5 Ways 2020 Seriously Kicked My Butt

If you are looking for a sappy “look at all I accomplished and all the growth I made” end of the year post, this is not that.  I will post one, as positive reflection is important.  This, however, is a tribute to the pure struggle that was 2020.  2020 kicked my butt, and I’m pretty sure I’m not alone.  It may go down as the year that kicked my butt the most in the last 38.  I hope that it’s the biggest butt kicker of all time, but that remains to be seen.  In the meantime, let’s honor all of the butt kicking ridiculousness that was 2020. 

Before doing that however, I want do a quick privilege check.  My life has continued to be devoid of many challenges.  I know many who have lost loved ones this year, and not just due to COVID.  I’m fortunate enough to not have that happen.  We continue to be blessed financially, I continue to have a loving supportive family, and of all the challenges that I have had, the color of my skin did not provide additional challenges.  It is important to me to keep all of that in check while I write, and I encourage readers to do the same.  There was definitely some butt kicking going on though, and I think many readers can relate. 

Fear

Fear took over in March.  I am not somebody that makes decisions through fear.  Keeping it in it’s place has always been a strength of mine. March 2020 took fear to a whole different level though.  With so much unknown about COVID, I took it pretty seriously.  Schools (which means work for me) were closed, the youngest didn’t go to daycare, and we barely left the house.  In fact, my children didn’t leave the house for two months.  My husband was essential, which meant I was terrified that he would bring germs home.  I cleaned like I had never cleaned before, while experiencing a fear like I had never experienced before.  As the mom of the family, I felt an immense pressure to keep my family safe, and at times that felt debilitating.  

At the time of this post, 9 months into the pandemic, the fear still exists, but it’s different.  I believe that’s for two reasons.  First being, I felt like we got a break from it during the summer.  Our numbers were pretty low, and that combined with good weather, allowed for a modified version of normal.  I was able to see some friends, and my parents, and we were able to get out. That, combined with decreased work expectations for me, was good for our mental health.  It felt like a bit of a reset.  

Second, we have adapted.  We have learned how to live with COVID, and to find a sense of normalcy within it.  Even though, at this time, the numbers are high, it feels more like I know how this works.  So, even though it’s still exhausting, it’s not quite as scary for me because it is less unknown.  

Parenting

Holy crap has this been a hard year to parent.  Never in my life had I imagined my son going to school at home, especially while I was working from home. When we first stayed home, I also didn’t dare send my daughter to daycare.  So, there I was, working from home with a 5 year old and 2 year old under toe.  To say that it was impossible is an understatement. 

From March to June I cried at least once a day.  This happened while I was putting serious effort into self care.  I felt like I needed to focus on work, but could not because my children needed me.  Then, I would say screw work and try to focus on my children.  Which inevitably left me feeling behind at work. Many nights I would be up too late trying to catch up on work.  It was like trying to run a marathon through quick sand. Hence, the tears. 

Again, things felt better during the summer, and again into fall as we returned to in person learning. As we transitioned back and forth between in person and remote, I changed my approach a bit.  Right now, my now 3 year old is consistently staying in daycare, whether I’m working at home or in person.  I’m also sending my 6 year old 2-3 days a week.  On the days that he goes, school work gets put on the back burner.  We do what we can to get it all done, and sometimes that means it gets turned in late.  I can only do so much, and them going to a safe regularly sanitized daycare helps me stay a little more sane.  It’s still so darn hard, but I have found little things to help me keep it together just a little bit better. 

Health

I jumped right on that “I’m going to better myself” quarantine train in March.  I was going to train for a 5K.  Losing weight was going to happen!  After all, I was stuck at home, what did I have to lose?   In my defense, I did start strong.  Running became a priority again, for about two weeks.  After that, I walked daily.  It was a great form of self care after a long day home with the kids.  I did not initially gain any quarantine weight.  I didn’t lose any either, though.  

When I thought the quarantine was going to last 4-6 weeks, I totally thought I could use it as an opportunity to better my health.  Things weren’t terrible healthwise, but one can always do better.  What I didn’t anticipate was the mental load that COVID would place on me, and the lack of room available for making significant health changes.  I just could not take on one more thing, so I let go of paying attention to my weight.  

To be honest, it really wasn’t that bad for awhile.  Yes, my drinking increased.  My coffee intake did as well.  But overall, we tend to eat healthy.  We didn’t eat out, and I was cooking most nights.  I  was able to maintain this throughout the summer.  

When fall came, and the next round of staying at home followed, I found myself having a harder time maintaining any healthy choices.  We started eating out more, as I didn’t have the energy to make dinner.  I was not doing a great job of packing lunches when we were in school, which meant I was snacking all day long.  It all boiled down to complete and utter exhaustion, which led to a lack of caring.  

At the time of writing this, I do not know my weight.  By feel, I’d say I’m at my heaviest, which I’ve been at before.  At 38, though, this is much less of a concern as it has been to me in the past.  It does not help that my husband likes this version of me, and prefers some meat on my bones.  All of that being said, I do take my health seriously.  It is much more important to me to be healthy than how I look, so I do want to refocus.  I am hoping to recommit to some healthy habits in 2021.  That definitely sounds  like a New Year’s cliche, but I have set some small measurable goals to make baby steps.  Time will tell if this is a change that I can manage right now, and I will update readers as time goes on.  

Politics and Marriage

What an insane year politically.  It has definitely been brewing for a while, and many things came to a head this year.  This was incredibly stressful for me, as I have become quite passionate about several things wrapped up in this election cycle.  The most stressful part, however, is the toll it has taken on my marriage.  I am going to, intentionally, write in generalities regarding politics.  With the divisive nature of politics right now, it’s easy for the message to get lost when one becomes aware of political beliefs.  The important part is the message right now, not the belief system.  

When my husband I met, we both held somewhat moderate political beliefs, leaning either way depending on the issue.  Neither of us were too politically inclined, and it honestly did not enter our conversations regularly.  When it did, we were fairly close in agreement on almost everything.  

Within the last four years, I found myself leaning more and more one way.  At the time of the election cycle, I was firmly planted somewhat far away from moderate, and was more interested and passionate in politics than I had ever been.  My husband was the exact same way.  The problem, however, was that we had made our way to opposite ends of the political spectrum.  We had some common ground, specifically human rights, but had very different ideas as to how those ideals should be addressed by our government.  

Our marriage had already gone through it’s share of trials and tribulations.  After years of hard work, we were finally in a place of peace and  mutual love and respect.  Things were going great, but then politics started to creep in.  We were debating daily, and both of us thought we could convince the other they were wrong if they would just listen to us.  The daily debates turned to regular fights, and hurt feelings.  It was hard, stressful and heartbreaking. 

Enter our 6 year old.  One day in the car, he was in tears.  When I asked him what was wrong he told me he, “Couldn’t decide if he should like Joe Biden or Donald Trump.”  That stopped me right in my tracks.  After explaining to him that this was not something he needed to worry about, I immediately decided to stop talking politics with my husband.  After I told him what had happened, we agreed to call a truce.

The amount of pressure that was removed from our marriage when we did this was palpable.  At this point, politics will still enter the conversation occasionally.  When I notice it drifting that way, I will do a quick check in with myself.  If I don’t have the mental energy for it, I stop the conversation immediately.  On the other hand, if I think I can have an adult conversation, I do.  I listen to my husband, and try to play devil’s advocate where I can. 

Although I disagree with his political leanings, I understand why he believes what he believes.  When I can find facts to show my point, I do.  If I can not, I listen and try to help us both think critically whenever possible.  It’s not easy, and sometimes it still feels like it might bring me to my knees.  But, my marriage is more important to me than political debates.  I will not alone change his political beliefs.  If I am able to engage in adult conversation, I may be able to plant some seeds on topics that are important to me, but that is all.  Therefore, in an attempt to preserve my marriage, politics is much more taboo in my house than I ever thought it would be.  

Mental Health

I have alluded to this in other areas, but my mental health took a direct hit from the changes that COVID brought to our lives.  COVID hasn’t directly impacted my mental health, but indirectly impacted me with all of the changes that took effect.  So much happened that made it hard for me to keep my mental health at the forefront.  

I always have had underpinnings of mental health struggles, specifically anxiety, ADD and depression.  These have all been things that I have managed to work through on my own without medication for the majority of my life.  Although I knew they existed, they never caused challenges that I couldn’t overcome by myself.  

This changed after my youngest child was born.  I struggled hard with Postpartum anxiety, but was unaware that it was a thing.  I had no idea what was going on with me, nor how to manage it.  After some research, I discovered that I had symptoms of PPA.  Just knowing what was going on, helped me to manage it.   I was able to get things under control on my own, but still had an increased baseline of anxiety as my daughter was approaching 3 years old.  

For that reason, I started seeing a counselor.  We were just getting to know each other when life shut down due to COVID.  At that point, she was only offering tele visits.  I could not manage tele visits in my life at that point.  Therefore, after only a few sessions, we stopped.  Then the anxiety increased and increased and increased.  To the point where I felt like I was right back where I was when I had PPA.  

The difference was that I did not have the mental energy to put into tackling this beast.  My mental load was so high that I could not even verbalize that I needed help, or how people could help me.  My husband knew that I wasn’t doing well, and was a great support, but I was not great at accepting and asking for support.  I was in full on survival mode, and was going through the motions on everything.  I felt completely numb, and dead inside.  

After many days of being awful to be around, and yelling way too much at my kids, I recognized that I needed help.  With the full support of my husband, I made an appointment with my midwife, who I trust implicitly.  When I described what was happening, she let me know that I was not alone.  The feelings that I was feeling are feelings that mom’s often feel, and that more mom’s were feeling due to the weight of the pandemic.  As I was in tears, desperately wanting help, she said three words that I will never forget, “Jennie, it’s time.”  

What she meant was, it was time to accept that this was a battle that I could not fight on my own.  With that, she prescribed me a low dose of an anti-anxiety medicine.  I had been so resistant to this for so long, but it felt like I had to take drastic measures to improve my mental health.  I let her take the lead, and that is the best decision I have ever made in my life.  

Three months in, I feel so much better.  Life is still incredibly hard, and I do lose it sometimes, but my ability to manage has increased dramatically.  I feel like myself, just a less stressed out version of myself.  I am happy, and truly a much better mom and wife.  I do not know if I would have gotten to this point had it not been for COVID.  What I do know, however, is that I am incredibly grateful to have resources available to help me cope with the stress of COVID that can be suffocating at times.  

If you are struggling with your mental health, I encourage you to find support. It has changed my life, and it can change yours as well. Your physician or another trusted health care provider can be a great place to start. If you aren’t sure where to turn, you can also find a licensed mental health provider in your area at www.psychologytoday.com.

So, yes, 2020 kicked my butt in many ways.  I know that I am not alone, and I hope by reading this you know that you are also not alone.  I so wish that when the clock strikes midnight on January 1st, 2021, this would all be put behind us.  I think many of us are fantasizing of that, but the reality is that it’s not that easy.  The struggles that we are experiencing on December 31st, will still be there on January 1st. I do, however, have hope that we are starting to be closer to the end of this than the beginning. 

With that, I am going to continue to take baby steps to help myself.  I am not the same person that I was in early March 2020, and my expectations of myself have lowered significantly.  I’m one hundred percent okay with that, and if anything, that is something that I have learned from 2020.  I can not tackle all of these challenges overnight, but I can take small steps every day towards betterment.  2020 has been a magnifying glass on issues that were already there, and now that they have been magnified I have been forced to meet them head on.  I have certainly not solved any of these challenges yet, but step one is identifying them, and I can honestly say that I have done that..  

Peace to all in 2021 and beyond.  My positive thoughts are with all of you, especially those who have been even deeper impacted by the challenges that 2020 brought with it. 

3 Ways to Make the Pandemic Holiday Season Not Suck

Wow, it’s been awhile my friends. In fact, it’s been eight months and three days since my last blog post. That’s nuts, but it’s also a pandemic folks. Writing has always been super therapeutic for me, but the last eight months have needed more than therapy. For much of it, I was trying to work from home, teach my five year old, and parent him and my two year old. By myself, as my husband is essential. It was full on survival mode.

Summer hit, and things felt a little better, but still not normal. In September we returned to in person school, but that was different too. At the time of writing this, we are remote again. Funny enough, for the first time in eight months, I have a weird sense of normalcy. Things are far from normal, but it feels like a new normal. Not an amazing new normal, as there is still a lot of craziness out there, but normal enough for me to find my writing voice again. With that voice, I’m bringing more normalcy by writing about one of my favorite times of the year. It’s holiday time!! And even though the holidays may look different than any holiday we’ve done before, I’m going to share three ways we plan to make them totally not suck.

Sticking With Old Traditions

I’m huge on family traditions. I’m also a wannabe minimalist, so I find ways to make them inexpensive, and experience based. A few of my favorites, that are definitely pandemic friendly, are below.

1.) Acts of Kindness

Every December 1st we put out jars with each of my kids names on them. I put slips of paper in each jar with acts of kindness on them, and they each draw one slip a night until Christmas.

Some acts are really simple. Examples might be, tell a family member that you love them, or read a book to a younger sibling. Some may be more complicated. Our favorites in the past have been to fill carts at Aldi with quarters, or bringing cookies to the fire department or police department. This year we will probably use some clorox wipes on the quarters, and deliver store bought cookies. The intent is still the same, but with some safety precautions in place. The best part is, that you can do whatever works for your family! The link below shows some other great examples.

http://www.coffeecupsandcrayons.com/100-acts-kindness-kids

2.) Christmas Eve Box

Each year on Christmas Eve our three children open up a special box. Inside, they find matching pajamas, a new Christmas movie, candy, hot chocolate, popcorn and an ornament. Each of them receives a personal ornament, highlighting something special from their year. Previous ornaments have highlighted trips to Disney, favorite characters or favorite activities. We hang the ornaments on the tree, get a great picture in the matching pj’s, and finish the night with the Christmas movie. The matching pajamas also make great pictures for Christmas morning. Etsy is a great place to find unique ornaments, while supporting individuals instead of large corporations.

http://www.etsy.com

3.) Picking Out the Perfect Tree

For some unknown reason, when we moved into our home, we started the tradition of cutting our own Christmas tree. We go to a fairly secluded farm nearby, hike out to the trees and find the perfect one. It’s always a fun little game, and our oldest always seems to find the perfect tree. The kids take turns cutting, and ride back on the tarp that drags the tree. It’s silly, fun and definitely a wonderful tradition. With masks added this year, we intend to keep it up.

4.) Tree Trimming and Christmas Music

When we get the tree home, we set it up in the living room, warm up the hot chocolate and start the Christmas music. My husband has some vintage Christmas records that he adores, and we play them while we decorate. Each family member has ornaments from years past that they hang, and then we have a pile of family ornaments that we do together. Ornaments are our go to souvenir when we travel, so it’s the perfect way to bring back old memories. We often finish up with a Christmas movie, and at least half of us fall asleep.

Starting New Traditions

Yes, some of our old traditions are still feasible, 2020 is definitely not going to allow for all of our family traditions. What better opportunity, though, to make new traditions? 2020 provides the perfect excuse to reinvent the holidays.

1.) Personalized Santa Snacks Placemat

I can’t believe I have never seen these before, but this year I discovered Santa mats. They are so darn cute, and can be used year after year. They bring a certain charm to your milk and cookies, and can definitely become a tradition that is passed down from generation to generation. I’m so excited to start this tradition with my kiddos, so excited in fact that I made my own for them. A link to my Etsy store for the one I made is below. Even if that’s not your cup of tea, there are many variations out there to get this fun tradition started.

http://www.etsy.com/shop/counselingmommashop

2.) Watching As Many Christmas Movies As Humanly Possible

Okay, in reality, I kind of started this tradition last year. But now I’m all in. A Christmas movie every night? Why not? Three on a Saturday? Who cares?

I’m usually fairly strict about screens with my kids. I want them playing outside or using their imagination. Honestly, though, what could be better when you are snowed in during a pandemic than snuggling in front of a Christmas movie? Plus, there is always a happy ending! It sounds like the perfect recipe for a pandemic Christmas. The more Christmas movies the better this year!

Shop Local

I’m not going to pretend to be a saint here and act like every single gift I am buying this year is local. I am trying to be more intentional about supporting people over corporations, though. When I think of shopping local, I include Etsy in my thought process. The majority of people with Etsy shops are small business owners trying to stay afloat. Amazon, Walmart and Target have enough money. Small businesses have been hit hard this year, and need your money more than ever. I have highlighted some Etsy shops below that I’ve either recently bought some great items from.

We Are Earth Goods

This shop specializes in Natural Home Products. Their products are super reasonably priced, great quality, and ship really fast. I recently bought some linen bags to store face masks in, and I absolutely love them.

https://www.etsy.com/shop/WellEarthGoods

Easy Elderberry

This shop sells pre-made packets with everything that you need to make Elderberry syrup. Elderberry syrup is a great addition to your wellness regime. It has great immune booster properties, and I plan to add some wellness baskets as gifts this holiday season.

https://www.etsy.com/shop/EasyElderberry

Kyle and Ivy Shop

I just bought the CUTEST hooded blankets from this shop for my youngest two children. I was looking for throw blankets just for them, and found these great ones with hoods. I just know that they will be snuggled up with them all winter. As I was browsing their shop I also noticed some great t-shirts, and unicorn wear for the young ones.

https://www.etsy.com/shop/KyleAndIvyShop

So, yes, this holiday season will be different. Many people have suffered, especially financially or with effects from COVID-19. But, our kids can still have a holiday. They will react to your reactions, and it can be okay because you will make it okay. That is what we do as parents, after all. Happy holidays all!