Aiden Arthurs receives the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 Vaccine at the Jewish Federation/JARC's offices in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, May 13, 2021. (Photo/JTA-Jeff Kowalsky-AFP via Getty Images)
Aiden Arthurs receives the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 Vaccine at the Jewish Federation/JARC's offices in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, May 13, 2021. (Photo/JTA-Jeff Kowalsky-AFP via Getty Images)

As my kids get vaccinated, they wonder what’s next

“Do you remember when we couldn’t go to the playground because we thought Covid could be transmitted through surfaces, so we took you to the park first thing in the morning to play soccer every day, but we didn’t get near anyone?”

“Do you remember we couldn’t go inside Saba and Safta’s house, and then we could for a short time, and then we had to stop when we went back to school until they got vaccinated?”

“Do you remember how last year you had to wear masks outside at school, but now we know that outside is safe, so this year you don’t have to wear them at recess anymore?”

“Do you think I’ll be able to have a playdate inside again?”

“I don’t really remember what it was like before Covid.”

By the good graces of Pfizer, Walgreens and the CDC, my two kids will get their first Covid shots this week. When I told them I had made their appointments, they both cheered.

At ages 5 and 9, they — and frankly, most kids I know — have handled what has been asked of them over the past year and a half with more grace and goodwill than I could have ever anticipated. They instantly seemed to understand the stakes, and they never questioned the need to wear masks, avoid hugs or stay outside their friends’ homes.

Now they’re charting their course toward full immunity and have quizzed me about when, exactly, those antibodies will get cooking.

And they’ve started to ask questions: “Will we still have to wear masks in school?” “Will we be able to go over to friends’ houses?”

The truth is, they do and they don’t remember a life before Covid.

They don’t remember what it feels like not to have to think about transmitting a disease, to follow the rules for keeping safe. They do remember that the rules have changed over the course of 18 months, prompting great conversations about scientific research and how we adjust our behavior based on emerging facts.

They also remember things we used to do before Covid, such as going indoors to movies and restaurants, playing inside their friends’ houses and bedrooms, and traveling across the country to visit family.

They know that what have become our norms are not normal.

But when they ask me what will change in their lives after they are vaccinated, I can’t make them any promises. Masks in school? Probably, for a while longer. Playdates inside? Each family is going to make their own rules. Can we get on an airplane? Maybe. Will we have improved health and greater peace of mind? Definitely.

A year ago, when the vaccines were first being tested, I told my kids I would make them a cake when they got their Covid shots. It feels like a momentous step in the pandemic journey now that their age group can get vaccinated.

And yet, resigned as most of us are to Covid being around for the long haul, it doesn’t feel like as much of a turning point as I thought it would.

In June and July, as a vaccinated adult, I got a teaser for how life could return to normal: I didn’t have to wear a mask at the grocery store; I ate in restaurants for the first time in more than a year. And then the Delta variant shut all that down.

As we learn more, we change our behavior.

That’s what I tell my children.

So this big moment is more of an anticlimax. One step of progress on a long road. But this year, unlike last, we will drive out of state for Thanksgiving and gather with extended family. My kids will have had their first shot, and their antibodies will be cooking. And they’ll have cake to look forward to.

Drew Himmelstein
Drew Himmelstein

Drew Himmelstein is a former J. reporter who writes about education, families and Jewish life. She lives with her husband and two sons.