It’s that time of the year for retrospection.
After posting my Top Ten Songs of 2020, Top Ten Books of 2020, Top Ten Hikes of 2020, and Top Ten Ministry Moments of 2020, I thought that I would conclude my lists with looking back on the Top Ten Family Moments of 2020. Like the ministry moments I recalled yesterday, family life doesn’t fit neatly into a summary like this. Even so, there’s really something to be said for the way that a retrospective exercise like this helps to heighten my awareness and appreciation of life as it goes by. So I’m giving it a try, even if the results might be imperfect…
So anyway — without further ado, here are my Top Ten Family Moments of 2020, in ranked order:
- Enduring Three Rounds of Quarantine
- Family Vacation to “Europe” in our Backyard
- 22nd Anniversary Trip to Beautiful East Rochester
- Cor’s Thirteenth Birthday Trip
- Elliot’s High School Graduation
- Birthday Letters to my Kids and from my Kids
- Laughing in the Face of Winter
- Sunrise at Indigo Lake
- Traveling with my Children to the Center of the World
- Creative Christmas celebrations
And again, for any who might appreciate more context, my explanations for each selection are included with the listing (reverse rank-order), below:
#10 – Creative Christmas Celebrations
I’ve already written about our outdoor, extend-family gatherings for “Driveway Christmas” (Eve) with the Asps and “Farmyard Christmas” (Day) with the Andersons. And I really do think those experiences will live long in our collective and individual memories. At the same time, I also appreciated the smaller, subtler ways that our family celebrated Christmas this year: making weird TikTok videos with Elliot… organizing our own Frosty Frolic 5K in the absence of an official event… going for a walk with Marci early on Christmas morning, while our teenagers were still sleeping… giving more space for our family Advent discussions, instead of church services… I love our holiday traditions, when we can observe them. But I also love the chance to be creative when necessary.
#9 – Traveling with My Children to the Center of the World
Did you know that our family happens to live just 35 minutes from the Center of the World?!? It feels surprisingly shabby, out-of-the-way, and rusty. But it’s got official road signs declaring it to be the “Center of the World,” so it’s hard to argue with that! We actually didn’t have high hopes for our visit to the Center of the World in February, but we truly and sincerely enjoyed ourselves there. We took pictures at the road sign and the dilapidated “Cones and Bones” barn across the street (where they apparently once sold ice cream cones and barbecued meats featuring bones). And best of all, we enjoyed a true American diner experience at the Short Stop restaurant attached to the town’s main gas station. The whole adventure was a bit campy, but lots of fun.
#8 – Sunrise at Indigo Lake
We needed the hope of the Resurrection as much as we’ve ever needed it this year. The COVID-19 shut-down was in its darkest, scariest days when Easter Sunday happened to come along. And without any organized church events (outside of online events) to mark the occasion, our family made it special by hiking to a spot overlooking Indigo Lake in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, where we hoped to watch the sunrise. Cloud conditions didn’t exactly cooperate with our plans for a sunrise / Son-rise celebration. But the heavy gray skies obscuring the new day served as a fitting metaphor for what we were all feeling at the time.
#7 – Laughing in the Face of Winter
This has become an annual event that my kids and I eagerly anticipate. We take the coldest, snowiest, wintriest Monday in January — and we lean into it, with activities that would more typically be characterized as “summer activities.” This year, we had a picnic on Gildersleeve Mountain, enjoyed ice cream from Handel’s, and played frisbee in the park. A foot of fresh snow and freezing temperatures made the experience extra-memorable. Thinking back on those experiences, I’m already starting to look forward to LITFOW 2021!
#6 – Birthday Letters to my Kids and from my Kids
I’ve written birthday letters to my kids for years. But this year, they returned the favor and wrote me some really meaningful letters. I remember Olivia’s especially, as her words of affirmation really hit home and she made another amazing drawing of us as father-daughter animals (this time: polar bears). And somehow, this strange year of the COVID-19 pandemic also happened to collide with Elliot’s 18th, Olivia’s 16th, and Cor’s 13th birthdays — all of which felt like special personal occasions cast in an extra-special light by world events. Letter-writing is one of those rare things that may even be improved in a pandemic!
#5 – Elliot’s High School Graduation
A high school graduation is something special to experience under any circumstances. But we witnessed the surreal experience of Elliot’s high school graduation ceremonies pieced together with video-taped footage of school administrators in face-shields handing over sanitized diploma-folders to Elliot and his classmates, while parked in a drive-in movie theater! Elliot also got to deliver one of the best speeches of the night. So it was a special occasion. We’re really proud of all he’s accomplished and all that he is still accomplishing.
#4 – Cor’s Thirteenth Birthday Trip
Man. Cor is growing up quickly. He turned 13 this year, so we planned a special trip to serve as a rite of passage to adulthood. He wanted to visit the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Massachusetts. But I suggested that we round things out with some camping in the High Peaks area of the Adirondack Mountains and a summit of Mount Marcy (tallest point in the state of New York). I also have especially fond memories of trying to find a pizza place in Vermont, after hiking out from the wilderness. Cor is a fine young man and a very pleasant traveling companion.
#3 – 22nd Anniversary Trip to Beautiful East Rochester
Marci and I have enjoyed many anniversaries and special anniversary trips (we’ve always made it a goal to get away for at least one night). Through the years, we’ve had the privilege to visit exotic locations like Paris and the Bahamas and the Redwood forests of Northern California. But believe it or not, this trip to East Rochester, Ohio was a Top Ten — and maybe even a Top Five — anniversary celebration of all the get-aways we’ve had together. Maybe it was because this trip was our first foray into “public” after the COVID-19 shut-down… Maybe it was because it we were particularly fond of the cabin where we stayed… Or maybe there’s just some magic in the air of East Rochester.
#2 – Family Vacation to “Europe” in our Backyard
Our family had hoped that 2020 would be the year we could return for a visit to Europe: Wales, Scotland, and Holland, specifically. Unfortunately, COVID-19 scuttled our plans. Fortunately, however, we improvised a plan to visit places in our area that had the same names as the places we might have gotten to see in Europe. The Town of Wales, in western New York, is not that far from Holland, New York. And there’s a way to get to these points of interest that includes not one, not two, but three towns apparently named after Edinburgh, Scotland. So that’s how we vacationed in “Europe” this summer. And even though there was some disappointment about no trans-Atlantic travel this year, our time together in the eastern Great Lakes region was legitimately enjoyable.
#1 – Enduring Three Rounds of Quarantine
We spent a lot of time at home this year. With just the five of us. But they say, “You don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone.” And we experienced this first-hand when we dealt with a virus in our house for about two weeks back in April. We may never know if it was or was not the novel SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus (Marci did an antibody test in July which came back negative, although it was just outside the three-month window, and I’ve heard that there may be some reason to doubt the results of the antibody tests). In any event, we chose to undergo weeks of isolation and quarantine at the time. And we really and truly celebrated the chance to get back to being a family of five in the house together, after all the symptoms cleared. Later in the year, Olivia came into close contact with a friend to got COVID, leading to a two-week quarantine for her (our “princess in the tower”). And shortly after that, Cor had enough of a reaction to his flu shot that we were advised to isolate him for another four days until we got a negative test back for him. Each time we had to do without each other’s company, we were reminded of how special it is to just be a family.