Yes, I’m being sarcastic.
We all know the reasons this year has stink, stank, stunk. No one would ever choose this year as an option. Add all the COVID stuff on top of personal trauma, grief, loss and hardships, and you’ve got a really bleak-looking year that no one is envious of. So, thanks a lot for that, 2020. Like the sign in my kitchen says, “sarcasm is how I hug,” consider this a hug, from me to you.
But I also say this seriously.
Thanks a lot, 2020.
And I really mean it.
Maybe it’s because this year was so weird/hard/miserable that I was able to learn a few things along the way. And learn them in a way that only a tough year can teach.
Thanks, 2020, for reminding me about a simpler life focused on what really matters. The noise of life came to a screeching halt when the lockdown happened and it
allowed forced me to show my kids what that simpler life was all about. Because, honestly, they have no idea what it’s like not having the option to go somewhere or do something at every second of the day. There’s nothing really wrong with this busy way of life that we’ve all grown accustomed to, it’s just a different time and place than when we grew up. Successfully entertaining yourself when you are bored is a lost art. But this allowed me to show them there is another way to live besides go, go go.
Historically, when I said no to someone or something, I felt like I was depriving my kids of their deserved lifestyle. I felt like it was my fault they wouldn’t be making memories with their friends that day, or having the time of their lives going somewhere. So I find solace in the fact it wasn’t ME denying them going here or there. It wasn’t me denying them seeing this friend or that friend. I wasn’t feeling guilty about saying no to something because I was tired. I wasn’t feeling like I was the reason my kids were missing out on something.
For the first time, truly, maybe ever, I had a little peace.
Peace from the fast-paced world I’d accepted as reality.
All of us at some point have tried to live less stressful lives, but when the rest of the world doesn’t get that memo, I find it often doesn’t work. But this time, we were literally locked away in our house, away from the entire world. And because it wasn’t by choice, it seemed like the weight of the world was off of my shoulders. I wasn’t in the driver’s seat anymore. We were simply doing what we were required to do.
Sure, they were mad. They didn’t understand. WE as adults barely understood. They were sad and frustrated. We all were. We were missing people and places. But probably for the first time ever in their time on this earth, they were mad and had no one to blame. That is a tough pill to swallow. This lesson stopped becoming hypothetical and was now a real-world experience.
So here we were, going 6,000 miles an hour, and now…nothing.
I just was.
I could just be.
And I could teach my kids about it, too.
So all sarcasm aside, thanks, 2020.
Here are 20 things I’m thankful for and lessons I’ve learned as I reflect on the last 12 months.
1. We are not failing.
Read this carefully.
We are not failing. We are surviving a global pandemic!
This is probably the most important lesson because too many times this year I have felt like a failure. Failure as a parent, teacher, friend, wife. And I have to remind myself that I’m NOT failing. My kids are not failing. I’m not failing my kids, and my kids are not failing me. We are in survival mode. And we are succeeding. This year can’t be compared to any other year. There is no instructional guide for how to survive this, much less how to function during this pandemic. We are all doing the best we can. No one is doing this perfectly, and no one is failing.
2. Teaching my kids about boredom.
Ok, let’s be perfectly honest, there’s no way they can ever be 100% bored when they are still plugged into the world, but it was really important for them to figure out how to function without being entertained all the time.
It seems this year I’ve found myself seeing so many differences in the world I grew up in vs. the one they are growing up in. This point was made crystal clear when my 4 year old yelled out from the back seat of the car “Alexa, skip song!” So we all had a conversation about what a radio actually is and what “live” means. We tried to explain to them that shows used to come on at certain times once a week, and you couldn’t pause them or rewatch them. Most of the time it wasn’t even a clear channel. And it was an Olympic race to see if you could get to the bathroom and back during something strange called a commercial break. Things like cell phones, caller ID, laptops, internet, text messages were all things that were just beginning to become available. But we had no idea these things even existed. This must be our generation’s version of “walking in the snow, uphill, both ways.”
There were however, a lot of good things from the “good ol’ days.” My bike, books, toys, a basketball hoop, school friends, a big yard and a couple of sticks. Oh, and a TV with a handful of channels that mostly only appealed to my brother and I for Saturday morning cartoons. And if it was a really lucky day, we could adjust the antenna just right so it would be clear enough for us to actually see. Obviously, as I grew older there were plenty of other things occupying my time, friends, sports, music, school. But screens were never really a part of it. Unless it was your turn in the 4th grade class library to play Oregon Trail on the one computer that took 20 minutes to turn on and load.
It was important for them to learn how to be at home and be happy, with no plans to look forward to. No days counting down to anything, and no option of planning anything. It was important for them to rediscover old toys. It was important for them to appreciate each other’s company. It was important for them to build something using only the things they could find around the house. So cliche, but it was important to think back on a simpler time, when access to the world was limited.
3. Appreciation for our way of life.
And by this I mean activities and endless access to entertainment.
Suddenly, the word became “no.”
No play dates.
No field trips.
No lunch dates.
No play places.
No family get togethers.
In our house.
And as far as we could walk around it.
And what was already in it.
It was important for them to learn about disappointment that wasn’t a natural consequence to their actions. That things don’t always work out the way they want them to. That life goes on when something isn’t planned for every hour of the day. That it really was special when they got to go over to a friend’s house. That our annual flag day party really is fun. And going to eat INSIDE at Chick-Fil-A on a Friday night and playing in the play place really is something to value and not something to be expected.
Swim lessons used to be something to simply check off the list during the week. Because it was the one thing we could do safely, we started them back up after the lockdown. And now, it’s the one thing they look forward to and really value every week. They loved when they could go outside to ride their bike or explore a new path on a family walk. Goin through a drive through for lunch or dinner was now their big outing for the week, instead of just a requirement to keep up with our busy schedules. It all seemed a little more special now.
We did tons of hiking and took extra family walks.
We cracked open a coconut to see what was inside.
We made slime.
We played with shaving cream.
We had dance parties and bubbles and backyard camping.
All of these things we probably would not have slowed down enough to do if it wasn’t 2020.
But I’m so glad we were able to experience them.
4. Starting something new
For me, this was starting a blog. I have wanted to write a book about my personal journey for a long time. I work on it here and there, but not consistently. For years, my close friends have urged me to start a blog for all of my craft stuff. I always laughed it off thinking there was no way I was good enough. But, when I started to really get serious about writing my book, a super successful blogger friend suggested I start a blog to gain a following and to prove to the publishing agency that people really are interested in hearing my story. So I started to consider it. And luckily, I have some wonderful friends who pushed and pushed and pushed until I finally decided to do it. So with some of my extra time thanks to COVID, I did it. I started a blog.
I know I am about a decade behind the ball on this blogging thing. But every time something big happened in my life, I would think to myself, “there’s no way there will be anything else that happens that’s worth writing about.” But there was always something. And I’m learning that I don’t have to hold on to my thoughts for fear of not having anything to write about. I’m starting to have a little faith that I can actually make this blog work and keep up with timely contributions that will hopefully help and inspire other people.
5. I can do hard things.
This is something Carter’s first grade teacher says all the time, and we’ve adopted it as a family.
But you can do it.
Whether it’s simple addition or chronic pain or COVID. We can do hard things. If you are reading this right now, you have succeeded in surviving this this year. You survived 2020! That’s a big deal.
Way before COVID hit, I always said, “I can do a lot of really great things, but homeschooling is not one of them.” Well guess what? Turns out I can homeschool. Sure, it’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, and there were lots of days where we were all crying, but I did it. I persevered. I’m not likely to choose it if given the option, but I am doing it.
I get to be a part of what my kids are learning. I get to be there when something clicks. I get to eavesdrop on presentations and group projects. I get to see if the tiny humans I created are being good human beings to their teachers, friends and classmates. I get to sneak them treats and snacks during long zoom calls. I get to fill the treasure box with things I know they will love.
I can also manage my pain more than I thought I could, because I have to. I’m not able to see my specialist in New Jersey to get injections. So I have to wait. And while I’m waiting, the pain slowly gets worse. But you know what? I can do hard things. So I’m doing it.
Continuing to be diligent about staying home as much as we possibly can is hard, but we can do hard things.
If you are standing at the end of this year, you have survived 100% of your hardest days.
You can do hard things.
6. Time on this earth is limited and precious.
We all know this, but we all have to be reminded of it.
If you’ve followed along with my story, you know that I had some close calls with my health. And each time I survived was a reminder that nothing in life is guaranteed. Not tomorrow, tonight, this next minute. Time with the people we love is the greatest gift there ever was. Don’t waste it.
It’s not lost on me that there are husbands, wives, friends, mothers, daughters, children, uncles, aunts, friends and so many others that did not make it through this pandemic. There is a life, a face, a story behind every single statistic. Just because that number increases doesn’t mean it’s any less devastating. If you’ve lost someone, I’m so sorry. I wish I could crawl through this computer screen and give you a huge hug. I wish I could sit with you through the hard and somehow make you believe that things will get better. Because it will. Not today. Not tomorrow. But someday.
7. Saving lives
I’ve always been an introvert. I’ve had jobs that have forced me to fake being an extrovert. I can do it, but it’s exhausting. Entertaining clients, sponsors, cowboys. It was a lot of work and did not fill my bucket like it would for an extrovert. I know that this year has been every extrovert’s worst nightmare. But it’s time for the introverts to get a little bit of recognition. Can I get an “Amen” from the back?
Before COVID, lots of my friends knew I would turn down an invitation to happy hour or a movie or whatever because I just like being at home. Well, I’ve got good news for all my fellow introverts out there-
Instead of admitting you don’t really want to go out, now you are simply saving lives by staying home.
Heroes. All of you.
8. Convenient shopping
There is nothing I hated more than having little kids and babies and desperately needing something simple from a store. I’d have to spend 30 minutes getting everyone out of the house, drive to wherever I needed to go, spend 15 minutes getting everyone out of the car and into a sanitized cart, and go into the store with screaming children, just for a gallon of milk or whatever I needed. This pandemic has changed EVERYTHING about that.
You can literally get whatever you need without having to leave your home. Groceries, meals, doctor visits. You name it, they’ve probably figured out how to accommodate you. Remember when you couldn’t take alcoholic beverages out beyond a certain point at a restaurant? Well, now you can order a margarita togo in a styrofoam cup with a straw, and it’s totally acceptable to drive home with that in your cup holder.
I had to get an emissions test done on my car a few weeks ago. You guys, I didn’t even have to take my seatbelt off. I put on my mask and opened my door. They did their work and 3 minutes later, I was done. I drove forward 15 feet and paid at a makeshift checkout station where I could pay from my car. Could something a simple as emissions be any more accommodating? I think not.
Before all this, when I’d have routine doctor visits, I would have to get a babysitter, drive there, check in, wait in the waiting room, see a nurse, wait some more, finally see a doctor and then drive home. I now spend 15 minutes on the computer with my doctor with my kids in the other room. Badda bing, badda boom.
When all the people in the country need something at the same time, businesses adapt. New concepts are executed. Companies adopt new policies. They cater to the masses. God bless America!
9. Working from home
In my experience, there was always a negative stigma about working from home pre-COVID. “So and so got such a sweet deal. She gets to work from home when the company policy is no one gets to work from home. It’s not fair.” If you did get permission to work from home for some reason, it seemed like you were being catered to in a way that was unfair among coworkers. Or, if you were that one soul who was on speakerphone for a conference call, people would forget about you or not explain what everyone but you was looking at. That all changed when every possible job that could be done from home was required to be done from home. The whole working world changed in March. It’s acceptable now. For some, it’s required now. Oh, how I wish I would have bought some stock in Zoom!
My husband’s team is doing so well working from home, their productivity is actually up compared to being in the office. So his company made the decision to make this a permanent arrangment. However, I was not a big fan when my husband first started doing this. The fact that he was literally 10 feet below me while 3 kids were screaming and having meltdowns that he didn’t have to be a part of made me angry. I was angry at him for no other reason than just being close to my daily chaos and not having to deal with it. All the times I didn’t have enough hands or patience to juggle the demands of 3 kids while trying to homeschool, and clean the house, and make a million snacks a day made me hate the fact that he was just sitting at his desk probably playing with a fidget spinner.
But I slowly started to realize that it wasn’t so bad. If I needed to run and pick up groceries, I could leave without packing everyone up. I had someone who could have lunch with me every once in a while. When something exciting happened with one of the kids, they could easily go down and share good news. These are all things he was never able to be a part of before. And that makes my heart really happy. There’s also no commute time, so he can spend that time working and the other time with us. Just this week, he was able to take 2 hours off to go to the pool with us to celebrate Carter’s birthday. When we got home, he went downstairs and got back to work. There’s no way things like this could have happened before he was working at home full-time. And now, I kind of can’t imagine it going back to the way it was.
If one of the computers crashes, he’s here.
If someone weird comes to the door, he’s here.
If my car won’t start, he’s here.
If I have a question, he’s here.
If i have a funny story to share, he’s here.
If I have a panic attack, he’s here.
If I’m having a really hard day, he’s here.
If the kids just want to say hi to daddy, he’s here.
How do you even say enough about this one?
Technology is everything right now. It connects us when we can’t be together. It allows us to work and play and have meetings and have school. It allows us to keep our friendships and relationships going.
Obviously, kids of all ages are learning the technology world exponentially this year simply because they have to. School going virtual tomorrow? You better know how to deal with this. Baptism by fire.
I remember when I was in second grade, we took a trip to the space center in Atlanta, and I came back and wrote an entire page about what I learned. My dad helped me type it on his computer. It was the first time I had ever really used a computer for something related to school. It seemed like it took hours, and it came out to be about 5 sentences long. This blew my mind considering I had filled that wide-ruled notebook page with my handwriting.
Now, I think about my first grader who can start up his computer, join different zoom calls, type, read e-books, complete assignments and navigate all the prompts that come along with using a computer- by himself. He sends and receives emails independently. I still have to help him scan in and upload his assignments, but man am I impressed with his ability to complete his school day on a computer!
My third grader is now totally independent with her online school work. She schedules group projects. She creates breakout rooms. She submits online assignments. She uses two computers at a time. She doesn’t need my help for any of it. In 3rd grade. 3rd GRADE! Before winter break she was asking me a question about how to do something in a program that I wasn’t familiar with. I couldn’t figure it out so she pushed my hand away and told me not to worry about it. Five minutes later, she had it figured out and was plugging along on her task. She calls her friend on my ipad and is simultaneously able to do all kinds of crazy homework things on her laptop.
Then there’s my preschooler. She has a zoom for one hour each day. She knows how to join the meeting. She knows she’s supposed to immediately put herself on mute. She can unmute herself when a teacher asks a question. She can adjust the screen so the teacher can see her mouth, and she can pin the presenter when her teacher is reading a book so she can see a bigger version of the pictures. It’s CRAZY how much she can do at 4 years old.
They all blow my technology knowledge at that age out of the water. I need to remember that when I get frustrated with them for having computer questions.
We’ve all had to get creative this year. Whether it was for work or something fun. Everything normal had to be reinvented to be COVID compliant. Birthday celebrations became waving from your car in the middle of the street. Happy hours became zoom meetings. Coffee dates became sitting in a parking lot in your trunk 6 feet apart. We had to really think about what was important enough to us that we were willing to rework our expectations.
One of the best memories of this year is my friend who was only a couple of months pregnant when the lockdown happened. We had to figure out a way to tell people so she didn’t just emerge from quarantine with a new baby. Not only did people not know she was pregnant, there was also going to be no big reveal party for her. She has two boys and when she found out she was having a girl, I knew we had to come up with a special way to tell people. I was so honored she asked for my help to accomplish this.
We decided to do cake pops together. She made the cake balls and then I decorated them. They were swirled with pink and blue on the outside and then bright pink when you bit into them. We packaged them up, put a cute tag on them, and then she was off to deliver them to friends and family. Even though it wasn’t the ideal way to reveal her exciting news, she got to relive the experience and excitement of people finding out at each house she stopped by. They would stay at their door and she would stay by the car as each person bit into the cake pop to find pink in the middle. It was a brilliant way to share something so special with other people. I was so blessed to be a part of it.
This is a big one that blindsided me at the beginning of everything. I was amazed by the fact we could be in the same house 100% of the time and still be so distanced from each other. When the lockdown first started, my husband was working lots of overtime. Like a lot. Some days we wouldn’t even see or speak to each other until late at night. And that was only if I was awake when he came to bed. It took a lot of effort to identify that problem and even more effort to fix it. He had to work hard to separate work life and home life, and I had to work hard making the small moments I saw him throughout the day count. We are still a work in progress, but who isn’t?
This pandemic has allowed us to be able to work on stuff together because we are always together. There’s no leaving for work with a “we’ll deal with this later” kind of reply. It has given us time and space to figure out how to make our relationship better with each other and with our kids. It helps us to understand what each other goes through on a daily basis that we wouldn’t know about otherwise. And it’s given us the opportunity to use some of our extra time on our marriage.
13. Letting go of control
We often hear about people “letting go” when they pass along something important to them for someone else to accomplish. Still, they are sort of in control because they are allowing that to happen. Maybe it’ll get done. Maybe it won’t. It’s an entirely different way of “letting go” during this pandemic.
I don’t know what’s going to happen.
When it’s going to happen.
If it’s going to happen.
The entire world is forcing me to go with flow. No one has answers. No one knows. You just have to go along with it. Whether you want to or not. You don’t really have a choice in this matter. So you either accept it, or you fight it. I think after fighting it for most of the year, we are ready to go into 2021 accepting that we really don’t know. And we have to wait. Along with the rest of the world.
14. The Christmas star.
The great conjunction.
I mean really. Could there be a more beautiful sign of goodness in the midst of the chaos that was 2020?
I think not.
In case you aren’t aware, this is when Jupiter and Saturn line up to make it look like one large, bright star. It’s been nearly 400 years since the planets passed this close to each other in the sky, and nearly 800 years since the alignment of Saturn and Jupiter occurred at night. It happened this year, at nighttime, just a few days before Christmas. It sure makes a good case for the Star of Bethlehem.
It was not dark enough to view when they perfectly aligned, but I got to witness this amazing thing with our best friends a few hours after sunset. They graciously let us share their telescope. We could see the moons around Jupiter and the rings around Saturn. It was just plain cool.
Amidst the dark. There is light.
15. Teachers are saints.
I already knew teachers were the unsung heroes of the world, but now they are in the spotlight. The good teachers, the ones who really care, shine brighter than the sun. I could write on this for days. (Take a look HERE if you want to read some of my other thoughts on why teachers are so amazing.) They’ve had to get creative. They’ve had to reinvent the wheel. Again. And again. And again. They’ve had to put in more unpaid overtime than we can imagine. And they’ve had to be flexible when they were already at the end of their rope.
I get emails from my kids’ teachers at all hours of the night. You name the time- 2am, 3, 4, 5. I’ve gotten emails at all of those times. I cannot thank our teachers enough for stepping up to the task of teaching during a pandemic, and for still teaching and loving our kids at the same time. Not to mention, all the normal classroom things like discipline and struggling kids that need attention.
I will buy you as many cups of coffee as you want.
I promise never to complain about how many pencils you request at the beginning of the year.
You all are priceless.
We love you.
You may think this is the dumbest one, but it was such an important thing we accomplished this year.
Pandemic painting is what I’ve dubbed it.
We bought our house 3 years ago. It needed A LOT of cosmetic love. Between me being so sick for so long, all the trauma and this busy life that I referenced above, things either weren’t getting done, or they were getting done at a snail’s pace.
So it’s not like Andy and I were bored like the kids, we were actually overwhelmed with how and where to start. We knew we needed to make use of this time.
Painting our kitchen was one of the biggest projects on our list. We have a long kitchen with high ceilings and lots of corners and nooks, which meant LOTS of places that had to be painted by hand.
I always joked that we were going to have to lock ourselves away to get this done.
Well, guess what?
Here it is- time locked in your house on a silver platter.
I hate painting, but we got it done. The lockdown allowed us to complete this project that would still probably be hanging over our heads if this had been a normal year.
17. Extra time with family
Were there times I concocted plans of running away by myself? Yes.
Were there times when I wished my husband wasn’t at home? Of course.
Were there times when I felt like this was the worst year ever? You bet.
I got to love on my family more than usual.
My kids have done virtual school since the pandemic started, and my husband has worked from home since then, so all 5 of us have been home together- a whole lot. Especially, since we are probably considered overly cautious when it comes to the pandemic. We try to stay home as much as humanly possible and I still wipe down all my groceries and Amazon packages like a crazy person. (Yes, I know there is lots of data that says otherwise, but it makes me feel better, so I do it.)
There was no time spent driving to school functions or time lost in pickup lines. There was more time for baking cookies and jumping on the trampoline. Lunch in a box fort. Reading in the closet. There were so many opportunities for my 6 year old to “get his daily tickles” from daddy during his breaks. We got to have lunch together. I got to see my kids learn and grow. I got to see where their struggles and strengths are. I got to see them at their best and their worst. And I was there to help them through and celebrate with them.
We could make a drive through starbucks run between math and language arts or go sledding before lunch. We could celebrate the first snow together during the day at the exact moment it started to snow. They could sit in a box or a blanket fort or even be upside down for awhile and get some work done.
None of this would have happened any other year. I’m so grateful for the extra time together.
18. Mastering a new skill
For me, this was the Rubik’s Cube.
My youngest daughter kept bringing me our rubix cube and telling me to fix it because it was “broken” (a.k.a mixed up). I kept saying I couldn’t, because I didn’t know how, but she wouldn’t take no for an answer. She came into our room at 6am one morning and put it by my head for me to fix it.
It’s always been something I’ve wanted to know how to do. So I did it. It was a long day of trying to find the right tutorial, but eventually I got it. I basically didn’t “adult” all day because I was playing with this toy. But that’s ok. The kids needed to learn how to entertain themselves anyway, right?. 😉
The bad part is now Aubrey knows I know how to do it, so she is still continuously brings it to me to “fix.” It’s so tempting not to drop what I’m doing at the moment every time she brings me a mixed cube. It’s such a fun challenge, and super addicting.
2020 allowed me to learn something new.
Something that not everyone knows how to do.
Now I can check that one off of my bucket list.
19. Lipreading is important.
I have minor hearing loss due to many different things, but mostly from my life in marching band as a piccolo player and really bad ear infections as a kid. I didn’t realize that I was actually lip reading until everyone had to start wearing masks. Now, I have no idea what people are saying most of the time. I often just laugh and nod because I literally cannot hear or understand them. And if there’s an accent to boot, it’s not happening, like at all. I would love a world with no masks, but if for now clear masks could become the norm, that’d be great. Then maybe I’d be able to have some sort of conversation without just trying to end it as soon as possible before it gets even more awkward.
20. Simplicity is up to me.
Even in lockdown, I can find myself too busy. Too stressed out. Too worried. Too overwhelmed. At some point, it’s really up to me to ditch all the things and find the simplicity in life that the lockdown gave me a head start on.
When I got overwhelmed with buying and sorting Christmas presents for everyone on my list, I had to remind myself that no one was expecting perfectly wrapped presents at the exact time. No one cared if they were going to be a day late, or if they were sitting on their doorstep at 9am.
It was up to me to decide what to make on Christmas and what should be taken off the list. My kids were happy with one type of cookie. We didn’t need 3. That was up to me to figure out and make happen.
When there’s a constant stream of laundry and snacks and a house that is truly lived in, there’s rarely a time when there’s an empty sink or an empty laundry room. It’s up to me to stop stressing about that and to enjoy the fact there are people I love living in my house. And that I get to be the one to take care of them.
So, there you have it. 20 ways this horrible year has made my life even more beautiful.
And although I’m just as happy as the next person to bid farewell to 2020, I’m also thanking it on the way out.
What was something you learned in 2020?
Drop me a comment below. I’d love to know.
Happy New Year!