My young son can’t attend my wedding under Philly’s new COVID restrictions

In these horrible and uncertain last 18 months, a true moment of joy stands out to me: watching my 9-year-old son and my fiancé pick out matching suits for our wedding. My son was so proud to match his stepfather, and really excited to wear his suit. They have a beautiful relationship. My fiancé even taught my son how to ride a bike during virtual school “recess.”

I couldn’t wait to have our small restaurant wedding this fall with just our closest friends and family. I couldn’t wait for my son to walk me down the aisle, as our family “makes it official.”

So, I was shocked, hurt, and thrown for a loop when on Wednesday the city announced new restrictions on businesses and restaurants that could very easily restrict my own child from coming to my wedding as it’s currently planned.

» READ MORE: Confused by the city’s new COVID-19 restrictions? You’re not alone. | Editorial

As it stands, restaurants, including the one I am set to get married at, must choose to decide if they are requiring masks for everyone or requiring everyone who enters to be fully vaccinated. If they choose the latter, kids under 12 who are not yet vaccinated cannot enter the building. There has been very little communication from the city on this, but buried in the replies on Twitter, the Public Health Department makes clear that children can and will be excluded from businesses across the city.

I fully support having adults be vaccinated or mask up to enter a business — we are even requiring that all of our wedding guests over the age of 12 be vaccinated and have confirmed that all restaurant employees are vaccinated. My family has done everything we can to “flatten the curve.” I have worked from home since March 2020, while my son did virtual schooling until he qualified for the hybrid model. I presented at conferences with him dancing in the background or stopping my presentation to talk to me about Minecraft. We learned how to have virtual play dates, letting the kids Zoom on one device while playing Among Us on another. We bought the warmest coats we could and did playground meet-ups in the cold, rather than breaking our “bubble.” My fiancé and I have continued to wear masks indoors, despite being fully vaccinated.

» READ MORE: New Philadelphia COVID-19 restrictions require indoor businesses to require masks or verify vaccination

In short, we are desperately trying our best, as are so many parents in our city, and it feels like a slap in the face that our children are an afterthought in these new policies.

Right now, I am scrambling to figure out what our venue will decide to do, and if we need to move our wedding outdoors. But even if we do, it is truly unclear if my son would even be allowed inside to use the bathroom.

I’d love to see my fiancé unmasked at the altar as we smile at each other and express our love. It won’t be the same with masks, but I can live with that disappointment. What I can’t live with is doing this without my son if the venue decides everyone must be vaccinated and the city doesn’t make an exception for kids.

A wedding during a pandemic, even a small one, might seem frivolous, though I am very much on record as being pro-joy. But what about parents running errands?

Any parent knows the hassle of getting your child ready to go somewhere, packing a million snacks and supplies in a bag, navigating debates over wearing a coat, strapping a child into a stroller. Now imagine doing all that and heading out to run errands, only to be turned away because your child is not allowed inside.

Not all parents have someone they can leave their child with while they do essential errands. And parents of babies and young toddlers can’t put their children in masks, so they are essentially barred from all businesses, whether the business requires vaccines or masks, making this yet another impossible situation for parents.

New York City has found a way to navigate this, by allowing young children to enter a business or restaurant if they are accompanied by a vaccinated caretaker. If Philadelphia adopted this policy, it would be a huge help to parents, while also incentivizing people to get vaccinated so we could finally end this pandemic.

This fall, my son and his stepdad will wear matching suits as our family unites. My son will walk me down the aisle one way or another, whether it will be where we planned and dreamed of getting married, or during a backyard elopement. I will try not to let my mascara run as I celebrate the love I have for my family and the joy that we have brought to each other through the last 18 months.

No matter what happens, I am desperately hoping for more communication from the city on how parents can navigate this situation, rather than snarky Twitter replies that diminish the pain that parents are going through, as we wait to find out when our kids can be vaccinated.

Caitlin Brown is the mother of a 9-year-old boy. She can be reached at [email protected]. @Caitlin_C_Brown

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