Every year since my husband and I were married, I have sent a holiday card and newsletter to an ever-expanding group of family and friends. For nine years, I have mailed my cards and newsletters, enthusiastically sharing highlights of the year. 2019 was a difficult year for my family, but I sent the newsletter anyway, sharing the highs and the lows, as well as my gratitude for those who supported us through it all. How naïve was I to believe we had seen the worst? This year posed a more difficult challenge. It wasn’t just a hard year for us, it was hard for everyone. My newsletter is a tradition that I started to document my family’s history and keep in touch with our far flung family members and friends. Though I struggled to write this year’s newsletter, I knew I had to try.
“2019 was a whirlwind of activity. I haven’t got much reason to believe 2020 will be much different, but I know we can handle it. Thank you to all who shared our highs and supported us through the lows this year. Here’s to a slightly less eventful new year and a new decade of love, laughter, and growth!” (Ashley, December 2019)
There will be plenty of words written about 2020 by folks with better insight, more eloquent reflections, and a broader world view than mine. This year, I’m offering up a slice of our 2020, instead of my normal chronological “Year in Review.”
Almost every year, Darius and I tell each other not to buy the other a Christmas present. He never listens. I never listen. One day, I will see a box under the tree with my name on it, and then I feel compelled to jump on Amazon and see what I can get delivered before Christmas. Last year’s buy for Darius was a hammock. It registered the normal amount of underwhelming appreciation from the recipient and it stayed in its box, in the sunroom until the second weekend of March. Arizona was beginning its first mitigation measures against the spread of COVID-19 and all the kids’ activities were cancelled. The weather was divine. We pulled out the box and in less than ten minutes we had a big, striped hammock set up on the patio overlooking the yard.
The kids were like moths to a flame, climbing in with me. With nowhere to be, we lay there together most of the day. A few days later, I walked around the house looking for Darius. It was the middle of the day. The kids were home, and I couldn’t find Violet either. The hammock. Darius was working on his laptop, and Violet was curled up next to him fast asleep. Each afternoon, there were requests to “go out to the hammock.” I indulged each one. Why not? In fact, I found myself saying “why not” quite a bit these last few months. Blue hair? Why not. Third renovation in three years? Why not. Can we make cupcakes? Why not. Can we take a nap in the hammock? Absolutely.
When I found out my mom was diagnosed with cancer in July, I went outside. It was late. I climbed in the hammock and a friend of mine happened to call. Wrapped up in striped canvas and suspended from the ground, a dam of anxiety, sadness, anger, and confusion burst as soon as I said, “hello.” It turns out a hammock is a nice place to cry your eyes out. Have you ever lay with your partner, spouse, or kids in a hammock? Unless it’s freakishly large, you’re going to become well acquainted with the heartbeat of your hammock mate. Is there anything more reassuring when you’re trying to figure out just what the hell is going on in the world than feeling the beating heart of love in your arms? No. There is not.
Our home became our refuge. We met challenges that stood no chance against this fortress. We were like the little pig who built his house of bricks, only we built a $100 hammock from Amazon. Our strength was our vulnerability. Our willingness to lean into and onto each other to face the unknown. We worked at home, did school and dance class on Zoom. We baked all the things. (Really, all the things you could possibly imagine). Don’t misunderstand, I’m ready for a world without masks, a return to basketball and dance lessons, and travelling to see faces in person. But I won’t be writing off 2020 as a complete dumpster fire, either.
My kids grew and matured into two of the most thoughtful and insightful little people you’d ever want to know. Grayson, though easily the most battle worn of all of us, has been a marvel at navigating his academics. Violet has become an ever-ready assistant baker and sous chef in the kitchen. And, though her treatment was aggressive and hard, my mom hung in there like an absolute warrior. My friendships deepened. Old friends reappeared without pretense or pretext. The years disappeared as we talked. We all just needed each other.
Darius and I did our fair share of moaning, but we laughed a lot, too, looking to each other for support and always finding it. Our family even welcomed a new baby this year, just a few days ago – and if that isn’t a physical manifestation of hope, I don’t know what is. If looking back on 2020 isn’t something you particularly want to do, I get it. But for every Zoom happy hour we may have shared together, every group text full of snarky memes, and every meaningful phone call we might otherwise never have had, I’m grateful.
So, with the same optimism I expressed last year, “Thank you to all who shared our highs and supported us through the lows this year. Here’s to a slightly less eventful new year and a new decade of love, laughter, and growth!”
Love to all, Ashley and Family