The Year Everything Changed: My 2020 Story

I’ve been regretting not keeping track of the events surrounding early 2020—aka: the year that everything changed—better. But after writing the post below, I actually think that’s for the best.

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I was too deep in the muck and mud to even realize what was happening clearly. So here it goes…my recap of what it was like during those first few months of the pandemic:

What it was like when everything changed

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photo by JM PhotoArt

Twenty twenty started out fine. Actually, it was pretty great since my husband was home on a two week R&R during his year-long deployment.

I remember rolling into 2019 with some decent nervousness about the year and a half we had ahead of us: a deployment, a solo move with three kids, navigating a year without my husband, prepping for an upcoming overseas move, and anticipating a homecoming. WHEW.

Never in my wildest imagination did I conjure up a pandemic in the midst of all that craziness.

I vaguely remember my husband and I talking about the virus happening in China while he was home over the holidays. But it was just in passing, and we didn’t think anything of it.

When Everything Changed

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from our last day of “normal” on march 12, 2020

Things got a little more serious at the beginning of March; people were getting sick, and I remember Washington state being in the news a lot for an outbreak there.

My oldest daughter’s birthday is on March 7, and we celebrated on Saturday the 6th with her getting her ears pierced, and going bowling with her cousins.

That was our last “normal” weekend before everything changed.

During her bowling birthday party, my son got randomly really sick—a sudden fever, and I remember freaking out. Thankfully, my brother (an ER nurse) talked me down and gave him some Tylenol.

It was an insignificant random little virus that he had, and it went away by the next day, but it was enough to start putting me on edge.

School resumed as normal that week, and I relished my mornings of freedom. I checked out a new eatery in town, and fell in love with it—I couldn’t wait to go back, and I specifically remember actually shedding some tears over finally feeling at home with my routine.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020, was the last day I’d pick my oldest up from school…only I didn’t know it then. She was out the next two days for parent/teacher conferences, and never returned to in-person classes at that school again.

On March 12, we took the younger two to school and she and I went to a local restaurant to hang out until her parent/teacher conference. That was the last day I ate in a restaurant in New Mexico.

Remembering Better Days

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literally the only photo i have of her with that bright neon backpack. treasuring it…dark shadows, harsh light, and all.

Honestly, one of the highlights during the 2019/2020 school year was picking her up from school. She was in the 1st grade, and her brother and sister were in preschool at another school that got out later than she did.

So every day I’d park (instead of driving through pick up line), and watch for her to come out the front doors of the school.

I’d scan the sea of little kids walking out with their oversized backpacks and keep an eye out for her neon pink backpack and her little blond bob to emerge. She’d always walk out the door, looking around with anticipation of spotting me, and once she did, she’d run towards me with a giant hug…one of those hugs that would make me stumble back a little bit, and an embrace that I know wouldn’t continue for much longer.

I lived for that moment.

We’d have an hour or so together before we needed to get the other two, and I cherished our random Starbucks dates, errand pick-ups, spontaneous shopping adventures, or just going home to help her with homework.

With how quickly our lives change and how fast they grow up, I knew those were moments to appreciate and remember. I’m so thankful I had those few short months with her like that.

The day I found out they wouldn’t go back to school after spring break, I cried big, fat, hot alligator tears. I let myself mourn the fact that those few months were the only ones I’d ever have like that again.

An Eerie Feeling

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Back in the day* I remember driving around on Thanksgiving and Christmas Day and gawk from the row in the back seat of our van at how empty the streets were. Only a few cars out on the road, and all of the shopping centers were deserted. I remember it felt eerie, but also special since they were special holidays.

Obviously, in more recent years, those holidays are almost like any other day with shopping centers bustling and the roads packed with cars.

But those first few days/weeks of the 2020 lockdown were much like a sacred holiday back in the day*.

*The fact that I can actually say that phrase and have it actually work in this context is blowing my mind and making me feel incredibly old.

I remember driving around to go pick up lunches for the kids (provided by the school district twice a week), and experiencing that eerie feeling—hardly anyone was out and all the stores and restaurants were completely closed—only it was amplified since it wasn’t a holiday…it was a “regular” Tuesday or Thursday in the middle of March.

Anxiety and Fear Crept In

Life as a military spouse toughens you up and gives you a somewhat thicker skin…or perhaps I’ve just been “lucky” enough to handle harder situations. I pull on my big girl panties and I get shit done; I can take a decent amount of pressure before I break.

But those first few weeks into the pandemic broke me.

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I tried being strong, for the kids, and I pray they look back and remember the fun things we did, the stuff we created, the adventures we went on, and how hard I tried, but inwardly I was breaking.

We didn’t know much about the virus, so everything I heard and read was amplified, and the panic inside me grew by the minute.

I didn’t let the kids touch anything that came inside—in fact, I left packages by the door and then would wipe them down with coveted bleach wipes, and a few times we’d even change clothes after we came home; leaving a pile by the door to clean later.

If we got takeout I’d get it inside the house and yell at the kids not to grab anything—not even a fry. I’d put gloves on and then immediately take stuff out of their containers and put them on plates.

We kept our distance from friends, and as much as it still pains me to this day—we stayed away from our family.

It was all just so freaking scary. The unknown. The fear. The worry.

I was constantly anxious about what would happen if I got sick.

There I was, solo parenting three young kids, and if I got sick, what would happen? My husband was literally thousands of miles away, and if I was exposed and needed help, I’d be exposing someone else I loved…and I just couldn’t handle the thought of doing that.

The easier answer was to become hermits within our own family. And it sucked and hurt.

Finding Ways to Live Despite the Fear

Even though I wanted to not see or be around a single soul (opposite of my personality), we still had to eat.

For those first few weeks grocery delivery/pick-up wasn’t as popular, and I absolutely didn’t want to take my kids in with me, so my mom and I came up with a plan.

She would park her car next to mine and “watch” the kids in my car from her car while I went shopping.

Before stepping foot inside the store I’d suit up—attempting to protect myself as much as possible.

I’d slip on my gloves (before we realized it’s better to not wear them); already sticky from the damp nervous sweat accumulating from my nerves. And I’d fumble with putting on my disposable surgical mask (thanks to my mom and brother who work in a hospital since cloth masks weren’t a thing yet). I took a little bottle of sanitizer with me and wiped down the cart, and then I’d clean my phone (with my list on it) any time I touched it.

I actually started to leave my phone in my car after the first few grocery trips, and reverted to paper lists to avoid cross-contamination.

As soon as I’d come back to the car my mom would help me sanitize my hands before I touched anything, and then I’d load the car up with our stuff.

Shopping gave me so much anxiety. I remember leaving Costco vividly shaking one day out of fear. This was such a stark difference in how I lived that it freaked me out.

But we continued doing this for several weeks. Because besides going shopping, I also had to visit doctor’s offices, and go on base to work on things for our upcoming move. My mom always drove separately and met us wherever we were to watch the kids from her car.

A few timesdesperate for a slight repreive—she’d come and “watch” the kids from our patio while they played inside, just so I could drive to Chick-fil-A to get dinner alone.

We were all just so scared during those early days…who knew who had this scary virus.

The Long Wait

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I found myself living within two week spans of time. The virus had and incubation period of 14 days, so I’d constantly count back to the last time I saw someone or went somewhere.

“Okay,” I’d think, “We saw my brother and his family on the 1st, and now it’s the 13th. If they were asymptomatic, and we got it, we’d be showing symptoms by now.” Or, “Okay, the last time I my kids played with the neighbor kids was a week ago, so any symptoms would probably start showing up by now.”

I did this for everything.

Living like that was exhausting.

Around that time I also started to have allergies. Allergies and virus symptoms are quite similar, so even more panic started to set in. I would check my temperature with trembling hands, literally praying that it would be normal.

Thankfully, I changed my over the counter allergy medicine and the symptoms went away almost immediately by the next day. But the fear I had was real.

Turning to God

On top of all of this, my husband was still deployed to a freaking war zone, and rumors of his return kept coming back unanswered. Oh, and we were also in the middle of trying to move overseas.

It was just too much to handle.

I’ve never been one to think I had depression or feel like I needed help, but there were more than several times when it took literally every ounce of me to get out of bed each day.

I’d cried myself to sleep and feel the weight of the world on my shoulders when I’d rise; it was almost too much to bear.

Thankfully I turned to God. …Or, rather…God grasped me as I was falling. Either way, God truly saved me—as He does—from slipping further into a darker hole.

I don’t remember when/how it happened, but I found myself waking up every morning and staring my day with literal thanksgiving.

I prayed and made it a conscious decision that I would thank Him for everything good I could think of, and I started a gratitude journal…I literally felt like I had to do this in order to see some light again.

In a world that flipped upside down, and with so much on my plate on top of the world’s current events, I simply had to focus on something good to start my day.

Then I’d pray. But my prayer—the only thing I could truly manage at the time—were two verses: Joshua 1:9 and/or Philippines 4:6-7.

And do you know what? He met me right where I was and helped me keep my anxious thoughts just far enough out of reach so I could function.

Those few sentences repeated out loud, and in my head, over and over and over again were my life preservers. They helped me stay afloat until my husband came home.

What the Pandemic Took From Us

While I’m incredibly in awe, and ever-so thankful that nobody in my family got sick, it’s a great shame that it took so much from our time living in New Mexico.

The plan all along was to live there for a year and soak up time with family. We did that as much as we could, but of course it all stopped in March.

I hate that the kids lost out on three months of seeing and playing with their cousins. I hate that my mom and in-laws didn’t get to see their grandkids more. I hate that we missed out on enjoying more things in New Mexico and that we alienated ourselves.

It may have only been for three months, but when you’re moving overseas for a really long stint of time, and haven’t lived near them in more than a decade, three months with family is everything.

And so…

And so I’ll leave this post with this: we made our family “word” for 2020 BRAVE, and I’m thankful to say that we survived it. Literally survived it.

We’re on the other side in 2021, and even though things are still a big ol’ cluster of dumpster fires, there is hope.

As of writing this: my mom, my grandma, my brother, sister-in-law, father-in-law, aunts and uncles, and my husband’s grandparents have either received their full vaccine or their first jab. And that, in and of itself, is cause for praise and tears of joy.

I’m so thankful for science and sigh of relief that comes with hearing they’ve had their shots.

We’re still waiting on our vaccines out here, and have no idea when we’ll get them (sooner than later, I hope), but knowing the people I love have theirs means so much.

I left a lot out…mostly about our ordeal to get to where we literally are now (from our move overseas), but I’ve shared that on the blog. Long story short: everything worked out and we made it to the other side of the pond.

The words below are not mine, but from a daily newsletter I read called theSkimm. In late 2020 they put out a brief synopsis of what happened, and I really liked it, so I’m sharing it here so I won’t forget.


A Pandemic Timeline

The following is from theSkimm, and I like the timeline they share. I’m posting it here so I won’t forget, and so my kids won’t forget.

I’m still trying to find my footing.

(In 2020), life as we knew it began to change. From work to school to home, almost every aspect of daily life took a hit. But as the world continues to navigate these unprecedented times, it’s also important to reflect on how we got here. Because trust us, you’ll want to be able to tell your grandkids wtf happened.

Ok. Remind me.

Around this time (December 2020) last year (December 2019), we started hearing about a pneumonia-like illness that began infecting people in Wuhan, China. Many early cases were linked to a wet market there. And Chinese authorities soon started reporting dozens of cases of people experiencing a fever, cough, and trouble breathing. In early January, Chinese researchers identified the cause of the outbreak: a new coronavirus (read: a type of virus causing respiratory illness). And shortly after, China reported the first known death from the virus – which experts say likely originated in bats and passed through another animal before it jumped to humans. Less than a month into 2020, the US confirmed its first known case in Washington state.

Go on.

Here’s how things quickly spiraled…and what you didn’t have penciled into your 2020 planner:

January…The World Health Organization declared an international public health emergency as hundreds died and thousands became infected. In the US, the White House Coronavirus Task Force (hi, Dr. Anthony Fauci) was set up to help lead the gov’s response to the coronavirus. President Trump restricted travel from China, and had said the situation was “totally under control.” (Sidenote: It was not.)

February…The CDC started shipping tests but they were faulty. The WHO said ‘no time to be creative’ and named the coronavirus disease COVID-19. The US reported its first death – though we later learned that at least two coronavirus-related deaths happened weeks earlier.

March…The WHO declared a global pandemic. Wall Street took a dive. President Trump issued a travel ban from Europe, declared a national emergency, and limited travel between Canada and Mexico. Many Americans started WFH as offices closed down to curb the virus’s spread. Many others, America’s essential workers, didn’t have that option. NYC public schools – the country’s largest public school district – went remote. And California became the first state to issue a stay-at-home order.

March, continued…The US became one of the countries hardest hit by the pandemic with NYC as the epicenter with over 12,000 hospitalizations reported there at its peak in April. By the end of March, dozens of states had issued stay-at-home orders. And as people stayed home and supply chains became disrupted, businesses across many industries issued mass layoffs. Congress worked on a historic $2.2 trillion stimulus package (the CARES Act) to help the country get by, and the president signed, sealed, and delivered it.

Then?

Americans were urged to social distance, wash their hands, and wear face masks to “flatten the curve.” But the federal gov sent mixed messages about how to tackle the virus – often conflicting with state officials, scientists, and health experts. Lawmakers accused the Trump admin of interfering with the CDC and the FDA’s coronavirus response. And Trump took steps to withdraw from the WHO, claiming that the org was too cozy with China. Amid all the finger pointing, infections soared – disproportionately affecting people of color. By fall, over 7 million people in the US had been infected and more than 200,000 had died from the coronavirus. But then, things took another turn.

Go on.

In October, Trump and first lady Melania Trump tested positive for COVID-19. It was the most serious known health scare to any sitting US president in decades and sent a wave of uncertainty across the world – raising questions about the 2020 election and presidency. Trump – who experienced a fever, fatigue, and difficulty breathing – was flown to a nearby US military hospital, and was given supplemental oxygen, steroids, and an experimental antibody cocktail. Within days of the president’s diagnosis, several people linked to a White House event (staffers, Republican senators, and journalists) and debate organizers also tested positive. The president returned to the White House after a few days and said he was feeling better than “20 years ago”– although his admin faced questions for not being transparent about his health. Before and after he got sick, Trump faced criticism for not taking the virus seriously and not doing enough to protect Americans.

What a trip down memory lane.

Indeed. And the virus is still impacting many areas of American life, including:

Health care…where no amount of ‘thanks’ will ever be enough to show people’s appreciation to health care workers. The country’s frontline workers treated coronavirus patients when there was a global shortage of PPE – personal protective equipment (think: N95 masks and gowns), faulty tests, and overwhelmed hospitals. At least 7,000 health care workers worldwide have reportedly lost their lives from the virus. Some hospitals are still facing equipment shortages. And financial uncertainty in part from canceling all non-urgent procedures – a vital source of revenue – during the pandemic’s early days.

The economy…where at the height of the pandemic, the unemployment rate reached nearly 15% – the highest level since the Great Depression – as businesses closed, leaving millions of people without jobs. The high number of claims led to a backlog at state unemployment offices – with many Americans waiting several months to receive benefits. The US entered recession territory, ending nearly 11 years of economic expansion. Women were hit especially hard. Supply chains were disrupted and entire industries devastated – from restaurants to airlines to hotels. The gov’s one-time stimulus checks and $600 weekly federal unemployment bonus came and went. And yesterday – after weeks of negotiations on the Hill – Trump signed a $900 billion coronavirus relief package including $300 in additional weekly unemployment benefits and another round of direct payments to most Americans. But the delay has likely cost millions of Americans to lose a week of jobless benefits. And the one-time payments could now be delayed. Even with the stimulus package, millions are trying to make ends meet.

Schools…where a tug of war broke out between parents, teachers, staff, and the gov. Some schools pushed for online learning to prevent the virus’s spread. Parents struggled to balance working and teaching from home. The Trump admin pressured schools to open or risk losing funding. And children were stuck in the middle. On the higher education front, some colleges and universities said ‘campus is open.’ But it didn’t take long for some in-person learning to transition back to Zoom, as schools shut down again and college towns became hotspots.

So, where do we stand?

The US leads in the number of COVID-19 infections and deaths: Over 19 million recorded infections and over 333,000 deaths. And December (2020) has been the country’s deadliest month so far. The arrival of winter had health experts worrying about a “twindemic” – the seasonal flu and the coronavirus combined – that would overwhelm hospitals, stress vital resources, and push another round of lockdowns. And we did see a surge of coronavirus cases. In nearly every state, hospitalizations went up (especially in rural areas), and many have had to cancel their holiday plans to keep their family safe. Meanwhile, the incoming Biden admin’s working on a national strategy – targeting things like increased testing and contact tracing – to fight the pandemic. For his first 100 days in office, President-elect Joe Biden says he’ll ask all Americans to wear a mask.

theSkimm

COVID-19 has impacted nearly every single person on the planet in one way or another. It has challenged families and entire industries, and created a ‘new’ normal. But despite the mistakes, division, and devastating loss, there have also been moments of resilience, unity, and hope. Tell that to your grandkids.

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2 Comments

  1. Wow! What a post. I read it twice.. you are such a good writer! Love you very, very much.

  2. I’m glad you put all of this in writing….I had already forgotten some of the daily struggles/changes we went through and are still going through. Miss you all, I can’t wait for those precious hugs!

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