By Melissa Menny
Around this time pre-pandemic, we would be enjoying our traditional family reunion, feasting with family, and forgetting to leave on time. We would be gathered at a huge park complete with an air-conditioned rec room, playing games with the kids and soaking up wisdom from our older family members.
Pre-pandemic life was all about traveling freely, engagements with friends, and going out in populated spaces. The only concern was who was bringing what food items and how long were we staying. We were spoiled with conversations and a closeness that is now considered dangerous.
Compared to today, those memories seem to reflect a utopian world. How were we ever so free with hugging one another, laughing together, sharing food, and simply being in the same space? To think we were sharing cakes that we had blown on. We were once so trusting of one another to pass food trays around and grab refreshments for each other. Gone are the days we felt okay with people gathering to marvel at our babies. Being able to introduce the new addition to the family and watch your loved ones pass them around looks different now.
In retrospect, all I see is how much we have taken advantage of and how much we have lost.
A recent pregnancy scare turned into a lonely night in the hospital. Heavy bleeding while eight months along is the last thing any expecting couple wants to happen. We gathered our belongings and our toddler and headed to Labor and Delivery only to be met at the door with instructions that we could not bring our toddler inside. Of course, not bringing a toddler into Labor and Delivery made sense to me. However, the fact that he and my husband weren’t even allowed to wait in the waiting room was unexpected. There I was headed up alone while my worried husband waited for my updates via text. This event made me realize even more just how badly we had been robbed of community during the pandemic.
Year two of the pandemic has led to another year of canceled traditional family events. No reunions, no birthday gatherings, and no Christmas Eve dinners are just some of what we have lost. I’m aware that some families have chosen to do otherwise, but not us[?]. Although my husband and I are both vaccinated, we have chosen to consider those who are still the most vulnerable, including our son. Gatherings with small children and our elders are too risky and as a result, much has been canceled. With this understanding and acceptance, it saddens me that we cannot shower our son with the joy of the presence of family and friends. That night in the hospital made me wonder who I could call to keep my son if the scenario turned out differently.
Another unfortunate reality is the number of family members who have refused to get vaccinated. We assume that this far into the pandemic that everyone knows the benefits of getting the vaccine, including reducing the likelihood of contracting the virus. Unfortunately, not everyone wants the vaccine, and worst of all too many people have chosen to accept untruths about the vaccine over proven facts. This has caused quite the division in many families, including my own. It is one thing to find discomfort in the idea of having my toddler around large gatherings, but it is another form of discomfort to have him around anti-vaccinators. It is not an option for us. There is no compromise in debating a very real virus with those who choose to believe otherwise. This has also led us to reconsider having a traditional baby shower.
Houston had its first pediatric COVID-19 death in August. Louisiana reported its first child under 12 months passing in August as well. Regardless of if these outcomes are few, they are still very real. Recent reports have shown that more than 320,000 children have been diagnosed with COVID-19 in the United States. That was just in two weeks’ time. Although many have survived, the idea of our child being on a ventilator and fighting to breathe is heart-wrenching. The concern has been unshakable especially reading and seeing the horrors many parents have faced. Being around family and friends should not be a huge game of caution or life and death for anyone. No parent should have to wonder if their child is in contact with anyone who might have been exposed to the virus.
The rise in child cases has increased by a large number compared to last year and the United States has unfortunately reached over 700,000 plus deaths so far. That is beyond tragic. What is more tragic is no matter the statistics, too many still refuse to take the virus seriously. There have been lists with actions to consider for those who choose to gather. For us, we are content with choosing to be extra cautious. Even with debating the idea of having a trusted family member or friend around with rules in place, the thought is still uneasy.
Thinking about the times we attended crowded events without masks and social distancing seems saddening now but not worth the gamble. The number of ideas and plans that we had in mind for our children’s first months and years in the world has all been altered or simply taken away. Our son is looking at his second birthday indoors with his parents versus being surrounded by his cousins. How can we allow him to share a bounce house with loved ones without considering the possible dangers of it? He is running, talking, and missing out on the company of other children his age, being in public spaces, and being spoiled by family and friends. It is even more daunting dealing with those who just simply do not understand the need for the distance and worse, the necessity of the vaccine. Community and support look very different this time around, but putting the safety of our loved ones first is non-negotiable.
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Melissa Menny is an author with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism. She is a poet and a writer in all aspects. When she is not working, she enjoys painting, music, and spending time with her husband and son.