As a man named Mike confirms my name and age and pokes a needle in my arm he asks, “…So how do you feel becoming an adult in the middle of a pandemic?” As I feel the sharp object poke my skin, I am distracted, but also confused by the question, “I haven’t really thought about it I guess” I said. Now I am currently sitting in a hardback chair in the first of seven rows with a little whiteboard telling me I can leave the arena in 15 minutes and now I am definitely thinking about it, gee thanks, Mike.
If you haven’t guessed already, I have just received my second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine and I am beyond grateful, but Mike’s question confused me because, honestly, as someone growing up through this time, I’ve just learned to roll with the punches. I get it, this isn’t what being 17 is supposed to look like. Your senior year is supposed to be filled with prom, parties and friends. Instead, I’ve dedicated this year to working really hard at school and work. Many other kids, like me, have put their social lives on the back burner to keep their families and those they work with safe. I was able to get my second dose early because I work at a pharmacy. In a time where it feels like everything took a pause, some jobs, like mine and my colleagues, weren’t able to skip a beat. Though my job as a cashier isn’t exactly glamorous, I’ve never felt more appreciated than during these trying times of the pandemic. I’m part of a generation that is stereotyped as lazy or unreliable, but I have experienced nothing but the opposite – most of our valued frontline workers at grocery stores, restaurants, delivery services, and more are around my age. Our work may not be coveted or considered honourable, but what the youth have done to keep our towns and communities safe has truly made the world of difference. As I sit here watching others come and go, I see kids just like me who have risked their safety to attend work and keep others safe. It is tear-jerking to think of all these young adults who have worked so hard by helping customers and answering health and safety-related questions, wiping down every touchable surface with alcohol or running around with prescriptions, vaccines, or curbside pickup orders, finally getting the appreciation and safety they have deserved for months upon months. I hope as we move forward and the world eventually returns to the somewhat new and somewhat old normal that we don’t forget to give an extra smile or say thank you to our frontline workers (young or old) that are doing the jobs many people would never be willing to do, pandemic or not. I hope we continue to have signs on our front lawns that share gratitude for those who work these somewhat thankless jobs.
Lastly, I really, really hope you will think twice before you make a snide remark about how teenagers have no work ethic or are lazy and conceited but rather you remember the face behind the counter, behind the plexiglass screen, and behind the mask. I hope you remember the scared or tired eyes that did everything they could to make you feel safe. Maybe, just maybe when the masks come off and the barriers come down, we will give a round of applause to those young, part time workers who had to grow up really quick in order to take on this kind of responsibility and heaviness.
So, I guess the answer to Mike’s question is, maybe I turn 18 this summer, but I had to grow up a long time ago.