What We Did This Year


We are nearing the end of a year where every hour felt like an eternity and yet somehow the months flew by. We started 2020, as we start every year, filled with hope and aspiration. Making resolutions about how many times we would go to the gym, or how few cupcakes we would eat. It never occurred to us that the gym would close, or that it would become so arduous to buy a cupcake. As this awful year wraps up, it’s easy to look back at everything we failed to accomplish. All the resolutions, hopes and dreams that were discarded as we refocused on simply getting through each day.

Our perky 2020 New Year resolutions seem laughable now. But there is nothing silly about what we have accomplished this year. Because what we did accomplish is nothing short of a miracle.

This year we hid in our closets, scrolled through the news and cried. Then we wiped away our tears, walked into the living room and declared “Okay guys! No school or daycare. It’s going to be Mommy Fun Day today!” This year we created scavenger hunts. We made seven different varieties of slime. We taught our kids to ride bikes. We crafted elaborate fairy houses out of sticks and pine cones. We went on treasure hunts. We filled buckets with soapy water and food coloring just to give them something new to play with. We learned how to boogie board. We dug for gold. We swallowed our screams. We wiped away our tears. We ignored the urge to curl up into a ball and hide under our sheets. We took a deep breath. We tucked our hair behind our ears, put on our most comfortable yoga pants, and made Mickey Mouse pancakes.

This year we were our children’s teachers. We were their best friends. We were their moms and aunties and grandmothers all rolled into one. We reassured them that things would one day go back to normal, even though we couldn’t say when. We kept our voices calm when we explained why they couldn’t see their friends. We taught them how to wear masks, and why, and tied and re-tied the elastic bands until they were satisfied with the fit. We taught them how to wash their hands with soap, really wash them, not just the pretend washing they did in the before times. We taught them about germs, and how to keep their distance from other children at the playground. We explained to them how our world works now, in a way they could understand, without scaring them. We patiently answered all of their questions. We patiently repeated, and kept repeating, and will keep repeating, “we don’t know when this will end.” We taught them to take it seriously, and accept the present moment without feeling despair. Our children are now better at mask-wearing than most grown men. We did that.

This year we redefined the meaning of “work-life balance.” We put our children in the bathtub so we could hop on Zoom meetings, turning off the camera to dress them in PJs. We took conference calls during bike rides. We worked late into the night to make up for workdays spent doing art projects. We traded off childcare with our partners. We devised creative, almost inconceivable, intricate schedules of work and childcare. Our multitasking abilities extended themselves beyond what we had ever thought possible or necessary.

This year we became our children’s classrooms. We Googled “how do children learn to read?” And “what are the different kinds of triangles called?” We did so much more than help them with their homework. We did so much more than say, “what did you do in school today?” We did more, so much more, than any generation of parents before us. School became our kitchen tables, our laptops, our Zoom accounts. We made impossible choices about what was best for our children, knowing all along that every option was flawed. We waited patiently for school to reopen. We waited weeks, then months, now over a year. We normalized the abnormal. We grieved with our children over the loss of something so intrinsic to childhood that we had never given it much thought before. Never had we considered that this bedrock of their lives could be taken from them. We rebuilt a school community in unprecedented ways. Through FaceTiming friends, virtual after school classes, handwritten letters, car parades. We kept them connected to their school communities. Even as their school community often felt like it was just us, sitting next to them, trying to decipher a teacher’s latest assignment.

As museums and festivals and street fairs stayed closed, or reclosed, we learned how to create joy all on our own. We hid chocolate coins in playgrounds on St. Patrick’s Day. We celebrated birthdays with giant cakes, and oversized balloons and tiny gatherings. We built candy chutes so they could still trick or treat. We taught them how to roller skate, and cut worms in half, and make mud pies, and roll down hills. We took them on a rip down Lombard Street. We visited the sea lions at Fisherman’s Wharf. We drove around looking at Christmas lights, sipping extra special Ghirardelli hot chocolate. 2020 was a year in their childhood. We were determined for them to find joy and happiness, despite everything. We did this even when it seemed impossible. Even when we felt anxious and scared and desperate and lonely. Even when everything that brought joy to us was ripped away, we created it for our children. 

When we started this year, we had lofty goals about fitness and work. The same resolutions we make every year. They didn’t all come to pass. This year was so much harder than we could have ever imagined. We put so many dreams on hold just to survive.

But we did do this. We kept our children whole even while we were falling apart. We kept them safe while the world around them crumbled. We wrapped our arms around them. We held them close. Safe and warm and loved in our arms. As the world grew darker, we grew brighter and we enveloped them in our light.

That is what we did this year, and what we are still doing.

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Michelle Kaye is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and mother of two children. She holds a post-graduate certificate in infant-parent mental health. Michelle lives in Pacifica and works as a Clinical Director at a nonprofit in San Francisco. She recently published a humorous parenting book titled Better Than Good Enough that can be found online at https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/57565793-better-than-good-enough?ac=1&from_search=true&qid=oHygnAZ8Wb&rank=1.


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