Yesterday, I was shopping and arrived at the self-checkout lane. As I scanned my items, I saw two young women, not more than 20, start to scan things, their arms piled high with small items. “Do you have any bags?” they asked the cashier. The store was out of bags, and they were told to make due. I looked in my cart, noticing I had brought an extra reusable bag. I grabbed the bag, walked across the aisle with it in my outstretched hand, maintaining a covid-safe distance, and said, “I heard you say you need a bag. I have an extra, here you go!”
Real talk, a year ago, I probably would have ignored their need, taken my extra bag, and gone on my way. As we close out 2020, I have more kids and more responsibility. I’m more tired than I was in January 2020, but I also like to think I’m a lot softer. I am more kind and in tune with the needs of those around me. I am less stuck in my own world than I was before. 2020 has taught me so many things about myself and the larger world. But here are my two biggest takeaways.
1. It’s always been important, but taking care of each other is critical to a thriving and just community.
In June, after the murder of George Floyd sparked public outcry, I watched the protests on the news and felt frustrated because I wanted to be there in solidarity. As the mom of two young kids, with a partner who works the opposite shift, it wasn’t possible to get to the protests. I also felt like I didn’t have any capacity to actually make a difference. I felt terrible that I’d waited my entire 33 years of life to really see racial injustice in our community enough to do something about it. (Hello, white guilt, I see you rearing your ugly head).
But having the choice to not take my kids to a protest, while Black kids their age experience racism and violence is a privilege. Being able to ignore and then choosing to turn away from racial injustice is privileged and racist.
I am a white, financially stable, and non-disabled woman, and I am aware that I have inherited massive amounts of privilege which in turn carries the same amount of responsibility. If I want to take care of the members of my community that are Black, Indigenous, or people of color (BIPOC), I need to fight systems of oppression and educate my children on how to do the same. I have a responsibility to instill in my girls the belief that instead of reaching back to pull others up behind them, they should contribute to breaking down barriers and sending BIPOC through the door first.
The protests motivated by racial injustice and violence made me carefully examine myself and my family. It became a priority for me to know what an anti-racist household looks like. At our house, becoming anti-racist involves a lot of learning and unlearning. If you haven’t read it, I strongly recommend Ibram X. Kendi’s book, How to Be an Antiracist or checking out anything from these Black leaders.
While I read and listened to Black activists, I also took inventory of the media we consume as a family. I piled all of my children’s books and surveyed how many featured main characters that were BIPOC. I have spent the past year adding only books that feature BIPOC to their library.
My husband and I talk with each other and to the girls about racism, even with the 3 ½ year-old. With her, race and racism are framed in an age-appropriate way she can understand. We talk about how not all people look the same or have the same beliefs and culture as us. We tell the girls that some people are treated terribly because of those things, and it’s our job to help put an end to that.
Yes, be kind. Please tip your Instacart shoppers and support local businesses. But be aware that there are injustices and inequality everywhere, and there are millions of people living continually in systems of oppression. There are people in our communities without housing, food, or work in the middle of a pandemic, as we officially enter winter.
I’m an enneagram type 2. Taking care of people has always been important to me. 2020 taught me that taking care of our neighbors is the key to making progress and having a truly just society.
“Taking care” can be a lot of different things, some of which don’t even involve money. Here are some options to consider:
- Donate to the Vermont Food Bank or your local food shelf
- Donate to or volunteer for organizations that serve and amplify the voices of BIPOC, like Abenaki Artist Association, Clemmons Family Farm, or Conscious Homestead
- Check-in on those in your life struggling with their mental health
- Donate new or gently used coats, hats, and mittens to a shelter
- Text a friend to see if they need a meal or supplies dropped off
- Read aloud to a friend’s child on a video call to give them a short break
- Call friends or send snail mail to lift their spirits
- Work on a family or community service project
2. I am far more resilient than I realized.
I have a tendency to sugarcoat how I am feeling. I do this because while I want people to know the truth, that things are challenging, I don’t want to burden them. I don’t do that to make myself a martyr. I know that every single person is dealing with their own challenges during the pandemic, and I don’t want anyone to think I don’t see that. When I was talking to a friend recently about what 2020 taught me, I talked entirely about how resilient my children are. Then, she said, this, which really blew my mind:
I think it’s important to note that YOU are also stronger and more resilient than perhaps you realize. I think you’ve been juggling so much for so long that your survival depended on not thinking about yourself as well.
This friend wasn’t wrong. The year started out with the third trimester of a healthy pregnancy. I gave birth in March, the day the Governor declared a state of emergency. Then, schools closed and my husband and I managed a newborn and an older child with disabilities thrown entirely out of her routine with no warning. I worked through my maternity leave to support my staff during a time of seismic change at our organization. When I needed help and had vowed to actually ask for it, I couldn’t get it in the way I needed. I ignored my own heart’s cries for someone to hold me up and held myself up instead.
When I look back at those things, it strikes me that 2020 taught me a lot.
Now, here I am, a year later, finally resurfacing from a second bout with postpartum depression. I can see, just beyond the rising fog, a place where I am cautiously optimistic about the future. I can be optimistic because, after this year and all it’s brought with it, I believe in my ability to do hard things. I am proud of myself, and while 2019 taught me to ask for help when I need it, 2020 taught me that if help can’t come, I can handle whatever 2021 brings.