On December 31st, 2019, I spent some time not only reflecting on the year, but also the decade. And now at the end of 2020, it feels like I have lived another entire decade in a single year.
In so many ways, we are fortunate. We have jobs that allow us to work from home and we weren't impacted financially. We live in a state that mandated masks in public. And as a family, we generally enjoy each other's company so being confined to the house didn't create conflict.
At the same time, we had little outside support. No family nearby with whom we could form a "Covid bubble" to help with child care. School has been 100% remote since March. While the teachers are wonderful, there are limits to what they can do. Pretty much everyone in this house has had some kind of manifestation of anxiety, at various points throughout the year.
After parent-teacher conferences that made me cry, I hung a sign in the space that we have dedicated as the kids' classroom. We can do hard things.
It has been hard to juggle everyone's needs. A kid needs something printed for class and I'm on a phone call for work. Remembering to schedule grocery pickups for the right time and facing items out of stock and substitutions that are questionable. Leaving the three-year-old shut in her room beyond the end of her nap because that's the only way I can get something done.
293 days of no break. None. The five of us, in this house, all the time.
Somehow through all of this, I have managed to take care of myself. I knew from experience, that self-care would be the difference between getting through the days and sinking even lower.
At the same time, I have been forced to manage not only my own needs, but also the needs of everyone else in this house. Kids are down? I have to find a way to pick them back up. No time alone for our marriage? I have to think of ways to be creative.
It's a continuation of the invisible burden of motherhood. There are days I resent it. It is hard enough to carry my own emotional load. Yet sometimes I have to put myself aside and prioritize someone else in the house.
At the same time, 2020 has shown us different ways to be happy. As a family, we used to enjoy a lot of outings to interesting places: museums, zoos, travel. Now it will be things like an online book club or watching Stephen Colbert's commentary on the world.
My needs are less material. Part of this is an abrupt end to impulse shopping in stores, since "going into stores" is not a thing I do often. The other part is simply realigning our goals. Far less money spent on outings like going to movies. Instead, we invested in improvements to our house, like a backyard patio, fire pit, and removing an unused woodstove to create more space.
I have a better understanding of what makes me happy when I can't rely on outside interactions. Time by myself early in the morning. Candles. Having a sense of accomplishment. Writing.
There did come a point in 2020 when I said to myself "I can't keep going on like this. I can't keep spinning my wheels day after day with no end in sight." The days felt like they were only filled with hard things. I had little enjoyment.
Hence the refocus on myself. I knew from past experience that the only way to get through such a difficult time would be to find a way to make myself happy. Some habits I've picked up I'll likely carry forward for a long time. Others may fall away as a vaccine becomes widely available and the "new normal" shifts again.
There were so many times this year when I thought "This completely SUCKS." But now - after 293 days - I have found a stride somewhere between "I can do this" and "I just don't care anymore." Somewhere between these two worlds, I can exist and live with this impossible situation.