Thais Freitas

Communications Strategy & Storytelling

20 Things I Learned in 2020

20 Things I Learned in 2020.Thais Freitas and family

I’ll never forget this chaotic year. Like everyone I know, I went through it alternating hope, anxiety, happiness, depression, and fear; and am relieved to see it gone. Besides what the coronavirus pandemic has taught me, here is the random list of things I learned in 2020:  

1. Each childbirth really is unique

My experience birthing Eli traumatized me so much that I considered not having another baby. I was afraid through my whole second pregnancy and wondering if I should opt for a scheduled C-section, but trusted everyone telling me the second time is easier. They were right: labour was much shorter and Kyle was out 30 minutes after I arrived at the hospital. In fact, it was too fast, so I also learned — a little too late — that you must go to the hospital way sooner for the second baby.

2. I’m stronger than I thought

I’m a wuss for pain, so I obviously wanted an epidural at the first sign of labour, but there was no time. That was always my biggest fear and I freaked out, but there was nothing else I could do other than birth naturally. I won’t lie, it hurt A LOT, but the postpartum was so much better without the side effects from the anasthesia, totally worth it. The experience showed me I’m much stronger than I imagined, and I was so proud!

See, I don’t recommend ditching the epidural, just want to say it’s not so bad to go without it if you have (or choose) to. It’s surprising how we take our strength for granted.

That face when you just survived a natural birth

3. Caring for two kids isn’t so terrible

I was so anxious about caring for a baby and a toddler during the pandemic, that I braced for the worst probable scenario: sleepless nights, little ones crying all the time, a jealous older brother, and so on. But it wasn’t that bad: Kyle is a chill baby who never cries, and Eli got close to him quickly and smoothly. I’m quite exhausted, but not as much as I feared, and it warms my heart to see them growing up together.

4. I’m done reproducing

I always said I’d have three kids to compensate for how boring it was to be an only child. So, I had my first boy, then the second, then… I’m so done! Two kids are way too much work already, I can’t imagine adding another one to the gang.

Best friends in the making! Our family is complete now

5. Ignorance is bliss

As we all know, 2020 was a cesspool of bad news. I always saw the news first on social media and, anxious and worried, read more about the topics and got even more anxious and worried. It was like that with the wildfires in Australia, the start of the pandemic… and then one day I caught myself reading an article about kids who died in a fire because their mom locked them up in the house to go to a party. I felt sick in my stomach and, looking at the screen, thought to myself, “why in the heck am I reading this?”

There was nothing I could do about that news, and it didn’t bring me anything but pain and sadness. I realized that most news is like that: terrible things happening and nothing we can do to help. So, I unfollowed most news channels, limited the frequency and type of information I consume, and feel much better now!

6. Focus on what you can change

Focusing on what I can change complements the “ignorance is bliss” mantra I adopted in 2020. Not following bad/useless news anymore, I have time and space in my mind for information that helps me grow, that will impact the world, or that I can do something about.

7. Be super careful with your dog’s teeth

I already knew that bad teeth could ruin a person’s health. This year, I learned it applies to pets too, thanks to Chica and her putrid breath.

She never let us brush her teeth or even look inside her mouth, and since we couldn’t resist her begging face, we always ended up giving her some of our food. Then, a few months ago, her mouth started to stink and she looked like she was in pain. The vet said that he could see teeth that needed to be removed, but he’d only know exactly how many once Chica were sedated, but it was around four. Not so bad, right? Until the surgery started and he found out that her mouth was way worse than he had thought — she had 14 (14!!!) teeth removed. (In case you’re wondering, a dog normally has 42 — the first thing I Googled when the vet told us.)

The night after the surgery was bad as Chica was groggy and moaning in pain, but the next day she was good as new. Her stinky breath disappeared, and she’s happy and active now. We’re poorer (dog surgery is expensive AF!) but happy to see the doggo back to her old self, and much more careful about what she eats.

8. Boston terriers are pure love

Speaking of Chica, she deserves all the cuddles for how greatly she’s behaved since becoming a big sister. Besides enduring Eli pulling her ears with the patience of a Budda, she’s always watching out for their wellbeing. She warns us if Kyle is crying, is extra gentle with both, and keeps surprising us with her sweetness. I totally recommend adopting a Boston Terrier if you want a dog that is extremely affectionate, loyal, and patient with little children.  

Boston terrier Chica lying beside baby Kyle in 2020
Chica always guarding her baby brother – Its the sweetest thing!

9. Handwrite first to write more

I read somewhere that many writers outline and write the first draft by hand on paper, and only then take it to the computer. The work flows much better because they put their first thoughts on paper quickly without distractions.

I had the terrible habit of editing while writing online, which took me much longer to finish, so I gave this handwriting process a try — it was great! I’m more focused and writing faster, and love that handwriting is relaxing and not as tiring as looking at a screen for a long time.

10. I never want to use any other pen

Pack with four Sharpie S Gel 0.7 pens in three different colours

I’m very picky with my pens, always looking for the most comfortable and the ink that looks best on paper. In 2020 I found it when I casually picked up a case of Sharpie S Gel 0.7 pens in the supermarket. They’re seriously the best pens and my search is officially over. Here’s what’s so good about them:

  • They’re delicious to write with, the writing flows effortlessly and you don’t want to stop
  • The ink dries fast without smear — your hands don’t get dirty when you’re writing
  • The ink is bold but doesn’t bleed to the other side of the page, something that happens with most gel pens and annoys me so much

This is not a paid post — I wish! — it’s just love for my best purchase this year.

11. Stimulated mind, stimulating life

It doesn’t matter how cute my kids are or how comfortable life is; I need to keep my mind busy with new ideas and constantly learning to remain motivated and satisfied with life. I realized that this year, when I’m using my free time during this second maternity leave to take courses, study and write, and am feeling so much better than the first time around, when I focused solely on baby stuff and felt depressed and bored out of my mind.

12. There’s a world of entertainment outside North America

I love how Netflix features so many movies and series from countries we watch nothing from or even hear about. Spending more time at home, I got sick of the canned USA stuff and ventured through the international options. Besides the Brazilian stuff I watch when I miss home, I started watching Norwegian series. Then the algorithm showed me another, and another… When I had nearly become a specialist in everything Scandinavia, the algorithm suggested films from Nollywood, then movies from other African countries… then it thought I might like Israeli, Japanese, Thai, and Polish series and movies… and never stopped.

It’s so cool to notice all the differences between cultures. Not only what people look like, but everything else, from clothes and decoration, to what is socially acceptable and how relationships work in each country. It’s the closest we get to travelling the world in a pandemic! Some of my favourite are Califado (Norway), Quicksand (Sweden), Citation and 93 Days (Nigeria), Four Corners (South Africa), Mother (Japan), and Inhuman Resources (France).

13. People who create cool things usually live boring lives

Earlier this year, I read Keep Going, where Austin Kleon mentions how important saying no to social opportunities is to save space and time to create. Now, I’m reading Sarah Stodola’s Process-The Writing Lives of Great Authors, and loving to see that most legendary writers, like Toni Morrison and George Orwell, lived normal, even tedious lives, dedicating all their free time to write.

When everyone seems to be living their best lives on social media, it’s comforting to see that you don’t need to be out all the time doing fabulous stuff to be interesting and create remarkable things. More than that, even: the more you save your time and stay home, the more you can think, write, and have good ideas. Understanding that made it much easier to focus on my goals — and survive lockdowns.

14. My friends won’t be there forever

I had never lost a close friend before 2020, so I had no idea how much it hurts to see someone so important in your life — and who had so much energy to make a difference in the world — suddenly gone. I had this feeling that my friends would live for as long as I’m alive, and didn’t keep in touch as often as I should because I was tired, lazy, or just because I could message them any other day. Well, now I know it’s not like that and I’ll always regret not sending that message, not answering that call… but at least I’m much more aware about cherishing any time I have left with my loved ones.  

Forever in my heart

15. Children know and understand much more than we think

I’m so surprised by how much Eli knows and understands what’s going on. I had no idea two-year-olds were like that! He makes comments about things we’re watching on TV, about what we’re doing or what he saw on the street, using words we had no idea he knew. For example, he speaks Portuguese at home with us and English at daycare, but we never talked about that with him. Then, yesterday, he said something cute in Portuguese and I asked, “aw, can you say that in English too?” and he immediately said the same thing in English! How does he even know what “English” means? Mind-blowing! Or I really knew nothing about kids before becoming a parent. Either way, we’ve got to be careful around him, because he’s always observing and assimilating everything.

16. Kindle Daily Deals for the win

I bought so many excellent books for $1,99 since I discovered Kindle Daily Deals; it was one of my best 2020 findings! Check out the deals if you have a Kindle: there are at least 26 books on sale every day, and among many cheesy romance stories with shirtless guys on the cover, you often find best sellers for amazing prices. The last one I bought was Cal Newport’s Digital Minimalism, which usually sells for $20!

17. Always have a Plan B

We had it all planned for Kyle’s arrival: my parents would come a couple of weeks before the due date to stay with Eli while Thiago and I were at the hospital, and in the postpartum weeks. We’d hire a cleaner to keep things tidy at home and everything would go smoothly. Then covid-19 happened, my parents couldn’t enter Canada, we couldn’t hire a cleaner, Eli wasn’t allowed to go to the hospital with us, and we had to get someone to take care of him for a couple of days. It was stressful, but we figured everything out and I learned to always have a Plan B in case things don’t go as planned.

18. I want more permaculture in my life

Like I mentioned in my November Roundup, I’m taking a Permaculture Design Course and, the more I learn about permaculture, the more fascinated I am. It was one of the best things I did in 2020, and I’ll get deeper into it next year. It’s amazing how, at first glance, permaculture seems about gardening but, in reality, its concepts and principles apply to every area of human life and community building.

19. Sharing truly is caring

I love giving away what I don’t use anymore and being gifted what I need, so Buy Nothing groups are one of my favourite things in the world. So much so, that 90% of my kids’ stuff came from those groups in New West! I could’ve bought all new if I wanted, but besides saving resources and reducing waste, there’s something special in reusing items other people once loved — a thread of care that goes around, with each hand-me-down bringing some love from the previous owner.

Sharing builds communities: I’ve made new friends, met my neighbours, and felt embraced and supported by the people in my city. I could’ve made a decent amount of money selling my things on Craigslist, but what I got from gifting is much more valuable than cash. Sharing is solidarity, friendship, and a way to resist to the pointless consumerism that is depleting our planet. Robin Wall Kimmerer talks about that in the beautiful article The Serviceberry: An Economy of Abundance, an inspiring read for the new year.

Image from the excellent @LivingSystemsNetwork

20. My decades always end chaotically  

This will sound woo-woo, but while writing this post I started recapping the other end-of-decade years I lived through and realized they were all very chaotic. In 1990 we moved to a place I hated and my life turned upside-down; 2000, I was moving again, living confusing times at school and hanging out with the wrong people; 2010, my boyfriend of years betrayed me and broke my heart in a way I never imagined being possible; and in 2020, this *gestures broadly at everything*

I also noticed that these disruptive years are always followed by meaningful changes that improve myself and my life. It gets me curious about what the 2020s will bring, although not particularly excited about what 2030 will be like… but that’s a long way to go.

Happy new year! Here’s to a 2021 with more good news and fewer “unprecedented” situations!

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