Life Lessons – Brought to You by 2020

life lessons from renovating a kitchen while pregnant in a pandemic

I know everyone is terribly excited for 2020 to be over. And yes, I agree, 2020 had some awful aspects.

Political warfare. Riots. Wildfires ripping through the West Coast. George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. Polarization of opinions fueled by social media. Coronavirus and along with it fear and anxiety. Isolation. Damaged economy. Financial strains. The list goes on.

However, I do believe that despite how immense the list of Bad is, the list of Good can far out weigh it – it’s all how you look at it.

The Silver Linings

Now, just a disclaimer, I’m known for being the positive one in my crew. If there is any sort of silver lining in the clouds, I’ll be the one to find it, point it out and bank on it for the future. I’ve noticed recently that in pretty much any situation, the words that fall out of my mouth are “Well, at least, etc. etc. etc. didn’t happen!”

While I believe that positivity is one of my fortes, I do realize that it could become toxic if you don’t acknowledge that the bad side of things are there. I fully recognize when problems and negativity are present. But I choose to not give it weight, and try to focus solely on what is considered to be the bright side of things. Yes, I know that that doesn’t come easily to others and I’m very grateful to have that trait in my repertoire. I have to in order to keep my mental health on track and gain life lessons.

When 2020 was the worst

a kitchen under renovation
Jan 2020 we started renovations on the house

When Covid-19 hit us here in the U.S., I was out of a job at 8 months pregnant. And so begin the life lessons of 2020. Our entire first floor, including kitchen, dining room and living room were under renovation (which my husband and I were doing) and it felt like the walls were closing in on me. At that point, I couldn’t help much in the reno anymore. Therefore I was alone in the house all day with virtually nothing to do but be alone with my thoughts. It felt like the news was changing by the hour on what was happening in the world and things were getting worse and worse.

In the early days of the Pandemic, you didn’t know if you could do anything safely: go to the grocery store, walk outside in town, or even get packages in the mail. We attended funerals from the car. A processional to the cemetery and solemn nod to the family with masked faces was the only way to be there for them. My baby shower was cancelled, we couldn’t see our families and my birth plan was thrown out the window. After they prohibited partners from being in the delivery room at the hospital a month before my due date, we considered every birth place possible. Hospital alone? Birthing Center? Here at home in a construction zone? For the first time, the silver lining of the whole thing alluded me.

7 months pregnant in a house under renovation
Me 7 months pregnant in our house under renovation

Having a Baby Mid-Pandemic

With my hormones in full swing, that was the closest I’d come to depression. At times, I felt like I couldn’t breathe and I would just cry with worry and anxiety about every aspect of my life. It felt like nothing was going right and I couldn’t do anything about it. I wanted to run away. There was a constant stream of worry in my mind about my family, the baby, and giving birth for the first time. Missing my life of working and socializing and just being normal was at the forefront of my anxieties.

Thankfully, the hospital lifted the restrictions on partners and that started to ease my mind to get me back on track. (As a side note, we decided to birth at the Birthing Center as I wanted a non-medicated delivery. We ended up going for a swift transfer to the hospital mid-labor. I came to the conclusion after a night of laboring with little progress that I really needed an epidural!)

The Revelation

Richie standing over our baby just born masked and watching to make sure she's safe with the nurse.

Despite all my fears surrounding the birth and delivery, my little girl came out perfectly. I remember two days after we returned home from the hospital, I put her down for a nap. We had a bit of time to start putting our bags away and cleaning up from the hazy first few days at home. Lighting a candle when all was done, I looked down at her sleeping so soundly and I just started sobbing.

I didn’t cry when she was born, I think it was so surreal at the time. I was so absorbed with finally meeting this little person that I had known for the past nine months without seeing what she looked like that I was just occupied. And when I had a moment to stop and realize what we went through, I was so overwhelmed with gratitude that we came out alright. Not just alright, everything was perfect! All of that worry for nothing. I sobbed because I realized that I didn’t need to worry anymore.

When 2020 wasn’t the worst

And everything changed for me at that moment. I could see that silver lining again. I mean, lots of things were still amiss – we still couldn’t see family or have any help in the newborn days, she couldn’t meet her aunts, uncles, grandparents or great grandparents, there was insane political and social unrest in the country. But now, I was grateful for the extra time my husband and I had at home with the baby. I appreciated any and all social interactions we were able to have. I loved being outdoors and found even more joy in the warmth of the sun and a simple walk outside.

Life Lessons

Chef Mel plating up dinner with Chef Sam from White Birch Restaurant
Pre-Pandemic fundraiser with Chef Sam from White Birch Restaurant

2020 taught me critical life lessons like how to help myself to be strong emotionally. It showed me how much I valued social interaction but then also how much I value my time alone. I became a mama and learned alllll the things about putting baby first. It showed me how to slow down; when previously my days were filled with errands and appointments I could now have a slow morning with the baby and find joy in it. I realized how important family time is – and not just on weekends and vacations!

This year also gave me the courage to branch out and try new things in my career. It taught me (and I think a lot of people) that we put ourselves in a box and that box is created by ourselves. I think we sometimes get stuck in the mindset that (for example) if you work in retail, you can only work in retail and you’ll do that for the rest of your life. But life is fluid. And maybe retail was in your journey for 5 years but then your goals, ambitions and dreams change and computer programming is in your future! You never know.

Melissa Smith in her kitchen teaching a virtual class.

Step Outside That Box

I’m a trained pastry chef but that doesn’t mean I’m confined to restaurants or bakeries, and limited to sell food for the rest of my life. I realized I can learn how to build a website, be a writer, learn to take great photos and still use the skills I acquired in the pastry world. So, I took the box I built for myself and threw it in the garbage!

I say all the time that I don’t regret anything I’ve done, or any mistake I’ve made because I wouldn’t be the same person I am if I hadn’t done it. The same goes for 2020. I appreciate the personal growth, life lessons and hours of family time I enjoyed this year. And I’m happy to start 2021 with all of these new skills under my belt!

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