Lessons Learned in My Fifty-First Year

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I celebrated my fiftieth birthday on January 27, 2020, with my husband and oldest daughter, overlooking the Alahambra in Cordoba, Spain, at sunset.

All appeared right with the world.

We toasted my birthday and naively planned trips visiting BethAnne in London in the late spring and Paris in the fall. I paid minimal attention to the news during our travels. Although I did notice that more travelers wore masks than usual. Little did I know the changes or lessons that lied ahead in 2020.

I returned from Spain with anew vigor to publish my book. For the last six months, I worked on a book chronicling our family’s experience with autism. My youngest son Matthew is on the autism spectrum, and he changed our family for the good. I planned for an April 1, 2020 release date in celebration of Autism Awareness Month. Meanwhile, I dreamt about a book signing in Pensacola and a “book tour” in Louisiana and Texas, where our families reside. In addition, I focused on my health, eating healthy, and working out.

At 50, one must focus on extending life expectancy, right?

The best-laid plans of mice and men soon screeched to a halt. The news of COVID-19 overshadowed every other story in the media. On March 11, 2020, the WHO declared COVID-19 a world pandemic. By March 15, schools around the country closed or moved to virtual learning to slow the spread. Due to the overwhelmed healthcare systems and attempts to slow the virus, cities shut down overnight. In a matter of two weeks, our world changed dramatically: no in-person church, no sporting events, and no Broadway shows.

For years, I insisted I would NEVER homeschool. Well, never say never. Matthew’s middle school became a virtual middle school, and I became his teacher. Not his only teacher, but his only in-person teacher.

I realized that I, along with the rest of the world, might be stuck at home for quite some time.

So, I pivoted on the April 1 release of my book and immediately published “Embracing Mrs. Mommy: Living With, Learning From and Loving Someone With Autism” immediately. No book tour, no press plan, just a social media post or two, and a link to Amazon. My husband’s medical practice ebbed and flowed along with the virus surges. On top of that, the NJ college kid came home, the London daughter worked from her flat, and the Auburn daughter lived her best life on the plains. We ordered grocery delivery, social events disappeared, and life slowed down.

Ten months later, just a couple of weeks from my fifty-first birthday, I find myself reflecting on the lessons learned during my fifty-first year.

I thought I might share them with you. Likely, many of you shared similar experiences.

  • Masks can save lives and make fashion statements.
  • Personal sacrifice for the greater good, while difficult, is necessary. I developed a new appreciation for the sacrifices made by the WWII generations.
  • I developed a new appreciation for attending mass in person. I longed to receive the Eucharist while churches remained closed.
  • I can homeschool. While I may prefer not to, I can do it. Matthew and I both learned a lot during this time.
  • College does not translate well to virtual school.
  • One can wear pajamas every day.
  • Zooming is a thing!
  • Crying is healthy and sometimes necessary during world pandemics.
  • Not all hand sanitizers are created equally.
  • Toilet paper can run out.
  • The absence of live sports left a void in my life. Yes, that’s shallow of me, I know, but honest.
  • Along with my dear friend Jane, I read the New Testament of the Bible one chapter a day. We start the Old Testament on January 1, 2020.
  • Grocery delivery or pickup makes life a little easier AND lessens impulse purchases.
  • I miss people and spending time with them.
  • The essential workers deserve our thanks and gratitude.  Their countless hours of work and sacrifice eased this unprecedented experience for the rest of us.
  • Quality and quantity time with the people you love is a gift. The extra time with my adult children and our family unit will forever remain dear to my heart.

So, my fifty-first year did not turn out exactly as I planned.

Would I change it?

In some ways yes and in some ways no.

I hate the death and devastation COVID-19 reaped upon our world and would wipe that away if I could. Yet, I would not change the lessons I learned, they shaped me and will likely change me forever, and I expect they changed you too!

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