171. That’s how many days David and I have been home together since Massachusetts schools closed on March 13 in response to COVID-19. That’s how many days “David and Mommy’s Awesome Adventure” lasted.

I went back today and read my first column, published Monday, March 16. I wrote: “When I picked up my 4-year-old son from preschool Friday afternoon, hours after Pittsfield schools had announced a two-week closure (now three weeks), I didn’t know what to say to him. The parents put on their bravest faces, shuffled their little learners into cars and waved goodbye. When we got home, I tried my best to explain that he wouldn’t see his friends, or beloved teacher, for a few weeks.”

A lot has happened in those 171 days: We quickly learned that a “few weeks” would turn into months, possibly a year or more. David turned 5, learned how to wear a mask and we stopped being so fearful about getting to the grocery store. Grandma and Grandpa came home from their trip to Arizona that never seemed to end, and we all joyfully got a short break. Daddy was tested for COVID-19, David was tested for COVID-19, and our family joined the lucky cases of “negative” results. 

In 171 days, this mommy cried more times than she’d like to admit in the shower, or just sitting in her parked car in the driveway. I’ve lost my temper, drank a bit too much wine, grown a swatch of unruly grey hair and somehow lost my once never-empty well of patience. I’m a few pounds heavier, but lighter in spirit when it comes to sweating the small stuff.

In the 171 days, I joined a group of theater lovers, with tears streaming down our faces, as we experienced live theater again, the first in the country since the pandemic hit. I spent two uninterrupted months with my sister, who quarantined with us to avoid the Arizona heat and spread of the virus, and instead gained a new understanding and appreciation of me as a wife, mother, sister and friend. I drove over two hours just to sit in my best friend’s driveway for a few hours and deliver her a box of diapers just so I could see her one last time before she became a mother of two. 

In 171 days, I saw David change, day to day; watched him learn about pirates, sharks and the solar system. I watched him mourn and try to process missing his friends, and rejoice when he was given 60 glorious minutes to simply play on a playground again. 

For 171 days, we prayed every night that the “sickies” would go away and for God to keep us all safe. And for 171 days, every morning, David would ask “Are we going to Miss Kim’s today, mommy?”

And every morning, for 170 days, I replied “No, sweet boy, I’m sorry. We can’t.”

But today, this morning, when he asked, I said, “Yes, David. TODAY, we go to Miss Kim’s.”

This morning I dropped David off, with extra masks and school supplies not to be shared, for his third first day of preschool. This isn’t the first day we had expected: David was supposed to be going to Kindergarten, starting the next chapter of his early education. But, it’s the best first day I could have ever hoped for. He bravely stood for his temperature check and with little more than a glance back at me, his partner-in-crime for 171 days, set off down the stairs to join his friends, who like him, were all wearing their masks and eager just to play with one another. 

And for the first time in 171 days, I took a walk this morning without the guilt that’s been weighing me down, always making me reconsider any moments of peace I tried to give myself during all of this. Because for the first time in 171 days, to be exact, I was where I needed to be and David was where he was supposed to be. 

Parents, how do you feel about the flu vaccine mandate?

Aug. 24, 2020

In the latest news regarding parents being told what to do with little help, guidance or resources, Massachusetts now mandates that all students enrolled in child care, Pre-School, K-12, and Post-Secondary Institutions are required to have a flu shot by Dec. 31. 

“Students will be expected to have received a flu vaccine by December 31, 2020, for the 2020-2021 influenza season, unless either a medical or religious exemption is provided. Also exempted are K-12 students who are homeschooled and higher education students who are completely off-campus and engaged in remote learning only.”

Let me be upfront: I’m pro flu shot. I’ve had a flu shot every year of my life, except the first year David was born because I was constantly sick and couldn’t get healthy enough that winter to get the vaccine. David has always had a flu shot. And my husband, since he met me, has been harangued into getting the shot every winter by his loving, yet persistent, wife. With or without this latest state declaration, we’re getting jabbed this fall.

But when I heard about this, I thought about all the parents I know who don’t choose to give their kids flu shots. Again, not that I always agree with you folks, but I see you, I hear you and I respect you as a parent making your own decision for your family. 

I’m also already worrying about how I’m going to get David in for a flu shot in what I had already imagined to be a busy flu clinic season for our pediatrician's office. 

For those of you who don’t know  — I didn’t until I had a child — children can’t just go to their friendly neighborhood pharmacist and get their flu shot behind that little partition they throw up in waiting areas like we busy adults do. Due to state law, most pharmacies can’t carry the correct doses of the vaccine for children under the age of 7, or even 9, and some children need boosters, or more than one shot per flu season. Also, pediatricians are more apt to know what strain of the vaccine children should receive year to year. 

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has issued a declaration that authorizes state-licensed pharmacists to order and administer vaccines to individuals ages 3 through 18, including flu shots, but it is unclear yet how that will play out state by state.

Have you ever had to make an appointment to get your kid into see the pediatrician just for a regular visit, or to get a spot in the flu clinic that usually only runs for two to three weeks at an undisclosed time that requires you have magical, mystical powers of ESP to figure out when it’s actually being held? Right. Now, let’s do all of that during a pandemic, when doctor’s offices have fewer slots open to keep office traffic down and while parents are working from home, oh and throw in remote learning. 

Sounds. Great.

Before all of this, back when David was diagnosed with asthma in July, I actually asked if I could get us on the list for the flu clinic and I was told in hushed tones over the phone to call back early September. I waited for a secret password or signal or something, but none came. I guess I’ll start calling every Monday until I hit the vaccine lottery.

What I’d like to know is, is the state going to do anything to provide more opportunities for families to get their children vaccinated before the deadline? Will there be mobile clinics for communities with transportation issues, or for those who live long distances from pediatricians' offices?

Or, is this going to be one more thing our state and federal government let’s us figure out on our own? 

(What are your thoughts on the flu vaccine mandate? We’d love to hear your thoughts, parents! Please email me at lhollenbaugh@berkshireeagle.com)

Wondering what happened in August? Find out in Lindsey Hollenbaugh | Quarantined with Kids: Part VI.

Managing Editor of Content Engagement

Lindsey Hollenbaugh is the managing editor of content engagement for The Berkshire Eagle. A native of upstate New York, she has a journalism degree from Ithaca College. She lives in Pittsfield with her husband and son.