What I'll tell my kids about 2020
This has been a year I'll always remember, but for my children — twins who turned 1 at the ebb of the first wave of COVID-19 — 2020 is a year guaranteed to be forgotten. What will I tell them, when they're old enough to understand, of the bizarre 12 months in which they spoke their first words and took their first steps?
I'll start with our New Year's Eve party, I suppose, an annual tradition through which you both miraculously slept. The buzz of jazz and conversation faded into white noise as it traveled up the stairs, drowning out the clicks of heels and clinks of glass. The party epicenter was in the dining room, directly below your nursery, so we whisper-yelled our "Happy New Year!" lest you wake.
That party seemed then a first step back toward normalcy, a long-awaited departure from the sleepless haze of your first few months. We'd worked our way toward a single overnight wakeup, just one vigil at 2 a.m., and we were in the middle of a five-week plan that ended, gloriously, with you both sleeping through the night from the second week of January onward. Things were looking up!
Then the year began with a U.S. attack on a general from Iran. For a few weeks, it looked like we might start 2020 by going to war. Right as that crisis calmed, rumors of a pandemic started to spread. It was in China first, then Italy, and as it came closer and closer, our cocktail party optimism faded for 2020 writ large.
But at home, our upward trend continued — literally, because you learned to sit up, first propped on pillows, then on your own. The bald spots grew in on the backs of your heads. You started eating solids (pureed green beans were an early favorite). You made a huge mess trying out spoons. Dad started a new job, and he was excited to go back to the office after a couple years of working at home. We both started exercising again. The wonderful, amazing, luxurious, all-night sleep continued.
Dad and I started following the coronavirus story in late January, though I didn't pay enough attention to write about it until the beginning of March. It still seemed far away at that point. We already expected — sooner than most of our friends and family, anyway — that it would eventually get to us, but we didn't really know what that meant. We thought it might be like Y2K, which fizzled into nothing. Or maybe it'd be like epidemics (Ebola or SARS) of the recent past, which sounded very bad but never affected our lives.
Despite those too-measured anticipations, we joined Costco, half to break our addiction to Amazon and half because its bulk buying format seemed pandemic-appropriate. (The shopping carts, which seat two babies instead of the usual one, were another selling point. You liked to chant "Caw'co, Caw'co" as we entered the store.) I suggested we store up vodka and cigarettes for the apocalypse, because that's what people do in the movies. Instead, we bought pounds and pounds of dry lentils and stockpiled the one, often-backordered brand of formula that didn't make you sick.
Then the lockdowns started. Dad had to work from home again, to his disappointment and your delight. Deprived of the baby outings we'd have done under normal circumstances, you became obsessed with the box elder bugs that swarmed our backyard — and you developed a deep fixation on the cars you saw in daily walks around the block. The house rang with "bee'le, bee'le, bee'le!" and "ca-wahr, ca-wahr, ca-wahr!" for months. When protests against the police in Minneapolis, across the river, turned into rioting around the Target near our house — our local pharmacy burned down — you were excited about the news helicopters that hovered for weeks. Once, we took a special trip outside after bath time to see one parked in the air above our lot. You learned to imitate the many siren sounds.
The spring and summer we'd expected to spend with friends contracted into once-weekly bonfires after you guys were in bed. You had no playmates of your own age except each other, whom you studiously ignored aside from the occasional toy theft. We canceled our fall vacation plans and never went swimming at all. We argued with your grandparents about what was wise and what was safe.
When we started wearing masks in stores, you didn't like them — you got nervous each time we came around to get you out of the car seats with the masks already on. So for a few months we'd pop them up and down before going into the store, saying "peekaboo!" over and over until you giggled and forgot you were scared. When you started talking over the summer, "mask" was one of your first 30 or so words, a 2020 milestone if there ever was one.
By the fall we knew a vaccine was coming, so it finally felt like the end was in sight. We buckled down for a hard Minnesota winter, telling ourselves it wouldn't be that bad — we wouldn't really be doing that much stuff differently without a pandemic, because we'd still have to work and follow your nap schedule and make sure you went to bed on time (6:30!). We'd still be too cheap to pay for babysitting most weekends, and we'd still think taking two toddlers out to a restaurant was usually more trouble than it was worth. Nearly all the minutiae of our daily lives would be the same no matter who was president or what the headlines read.
We talked about how 2020 was incredibly difficult, but also about how, in some ways, the relief we felt when it started was real. The improved sleep was real. Not ending dinners feeling nauseous because I no longer had to bounce you while eating was real. At that personal level, things got so much better for us — even while this strange pandemic spread.
And we were thankful, because we knew we were so fortunate compared to so many. We could do our jobs at home. I lost some work, but we never worried about feeding you. We never had to agonize, as we watched friends do with their older kids, about what to do for your schooling that year, because you were too little for school. We didn't even have to wrestle you into masks, because you were just small enough to be exempted right up until vaccines were widely available.
We were thankful as well that you were too young to understand, that this story is necessary because you can't remember, that your life wasn't much disrupted. The same can't be said of the rest of us, I expect — those of us in the grown-up category of the grown-up/baby dichotomy into which you split the world that year. We'll be telling and retelling the story of 2020 for a long time to come, and — you know what? Yeah, you don't want to hear about it anymore. Neither do I. Go find the dog. Go play.