The Gifts of 2020: Unexpected Upsides in the Year of Covid-19

Someone recently asked me what gifts 2020 had brought me.

To be clear, there’s no silver lining to a pandemic that’s killed more than 1.6 million people globally to date, and caused immeasurable economic losses and emotional suffering. To speak of unexpected upsides of 2020 is a privilege for sure.

As the clock struck midnight last New Year’s Eve, I doubt I wasn’t the only one boldly declaring, “2020 is gonna be a GREAT YEAR”. But the truth is that this year HAS brought experiences into my life that are worth celebrating. Here they are:

Outdoor Explorers at the Staten Island Children’s Museum

Since 1976 the Staten Island Children’s Museum (SICM) has offered interactive fun and learning for children. The temporary closure of this favorite family destination due to Covid restrictions has been a loss for the community. 

The ever-creative team at SICM put their heads together, and voila: Outdoor Explorers was born. This after-school program nurtures curiosity for 4 to 6 year-olds via hands-on arts, science, and culture, throughout the beautiful, expansive grounds of Snug Harbor.

Gabriel, my 5 year-old Outdoor Explorer, proudly returns each week to educate us on American Sign Language, animals that hibernate, the meaning of Kwanzaa, and more! It’s all thanks to the knowledge and enthusiasm of staff members Mary Ellen, Zach, JP, and Janet, for feeding the voracious appetites of Staten Island’s curious kids.

The self-sustaining Outdoor Explorers is a success story of pandemic innovation: Initially a 6-week pilot, due to overwhelming popularity it’s been extended all the way through 2021. The New Year is off to a great start!

The Albums that Saved 2020

This year I fell in love with albums all over again. Playing an album teleports me to another planet. And in a home that’s served as a workplace, school, and 24-hour diner, it’s a trip that creates a much needed sensory buffer for my overwhelmed, introverted sensibilities.

Music fills the voids between those big moments of my life, infusing all the feels. Someday when I excavate the ruins of 2020, and the pain points of a year interrupted are a vague memory, these emotional etchings will be what remains, potent as ever and ripe for uncorking.

New additions to my collection this year included:

  • Rome by Josh Pyke: My friend Alice in Sydney told me to check it out. I did, and you should too. An album that goes deep and feels familiar from the get-go.
  • In Memory of My Feelings by Catherine Anne Davies and Bernard Butler: A release that was a long time coming, and almost wasn’t, this musical tale both tender and savage, found a place in homes, hearts, and the charts. It behooves us all to slow down and let the adventure unfold. As Josh Pyke observes on Rome, “But if you only ever think about the river, If you only ever dwell upon that sea, You may never see the beauty, Of the tumbling scree.”
  • Imploding the Mirage by The Killers: Penned pre-pandemic, an album with themes of resilience in the face of adversity, makes me wonder if Brandon, Ronnie and collaborators gazed into a “crystal” ball.

Parkour in Central Park

Along with my 10 and 5 year-old (and my husband, who’s happy to sit and chill), I’ve parkour trained with The Movement Creative in glorious Central Park. Under the tutelage of our competent coaches, as part of a friendly multi-aged group of fellow traceurs, we explore the skills and techniques of parkour, challenging ourselves physically and mentally.

Thanks to The Movement Creative’s swift pivoting and seamless integration of Covid safety protocols, Central Park became our weekend stomping ground through the summer humidity, rainstorms, the colors of fall, and now the cozy chill of winter.

It was also the backdrop of a historical moment. We learned the results of the 2020 US general election in the middle of a class. Everyone in Central Park spontaneously erupted in cheers and tears of joy. Our coaches did backflips. Literally. 

Parkour training at Umpire Rock in Central Park

Bea, Boomer, Franky, and The Freak

If anything can offer a mental respite from pandemic reality, it’s Wentworth. This fictional, Aussie drama follows the lives of prisoners and staff of possibly the most ineptly-run women’s prison, where the CCTV, if it hasn’t been mysteriously wiped, inevitably reveals nothing! 

There’s clever writing, classic soap opera cliffhangers, and an infinite font of talented Aussie actresses. You’ll develop a soft spot for the inmates, faster than you can conceal contraband ahead of a cell toss.

Wentworth is a contemporary reimagining of ground-breaking 80s Australian drama, Prisoner. Though the uniforms have changed with the times (teal hoodies FTW), the steam press is as terrifying as ever. The series was released in the US a few years ago and is up to season 8. If, like me, you’ve been living under the rock that is raising little people, smuggle in some Tim Tams and slot yourself STAT.


Need I say more! You know who you are, and the next time we meet in-person, bagels and coffee are on me!

  • My Aunty Liz (and her cat, Lucky) who’s letters, recipes, and care packages from Adelaide, Australia, magically arrive whenever I need a pick-me-up. Aunty Liz and I have been snail-mail pen-pals for nearly 40 years. Everyone needs an Aunty Liz.
  • Fellow school parents with whom I commiserated at the playground through school closures, and the nails and fails of remote learning. 
  • A pearl of a friend who crossed a bridge and burrough boundaries to join me for a rainy-day hike and Mexican. 
  • The “nestie” (newbie bestie) who I almost got to meet in IRL before the pandemic sent her back to Oz, with whom I’ve established a mutual appreciation society via a running WhatsApp. 
  • The forever faithful friend who sent me a generous care package of Tim Tams, tea, hot choccy, and endless empathy all the way from Australia.

What gifts did 2020 bring you? Tell us in the comments below.

Author: Angela Tohl

Adelaide-born Angela came to New York in search of the ultimate adventure, by way of Australia and Japan. She juggles technical and copywriting projects, with chasing her kids around (usually on roller skates). Find Angela on Twitter @angelatohl and at Image credit: Susie Lang

2 thoughts

    1. Thanks Simone! It felt good to recognize and celebrate these upsides in what was a very challenging year. x Angela

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