"Why am I crying?" The voice of my usually resilient 12-year-old son pulled me away from checking email on my phone. Sitting in a makeshift waiting area of a grocery store pharmacy, I glanced over to see tears welling up in his dark eyes, minutes after he had received his first dose of COVID-19 vaccine.
A few weeks earlier, I had asked him what he wanted for his birthday. He replied simply: "My vaccination." So there we sat, my arm around his shoulders exactly a dozen years after the first time I held him, having a conversation about gratitude.
I'm just so happy that I know I am going to live. — Matthew, 12
"I'm just so happy that I know I am going to live," he said. His words caught me by surprise, taking me back to before the lockdown. Waking me on a cold February morning, he complained that his room was too hot, when in fact it was his body that was burning up. His temperature rose to 104.5 degrees Fahrenheit, which led to a roller-coaster of fevers, unrelenting fatigue and multiple diagnostic tests.
Months later, we would learn that he had an early, unconfirmed case of COVID-19. Not once in that time or afterwards did he ever express a fear of dying. But it hung there, inside, as I guess it does in all of us, until that moment of relief when the first shot is administered.
Our story of relief is common in the United States, where COVID-19 vaccines are easily available. The relief floods in from the moment the appointment for the two-shot path to a safer future is scheduled, followed by the photo of your child's brave, masked smile as they show off the Band-Aid, proof that they made it.
However, as we all know, the relief will be short-lived if we do not ensure the protection of all children everywhere. The virus will continue to mutate and threaten us unless we can vaccinate enough people worldwide.
The relief [of being vaccinated] will be short-lived if we do not ensure the protection of all children everywhere.
We know the future of our children depends on the health and well-being of every child. For very similar reasons, under different circumstances, the world came together 75 years ago to create an organization dedicated to the care and protection of the world's children — UNICEF. A year later, a mother became the founding director of the U.S. Fund for UNICEF, bringing with her a love for all children and the commitment to help them reach their full potential.
There is no doubt that the last few years have challenged our roles as mothers, but what remains is the strength of that love and hope, the cornerstones that inspire us to keep going, to keep fighting for a world where every child is healthy and happy.
As we approach World Children's Day this Saturday, it is time for mothers to recommit ourselves to a brand new future for the world's children. UNICEF's work to distribute 1.4 million COVID-19 vaccine doses globally by year's end is a daunting task, but it can be accomplished with the collective power of mothers uniting. Now is the time for mothers in developed countries to stand up and support these amazing efforts. Here is where we begin to get to the place where everyone is safe, smiles are unmasked and our hearts and humanity begin to heal. A better world for every child.
Top photo: On June 14, 2020, a mother puts a mask on her 3-year-old daughter, Fatima, before leaving their home in Bekasi, West Java province, Indonesia. © UNICEF/UNI342540/Wilander