New YearHappy New Year, my dear readers.  {Deep sigh.}  I, like many of you, am turning the 2020 calendar page with much relief to be moving on.  A sticker on the back of a holiday card I received recently had a drawing of a reindeer wearing a face mask, with the caption “Oh dear, what a year!”  Which sums things up nicely.

Like many of you, I’m also wondering how to start fresh and shiny and new in January, when we’re still in the midst of a pandemic.  {Another deep sigh.}  The holiday season was festive in our house, and the novelties of gifts, cookies, and more sleep definitely added some welcome light and joy to our somewhat monotonous COVID days.

As tradition dictated, my husband and I did our annual planning meeting this past week.  We were glad to discover that we’d been making changes throughout the year that helped improve the state of our household and relatively home-bound existence.  It was fun to look ahead, too, make some plans we hope will hold up in a post-COVID future.

Yet at the end of this year, as we look both back and ahead, things still feel heavy.

Getting Out Alone

In addition to annual planning, stuffing holiday cards, and playing a million board games, this past week I also took a 6.5 mile hike.  ALONE.  It was most certainly the longest stretch of daylight hours I have gone without seeing family in my house or colleagues via Zoom since March 13.  Our tutor came over for the day, my husband had to work, and I bolted.

New YearIt was my first time on the C&O Canal Towpath in Maryland, in the nearly 20 years I’ve lived in the DC area.  I had just gotten the Washington, DC, version of this wonderful book 60 Hikes in 60 Miles (thank you, Julia, for the introduction to this gem!), and I was feeling inspired.  If you’re bored with 10 months of your usual pandemic hikes, check out the version for your own area (e.g., San Francisco version, Chicago version, New York version, Boston version…and there are more).

I told myself I had no expectations for my day away.  I was just going to walk and be open to whatever happened.

But once I arrived, I discovered that “zero expectations” line I had been recounting wasn’t exactly true.  It turns out I was secretly dreaming of a “white space” sort-of getaway.  This was going to be my “turn the corner on the new year” day.  I was going to get in a creative zone.  Feel elated.  Have a fresh start.  Skip with glee down the towpath, and let 2020 wash itself down the Potomac River.

Mmm…that would have been glorious.

new year

What Actually Happened on the Hike

To start with, I’ll fess up that I read my map upside down.  I had selected one particular hike – from Old Anglers Inn to Carderock, if you’re wondering.  But when I arrived at a sign reading “Great Falls Overlook,” I realized I had been hiking in exactly the opposite direction I thought I’d been going.  For how long, you ask?  A good 3 miles.  “It’s not me, it’s COVID,” I shall continue to chant.

New YearIt turns out the error was in my favor, as seeing the rapids of Great Falls from the Maryland side of the river was stunning.  Here’s a good lesson that the reality of what happens can, at times, be better than the plan.  And I definitely found the fresh air, scenery, and exercise to be amazing.

But this time away also made me acutely aware of just how much responsibility all of us as working parents have been shouldering this year.  Suddenly, and for a few mercifully uninterrupted hours, I was responsible only for myself.  I wasn’t breaking up sibling fights, making up a game or story, working, educating, washing dishes, or being climbed on.  And this awareness made me feel the tremendous weight of all I’ve been carrying.

All we’ve been carrying as parents in a pandemic.

My long history with an over-developed sense of responsibility walloped me like the rapids I was staring at.  From trying to break up my birth parents’ fights as a kid.  To working to get straight A’s to keep everyone happy.  To trying to be an entire village to my children this year.  I felt fully and completely exhausted.  Not elated.

So much for a bright and shiny brand-new-year-brand-new-me hike.

The New Year Will Be a Slow Healing Process

Admitting that “starting fresh” in the New Year would be relatively impossible first felt like defeat.

But slowly, I grew into the realization that this year is going to require a long, slow, deep healing process.  A message that’s not so catchy for cards, quotes, memes, and social media posts.  But a more honest perspective, I think.

My walk showed me I’ve built up nearly a year’s worth of scar tissue from this year of pandemic trauma.  And rather than casting off the weights in one, big, gleeful throw, I, for one, will need to take the time for it to heal layer by layer.

New YearThe shiny and new for me in the coming weeks will be to continue to find the good – and I did just that on the towpath.  In the distant past of my life, walking alone for so many miles might have felt lonely.  As I looked at other couples and families, I may have longed for that love and companionship in my own life.  Now, I felt wrapped in a secure and deep love that didn’t leave me feeling lonely at all.  Simply happy to be alone.

I also reflected on all those responsibilities I was shouldering.  And realized that while they are indeed burdens, they are also the things that make my life meaningful.  (I’d simply prefer them in smaller doses in 2021.)

Finally, I remembered that there is new to be found in everything, everyday.  Just like the helicopter seed floating down from the tree in Disney’s new movie, Soul.  Thousands have fluttered before us before, but every time, it’s new.

There’s Dignity in a Complicated New Year

Honor yourselves, my fellow parents, as you close out 2020.  You have held the world together for many humans over the past 10 months.  You’ve done the unthinkable this year.  And you are still here.

As we welcome 2021, I leave you with two reminders that shiny and new may simply be dreams, but the complexities make us human.

**From Margery Williams Bianco’s The Velveteen Rabbit**

“Real isn’t how you are made,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.’

‘Does it hurt?’ asked the Rabbit.

‘Sometimes,’ said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. ‘When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.’

‘Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,’ he asked, ‘or bit by bit?’

‘It doesn’t happen all at once,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

**From Robert Saltzman’s The Ten Thousand Things**

“When you lose interest in spiritual pipe dreams, your craving for a pain-free life will weaken.  Then your attention will remain where it belongs – not in some fanciful trouble-free future, but in this moment, which is the only moment one ever has, the only moment one must deal with, and the only moment one can actually deal with.  Seeing that simplifies matters considerably.  The wise among us enjoy and suffer a fully human experience with an equanimity they are powerless to explain…”


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