It seems like a lifetime ago that I sat at our dining room table one evening in February, calling loved ones to let them know my son’s first birthday party was canceled. There had been several cases of a strange virus in our hometown — the first in the state that could not be traced to travel outside the country. My husband and I had each traveled through JFK airport for work the week before and were both nursing what turned out to be some pretty bad colds, but we didn’t know it at the time. Even so, it was difficult not to feel like we were making something out of nothing.
I had been a mother for barely a year when the COVID-19 pandemic turned all of our lives upside down. In true first-time-mom fashion, I was heartbroken to have to cancel my son’s party after all the work I had put into getting everything perfect — the invitations, the decorations, the cake, everything. But there I was, crying in a dining room partially adorned with streamers and cutouts of cartoonish forest animals.
Was this who I was going to be as a mom? The woman mourning the first birthday party that wasn’t? This wasn’t the mom I wanted to be.
Although I am quite certain I would have come to this point anyway, the onset of COVID became the abrupt end to my brief foray into being “the Pinterest mom.” I think all of us have those moments when we feel like we’ve reached a new phase in our lives — when the images we had in our heads of what things would be like fade and are replaced with a different reality. It’s no secret that 2020 has forced us to let go of certain expectations, triggering dozens of iterations of this process. I know I’m not alone when I say I’m not even close to the mom I was a year ago — or even to the mom I thought I’d be.
When I’m particularly stressed, I sometimes flip back a few years (OK, maybe more than that) in my Google calendar to my college schedule. Three jobs and a full course load — what was I thinking? If I was able to do all that then, I can definitely do this now, right? This pep talk from my past self helps most of the time. We all have those moments where we look back and say “I can’t believe I pulled that off.”
For me, the evolution of 2019-infant-mom to 2020-toddler-mom went far beyond just coming to terms with parenthood being an imperfect adventure. Juggling work, childcare, and life as it happened in 2020 reminded me that it’s okay to be the mom I want to be — or not. And more importantly, that the mom I want to be is always going to be a moving target.
My son is now nearing 2 years old, and I am not the mom I was a year ago — and that is most certainly a good thing. I could write here about how I’ve learned to laugh when my son makes a Zoom video cameo, relax my expectations of work productivity, and embrace takeout dinner on weeknights, but that’s all part of being a mom in 2020. It’s a part of all our stories. Maybe I won’t still be using the same Google calendar a decade from now, but I know we will all be able to look back at 2020 on the calendar and say “we did that” and came out the other side stronger.