2020 in Review

It’s been four months since I published anything here. In fact, I was halfway through a post about going to the cottage with my parents in August when I saved and closed and never came back.

This semester has been grueling to say the least. In fact, I learned what my limits are for committing to things…and then I ran right past those limits. Do not recommend.

The year didn’t start as a dumpster fire though.

Charlie started piano lessons this year. He was really enjoying it, and then the world stopped. He didn’t want to do them virtually, so we waited until it was safe to go back. Then Cortney decided since he wouldn’t be bowling league this year (pandemic, you know), he would learn to play the electric guitar. So he and Charlie had back to back piano then guitar lessons. Just this month, Charlie was experiencing quite a bit of stress and decided to take a “pause” from piano until life wasn’t quite so overwhelming.

Eddie finished cub scouts this year. In February he “crossed over” from cub scout to, well, not much because he decided he didn’t want to continue on to Boys Scouts at this time. Honestly, that worked out because, well, pandemic. But we are super proud of him! He started as a Tiger cub in first grade and saw it through all the way to Arrow of Light.

Cortney recently accused me of choosing a photo of us where I looked cute and he looked gumpy, so here is one where he looks super hot and I look like a troll. Ha! At the beginning of the year, Cortney planned and arranged a sitter for us to go out on a date once a month from January through May–until school got out. This was our February date where we shopped for new bikes for Alice and Charlie’s birthdays, had dinner, and then hit up Coppercraft Distillery for drinks. That was the last time we went out. Life pretty much got cancelled after this.

Just before the world shut down in March, this kid went and turned five! Being five is such a fun time, and I felt bad that preschool and kindergarten have been different due to COVID, but she doesn’t know any different. She has been a sparkle of glittery rainbow sunshine in our lives. When she is not screaming at her older brothers.

The very next week, Charlie Bird turned eight. Eight is great! In fact, his birthday was his and his siblings’ last day of school due to COVID. My district cancelled school starting that day. So I had time to bake those Batman cupcakes!

Eddie also won the Pinewood Derby (cub scouts) for one last time. He took a trophy home every single year!

My paternal grandfather also died in March just as the pandemic was beginning to shut things down. It was one of the first funerals that couldn’t be held inside, which was Ok because my grandpa wanted a graveside funeral anyway. No one was wearing masks outside of buildings, but we were all social distancing. It was weird to not hug my family–especially my dad.

I turned forty-two at the end of March, which was only just the beginning of quarantine.

And so began the age of Zoom. We all learned how to use Zoom, Google Meet, WebEx, BlueJeans, Teams, and whatever other platform for video conferencing. With no answers as to an end to the isolation, many times we logged out of these conferences in tears wishing to connect in-person.

Cortney and I decide that the best way for us to survive quarantine is to get a Nintendo Switch with Animal Crossing: New Horizons…but not tell the kids about it. So we would play on the TV after they went to bed, or lock ourselves in our room while they were awake. This secret lasted until Labor Day when two things happened. 1) Alice saw it on the charger and when it was on TV informed her brothers that “we have one of those behind the upstairs TV,” and 2) Eddie had been saving for a Switch Lite since his birthday in June, but they had always been sold out. I saw one on Target’s website and ordered it for me (he paid us in advance) and it arrived the same day the kids asked whether or not we had a secret Switch. We were like, “What? Yes, but LOOK!”

As soon as the weather hinted at being warm enough, we tried to get outside as much as possible. Alice and Charlie had new bikes and, well, we were incredibly sick of being on top of each other in the house. The fresh air and exercise was exactly what we needed each day!

The spring was really hard on my mental health (and that of my family, but I can only speak for myself here). I got incredibly depressed and felt very lost and purposeless once my grad class wrapped up in April. We had switched to a sort of virtual holding pattern for school where each week teachers posted work for students to do, but if they didn’t do it, it wasn’t going to hurt their grade. This ended up feeling like a struggle to keep my own kids doing something academic each day, but it was torture as a teacher. We didn’t have required meetings, so I wasn’t even seeing my students via video conferencing. I started to lament the fact that the libraries had all closed and my students had nothing to read. I didn’t understand how others could suddenly read all the things or write all the things or create all the things when I couldn’t hardly get out of bed. There felt like there was no reason.

Then YOU all showed up. When I stated on social media that the only way my students could all have books was they were gifted, you gifted them. You paid for postage and bought books. I wrapped each book carefully, wrote a personal note for each one, and mailed them out.

Working from home all together had some benefits, I suppose.

I started a little hobby during all this isolation: crafting cocktails. I started by looking up recipes, but ended up making them my own way. It’s been pretty fun!

Alice finished preschool! She loved being in the Fish Room with Mrs. Y. It was so sad that it had to finish virtually, but we were super blessed to have our last kid have such a fun year.

Charlie finished 2nd grade and Eddie completed 5th grade. They were able to pick up their things from their desks/lockers at the end of May.

Eddie officially “graduated” from elementary school in June. We celebrated with…dinner at home, of course. But we also bought him a watch since being a middle schooler comes with new responsibilities.

We are rule followers. The only person to leave our house from March-June was Cortney. And even that wasn’t super often since he mainly worked from home and we ordered our groceries via Shipt. We had one other family we decided to “bubble” with. We spent a few nights chatting with them–both of us disclosing every place any of us had been, and we decided to connect our bubbles. BEST. DECISCION. EVER. Thanks to them, we were able to have fun with friends during the summer. Lots of pool party fun.

Black Lives Matter.

Cortney and I had planned to spend our 15th anniversary in Las Vegas since I was confirmed to present at the Summit on Young Adult Literature at UNLV. That did not happen, because COVID. I still presented, but from our bedroom.

June means PRIDE!

This is the photo Cortney says I look cute in and he does not. I blame the pandemic hair and fully shaved face he is rocking. But he is still cute. And this was our 15th anniversary date–a boat ride on his brother’s boat complete with dinner and drinks put together by our sister-in-law. We had not been on a date since February. And we have not been on a date since this evening.

My first baby turned eleven this summer. The change from elementary to middle school kid floors me. He is so much more grown up even now from this summer. There are definitely hints of surly tween that surfaces, but overall, I am really enjoying who this kid is becoming. He makes me happy.

Again, so thankful to be blessed with friends who could be in our bubble with us. Our summer was full of fun and laughter because of them!

We got rid of the Saturn and upgraded my ride to a Traverse named Trevor.

Again, thankful for friends who quarantine and then invite us to socially distance outside so the kids can swim and explore the lake they happen to live on. This was July and also the last time I saw this friend due to COVID.

Oh, and we cannot forget about all of Charlie’s business endeavors this summer. This child did everything from the classic lemonade stand to trying to sell art he and his sister create and bracelets they made. He created an imaginary Bird Blog where he would pretend to take photos of birds around the subdivision and write about them on an imaginarily blog. He created a real newspaper called The Good News that he would draw and write and then run copies of on our printer. He then delivered it to all the neighbors. They loved it!

Oh and we did go up north to Pentwater with my parents. As you can probably tell from this photo, the cottage is very socially distanced from all the things. We interacted with no one except each other for the three days we were away.

The end of summer brought new, different beginnings. Alice started Kindergarten in the Zebra Room at the elementary school where Charlie goes to school, and where Eddie used to go to school. She LOVES being a school kid!

Charlie started the 3rd grade. There are many, many things I could write about in regards to Charlie and school and mental health, but they are all his stories, not mine, to tell.

Eddie started middle school this year! This has been a much bigger change than any of us anticipated. It’s not just a change of school buildings; it’s taking 6 classes with 6 teachers instead of one teacher and a different special each day. It’s homework. It’s real grades. It’s band and learning the trombone. It’s making new friends. It’s learning time management. Eddie has had some missteps, but overall he is really doing a great job with this transition from “big kid” to “tween kid”.

As I mentioned, Cortney started guitar lessons this summer. At first he borrowed a guitar and amp from my younger brother to start and make sure it was something he really wanted to do. He loves learning guitar, so this fall he bought his own Les Paul and amp. It’s so fun to hear him practice familiar songs!

Setting up my classroom was a bit different this school year. My district started with two weeks of remote learning before going in-person. Normally my classroom is a place of collaboration and group work. Not so, this year. I had to spread out the desks in rows, we masked up, and we made do. It’s not ideal, but we all agree that being in-person is much better for learning than being remote–which is what we are currently doing.

This fall we had two soccer players in the house. Even with the mask rules, Charlie and Alice were able to have their seasons. It was SO good for both of them. It was Alice’s first season and while she may not be super competitive, she had a lot of fun learning the game. Charlie loved getting better and playing to win! He is a soccer player like his dad and uncle and Papa!

Charlie also took an interest in the kitchen this year. He has always been my little baking helper, but this school year he started taking home cookbooks from the school library. This is when he made meatballs for our spaghetti dinner. He also made different pizzas. Over break he brought home a “mayonnaise” cookbook. I admit I haven’t even cracked that one open because…ew.

Halloween was different this year, of course. For one it was a beautiful day/evening and it was a Saturday. But we couldn’t gather together at Cortney’s mom’s house like we usually do. The kids still did a little trick or treating with masks on and to houses that had “take your own” style candy bags set up. Eddie was Link from The Legend of Zelda, Charlie was Robin Hood, and Alice was Elsa…again. This could be the last year all three dress up. I know we are on borrowed time now with Eddie.

This semester I overcommitted myself in a HUGE way. Of course teaching middle school during a pandemic is its own set of crazy, but on top of that I took two grad courses (instead of the one I usually take per semester) and taught an undergrad course (all online). So I had around 100 8th graders and 21 undergrads. Plus I had my own coursework for two classes. While I am grateful that having the assistantship Fall semester allowed me to knock three requirements off of my PhD program rather than just one, I will NOT do that again. I wasn’t able to give my best self to anything, and more often than not I felt like a giant failure to myself and those around me. I did get A’s in both of my grad courses (although I do feel that both my professors were being generous), and all of my undergrads passed my course. My 8th graders struggled when we switched to remote learning before Thanksgiving, and their struggles caused me a lot of distress as a teacher wanted to give them the best chances and opportunities for success. Luckily, my friends had my back. My BFF sent me the mug in the photo above because she is the best, duh. And I survived the semester!

Every November, just before Thanksgiving, I hop a plane (or sometimes drive) to wherever the annual NCTE and ALAN conferences are being held. I’ve been to Atlanta (2016), St. Louis (2017), Houston (2018), and Baltimore (2019). This year it was supposed to be in Denver, so Cortney and I had arranged for us to both go since his best friend lives in Denver and we had never been there before. We were going to be gone for almost a week! It was going to be so fun! He could hang out with Mat, I would present and do my conference things, and we would also have time to double-date and see the sights with Mat and Shawna. Then COVID cancelled that too. While I didn’t do NCTE this year (it was virtual, but I chose not to spend the money or time for that), I still attended the ALAN conference virtually. My kids were home doing remote learning, and we had the genius idea to have the upstairs floors ripped out and replaced. So Cortney took Alice to his office and set her up away from anyone else to do kindergarten there. Eddie set up shop in the boys’ room. Charlie and I shared the toy/family room. It was…interesting.

Speaking of those new floors…they turned out GREAT! The entire upstairs (except for the bathroom) is this darkish wood vinyl. The only drawback we have found is how LOUD things are when you drop them now and how many crumbs we see everywhere. We also ordered new living room furniture, but with the pandemic, it won’t be here until February or March.

Just like everything this year, Thanksgiving was different too. In a normal year, we would have gone to Cortney’s mom and step-dad’s house with his siblings and their spouses and kids. Then in the evening we would have stopped at my parents’ house where my brothers and their wives and kids would be and play Bingo. None of that happened this year. Instead, I made an entire Thanksgiving dinner for the first time, and we had way too much food, but it was nice. We missed family, and would rather have been together, but this didn’t suck.

My sweetie turned forty-two in December. This is the first year I neglected to blog his birthday. I neglected a lot of stuff this past semester. Even though I couldn’t take him out, I made him brownies from scratch and we sang and he got gifts and I think he had a good day. I hope so because he deserves it!

The advent season was, you guessed it, different too. Usually Alice and I join the other aunts and girl cousins on Cort’s side to have a baking day with Cortney’s mom. And there is typically a Saturday or Sunday in December where my side of the family gets together at my parents’ house to celebrate Cortney and our nephew Jack’s birthdays and decorate Christmas cookies. None of those things could happen as usual. Instead, Cortney’s mom had each family over individually to bake some treats, and I sucked it up and made cut-out Christmas cookies at home with just my kids (I hate making these cookies). My mom came over to sample them on her own. I also baked two treats each day the week of Christmas leading up to Christmas Eve to make up for the lack of treats they kids would have at Christmas parties with their grandparents that would not take place.

And of course, celebrating Christmas was much quieter and different this year. I cried three times on Christmas Eve watching my nephews and nieces opening their gifts from us via Marco Polo. We watched Elf as a family–the first time for all of us. We were able to spend some time with my parents without my brothers and their families (my mom hosted all three families individually with the option to mask if we wanted).

And last night we said goodbye to 2020.

In 2021 I hope to make better, healthier choices for both my mental and physical well-being.

I hope to go on a date or three with my husband.

I hope we all get the vaccine.

I hope to finish my PhD coursework and move on to preparing for my comprehensive exams.

I hope to have a meal with all my siblings and their families.

I hope to hug my brothers and sisters-in-law and nieces and nephews and parents and parents-in-law.

I hope to find a better way for Charlie.

I hope to see my best friend in person.

I hope to hug Cortney’s Gram.

I hope to leave Michigan safely.

I hope YOU have more good than poop in 2021.

About Katie

Just a small town girl...wait no. That is a Journey song. Katie Sluiter is a small town girl, but she is far from living in a lonely world. She is a middle school English teacher, writer, mother, and wife. Life has thrown her a fair share of challenges, but her belief is that writing through them makes her stronger.

Comments

  1. Carolyn DeBoer says

    Wow that was quite the accomplishment for the year! You sure to keep busy with three beautiful children that’s what life is all about! Plus you don’t like it is love it love you guys! Happy 2021 Carolyn DeBoer