Yes, 2020 was the shits. Despite the hard divisions that exist in our world and within our society at this time, that is one agreement that possibly is unanimous in the decision. Again, as we know, there are always a few outliers out there. What?! 2020 was awesome! Yeah, okay.
But as we come around to a full year since our world was flipped on its side and life as we know it was crumpled up, tossed in a blender, poured out, and trampled on - and that's still an understatement - it's hard not to walk away with lessons and newly found appreciations moving beyond this pandemic.
After all, while 2020 brought fatigue, despair, death, and other battles that were simply "2020", the pandemic has produced some bright spots. For me, that was fatherhood.
WHAT?! ARE YOU OUT OF YOUR MIND!
Hold on. Hold on.
Yes, much like the theme of 2020, parenthood whooped ass as well leaving parents with no childcare, balancing (or attempting it) work and home life, becoming impromptu teachers, and yes, just trying to cope with it all happening inside the home. It still remains a non-stop affair.
I still find myself amazed at the way my wife and I made it through the months of March 2020 to August 2020. Again, like so many, we were trapped in our 1 bedroom apartment in Brooklyn with a growing toddler. Both of us were expected to still work from home by our employer - and let's be honest, we WANTED to provide reasoning for the importance of our work to avoid furloughs and even worst, being let go. Again, 2020 was harsh.
Not to mention, we were balancing our emotions within a city that was surrounded by death and constant hurt that is a constant reminder by looking out the window at its emptiness and/or hearing the never-ending sirens that consumed it.
We literally took turns between working during the day and giving our growing toddler the attention he deserved. And then working deep into the night on the projects we were unable to get accomplished when the sun was up.
We only have one child, so those with multiple kids - my hat is off to you! I have so much appreciation for the super parents out there. And the single-moms???! I don't even know where you find the strength.
I often heard during this time from friends and colleagues, "I'm not sure how you do it!". And for those who didn't live in NYC, they were amazed - sometimes horrified by the prospect of doing so in an apartment setting.
On the tail end of this pandemic, and now living in a home outside of the city, I can tell you that apartment living and raising a child is not as hard as it appears. In fact, I realize as a parent the difference between what is essential and what is mere commercial baby "musts" or societal "expectations". As most in NYC in some time or another became good at - you learn to do more with less and make it not just effective, but pretty damn awesome.
But besides the ability to grind out long days, short nights, and effectively use every square foot in our apartment to transform a work environment to a toddler basketball area, into a dining space, into a massive fort of blankets, and then into an open area for work, was the best kind of parenthood Bootcamp anyone can go through.
It was tough, but, not impossible.
Nonetheless, it was the appreciation of the essentialism within the pandemic that has made me a better father - especially that of time. It was the biggest silver lining of it all. During those months, I was able to witness so many moments that I would have missed if he were at Daycare, or if we were commuting home, or pretty much, living our lives close to normalcy.
There were sooooooooo many moments that I look back on now and greatly appreciate. Simple ones like when he began to string words together. Or, the joy on his face when he sits on a Zoom call with mommy or daddy and sees another face on the screen. All the time we had to play, to get angry and frustrated with one another, and/or to fall asleep on the couch exhausted from our daily grind of being together.
2020 taught us about the value of life, and so much of it is spent in schedules and appointments, and in need of being somewhere because that's just what we did. There is a beauty in knowing that for several months, I got that time - all of it - with my son. I honestly would do it all again. I would.
One last final big lesson has been communicating with the little guy, and that comes with immense patience. It's so easy to just yell what you want him to do (or stop doing) because well, that's what would bring order to your life. It took me a long time to find that balance during the pandemic and having nowhere to escape to, I was forced to go through it. Finding that balance in my voice and the right amount of patience to cope with not just understanding that he is a budding toddler, but also in effectively communicating correction and establishing a connection for the future.
Finding those voices that connect with your toddler that elicits your emotions to them - daddy's okay with this; daddy is having fun, too; daddy doesn't like this - are some of the communicative areas I've worked on, and it's helped me as he's progressed further in this terrible two-stage. Which is, very terrible.
In finding that voice, comes finding more patience. With patience comes more peace.
Fellow parents: don't beat yourself up.
And finally, just a few other quick things I've learned from pandemic fatherhood:
- This is not a perfect time. Stop trying to keep everything perfect and orderly during it.
- Selfcare is VITAL. It might not be the desired option (activity, length, etc...), but def schedule it in.
- Kids on Zoom calls are needed - they make work bearable and way more fun. Don't try to be overly professional, it's inevitable.
- A child's development and learning doesn't have to be rigid or from a textbook. Simple games can produce the greatest of development. They'll get there.
- TV timelimit is not realistic but should be monitored. We've all caved.
- Appreciate the good days. Stop thinking in terms of surviving, and within the mindset of living. Pandemic days are days of your life you'll never get back, don't discount them.