Already I’m starting to think fondly of our time locked down together.

Yesterday our neighbours came over to say goodbye. They’re moving to their own house after renting the place with the enviable backyard since before we moved in. I remember our first chat over the fence with the neighbouring two year old showing us his dance moves on the picnic table and the older boy telling long stories about pre-lockdown trips to the beach and the sheep clock he has in his room. Lotus, all cheeks and six months old, looked on with wonder – we hadn’t met many new people in her life. 

She was just starting to get mobile. Figuring out her own way to crawl about the house we had moved to during lockdown from a small windowless square of life: couch, baby mat, bassinet, repeat. Everything was shutting down, but our world was opening up to a much bigger house with doors that swing out onto a deck and a tree-framed garden below. 

As restricted weeks and months went on, we would rush to the fence when we saw our neighbours playing in their back garden or hanging out the laundry. Standing on tippy-toes and holding Lotus aloft was how we often had our only live conversation for the week. 

After a while, we started seeing them in the driveway, in the street, organising times to walk with them or inviting them into our front yard when we were allowed. A family from parents’ group live a few houses down next to the laneway and their little one is now Lotus’ best friend. Lockdown walks and front yard plays cemented that friendship as we would often walk past hoping to see them and stand at the gate to chat. The little ones learnt to play together, learnt to talk and tell stories to each other. Their hugs on greeting or departure are emphatic collisions of joy.

We’ve learnt the routines of our street’s dog walkers and exercisers. There was worry when one neighbour’s elderly dad stopped walking past (he moved to a retirement home) and excitement when a pram full of toddler moved in across the road. There’s a couple whose names we still don’t know, but we quickly learnt their boisterous dogs are Louie and Boyboy.

Having to stay close in our neighbourhood, ironically, kept us going. People in our street and the streets nearby have given Lotus toys and books. We have found cake on our doorstep, collected oranges and lemons from outside people’s houses, gathered herbs, feijoas and guavas from the food forest and communal spaces. I built a street library to share books and give something back to the community that has been so generous to us. Although we missed our dear friends and family during lockdown, we are so grateful to have built new connections and friendships. 

Now that things are open, we bump into our street friends less frequently. We can go to the zoo, the city, friends in other suburbs, so there’s less need to hang hopefully around the front gate or laneway. 

Apart from our (now ex) neighbours visiting – Lotus no longer amazed to see other people, but excited and chatty, showing them how she decorated the Christmas tree and saying “it’s a bit sad” when they asked about our New Zealand trip – yesterday was a lockdown throwback day. Lotus and I walked to a cafe with our keep-cups then played at one of our favourite playgrounds. I had never noticed playgrounds before lockdown, but as they were one of the few things open for so many months, we have become experts in which is best on which sort of day. 

In the afternoon, we walked along our street, Lotus carrying her unicorn and giraffe under one arm to show (but not to touch, we’re still learning to share) her friend and when they weren’t in their front yard we walked down the laneway, now overgrown with green, until they heard us and came out to play.

Summer’s here and already we have had adventures, weekends away and invited as many people as we could think of to our house. But some days call for the simplicity of a walk down your own street, revisiting the things that, for us, made isolation a time of community.

“No mud, no Lotus”

Everything comes together in November. The sun comes out and the house stays warm through the night. Cases in Victoria descend to zero and remain there for days and then weeks. Trump loses. There are no euphemisms for this and no hyperbole too great. It feels like the embarrassed silence after months of heated shouting, like waking up from a terrible night’s sleep, grateful it’s morning. We become giddy with these glimmers of okayness. I feel like crying when we meet up with friends at the beach after hundreds of days of isolation and when we first go to a cafe for lunch, we make friends with every wide-eyed person there. We book a holiday out of town – a rebooking of a twice cancelled trip from July. Everything went pear-shaped around July.

In the beginning, I felt a strange camaraderie with the world. We made jokes about running out of toilet paper and people across continents would laugh. The mention of isolation boredom and work pyjamas had wide reaching ripples of knowing nods. Suddenly everyone in the world had something in common. Then jokes gave way to fear and anger and things got worse, of course, before they got any better. Or they briefly appeared to be better before they got much worse. 

Relief that 2020 is coming to an end is understandable, the need to draw a line under it – through it even – as we collectively agree it was nothing like we’d planned, but I feel a pang every time someone says what a terrible year it has been, even though I know it has been devastating for so many. In our family alone we lost a dear parent and attended the funeral by zoom, we had illness, we had disappointment and we mourned the absence of friends and family as we tried to show our new baby the joys of the world we brought her into. But 2020 is special to me. When I mention this to a friend in the park, gesturing grandly towards my baby, she says “No mud, no Lotus, right?” and I google the phrase later at home.

This was the year that started with Lotus’ birth, my mum here for ten days prior and ten days after and my brother making a hasty appearance just in time to meet her minutes after she emerged. It’s the year my dad delayed his flight to Nepal so he could meet his new grandchild and the year so many other beautiful babies – Lotus’ friends – were born into villageless isolation. 

It’s the year Lotus learnt to crawl. First her own invention, a kind of dry-land butterfly stroke – flopping and dragging her body around the house we moved into in August, then figuring out the more energy efficient version on hands and knees, squeals of delight as she became mobile. It’s the year she learnt to clap her hands, eliciting praise and excitement from her parents, looking at us in turn as she does it, knowing we’ll be delighted. The year she learnt to sleep the entire night, settle herself back again on waking or stand in her cot to call out she’s ready to get up. 2020 will always be the year Lotus started pointing at things she liked, things she wanted, things she recognised and things we asked her to. Every day she shows us the patterns of light on the walls from windows covered with trees or lace curtains. Her full cheeks rise into the biggest smile when she finds even the faintest impression of shadow and bright. There are rainbows in our living room in the afternoon and she will find them before anyone else can. In the mornings, she pulls books off her shelf and hands them to me one by one to read to her as she turns the pages, points at the illustrations and sometimes says “baby!” if there’s a baby on the page. It’s the year she made friends with babies. This year is the year Lotus first called me “Mumum” and her dad “Papa”, the year she started singing along as I play guitar and nodding her head to her favourite songs.

2020 was terrible, but I won’t cross it off. It’s the year we realised how lucky we are, never again taking simple things like going out for breakfast or having visitors for granted. We hunkered down through winter, solving sleep issues with only as many tears as it took to scramble from our bed to hers. We never had to figure out the logistics of how to get baby, pram, nappy bag to this thing or that thing. There were no things to try and get to. 

Soon, and I’m sure of this, we will be able to see our families again. My mum will come from New Zealand the moment she’s allowed, my dad will have to find his way back from Nepal and our newish little family will have planes to catch to see Lotus’ uncles, aunts, cousins and grandmas. We have lost people and there will be time again to grieve and process this. Somewhere in the midst of this chaotic year I turned 40, quietly and with a carefully planned glass of champagne. Everything falls slowly into place in November and this blurry and intense, forgettable year is the most memorable of my life.