2020 has been the year of all years. And the heaviness of the events continues to weigh on our minds and hearts. We hope for a happy new year – full of excitement and reconnecting, but we’ve been through enough by now to set our expectations low. How will this year be remembered? What will the history books say? What will be the result of so much heartache, loneliness, and fear? The world is collectively dealing with the sudden loss of loved ones – what will be the psychological repercussions of such? But on a smaller scale, how will each of us remember this year? Will it be something we just. . . would rather forget? Will it entice anger or frustration, even years after the fact? Or will we be able to remember some of the good moments that we would not have experienced otherwise?
Years from now, I don’t know how I will remember 2020. . . like raising toddlers, I expect the entire year will feel like a blur of mania I survived. But in the spirit of remembering my favorite moments of 2020, I have created my top 10 list for my children and me to reflect back upon when there is a large and safe amount of distance between 2020 and the present day. Like when 2020 is sleeping through the night, or better yet when it can make its own breakfast.
Favorite 2020 Memory #10: Zoom and Facetime
I had taken an on-line writing course out of Amsterdam in early 2019 and we had used ZOOM as our platform. Totally new to the concept, not only was terrified of messing everything up, but I smiled like a goofball through each of our Brady-bunch-style lessons. I found it all so. . . entertaining that I could have a class with students in so many different countries. Who knew that small introduction would prove to be so handy a year later?
Living overseas is a naturally isolating experience – and up until now, I relied mostly on social media to keep up with my friends and family at home. But with COVID and the enhancement of people’s comfort and willingness to Facetime and ZOOM I’ve talked to my friends and family, even more, this year.
Favorite 2020 Memory #9: Strapping My Son to His Chair During Homeschool
Holden, my eight-year-old has always had a lot of energy. The kid can not walk down the street – he must skip/dance/jump-off-walls – it’s just his mode of operation. So when his teacher told me a year ago that he had trouble sitting in his chair during class, I was not surprised. It wasn’t until lock-down and homeschooling began that I really understood what she was trying to tell me.
With a list of six or seven tasks to complete each day, my husband and I would sit Holden down at the kitchen table with his list of instructions. My husband would turn to his computer (working from home was mandatory) and I’d turn my focus to dishes/laundry/cleaning. Minutes later, I’d realize that Holden had disappeared.
“Where did Holden go?” I’d ask my husband.
“Uh, I don’t know. . .” he’d look up from his keyboard, “I mean. . . he was just here?”
We’d search all the floors to find him at the top of the house playing with Legos. And those were the good days. Otherwise, we’d just find him wallowing in his self-misery on the couch and shouting into the pillows how he didn’t want to do his homework anymore. After weeks of this, I got the great idea to tie him his chair, just to encourage him to sit still for ten minutes while he finished his math homework. We all had a good laugh about it. And in the end, it didn’t work anyway.
Favorite 2020 Memory #8: Bobbejaanland & Japanese Restaurant B-day Celebrations
My boys’ birthdays were in October and we carpe’ diemed and booked tickets for Bobbejaanland, a Belgian theme park, which we had never been to before. (We are big fans of Efteling in the Netherlands but with the borders closed. . . we explored new options). My husband even asked me, “Bobbejaanlaan is supposed to have a big Halloween event – should we get tickets for that?” and I told him no way. Let’s go early October, closer to the boy’s birthdays, and just in case. . .
It was a beautiful, if not cold, fall day and the park was completely empty. You can imagine our surprise when we found an entire section of the park was decorated like a town in the Old West – complete with Texas flags.
My son, Holden is in love with everything Japanese. Ninjas, sushi, (kung fu – yes, I know that’s from China, but it’s more about defense). So we surprised him for his ninth birthday with a reservation to Hayashi, a hibachi restaurant in the Eilandje area of Antwerp. The kids loved it, the food was fantastic, and the service was wonderful. A week later, all the restaurants and theme parks were closed.
Favorite 2020 Memory #7: Beach House in Den Haan
During the summer, our family was given the opportunity by a dear friend of mine to visit her beach house in Den Haan. It was the perfect getaway for our family. My friend’s home came complete with lots of snacks, gifts, and a swing set! With the ocean just a mile’s walk away, we enjoyed soaking up the sun on a social-distant beach and playing in the waves. I had checked out Enid Blyton’s Holiday Stories from the library and the kids loved hearing the centuries-old stories about children at the seashore, while we too, were at the seashore. We explored many museums within the area including the Atlantik Wall Open Air Museum and Japanese Garden in Oostende.
Favorite 2020 Memory #6: Back to School! In June!
After three months at home, the Belgian schools opened again for 14 days in June. The thrill of the children to return to school to see their friends was wonderful. It brought structure to our days and closure to the school year. Tears pooled in my eyes as I sent my children off into what felt like. . . college. And then I got to work.
Favorite 2020 Memory #5: Those Projects I’d Been Putting Off. . . Painting Furniture
Once the kids had gone back to school, I felt the palpable excitement of productivity. To complete tasks without being interrupted! To clean the kitchen once in the morning and it stayed clean throughout the day. With the kids back at school for seven hours a day, I felt a great sense of desire to complete everything I had been putting off my whole life. It was time! So, I unearthed the chalk paint from the basement I’d transported across the ocean four years earlier and set to work.
Favorite 2020 Memory #4: Sunday Fundays
With our travel options limited to Belgium. . . we set off to explore where we could when we could. We started an initiative in our house – Sunday Fundays – and each week we tried to do something new. It proved to be wildly successful in our house. (Not only because my boys start bouncing off the walls if we try to stay at home, but also because we love exploring and learning new things). We explored museums, parks, and peered out the windows of the Atomium. But our most favorite Sunday Funday was. . .
Favorite 2020 Memory #3: Drive-in theater in Brussels
I grew up loving Grease and it was always a dream of mine to go to a drive-in theater. On a sunny September evening, my life-long dream came true. My family headed to Brussels and we watched Grease! Half-way through the movie, the kids started screaming, “Mama, Mama! Look! They’re at a drive-in!”
I laughed, “Yes! That’s the point!” We car-danced with the rest of the Belgians to Grease Lightening and we all honked our horns in appreciation when the movie concluded. It was. The. Best.
Favorite 2020 Memory #2: Anniversary Dinner
Vinny and I celebrated our 12th year anniversary in April. With all the restaurants closed, I decided to get creative. I recruited my kids to be the hostess and waitstaff and I met my husband on the sidewalk in one of my fanciest dresses. Why not?
I explored new recipes in hopes of recreating some special memories. I made my first Italian Cream cake (which was my wedding cake) and I must say, it turned out well. But nothing will compare to the cuteness of our daughter in her dress and our boys in their button-down shirts welcoming us to dinner.
Favorite 2020 Memory #1: A Sense of Community
Tonight at 8:20 p.m. (20:20 military time) all the residents of our street opened their windows or stood on the sidewalk to cheer and toast goodbye to 2020. The happy claps transported us all back to our 8:00 p.m. shoutouts of March, April, and May. Back during the lockdown, the 8:00 p.m. shoutout was one of the highlights of our day. We each whoop and yell from our doorsteps or windows (one of my neighbors busted out his trumpet too). We gave praise to the front-line workers and ourselves for making it through another day.
2020 was speckled with uncertainty and loneliness and the year had started with such high hopes. The American Women’s Club celebrated its 91st anniversary in February before everything began to unravel, and for that I am thankful. It was an amazing celebration and the last big event we shared. Yet we’ve been able to still transform the club into a supportive group – relying on ZOOM calls (yeah. . . and we’re back to #10) but also connecting with handwritten notes, distance-friendly potlucks, and phone calls.
At midnight tonight – my neighbors ventured into the street to welcome in the new year (at a socially respective distance). Once again, it was the most minimal of gestures that helped celebrate the moments of the year. I hope that the thousands of humane moments over the past year will be the moments that will be admired and remembered. And I hope. . . that years from now, that those are the jewels of memories that will define 2020. Because, despite all the odds and all the distance, we are still connected.