What I learned from 2020

I’ve spent years working on not “waiting out” parts of my life. It’s how my brain works, but when I get sucked into it I miss so much. Kids certainly keep us in the moment, but a pandemic doesn’t.

In March, we were functioning in total overwhelm. It was a madhouse, a mad world. Trying to stay functional was enough of a goal. Summer made life easier, and eventually even became fun. Fall brought some panic, as we all realized what we’d lose as the weather turned. And yet, as we move into a (thankfully) mild winter, I found myself more resigned and ready to recognize the weird pandemic upsides.

So I’ve been reflecting on what we’ve learned this year, and the now ever present question of what we want to keep. I’d already learned that I individually can slog through almost anything, and that Dave and I can survive it all. But what surprised me was how astute and sensitive our kids could be. They understand the concept of the virus, how to stay distant from others (with my constant badgering), share their loneliness and lean on each other when it’s a hard day. They miss their friends the same way we do, and want to be anywhere but home. The magic of our backyard hasn’t dwindled though, and they continue to find imaginative ways of playing together. I’m in awe of their resilience.

I’ve learned that the Au pair program continues to be an incredible opportunity to meet wonderful people and create relationships that will last forever. We hosted 4 Au pairs last year, staggered pairs. These women have handled screaming, spills, potty training, jumping Leroy, virtual school and piano lessons, unbelievable headaches. And they’ve done it with love and a smile. We all acknowledge an awful day/week, but I don’t know if I’ve ever had their level of grace. And they and the kids adore each other.

Can you imagine preparing for the adventure of your life, looking forward to meeting tons of people and roaming a country you’ve only dreamt about, only to end up in lockdown with five small kids for months? Flora and Aïssata, our current team, have embraced all our family activities and take our breath away with their kindness. Something as simple as coming downstairs after bedtime and before a work marathon into the wee hours to see an already cleaned kitchen sometimes makes me want to weep. They don’t have to do it; but they can tell when we’re about to crack. So we are so excited when we can do anything fun and show them how thrilled we are to have them here. And they’re both extending! So we have some adventures planned.

Finally, the people and rhythms that make life more beautiful still making life more beautiful under these changed circumstances. I would rather gather with my family around my mom‘s dining room table then sit on the patio in winter snow, but it doesn’t change how much I love all of the people I do that with. I have become closer with some friends despite the ridiculousness of garage cocktails, I have even forged great connections with new colleagues who I’ve rarely seen in person. Snuggling up to watch a movie with my kids in front of a fire, reading a story before bed, quietly taking in a slightly tilted and overly large Christmas tree with a glass of eggnog and the adults in my home? They haven’t lost their magic.

This reflection isn’t about cheesy preaching, or the upsides of a pandemic. It’s more about recognizing that everyone on the planet has experienced a traumatic upheaval, and that we’re not out of it yet. I’m not a big New Year’s Eve fan, but my heart ached to celebrate without our usual crew. Still, the glow stick dance party wasn’t a hardship. Let’s optimistically say that we are past the halfway point, and start thinking about the highlights of this bizarre frame of time: the dramatically increased outdoor family time, the focus on the people who mean the most, the engagement with our kids’ learning, and the gratitude for hard-won travel or experiences. I underestimated how impactful an outdoor garden performance could be for an arts junkie like myself. My hope for 2021 is to hang onto that gratitude, as we hopefully slide back into our new normal. I hope 2021 surpasses all of our wildest expectations – so far, so good.


Finding gratitude in a pandemic

Dave and I were both commenting yesterday on how we are finding ourselves making frivolous purchases, normally something we avoid as a house lived in with nine people is already a very full house! During these trying times, we are all finding comfort where we can. I have gravitated towards supporting artists whose work I have loved for a long time from afar. Seeing beautiful pieces up close gives me a moment of awe and appreciation during my somewhat tumultuous days.

During a giant clean out and purge in May, we pulled out a lot of family photos that have been gathering dust in the basement. I’ve always hesitated to hang things, as I worry about leaving permanent holes in the walls. I’m not a visual person in that regard, and struggle to figure out where things should go. But for Mother’s Day, Dave and I worked on a photo wall all day long – in the stairwell that runs from the front hall to the basement. Completing a project like that, one we’ve been contemplating for years, felt so good!

In the months since, my gratitude for that epic gift has grown. Our sense of routine and time is under constant attack, as minutes become hours very quickly or days drag on for longer than I could ever imagine. When I find myself in the staircase, I’ve made a commitment to slowing down intentionally, emptying my mind of worry, and really looking at each of those pictures. They may not be artwork per se, but they bring me so much peace and joy. Thanks to my mom’s commitment to Photos (photos which I fought tooth and nail my entire life!), This wall includes grandparents and kids, baby photos and outtakes. Our goal wasn’t a picture perfect family, but perfect pictures that encapsulate different ages and the exuberant personalities of the people in our lives. Our Au pairs are up there, as are friends so close they become sisters. Nieces, nephews, birthday parties, weddings – the moments that make up a life, or many lives. It frankly doesn’t matter that they are perfectly hung, although they are. 🙂 For me in this moment, they are a reminder that life is bigger than this current year, that our memories will go on so far beyond this that 2020 will become a bizarre story in the future, that the joy and experiences of our large family stretch so far back and so far forward. In that one elongated minute I give myself in the stairway, I am reminded of how short this unpleasantness really is.

For many people, 2020 will be remembered as a year of loss, a year of struggle and insecurity. For some, even a year of homelessness and unemployment, where feeding your family was a challenge beyond measure. for some of us, it’s a year where we mourn the loss of time with our extended families, adventures planned, life milestones reached and not celebrated in the way we have always envisioned. No one is untouched by 2020, and as we enter the last month of the year we can either be angry about it or celebrate what’s left.

A friend asked me this week what I plan to keep from this year. I was dumbfounded, not because I couldn’t come up with an answer but because I had so many answers. It’s a complicated question. But one of my takeaways will be this decisive and intentional focus on what is at the core of my life – all of these incredible people that I miss but celebrate missing. No one can stay that centered all of the time, certainly not me! But finding that minute every day, as I head down to the basement for my work out, is a great way to build it in at least for a moment.