2020- The Unexpected Layover (Not a Dumpster Fire)

reflections on a year that took us all by surprise

Photo by Jana Sabeth on Unsplash

Usually, as a year draws to a close, I look back on what we did that year, and go through my memento jar. In a normal year, that jar holds tickets, baby shower invitations, wedding invitations etc.

This year, my jar is empty.

Literally empty.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the true story of the year.

We saw movies, we just saw them streamed at home. We attended virtual holidays and a virtual baby shower. Our friends got married, but just had a small family ceremony. In short, good things happened in spite of everything.

I hate the common depiction of 2020 as a dumpster fire, because for our family, it wasn’t.

A dumpster fire assumes that there was nothing of worth, a year that was trash set on fire, inside a stinky, gross container.

That’s not 2020 to me.

This year was one of letting go of expectations, with every holiday changed in some way, and of a lot more time together at home. It was a year that we expected to be filled with sports, family gatherings and “normal” life, but instead we got handed a year without most of that.

But it wasn’t all bad. There were many moments of joy, new hobbies discovered, and our family became closer in the void of “normal.”

I choose to look back on 2020 as an unexpected layover.

When people book trips, they either choose to fly direct, or for whatever reason choose a flight with layovers. Most of the time, they are satisfied with whichever they chose, because they chose it.

But what if you were forced to have a layover, when you didn’t choose it.

It wasn’t part of the plan, it delayed the trip, and it would really throw you for a loop.

Eventually, you would wrap your head around the fact that you were, in fact, stuck in this airport until your plane is ready to take off.

Welcome to 2020.

It is safe to say that no one in 2019 thought to themselves, “I think it would be nice to experience a pandemic next year. That is what I will hope for, as it will be a nice change of pace.”

Yet, all around the world, we got the memo.

Congrats- you get to experience a historical pandemic! It will force everything you expected about the year to change. P.S. bring toilet paper.

We had the months of limited supplies, limited grocery deliveries, and reading about the lack of meat, toilet paper, and other normal items around the globe.

But then things settled down.

As strange as it sounds, wearing a mask when we went out became normal. It didn’t feel strange anymore that every night had no sports and nothing scheduled- it became the new routine.

We spent more time playing games together, I learned to bake sourdough bread, and my son learned to ride a bike (though he now is back to refusing to practice and just insists on his skates, again.)

We learned to enjoy this airport experience.

Back in 2013, we were told that our daughter’s passport and visa were ready, and we could fly to Ghana to bring her home. The cheaper choice would have been to send one parent, but we wanted to experience it together, but that doubled the price of the expensive flights.

But I had read about a company that specialized in discount tickets for humanitarian flights, and adopting was one of the qualifications for these discounted tickets. I called them, and they were able to arrange flights for us, even last minute, that were about half of what we would have paid over the counter.

This made it easier to justify us both flying to get our daughter together.

These tickets did, however, come with a catch- lots of long layovers, both ways.

We knew that being able to spend this huge moment together was worth the layover delays, but we weren’t looking forward to them.

In hindsight, the layovers were an unexpected blessing, especially on the way back.

What we didn’t know at the time was that our daughter had a parasite that she was bringing back with her from the orphanage, and it caused her to have, (sorry for the TMI) diarrhea, and often.

It was to the point that even though we packed diapers for our little 17 month old daughter, she was going through them fast. Plus, too often, it would somehow escape her diapers- ruining her clothes, and my husband’s as well.

So when we started our long layover in Germany, after our flight from Accra, it wasn’t the worst thing.

We had time to go to several gift shops and buy them out of diapers, as they typically only had a few mini packs each, if any. My husband had time to go and buy himself some new clothes that were not disgusting like the ones he wore on the last flight.

Instead of just trying to find a decently comfortable position, cramped on an airplane in the cheapest seats possible, we stretched out over several chairs in uncrowded gates, and took turns sleeping, really sleeping, while the other adult watched our daughter (and our stuff).

I even remember really liking the meal that we sat down and ate there as well, as we weren’t rushing to a flight, but enjoying the luxury of time.

This memory, of enjoying the layover experience, evokes the same feeling I have reflecting on 2020.

I would be lying if I said that I didn’t miss my son’s hockey tournaments this year or seeing my daughter score goals in soccer. While I was thankful for Zoom holidays and school as it was better than nothing, it isn’t the same as the regular family gatherings or having the kids see their friends every day.

I, like the rest of you, am looking forward to when the plane arrives and says we can leave this pandemic chapter of our lives.

But I didn’t have a miserable year.

There was more time to rest, and honestly, even when everything is open again, I don’t think we will fill our schedules quite so much as before. The kids have learned to enjoy long stretches of play time at home, time that they didn’t really get before as we had so many other extracurriculars that they were involved in.

We thought that keeping our daughter (now 9) busy was the best way for her to feel good and to keep her attitude positive. But we’ve seen that we were wrong. This year, that she spends most of every day at home, she is more loving and more emotionally stable than we have ever seen her before since the trip we brought her home. I think she feels less rushed, as we have the gift of time, and she gets her fill of play time, social time, and screen time, instead of being forced to make choices and feeling like she never had enough time to do what she wanted.

We got to know our neighbors more, spent more time in our front yard, having water fights and going on family bike rides (with my son on skates).

During the time that guidelines were somewhat relaxed (we are more shut down now), we enjoyed having my brother over for dinner or my mom for lunch in the backyard.

Even Christmas, which is usually such a big family thing, when it was reduced to a few shorter zooms, left a lot more time for the four of us. Everyone got extra time to enjoy their gifts, and our dinners Christmas Eve and Christmas Day were hits- because we let the kids choose what they wanted to eat. Our daughter chose ribs and potatoes, and our son chose spaghetti and meatballs the next night.

School is online, but the kids don’t hate it- in fact, they have asked if they can do this again next year.

Calling this year a dumpster fire really bothers me, because it would be trashing all of the moments that I hold dear from this crazy, unexpected year.

Even as a nation, we can’t throw this year away. Too many people rose up against racism in the summer’s protests, too many people voted against an unfit leader in November, and too many people spent this year bending over backwards to save lives.

This pandemic was handled poorly by those in power in the United States, but that never stopped the amazing doctors and nurses from going into work, day after day, doing what they could to save as many as possible.

We can’t throw 2020 in the trash, because this was a year that scientists, around the world, buckled down and knew that there was lives at stake, and successfully, miraculously developed multiple vaccines. That was this year.

I have great hope that next year will be better, but all of the improvements come from events from this year.

I hope that Biden’s leadership will smooth out many of the wrinkles that came from a lack of leadership and disorganization in every aspect of the pandemic, and the vaccine roll out will resume smoothly.

But that new leadership only comes because of the historic turn out of 2020 voting, and the judges around the country tossing out over 50 ridiculous court cases as some tried to say those votes didn’t count.

I hope that there are important reforms made in 2021, starting the process of fixing our injustices in the system, but if changes get made, credit goes to the protests and activism of 2020.

I hope that 2021 brings an end to the pandemic as all of these vaccines get into bodies and the virus runs out of hosts, but without the 2020 effort to make the vaccines, that wouldn’t be possible.

I hope that my little family, in 2021, stays close and finds time for each other and for down time, even if some things start up again. But we will only be able to make those more balanced choices for our time, because 2020, the unexpected layover, showed us that they were valuable and missing.

I’ll raise a glass and bid this year goodbye, but I won’t join you in tossing it in the trash.

To a brighter 2021!

I am a teacher, with two kids, recently diagnosed with Lupus, and possibly other auto-immune conditions, living life to the fullest, while managing symptoms.

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