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Tired. Exhausted. Frustrated. With kids under 12 unable to get a COVID shot, parents feel the strain

A graphic of a woman in an orange tunic or dress with long flowing black hair and red circles on her cheeks, possibly a mother, comforts a shorter woman in a blue top, also with flowing black hair who has her hands over her eyes, expressing sadness.
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Vermont parents say they are "exhausted" at this point in the pandemic.

Kids under 12 can't yet get vaccinated, but they're back in classrooms and COVID case counts have been high for weeks. And for their parents, that means lots of tricky situations to navigate.

So a few weeks ago, VPR put a call out and asked how parents and teachers were doing. The answer: They're struggling.

“Everyone's just so tired,” says Allison Gardner, who lives in Colchester with two boys. One is almost 3, and the other is 6. “I mean, I personally am tired of all of it. And I think in Vermont, we're very fortunate that for the most part, people seem to be taking this seriously. But at the same time, I just think it's impacted everybody in different ways.”

“Everyone's just so tired.”
Allison Gardner, who lives in Colchester with two young kids

Meanwhile, Mark Raishart, a father of three yet-to-be-vaccinated kids in Leicester, told us the whiplash of the delta variant has made the last few months especially hard.

“We all kind of let our guard down,” Mark said. “And we're hoping for more of a normal year and things kind of to be back a little bit. And then to get kind of dragged back into it pretty quickly and fiercely in a way that we didn't expect, it just feels really exhausting, I think, for a lot of people.”

Emma Frappier is a mother of two from Huntington. She says she had a false sense of hope at the beginning of the summer, when Vermont hit its vaccine quota.

“And the case numbers were down, and things seemed to be going back to normal,” she said. “And then things kind of took a turn for the worse mid-summer, and we started seeing what it meant to not have everybody vaccinated.”

More from VPR: She's a single mother of twins, and she works in mental health. Her pandemic workload has not been "balanced, workable or healthy."

We reached Emma in late September as she was halfway through a 10-day quarantine. During our interview, she needed to pause for a moment to manage her kids as they looked for a shovel.

“Obviously, we've been stuck in quarantine for a few too many days,” she laughed.

Emma is vaccinated, but her kids, aged 8 and 3, aren't. They can't be, at least not yet. And both Emma and her kids caught COVID.

“We were so safe,” she said. “We didn't travel this summer. My kids did minimal camps. They don't really do playdates, we wear masks out in public. You know, we did everything we could to prevent this.”

When she reached out, Emma told us she was frustrated.

“You're putting yourself at risk, and you're putting your family at risk when you go out in public and go out in big social gatherings,” she said. “Because the delta variant is super contagious, and only 50% of your… family is vaccinated, and my kids were asymptomatic. I had no idea they had COVID, and they gave me COVID.”

“This is an ongoing trauma for all of us."
Mark Raishart, father of three and educator in Leicester

That frustration is something Mark Raishart knows well. He's a teacher in Rutland City Public Schools, and Stafford Technical Center. He’s been an educator for 17 years.

“Just about everybody at school is strapped,” he said. “So when there's a challenge or something that needs to be dealt with in the classroom, sometimes those resources aren't available. There's obviously the sort of ongoing stress about potential for exposure.”

Fear of exposing not just himself, he says, but his family.

“This is an ongoing trauma for all of us,” Mark said. “And it's hard to get over. I think the constant bombardment of information and anxiety is taking a lot of energy out of people.”

Allison Gardner sees the way the pandemic has affected her two young sons, like her almost-3-year-old:

“The few times that I have brought him places, like he has no social graces, like he doesn't know how to behave in the grocery store, because I don't bring him,” she said. “So I think in a lot of ways, this will become the new normal for him. I mean, eventually he will have to go out in public and stuff. And then, you know, my 6-year-old, you know, we used to, like, go to parties, for example, like a Halloween party or something. And that's all he wants to do, is go to a Halloween party. And last year, I honestly feel like that was what crushed him the most, during the pandemic so far, is when we found out we couldn't go to a Halloween party — like he was absolutely crushed over that. Those little things, I think that make me sad.”

More from VPR: How Women Are Bearing The Brunt Of The Economic Impact Of COVID-19 In Vermont

Ali Waltien is a psychotherapist who primarily works with parents and kids. She says the feelings that Emma, Mark and Allison all expressed, they're coming up in her practice a lot.

“Just when their kids need their energy and attention the most, parents and adults are feeling pretty emotionally depleted,” Waltien said. ”I’m hearing a lot about the choices that we have to make, and how hard it is to navigate those choices with kids. Especially because there's no clear right or wrong way of doing this.”

" ... just acknowledging what they're feeling can go a long way in helping somebody feel heard and feel like their story is important. And I think we ... all need that right now.”
Ali Waltien, psychotherapist primarily working with parents and kids

And that uncertainty… Well, humans hate it. And Waltien says parents really hate it, they want to have the answers for those they care for. Her advice? Go small, really small.

“The hard part about this is that we can't fix it,” Waltien said. “You know, we don't have a magic wand to make this situation better. And we don't know what is gonna happen next. So the best thing that we can do is just to validate what is — it's really hard to, you know, not be able to have a birthday party this year. It's really hard to have to wear your mask at school and not be able to have as many play dates with your friends. You know, just acknowledging what they're feeling can go a long way in helping somebody feel heard and feel like their story is important. And I think we all ... need that right now.”

And parents, that means you, too.

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message or get in touch with reporter Henry Epp @TheHenryEpp.

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