It didn't occur to me that tonight was the end of the decade until the bombardment of articles began last week titled things like, "2010s: What the **** Just Happened?" I found myself reading these pieces and nodding in agreement.
What a strange, strange decade it was in terms of politics and culture. What a disappointing and confusing decade it was in terms of what those aspects uncovered about some of the people in our lives and our struggles to navigate those relationships. And what a depressing decade it was in terms of the contrast between our continuously increasing understanding of climate change and what it means for our children's futures and the ever-growing, insidious science denial and greed that have prevented significant mitigation efforts.
And yet. As I was tallying up the disheartening ways we've collectively failed our children and their peers during this decade (I'm an optimist, I know), I started to wonder if there was anything fundamentally different about this 10-year block of time than any other, or if my perception of the world and the people in it has just changed.
That's when it struck me: at the beginning of 2010, I wasn't a parent yet. I was a different person.
At the close of the 2000s, Jeff and I were newlyweds, young people with endless energy. We worked full-time jobs on opposite sides of town by day, then met at a state park near our house just about every evening to mountain bike together. Afterwards we'd grab dinner and head home to work on our new house or just snuggle up and watch a show together. Work hard. Play hard. Relax.
Eventually I left my job to write and start a small photography business. My lack of schedule combined with Jeff's remote job gave us something we both craved more than a stockpile of money: flexibility. We traveled more weekends than not and, for as long as we'd been a couple, we'd somehow pulled off being seasonal residents of the Colorado Rockies. A summer here. A winter there. Plenty of shorter trips in between.
Being married to each other came pretty naturally to both of us, too. Our family dynamics were, more or less, relaxed. And on a broader level, the country was progressing in a way that felt right to us, that jived with our personal morals of equality and so on. Social regression wasn't on our radar. We were so busy growing our own dreams and assuming the best in people that we missed the undercurrent broiling just beneath the surface.
I do actually think the 2010s were fundamentally different than other decades in certain ways, but it's also true that my entire perspective on life and my role in it flipped during those years. The reason is that we created an entire family from scratch in this decade: three girls. Our dream come true. They turned our lives upside down in the very best, and most chaotic, way. (You can stop asking if we're going to try for a boy, by the way. We've never tried for a boy. And I'm done giving an awkward courtesy laugh when you ask.)
Those first Mama-Bear emotions when you're looking down at your new baby are deep and primal. Your initial mission is to keep this fragile being alive—an overwhelming task. But as time wears on and you learn how to feed and tend to the basic needs of your child, those maternal instincts expand. You still feel the desperate need to keep your child alive, but at some point, you manage to glance up from her face and notice the world around you again. Somewhat surprisingly, it’s still there after all this time. But the angle is different, and now there is an eerie quality to the light. It's changed in a permanent way that you can't quite put your finger on.
You start to see the world for how it's going to affect your child, how it's going to hurt her, get in her way, let her down. You start to see what you need to try to do to change it, to give her the best shot at life.
I went through this process of reawakening to an altered world with each of my children, but it was the most dramatic with my last. She was 7 months old. I was nursing her on the bed. And when I looked up, what I saw staring back on that November night in 2016 were elections returns.
In a moment, the wool came off my eyes. The world I thought I had just brought three kids into was unrecognizable. (Yes, I've been schooled since on how naive I was to not have fully understood the undercurrents of hate coursing through the country before this moment and am grateful for that schooling.) This moment was not the same subtle awakening I had with the first two kids, but something else entirely.
In a split second, those maternal instincts shifted from focusing on my infant's survival to putting on my gloves and preparing for a larger fight. It was as if my role as a woman and a mother suddenly came into stark relief in a way it hadn't before. Gone was my good-hearted assumption that the world would respect my daughters and their peers. Gone was my inane notion that evidenced-based reasoning was a method people at least tried to use to make decisions, even if unsuccessfully. Gone was my desire to please others for the sake of keeping the peace or not making them feel awkward for their willful ignorance.
Keep your head down and get along? No, thank you. I see what my kids are up against now and will set false pleasantries aside. I'd rather be fighting for the health and safety of all children, regardless of how they got here; for the equality and dignity of vulnerable and marginalized populations; for the basic rights of women to define their own lives regardless of what any men do or don't do to them.
Thankfully, my husband has experienced a similar perspective shift in becoming a father, and we've spent the last years of this decade supporting each other in trying to translate some of these new instincts, awareness, and drives into our careers, personal lives, and family relationships.
Perhaps in the years to come, we'll find more similarities between the 2010s and other decades in our country's history that aren't obvious in the moment. But I can tell you with certainty that for me, no decade in my life will compare in growth. Nothing will compare to the joys of bringing three children into the world with the love of my life, the weight of the realization of what that world and the people in it really look like, or the constant struggle that has followed to figure out how to maintain hope for these kids of ours, and to figure out how I can best contribute in some way to making the future better for them.
Wool pulled off. Gloves on. 2020s? Bring it.
Photo: Watching the sun set on the 2010s at Jordan Lake.
I'm Julia Soplop, writer and photographer. I believe there is something profound in bearing witness to moments of joy and pain in others’ lives. My husband, three girls and I live outside of Chapel Hill, NC. You can read more about me here.