Wow, what a year this has been. When the clock ticker hit 00:01 on 1st January, I thought the year we had ahead would be full of interesting trips, fun family times, getting into my stride at work, school summer fetes and sports day. But the world had different plans and after a quiet winter start to the year, this newly mentioned virus – covid-19 – brought the world to it’s knees as we entered spring. It was something none of us ever expected and quite honestly gave us a stark reminder of the freedoms we take for granted. But, in amongst all of the sadness and frustration, the majority of the 2020 experience also taught me and so many of us to focus on gratitude. All the challenges aside, there are so many things I am incredibly grateful for and these very things have seen me through: Sam; the girls; our home; our garden (I’m even more grateful for this than I ever have been); financial security; food.
One thing I previously did in my end of year round-ups was call out my top tune and film of the year. I didn’t bother last year for whatever reason. But this year I feel the need to bring them back because there are a couple of things which really come to mind, having seen us through some frustrating times:
Film of the year – Frozen 2. After declaring she didn’t like it at the cinema, we got the Bluray and Little H loved it. Little Z loved it. I loved it. And Sam realised he enjoyed it more than at the cinema. It has been watched, on average, once a fortnight since we got it in April, with Little Z now developing Elsa-fever!
Album of the year – Two winners – ‘Future Nostalgia’ by Dua Lipa and the Frozen 2 soundtrack. The girls love them both and Sam and I have yet to tire of them.
And with that, as I get this summary posted mere hours before we cross the line, on to the year that was 2020…
There were two big events in January – the first midway through the month was when my sister had her baby and my nephew, Little J, arrived into the world. The week after he was born, I happened to be off work on annual leave so was incredibly fortunate to head over there and have some cuddles with him. He was a big baby but so small compared to my girls. It’s so easy to forget how small a newborn is and, whilst it didn’t make me broody, it did make me feel sentimentality (saudade if you will) for those early days.
The second event was, of course, Little H turning 5. Every year I remain astounded that she gets another year older. I do wonder if that feeling will ever leave me because I remember so well when she arrived. We celebrated with Sam’s family as Little H’s nana’s birthday is just mere days before here. As ever, she was spoiled with gifts!
Little Z and I also started her new class on Mondays. It was a much more physical class where she could climb and move. We both relished it after Music Train which was great for Little H but didn’t mesh with how Little Z and I wanted to be.
The month started with the birthday celebrations. We left party planning a little late but we managed to pull together a gathering at a church hall in town with food, Disco Danni (from the previous year) and a whole gaggle of friends to celebrate with. She had an absolutely wonderful time and it was wonderful to see her interacting with her school friends.
We had a visit from my Dad which the girls loved. We also had a wonderful trip to Whipsnade with a tasty lunch at the River Cottage cafe on the lookout.
A real mix of a month. The high was my smallest small turned two. As with her sister, I couldn’t believe she was already entering her third year of life. We had quite calm and understated celebrations with Sam’s side of the family (of which I managed to get no photographs!) and then some cake on her birthday itself!
Then, suddenly, it all got serious. On Friday 13 March, I was told by my employer to work from home indefinitely. The following Tuesday Sam was told the same. On Wednesday 18 March it was announced that schools will close at the end of the week with no confirmed deadline for re-opening; the nurseries also. Then on Monday 23 March, the nation was given a “stay at home” instruction and that was that – we entered lockdown.
And so started our routine of juggling 2 jobs (well 1.7 jobs), a school education and Early Years entertainment. I started working 5 days / week so that Sam and I could implemented a shift system of working. For the first couple of weeks it was new, strange and we were focused on just getting into a routine. The girls missed their friends but, for the moment, it still felt a little like a holiday for them.
April / May
April and May did, aside from the odd birthday, blue into one. The routine had bedded in but it quickly took its toll. Sam and I felt like we rarely got a break and in some ways it honestly felt like groundhog day. We have never enjoyed the weekend arriving as much as during those months. It was honestly a huge relief.
But there were also lots of fun times. We celebrated the socially distanced birthdays of Sophie, Sam and Little L. Luckily the weather started to pick-up so that standing on the drive singing “Happy Birthday” was quite a pleasant experience.
Rather than replay the lockdown events here, there is plenty of information in the Lockdown Diary posts: Lockdown diaries – week 1; Lockdown diaries – weeks 2 & 3; Lockdown diaries – weeks, err, 4 – 6?
In June, things changed a little. Nurseries were allowed to open again with strict measures, so from the beginning of the month we began re-settling Little Z at nursery. She found it a bit of a shock after a 3 month break, especially as she had one swapped rooms the final week before the lockdown closure. She was also exhausted by the pace of nursery life as she’d lost some of her stamina for it. But she loved it once she got into the groove with it.
It made life back at home much easier for the rest of us. I was able to drop down to 4 days per week. which was exceptionally helpful as it meant Sam and I were able to get much more school work done with Little H. She was also able to go back to school for 2 days / week for the last 6 weeks of term. It made her so happy to be able to go back for even that short time and see a few of her friends and her teachers – Mummy and Daddy cannot compare to her teachers. I have also never enjoyed doing school drop of more and I relished having a few hours with just Little Z on Fridays.
It was also my birthday and my Father-in-Laws birthday – taking our family lockdown-birthday total to 5. By this point though we were permitted to meet in small groups outside. So we had a quiet birthday celebration in our back garden. It felt strange to meet up but have to keep apart but it was nicer than a brief drive-way sing-song! My sister also sent us an afternoon tea through the post which we enjoyed on my birthday afternoon. Yummy!
As we moved fully into summer, life felt significantly different – not normal by any means but a step change from the last 4 months. For starters, we went to the zoo! The girls were so excited to be back after such a break. We packed-up a picnic and when we needed to take our food break, we found a sunny spot on the edge of the hill overlooking the downs. It was such a wonderful trip!
Then, excitement central, the hairdressers were permitted to re-open so I FINALLY GOT MY HAIRCUT. After 4 months, this was really the highlight of the entire month. I didn’t even go that long without a haircut after having both of the girls. This is, of course, a first world problem but the simple 40 minute appointment really helped me to feel myself again.
The end of the month was fun too as, with the arrival of the school holidays, we took a trip up to stay with Dad. As he is on his own, we were “allowed” to form a support bubble with him. The girls relished being able to interact with him normally whilst also exploring his house and garden. After missing our holiday in April and being confined to our house for over 4 months, it was also a huge relief for Sam and I to have a change of scene for two short days!
At the start of the month, I had a fortnight off work. It was delightful after working almost solidly through since Christmas and with the lockdown thrown in for good measure. The first week of my leave, I took on my big plan of the year – decorating Little H’s room. It was 4 days (on/off) of work but I was so pleased with the result. And, most importantly, Little H loved it. A couple of weeks later her new cabin bed arrived to complete the job. We’re really pleased with the result and how well used the compact space is.
Little H also had some fun days at her Nana and Grandad’s each week which meant Sam and I had our first experience of being childfree in 5 months. We love our children but it was delightful to have some quiet for a little bit.Sam and I also took Little H out for lunch at Pizza Express during her summer break. It was nice to go out for something to eat for a change.
In the house, we had some work done and got out backdoor replaced. It was exciting as our old one was so clunky! Along with that, we also had our old and even more clunky back patio doors (into the conservatory) replaced with some excellent bifold doors which really transformed out downstairs space.
We also took a trip down to south London to visit my sister. Sam, Little H and Little Z finally got to meet Little J – I never anticipated he would be over 6 months old before they finally got to meet him. They enjoyed seeing one another even though they had to maintain distance!
The start of this month brought with it a new “normal” school term ahead – all kids in the same class; 5 days per week; school uniforms. Little H was so excited at the prospect. But in the last couple of days before the school gates opened, she had one thing to tick-off her summer bucket list – a trip to the seaside. Sam took her over to Mersey Island (where we went a few years ago) and they played in the sand, found a cafe for lunch and generally had fun mooching about near the sea.
The other excitement for September was taking Little Z back to her class. The one we originally went to closed permanently at the start of the pandemic, but we found a space on another branch near St Albans. It was wonderful to get her back into some climbing and agility activities, but it was also surprising how nervous she’d become of new things as a result of such a long break thanks to lockdown and other restrictions. But slowly she started to come out of her shell again.
Otherwise, there was a lot of garden play (including some fun “camping”) and vegetable harvesting. Little H also got a new bike as a gift from us for being so wonderful at coping with lockdown and home schooling; she’d outgrown her small one and become a very competent rider. We thought it would take her time to adjust to a new, bigger, frame but she jumped on and was off! I also took Little Z over to a nearby farm for a morning outing when Little H was at school, to enjoy the waning summer weather and our newly restored one-on-one time.
As the autumnal weather kicked in, we found ourselves inside a little more. But despite that, we consistently managed to walk to school almost every Monday and Friday which was a great way to start the day.
We went on another trip to the zoo which was awesome. We went a slightly different route to normal which meant we saw some different animals. We also had another picnic lunch which went down a storm – the girls both go crazy for cold pizza! We’d been doing a reward chart at home as well and the girls had collectively got enough points to earn a gift. They chose umbrellas so we picked them out an umbrella each from the zoo gift shop.
Little Z and I continued with her classes which she was enjoying more and more. One Monday we also ventured to one of our favourite garden centres so have a wander round the outdoor features, check out some Christmas decorations and get a couple of plants for her and Little H.
At the end of the month (the end of half term), my Dad also came down for a visit and stayed over. Exactly as in the summer, the girls relished having round not only because they wanted to see him but because they were also able to cuddle and play with him as they weren’t with anyone else!
With the cooler weather there was a climb in covid-19 cases and as a result we were all plunged back into lockdown again. Unlike the start of the year, schools and nurseries remained open though which was a relief. It felt less impactful this time as we weren’t really doing anything anyway; the only thing we could no longer do was go to the shops and that was an infrequent activity for us anyway.
The Christmas lights in the town were turned on at the start of the month and because of the situation, the town seemed to have invested in a few extra features. I took the girls one Sunday morning and we explored them all. They loved them and it was a real hit of a trip even though we couldn’t end it with a cafe trip as we would have in the past.
Little Z also swapped out of her cot finally. I’d been putting it off because…well…she had the feel of a wanderer (which proved to be true!) but one morning we went in and saw her in her cot and knew it was time. She absolutely loved swapping to her toddler bed and we made a big event that day of getting it out of storage and setting it up together.
The final month of the year has flown by. At the start of it, we regained some freedoms as lockdown ended. It allowed me to get my haircut and get a few Christmas gifts directly from the shops. Little H also flipped into Christmas mode at school and they were having fun making cards and doing other festive activities. The school made an excellent effort to keep things fun for the kids. As the couldn’t do a nativity, they held a short outdoor performance for each year group. They also hosted class Christmas parties on the penultimate day of term because the usual after school disco couldn’t run this year. Then there was Christmas jumper day and Christmas lunch day of course…
But the country-wide situation kept getting worse so as the school term drew to a close, we lost some freedoms again. Then only 24 hours later we were effectively put into another lockdown. It was inevitable but still upsetting as there had been the hope of limited family meet-ups over the Christmas period. However, we still got into the Christmas vibe at home – making gingerbread, watching films and playing games. Christmas Eve and Christmas Day were actually wonderful this year as both the girls were so excited about it. Sam and I have never been so wiped out though!
Thanks, as ever, to the support bubble rule we were able to have a Christmas visit from my dad though. The girls were over the moon to see him and didn’t leave his side the entire visit. He also enjoyed seeing us all after finding the oppressive weather very demoralising. I think we will all struggle with that over the next couple of months.
And now we’re in that post Christmas limbo – doing tidying and organising, watching more films, eating the rest of the Christmas food before the January guilt kicks in. The next few months are going to be hard but reflecting on the positives from what has been a difficult year helps me to remember that there is always fun to be had. After so much hope for 2020, it certainly has thrown us far too many curve balls and, for once, I won’t be sad to leave the year behind. Here’s hoping that the light at the end of the pandemic tunnel gets a lot closer as we move into 2021 and we can get back those freedoms we previously took for granted!