Vaccination Nation and the Big Pencil Period

Ruth started including masks in her pictures—see her green mask on bottom with white straps. Many kids I've talked to tell me they now dream in masks.
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Almost half of Americans are fully vaccinated at this point. These are exciting times, for sure. These are also strange and awkward times.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued its new mask guidance last week, saying people who are fully vaccinated against Covid-19 may go without masks in most circumstances and don't have to keep their distance from others. But everyone who is not vaccinated should continue wearing a mask as usual —and that means everyone under the age of 12, the only group not eligible now for any of the vaccines in use in the United States.

This is the moment we've been waiting for, right? (How far we've come since this piece I wrote from just over a year ago!— MASKED.) So why does it feel so rife with questions and uncertainty? 

In an alternate land where we don't have two children under the age of 12, I can envision something different. Perhaps there would be more in the way of celebratory outings to the tune of dance-clubs (who are we kidding, I haven't been to a dance club in 20 years!) and concerts in summer dresses and blue eye-shadow. I'm in no hurry to go out to dinner, but I do crave a quiet, unmasked afternoon at the Tattered Cover, or a cold movie theater, or a dark beer from the tap and a game of ping-pong at Gravity. I'm dying for a happy-hour with my favorite ladies the way a college kid misses her mama's home-cooking. I bought a ticket to fly back to Ohio in August by myself, fully masked, but I don't yet feel comfortable dragging my adorable yet un-vaxxed children along for the ride. But still, being able to step foot on the midwestern soil where I grew up feels monumental. 

The vantage point now, as compared to the start of last summer, has a much friendlier view. We are allowed to do so many more things, and do them safely. But that doesn't mean it all makes sense quite yet.

Five-year-old Ruth conformed slowly but steadily—and with much repetition—to the cultural norms. She started wearing masks without a hassle about six months ago and has evolved to embracing the fashion potential of masks that make her look like a whiskered animal. Eleven-year-old Opal has no trouble with a mask, whatsoever. Having to wear one all day at school this year forced her to get used to things real quick. The collective mind is a powerful thing. I'm sure it would have been more challenging if, as in much of the adult world, some wore masks and some did not.

We are at a point where parents just have to choose what they feel ok with, and it's so personal and often it's more emotional than logical. We've been asked to think a certain way for over a year—protect yourself, protect others. Stay distant, wear masks. That felt so strange at first, until the groove became well-warn and masks started to feel as natural as the sleeve of a jacket, just another step to exit. Grab the keys, got your mask? The visual of a stranger's naked face became synonymous with danger. Follow the protocol: be safe. 

Over the last week, I've started to see people indoors without a mask on. It definitely gives me an uneasy, unsafe feeling in my bones. I find myself holding my breath behind my own mask, or turning down a different isle, attempting to stifle my judgment.

There is an internal wiring that will simply take time to adjust, unlearn. Naked faces don't equal danger anymore. 

My reaction to people without masks outside is utterly different—celebratory. I may have even hollered across the trail to a stranger, (shrieked, ok it was a shriek): "I love to see your face!" 

On that note, I can see that social situations may take some acclimating, much like adjusting to a new altitude. There's gonna be a "big pencil" period, as our couples therapist used to refer to doing anything new—it's clunky and awkward like a kid learning to write with a big pencil. Opal said she was worried she wouldn't know what to say in a social situation. Jesse, same. My reaction to social groups is totally different—I am nervous I will come on too headstrong, over-eager. Even as I'm talking to someone, I'm thinking to myself, is this how much I used to talk? Is it too much? Being with friends again fills me with an infusion of glee. But, discomfort comes in the aftermath—a slight hangover of "did I get that right?" 

And that about sums it up for now. In the midst of all this new change and riding towards the neon sunset of "normal," I reckon most of us—especially those with kids—have at least one thing in common. We will be singing the same tune, with or without masks, for the foreseeable future: did I get that right? Are we getting this right?

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