Lessons From Lockdown: Looking Back on 2020

What a year it's been! I've learned some things along the way.

woman working in backyard

Gary Yeowell / Getty Images

Dear readers, this is my last post of 2020. My lovely week of vacation is in full swing and you won't hear from me again until early January. I am looking forward to this time off, if for no other reason than to reflect on the wild year that's wrapping up. 

And what a year it's been! It's hard to believe that last December I was churning out posts about a pre-Christmas trip to Sri Lanka with sustainable tourism operator Intrepid Travel. The world felt wide open and welcoming back then, and I was full of anticipation for all the places I would go. 

Fast forward twelve months and I've hardly left my little town in southwestern Ontario, Canada. There was one quick trip to New York City in early February to meet Treehugger's new parent company Dotdash, but then the world shut down. Restrictions lifted as the weather warmed and summer arrived, but it was never quite "normal," and now Ontario is back in full lockdown. Just when I thought it was getting better, we've come full circle.

And yet, despite staying home so much, I think I've learned more lessons this year than any other since becoming a parent. For so long I've viewed travel and meeting people in other countries as being the greatest way to expand my mind and perspective, but here I've ended up having one of the most challenging and formative experiences of my life within the confines of my own home, surrounded only by my immediate family. 

I'd like to reflect on some of the lessons I've learned this year. While everyone's 2020 has been different, depending on where they live (and I count myself among the very fortunate to live in a house with a yard, in a community with hardly any COVID-19 cases), I'm sure there are common themes here to which readers will be able to relate.

For me, 2020 was about reflecting on my own isolated, rural childhood more than ever before. I was raised in a situation that had many similarities to lockdown, minus today's modern technology, so I've drawn frequently on those memories when trying to come up with ways to keep my kids entertained. It inspired me to keep going and stay positive, when I remember that my parents willingly chose that life of quiet isolation, in the middle of the forest, because they believed it was better for them and their children. Clearly, there are benefits to be had in removing oneself from the world.

2020 was about using the great outdoors to its maximum potential. Never have I spent so much time outside, both on my own and with my children. I've become ruthless about sending them out to play multiple times a day, especially when they're not going to school. We go for long family hikes every weekend. We installed a fire pit in our backyard so we could sit there with friends and socialize safely. We made vegetable and herb gardens and built an outdoor shower. We've eaten countless meals on the back deck. I take my laptop or book outside to sit on the patio and absorb sunshine while working.

2020 was about getting to know my own community better than ever. I've talked to my neighbors more than usual because we're all at home and puttering around our yards with nothing else to do. My family has gotten to know all the hiking and biking trails in the region. We've booked campsites that are a short drive from home, gone on canoe trips, visited nearby villages that we've never seen, and ordered takeout from restaurants we didn't go to in the past. This interesting exercise in viewing my own community through the eyes of a tourist has caused me to develop a deep appreciation for where I live. 

2020 was about learning how to be quieter, calmer, and more patient. It taught me how to spend time with my children, instead of seeking outside distractions, and I've gotten to know them better as a result. It's been a year for deep conversations, for slow Saturday nights spent around the dining room table with a Scrabble board, for teaching my 5-year-old to play chess (and have him beat me over and over again), for taking the time to answer a million questions about how the world works without brushing them off because I'm in a hurry to go somewhere else.

2020 was about cooking, cooking, and more cooking. It was about buying all the staple ingredients and making all the things. It was about making do when I didn't have the right item but didn't want to go to the store. I've always been a diligent home cook, but some weeks the meal prep felt relentless and overwhelming. I believe I'm a better cook now, after months of enforced daily practice. I cook more simply now, am fine with dishing out easy meals if I lack energy, and don't hesitate to delegate the task to my husband.

2020 was about reigniting my love affair with books and stories of all kinds. As someone who studied English at school and now works as a professional writer, books have always played a major role in my life; but it's funny how, even for me, they can fall by the wayside when I get caught up in other tasks. This year I've read steadily, consuming books as quickly as they come into my house. I've also watched more Netflix than usual, allowing myself to slip into the glorious escapism offered by addictive shows and thought-provoking movies.

2020 was about feeling new gratitude for all the random stuff in my house and garage – stuff I used to hate, but now view as a godsend because it provides entertainment for my endlessly energetic children. (Well, I still kind of hate it, but am willing to put up with it because it spells brief periods of peace and quiet that allow me to work without disruption.)

I am eager to see what 2021 brings. At the very least, it won't hit us with quite the shock that 2020 did because now we're primed for it. I've learned firsthand that nothing ever stays the same, that it's impossible to place expectations on the future, and that, no matter what, a good long hike always makes me feel better.