Why I don’t want to forget 2020
What a weird fucking year 2020 was.
Sometimes, when I think back to proper lockdown, back in March and April, it feels a bit hazy and distant, like a dream that I can’t quite explain the details of no matter how vivid I think it is in my mind.
After Boris’ first sombre announcement, I spent a lot of time on the phone to friends and family, proclaiming things like, ‘I just can’t believe it!’ And, ‘I feel like we’re in a film!’
If I am perfectly honest, I very much enjoyed the initial drama of it all.
There was this huge sense of camaraderie, and ‘we’re all in it together’, even though people were hoarding toilet paper rolls in the hundreds and there didn’t seem to be enough flour to go round. But neighbours we didn’t know were putting notes through our door and we were the recipients of random acts of kindness.
Back in March, I had a young baby, who couldn’t even crawl, and those early lockdown days were spent moving him from room to room around our house so I could do jobs and “make the most” of this forced time at home. My maternity leave had come to an abrupt and premature end, as there were no swimming lessons or baby groups or coffee mornings or rhyme time sessions at the library anymore. Instead, I cleared out my wardrobe and rearranged the kitchen cupboards and organised old photographs and kept his baby book up to date.
“We will never have this time again,” I thought, and I had this underlying sense of panic that it would all be over too soon and I would not have achieved enough.
It was unseasonably warm for Spring, if you remember, and we spent time in our tiny London garden every day. I sat Rudy on a blanket and sipped tea in the silence of the early morning, and pointed out the birds. We live on a main road but for once, we couldn’t hear the cars. After a while, I sometimes worried that we’d come out the other side of this and he’d be afraid of people. I wondered what the psychological impact would be on a child to go months without seeing another human beside their own parents. I bought him a paddling pool and a baby slide and a bubble machine and vowed to be a ‘fun mum’, scrolling through the internet for indoor activities for babies, so that he wouldn’t feel like a prisoner. Sometimes I was a fun mum and made sensory activities out of scarves and the washing basket, and other times I put Friends on and waved a rattle in his face.
Once a day, I walked around and around the streets with the pram, past the taped up playgrounds and empty schools, the houses with rainbows in the windows and books being offered for free outside. I hardly saw a soul, except for other mothers out doing the same circuits with their tiny babes, willing them to sleep. We exchanged knowing looks of solidarity and exhaustion.
Rene has worked from home throughout, and this has been an immeasurable benefit to us as a family. When the weather was warm, we sat and ate crisps in the garden whilst Rudy had his tea and it felt like a holiday. We proclaimed often that we were glad to have each other and our tiny outside space. When getting a food delivery was difficult, we utilised our corner shop every week for essentials, wiping things down with antibacterial spray before putting it in the cupboards, and remarked on the random produce the other person had come back with just because it was available. I remember feeling desperately grateful that I was still breastfeeding and wouldn’t have to worry about getting hold of formula milk, and it was around this time that we invested in cloth nappies - just in case. It was a stark wake up call to suddenly not have access to whatever we wanted whenever we wanted. I vowed to never forget that feeling.
Despite us relishing this bonus time as a family, there have been long, long periods of it just being my son and me. To this day I have never spent longer than a few hours away from him. I watched him grow before my very eyes and took photos of him in the garden as the months passed - his layers of clothing getting fewer and fewer until he toddled around in nothing but a nappy. His hair grew longer and blonder and his independence grew fiercer. I cried that his cousins and grandparents and auntie and uncles were missing out on so much, and that all this growth was taking place in secret.
The weeks and months went by and we found inventive ways to celebrate the various milestones and events at home. Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, our anniversary and all of our birthdays, including Rudy’s first year on this planet. There was that very brief period of ‘normal’ during the Summer - the false ending to this end-of-the-world movie - when we saw our families up North for the first time in months and even had a little Staycation by the sea. It was emotional and wonderful, and although I knew it would be a long time until we saw my sister and her children and my dad again, we didn’t realise it would be the last time for the rest of the year. I wish we’d taken more photographs of us together.
Like the rest of the country, we did a lot of things outside, and as soon as we were able to meet up with friends in the park, we did so - a lot - and tried our best to keep the babies socially distanced before accepting it was a futile task. We had a lot of picnics and went on a lot of walks and sat in a lot of beer gardens. This was wonderfully liberating for the short time it was allowed and possible, before the rain came and the wind grew cold and the tier system of doom was imposed.
Fast forward to the very last day in December, after 9 whole months of weirdness - half of Rudy’s life. Our baby is a toddler now, who can walk and run and open doors and eat two whole Weetabix for breakfast. It is hard now to keep him entertained inside. He no longer runs around in a nappy, but a snowsuit, and his favourite thing in the world is splashing in puddles. We have watched the seasons change from in our garden and the park and he has marvelled at everything these changes bring.
After whimsical plans of spending New Year in Mexico to celebrate Rene’s birthday were cast aside, we saw the New Year in with an oven pizza whilst watching Disney’s Coco in pyjamas. We made it to midnight - just - and when the London skyline lit up with fireworks, Rudy cried out from his cot. We didn’t even get round to a midnight kiss, before we bundled him into our bed and shushed him back to sleep.
There we lay in the dark, the three of us beneath the covers, with fireworks going off over our heads, and it seemed somehow fitting to end the year this way, when it has just been the three of us for so long. And it occurred to me that every household unit and every support bubble that has been formed, either out of necessity or choice, has their own version of 2020 to tell; we have all weathered the storm of this year in our own unique and exhausting way.
And so it is for this reason, that I don’t want to forget 2020, because to do so would feel like it didn’t happen or that it didn’t count. I think we need to acknowledge that it did happen, acknowledge the collective trauma that we have shared and dealt with and overcome as a country. The trials and the loss and the boredom and the disappointment and the mind-blowing WEIRDNESS of everything. But to also take from it the good things too - the slower pace and the simplicity of things and being outdoors and how much we love people. This year I have learnt so much about my needs as a human, and the value of things that matter.
So I’ll agree to put 2020 behind us and believe that better days are coming, but I won’t forget that it happened. I think it would send me a bit mad if I did.