Pre-Vaccine Parental Appreciation

I hope my mom and dad will get the shot soon. But I don’t want to lose this feeling.

My parents, who are in their 70s, are each on about four different waiting lists for the Covid vaccine. Despite their best efforts, they don’t have appointments yet. When they finally get them, I’ll be so relieved. But I hope I’m not TOO relieved. I hope I don’t lose the overwhelming sense of pandemic-inspired gratitude that they’re alive and okay.

Like all parents — really, all people — they each have their quirks. And like all people who have parents, I sometimes get annoyed.

My dad could fill in for an MSNBC pundit any night, and offers several segments worth of commentary each time we talk. But with no commercials, no breaks, no questions, and sometimes, it seems, no pauses to breathe. Last week I edited an entire piece while he recapped all of Donald Trump’s bad acts, from five years ago through the day he was kicked off of Twitter.

My mom’s big thing is that she finds a way to be anxious about my well-being no matter what is going on in my life, in a way that borders on ridiculous. (“Oh my God, did you just yawn? Are you driving? I’m worried you’re going to have an accident.” “Oh no, you did yoga. I’m worried you’re going to overstretch.”) Recently she got so stressed about the crimes reported on the local news that she urged me to call my local police department for protection … or something? I’m still not sure.

In regular times, the qualities that make them who they are could be mildly annoying. In a pandemic, they’re signs of life and reminders to be grateful for every conversation that’s over a phone, and not over an iPad with a loved one who is hospitalized. I’m acutely aware — and reminded every day on social media — of how many people have lost parents over the past year, much sooner than they thought they would. Of course I’ve always loved and appreciated my mom and dad, but it’s different now — the quirks that used to inspire eye-rolls and sighs are now reminders of how extremely lucky I am that they’re alive and well.

Years ago I read a piece of Cheryl Strayed’s advice in “Dear Sugar” to a 20-something who wanted to know how to make the most of her life. It included this:

One Christmas at the very beginning of your twenties when your mother gives you a warm coat that she saved for months to buy, don’t look at her skeptically after she tells you she thought the coat was perfect for you. Don’t hold it up and say it’s longer than you like your coats to be and too puffy and possibly even too warm. Your mother will be dead by spring. That coat will be the last gift she gave you. You will regret the small thing you didn’t say for the rest of your life.

I’ve revisited it from time to time over the years because I find the perspective so heartbreaking, but in a good way. In the age of covid, with so many people around the world having lost their lives, the feeling that message gives me has come naturally almost every day — no advice column needed.

So of course, I can’t wait until my parents are vaccinated. I won’t miss the worry about every grocery store trip they make and every doctor’s appointment they attend. But I hope that once I know they’re safe from this awful virus, I don’t forget how lucky I am that they’re here.

Writer & editor currently at @nytopinion. Before this: @jskstanford @voxdotcom, @theroot, @harvard_law, @howardu

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