, really sick. So if we have COVID germs we need to spend time away from other people, to help keep everyone healthy and safe. And as we start to understand the disease more, we can still take it seriously but also name the fear and make it known. Which is what happened to me and my family when we finally, after two years of avoiding it, got COVID.
And the silver lining—ninety days of immunity, for myself and my whole family, which I can honestly say feels like a very real and tangible weight lifted off of my shoulders. Not that I’d recommend COVID to anyone, but at least there is something positive on the other side.