How many times over the last few weeks, have you looked at your Timehop, Facebook Memories or simply recalled a story and said: "Gosh look at us there, we had no idea what was about to happen! We would never have believed it would we?"
And the fact is, we wouldn't. Even when the first cases started to hit the UK, I was still saying to my son that it wouldn't impact us, nothing to worry about - as he often likes to remind me!
Sometimes I still can't actually believe all that has changed since 23 March 2020. How the new normal is to have 'the new normal' now as a worn out, overused and annoying saying. Our lives are not only practically different but our outlook has completely changed, as have our moods, our priorities and attitude to so many aspects of daily life.
We had new neighbours move in at the weekend, who have moved up from London, though still working for London based firms. "Nobody expects to be going back to the office". That's not just working from home, that in itself if now the permanent norm for many, that's a complete life change and social adjustment that will define this generation and create a chapter in history.
Because that's what we've lived through. A whole new text book, new history for future generations. When else did our nation in unison home school our children for months on end? When my 7 year old twins were starting to struggle towards the end of this homeschooling period in March, I reassured them that it was OK to feel frustrated, angry and sad at being stuck at home, away from their friends, because every child across the country felt the same. No other child before them had had to do that, not Mummy or Daddy, they were special, they were first and it was a very hard but special time that would always be remembered.
Of course they weren't bothered about creating history. They just wanted to see their friends, run free, laugh and tumble in the grass with them - just as evacuated children in WWII didn't think about their lives in future history books, they just wanted to get back home to friends, family and familiar sights.
In a way I miss the crazy chaos around the house, trying to get three children to settle, and learn absurdly ridiculous subjects from fronted adverbials for seven year olds and The Highwayman poem for a streetwise 12 year old!?! And all the while trying to keep our business afloat working up to 14 hours a day. It was intense. It was torture. Homeschooling was by far my worst parenting experience and made the days of feeding premature twins through mastitis seem like a walk in the park!
The Lovely Keepsake Company was thankfully one positive in all the angst. With terrifying threats of the unknown at the start of the first Lockdown, having taken on staff for the first time and hearing of factories closing, the postal service stopping and of course our main source of business - weddings, parties and get togethers stopping overnight, we were obviously fearing the worst.
As weeks went on, we found an inner resilience, steely courage and a creative thinking that had been seemingly somewhat dormant in the months prior. We took financial risks buying new equipment to create more items in house, we were flexible in our output and conceived new product ideas to give people what they now needed: lockdown keepsakes, gifts for missed loved ones, cheering and inspirational gifts, thank you for your effort gifts and of course countless thankyous for the NHS, School Teachers and Frontline workers.
Our customers were amazingly loyal and have thankfully supported our small business and to date, we have survived and are able to continue to develop our ideas.
We took confidence from business gurus advising small businesses such as @hollytucker, and decided there was no better time to launch other online businesses that we had been planning - sometimes you show your greatness when facing adversity. And during the first lockdown we launched Lovely NICU Gifts and Lovely Memorial Gifts and became The Lovely Gift Group.
I'm honestly not sure that I would have had the balls to have 'gone for it', really start to deliver my dreams, had it not been for the last year and how it forced me to think different, take risks and work with every fibre of my being to create gifts people wanted and needed. I have read every email, every personalisation, every note on an order with greater detail than I have ever before. I've learned that being a business with the ability to deliver love, fond thoughts and best wishes to others who need it, either as a customer or from a customer to a loved one, is one of the greatest privileges of my life. I understand more about our customers, and future potential customers, than I ever would have done had I not been challenged by this pandemic to survive, or dared to thrive.
We've had bad days, we've had worries, uncertainties and of course there have been bumps along the way. Brexit has also created all sorts of problems with exporting to customers, the ports are still chockablock with stock we are waiting on, the postal service was handling 200+million more parcels over Christmas and the world is still paralysed by uncertainty and trepidation.
What next? Will it ever be back to normal? Will we ever have the need for any of the 250+ signature gifts for parties that are gathering dust in the warehouse right now?
What I have definitely learned from the last year is not to try to guess. Because I simply don't have a good track record of trying to guess what the future holds.
What I do know is that tonight, as I light a candle with the family to remember the 126,172 who have passed away in the UK from Covid to date, I am lucky. My family and friends thus far are safe, healthy and for the most part happy. Some are not so lucky and perhaps that is the only lesson that the last year has taught us that is actually important - That life itself is important. Life is precious. To have life is a gift. The only gift that really matters.
I hope in another 365 days, the number of loved ones passed doesn't rise past the 126,172. I hope we come out the other side of this shit storm learning from our experiences, good and bad, no matter what they have been. I hope our kids also learn what is really important in life, whether they remember what a fronted adverbial is, or not.
We will only know the true impact on our kids in years to come. Will they actually be behind in their studies, will their mental health actually have suffered, or as one of the teaching assistants at the twins' school said "they'll be fine if we just allow them to be fine, if we don't talk about impacts and just let the kids be kids, they'll be fine." There's a huge part of me that thinks she's right.
None of us have done this before. There is no text book on how to be and whilst we were all in the same storm, we weren't in the same boat, so now more than ever comparing ourselves and the way we have coped with anyone else is utterly futile.
Remember what is really important.
Never forget the reprioritising you've done.
Celebrate life. Remember those that lost it.
Remember the pandemic for the best memories it gave you but never forget those who now only have memories of those they loved and lost during the pandemic.
Just live and let live. Just be. Just get through each day, week and month the best you can, without judging or listening to judgement and in another year, I am sure, but I still pray and hope, that actually we will all be fine.