It’s been an incredibly long year. At the same time, it’s difficult to believe it’s almost Christmas. Things just don’t seem, well, right. The decorations are up, the presents mostly wrapped, and the turkey ordered. We’re once again allowed to have more than our immediate family in our homes for celebrations. And yet, there’s a sense of distance. A feeling that things are not as per usual. There’s a dark tinge to everything, like a thick, grey blind could snap and fall down across the windows at any moment. There’s an anxiety that gnaws away, making you catch your breath and step back from people as you pass them on the street, feeling naked without a mask across your face.

There’s also the faint smell of the smoke that began our year, the memory of ash falling from the sky, people huddled on beaches with a bright red sky above them, charred animals hobbling through burned forests, the fear that the heat is rising everywhere, and that it’s only a matter of one terrible day, one wind change, and fires could once again eat through our country…

It’s hard not to hang onto the idea of ‘just get through 2020 and things will be better’, but in reality the difference between the 31st December 2020 and the 1st January 2021, is just one 24 hour rotation of our beautiful blue planet…we won’t wake up on New Year’s Day and find that all of the horror of 2020 has passed and we’re back on track. Things can move suddenly, and our lives can be turned upside down, within a day.

If it’s like this for those of us who consider ourselves to be grown ups, imagine what it’s like for our children…

Our 12 year old Maxwell received his report last week, as most children across Australia would have. It was filled with lovely words about his delightful nature and his achievements this year. It was also filled with all of the days absent, which didn’t include the months he was home schooled, the days where we created a new routine, where we wiped every piece of fruit and veg, every packet, every delivery, before it came into the house, where we cleaned the door handles daily and huddled up, waiting to become ill, while we watched people dying across the world.

Amongst all of this chaos, our children continued to grow up. They continued to learn, connecting online even more than ever before, encouraged to be socially connected, while physically distanced. Thus, they benefitted from the positive aspects of social media, while at the same time, they suffered from the negative. They tried to hold onto plans and dreams and goals about their lives.

If they were the lucky ones, the ones with a home and food on the table and adults who love them, they blossomed within the immediacy that is childhood, despite the strangness of the world around them. We played more games together, spent more time together, talked openly about the facts and how we could see the positive side of things. We reflected on the importance of mindfulness and being grateful and loving each other.

Stories supported many of us through these difficult times, as they always do – stories in books and movies and drama and comedy and songs. Stories about our past and stories about our future. Stories we read and stories we wrote. Stories we listened to and stories we told each other. Sometimes, the most important stories were the ones we switched off, the ones on the news that spewed trauma and horror, over and over.

In reflecting on 2020, in finding the joy within the chaos, it’s important to create and build stories – what were the best parts? What made you laugh and what made you feel happiness? It might have been the board games around the table, your new cooking or gardening skills, the pride you felt in seeing your children flourish despite the difficulties, in seeing their resilience grow. It might have been hearing the magpies, or standing on your porch in the wind. It might have been speaking to a loved one via whatever means possible, or the first time you held them after many months. It might have been the helpers during the bushfires, the stories that reminded you about the kindness of human beings.

Likewise, in looking ahead to 2021, it’s important to speak of all the things to come, to have dreams and plans, to show your children that they can tackle anything that comes their way. In Australia we have lost many people through Covid-19 but we have overall been very lucky. We have managed to avoid the horrors that are happening overseas. Our lives have been changed, but we are still the same, still here, still living.

The most important gift you can give your children this Christmas is Hope. Tell them stories of hope and kindness, remind them about the good parts of 2020, and fill them with hope for 2021 and beyond. Wrap up some books to place underneath the tree, because books matter, and then wrap your children in your arms. Remind them that they matter, that you really are in this together, and that no matter what, they are loved.

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