Dear Albert and Bea,
2020 has been such an extraordinary year. People say things like “in the before” and the “new normal” in a way I’ve never heard before. You two are so young, it’s unlikely you’ll remember “the before” and whether you remember the pandemic — “the sick” as Albert calls it — will depend on how long it is until there’s a safe, affordable vaccine. So, as we head into an election, which will no doubt transform reality yet again, I wanted to document how life has changed both in the wider world and for our little family.
There are a few moments that stick out in my mind. At work, I was one of the first to learn we would all be working from home, starting in mid-March. I thought we would be away from the office for a couple of weeks, maybe a month, at worst. It’s now seven months since I set foot in my office and as time goes on, I sometimes wonder what’s become of the jar of peanut butter I left in my desk and the succulents on my windowsill.
Trump’s announcement of new immigration restrictions was the first moment I felt slight panic. The restrictions were rescinded the next day, but then reinstated and international travel now feels like a distant memory. I’ve always taken comfort in the fact I can get back to London in less than 24 hours so these changes were meaningful, even though they were the first of what would become a long list of restrictions. I went to Trader Joe’s early the next morning as reports of food and toilet paper shortages were hitting the news. I wasn’t the only person to arrive as it opened: There was a queue of people rushing for trolleys and tinned food, things I never thought I’d experience in the affluent neighbourhood of Hoboken. I moved through the supermarket in a state of disbelief, unsure of how much pasta is appropriate to buy for a pandemic.
Shopping trips, something so mundane and normal are what stick in my mind. When I went back to Trader Joe’s a couple of weeks later things were considerably more eerie. I waited in a long queue outside, wearing a mask and standing six feet apart. Only a certain number of people were allowed in to shop at any given time. Staff members disinfected the trolleys between customers and most people wore gloves. There were signs saying you were only permitted to buy two of any item. Everyone kept a distance while eyeing up the contents of each other’s trolley. Everywhere was sold out of cleaning products and mothers posted in online parenting groups where they had last seen Lysol wipes on sale.
March and April were dark months. The governor issued a stay at home order. The schools, the playgrounds, and all non-essential shops closed. Millions were left unemployed. It wasn’t clear how the virus was spreading and we meticulously washed our hands after opening deliveries and takeaways. Your Dad and I felt particularly low one evening after a disappointing pizza. It took us by surprise, but luxuries like takeout had taken on a new importance. One weekend, when cabin fever reached its peak we drove to a deserted piece of marsh land near the American Dream mall to let you two run around. It was all very bizarre but you two looked so cute in the matching rain boots we’d bought for you at Christmas in London.
As the weather warmed up restrictions eased and life improved. But the U.S. was about to wake up to another crisis. The murder of George Floyd, a Black man killed by police became the spark that illuminated the injustices faced by Black Americans. Your Dad and I started to think about the actions we could take personally, as a family, and in our professional lives to become actively anti-racist. At breakfast one morning I described the vigil I had attended for George Floyd the night before. Albert, you looked me in the eye and said, “Mummy, you did a good thing.”
While the virus raged across America, divisions deepened around race, politics and the veracity of science. Just when it felt like 2020 couldn’t get anymore extraordinary, fire season hit the West coast and hurricane season hit the South. It felt like the planet was giving us a warning that the climate crisis could not be paused by the pandemic. I listened to a friend with three children in San Francisco, including a newborn say, “I just want to open the windows and breath fresh air.” A friend who had gone to help her parents in Florida described climbing the roof at 3am in the middle of a hurricane to patch holes with a tarp. I didn’t know what to say.
We’re all in the same storm sailing very different boats. That’s a phrase I heard on the radio near the start of the pandemic and it describes 2020 so well. This year has been tough, your Dad has said goodbye to your great-uncle, and both of your great-grandparents via video link and we wait for the day we can hug friends and family again. But we have so much to be grateful for, most of all the both of you. Your smiles, your silliness and your laughter have sustained us this year and they will be more than enough to get us through, until the new normal becomes the old normal and the before becomes the after.
Love Mum x
One Response to “Dear Albert and Bea,”
So poignantly summarising an extraordinary year. Thank you for sharing.