2020 was a tough year, to say the very least. Unprecedented. Uncertain. Unrelenting. We lived through a global pandemic for much of the year while a second pandemic of racial inequity came to an ugly head. 2020 delivered fires, murder hornets, toilet paper shortages, an abundance of Zoom meetings, remote learning, curbside pickup, mandatory quarantining, a most bizarre presidential election and more death and crises than one nation (speaking solely of America here, of course) should ever have to deal with all at once. I fully expect to be interviewed by my future grandkids some day about living through the mess of a year that was 2020.
For now, I want to preserve some of my memories from this year, which, for me, was not actually that bad in retrospect. And I do recognize the privilege that has allowed me to experience this year as I did. If you like alliteration, I’ve broken my year down to the Ps that defined my 2020 – Patience, Perseverance, Pain, Perspective, Purging and Peace.
The last time my kids attended what we used to consider “normal” school – all day, in class surrounded by peers, teachers and other school-related staff and volunteers – was Thursday, March 12, 2020. They had Friday the 13th off to allow for parent teacher conferences and never went back to their 5th grade and 9th grade classrooms. I started working more from home, but I still went to an office once a week and adjusted to new protocols for a shelter that was suddenly forced to be open 24 hours instead of closing during the day when other basic needs services were once available, but now closed.
Stay at Home orders from Maine’s governor meant that we – like much of the country and world – were told to only leave our homes if our travel was deemed essential. With my work being essential, I was given a letter as such and some homemade masks that local supporters donated to my nonprofit employer. COVID-19 had officially arrived, and we braced for impact.
Things slowed down from there. I think it’s safe to say no one really knew what to do. It’s easy enough to tell people to stay home, but will they listen? What if they don’t have a home or a safe space to shelter in place? How will businesses survive if they are not deemed essential? My work accelerated as many saw theirs dwindle and, in some cases, disappear overnight.
Patience was essential in 2020 to survive because nothing was guaranteed as it was in our past. Things like basic food staples and toilet paper and cleaning supplies were scarce, so much so that we still have limitations on quantities to purchase. Looking back, I feel like much of my time in 2020 was spent strategizing how to adequately stock my kitchen to feed two growing boys during a global pandemic while not walking into an actual grocery store for a full 9 months. Then there was the thrust into remote learning with not one bit of planning. Sports, human contact and social interaction cancelled.
As I write this, I’ve been waiting for months to get a new shed delivered so I can have a renovation done on my garage (having taken advantage of the low interest rates the pandemic delivered). Everyone else has the same idea, of course. Making their homes more “livable” while doing things like making bread from scratch to pass the time and trying not to think about what’s going on around us.
With everything stopping around you and changing overnight, you had to find ways to persevere in 2020. As we found out very quickly, some Americans are better at this than others. Patience isn’t my strong suit, but it was essential in order to actually persevere throughout the year.
My two boys and I spent A LOT of time together in 2020. In fact, I’ve joked my house sometimes feels like a frat house with all the empty (Bubly) cans, food wrappers and random socks strewn around the house. At least one of us always seems to be in pajamas and our dogs – of course we ended up getting a puppy in the middle of the pandemic, as one does – are quite used to having humans with them at all times.
I transitioned to a new job that I love, but brought some very challenging demands as I had to orient myself in a fully remote manner while maintaining a seemingly nonstop amount of grant opportunities and deadlines for an organization that continues to expand and respond in an amazing way for our neighbors in need. It’s a lot, and I am so very proud to be part of it.
The boys and I have figured out, for the most part, how to each maintain our own online meetings for school and work. Now in 6th and 10th grade, they have both embraced their “hybrid” models of learning, even if it is less than ideal. There’s the inevitable “I’m about to get on a meeting” yell before I hop on to Teams for work, but at this point, we’re all used to a random pet or child interrupting a meeting here and there. It allows us to see each other in our own environments and just be human for once.
We’ve kept ourselves going with Bob Marley “Crona Watch” videos, Dr. Shah briefings, walks around our neighborhood (which is thankfully very covid-friendly), over the fence talks with my neighbor, playing with the puppy, baking, indulging in Five Guys curbside pickup, working out in our home gym, playing rambunctious games of Among Us and video chatting with friends and family. It is not unusual for me to walk into the kitchen on a Wednesday in the early afternoon to find my older son cooking while talking to his friends over Zoom in between classes.
I honestly don’t know what normal is anymore, and I’m not sure I want to go back.
While I will write about discomfort below, I want to first acknowledge the pure pain I felt in 2020 when my son’s friend, Spencer Smith, took his own life. I will never forget seeing his name in an email from the school announcing his death. It was on December 4th around 5pm. I froze when I saw his name. I couldn’t tell you what the rest of the email said. I know that I have never hugged my son so tight in that moment. I have never felt pain like that before, and I hope I will never feel it again.
My heart hurt for a solid week. It HURT. Seeing my son and his friends process that loss has been one of the toughest, while also one of the most beautiful, things I’ve ever experienced as a parent.
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Perspective, Purging and Peace
Along with the upheaval that COVID-19 brought to us, I also experienced a difficult, but necessary break up from a nearly 4-year relationship. I also can’t write an entire post about 2020 and ignore the unrest in our country around race, though as an educated white woman with privilege, I certainly could. These three things gave me quite a bit of discomfort in 2020. I’ve learned over the years that with discomfort, particularly extreme discomfort, also comes perspective.
I started the year feeling off mentally and physically. I wasn’t me. It took some time, but the slowing down and taking a good look at who was around me and how they reacted to me when I was struggling was incredibly eye-opening. So was seeing how “friends” on social media reacted in alarming ways to a very clearly racist president who created an environment where racism seemed to be the acceptible norm.
My work has always given me good perspective, but this year was different. This perspective led me to do a purging of “friends” and unhealthy relationships. I can’t tell you the peace that this has brought to me and how light and happy I feel as I start 2021. I can actually sleep at night now. I am stronger than ever, happy and healthy again. I have connected/re-connected with friends and loved ones far more deeply than ever before. I have opened myself up to nothing but true love in this new year as a mother, nonprofit professional, writer, advocate, friend, woman, human being.
The end of the year 2020 seems like something to celebrate, though we’d be naïve to think that the pain and suffering we just collectively experienced will disappear with the flip of a calendar.
My hope is that we will rise like a phoenix from the ashes in 2021.
p.s. I am extremely thankful that the friends and loved ones who tested positive for COVID-19 have all recovered.