I knew it would happen at some point, but I’m still not ready.

You, my sweet husband, are returning to the office after 14 months of working from home.

For the past 426 days, we’ve woken up as a team, ready to take on the day together. We’ve divided and conquered every weekday from 8-5, father-daughter and mother-son.

You’ve shouldered more than your share of the “pandemic parenting” burden. You’ve sat side-by-side with our daughter through every day of virtual kindergarten, having your work disrupted to frantically look for markers or grab a snack. You’ve jumped on Google Translate to make sense of her Spanish homework, and kept her motivated with Jojo Siwa dance breaks.

On that July morning when our son received his autism diagnosis, I didn’t have to come home to an empty house. You were there waiting for us, and we processed together like we have every day since. You’ve given up your own lunch break many times in order to give me one, hopping into our son’s virtual therapy sessions and then straight back to work.

You laid a sturdy foundation under me when the hard parts of this time were too much to bear. As we endured the losses of Black lives to police brutality, and as my hometown was ravaged by COVID deaths, I was weighed down with grief and anxiety. You held my heart gently in that time, even in the midst of your own pain, giving me all the alone time I needed to process and heal.

Your tender love kept me afloat.

There were so, so many days I took for granted. Days when I walked around in a fog, overwhelmed by the state of the world and burdened by what it meant for our children. I cried this morning thinking about all the days when I couldn’t be present, couldn’t be mindful, couldn’t treasure the sweet little moments that we’ll never get back.

But there were other days, too. Days when my soul delighted in the simplest joys, deeply aware of our blessings. My heart would swell and I’d relish the feeling, closing my eyes, breathing in deep, and saying to myself, “remember this.”

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I’ll treasure hearing our daughter shout, “Over here, Daddy! Follow me! Jump!” as she taught you how to play Roblox, the two of you cuddled up together on the couch.

I’ll remember how you stayed up until 4 a.m. assembling our big lockdown purchase—a new trampoline—after I had abandoned you before the clock struck 12. For you, the thought of surprising our daughter when she woke up was more than worth it.

I’ll treasure the sound of your voice booming from upstairs, with all the silliness and energy needed to keep your students entertained and engaged over Zoom. Oh, how I’ve loved these glimpses into how much you pour your heart into your work. My admiration for you has grown even deeper this year.

I’ll remember how you fell in love with cooking for the first time; how you proudly became a Crock-Pot and air fryer master, so eager to try new recipes and buy fancy ingredients.

I’ll treasure the little moments in the day when we’d somehow all end up in the same room, you preparing your lunch in the kitchen as I grabbed our daughter a snack, the kids trailing behind me, our daughter telling stories and our son spinning around with glee.

I’ll remember the excitement on our daughter’s face when you actually agreed to her “living room sleepover” idea, even though you knew it meant inevitably having her knees in your back at some point in the night.

I’ll treasure this slower, simpler life that we’ve had. 426 days of just our little family of four, surrounded by these four walls.

Last March, I thought I’d feel so cooped up, but I honestly never have. And it’s because of you. You’ve kept love at the center of every single day. You’ve been so patient and kind through all of our ups and downs. You’ve kept us steady and grounded and strong.

So I’ll try my best to dwell in gratitude instead of grief. I promise I’ll try.

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When I was little and growing up in Michigan, we’d sometimes experience a tornado warning. The whole family would cuddle up on the couch together quietly under a blanket. The sweet, simple intimacy made me feel protected from the storm outside.

That’s how this year has felt: full of warmth, closeness, and safety, even as storms raged all around us.

We’ll never have time like this again—and while that thought makes my heart ache, it’s beautiful, too. We’ve been blessed with a one-of-a-kind year that can never be reproduced. We’ve been privileged in many ways that we’ll never again take for granted. God gave us “beauty for ashes,” and turned a hard year into one that was truly precious.

And while our house will be a little emptier during the day now, we’ll always be able to look back on this year and smile. After what the world has been through, that alone is an indescribable gift.

Ellie Hunja

Ellie is a mother of two (ages 6 & 2) who is passionate about her faith, racial justice, autism acceptance, and mental health. She believes that empathy and vulnerability can change the world, and that there is ALWAYS room for dessert. She shares about her journey to cultivate a life of purpose, authenticity, and joy on Facebook at @EllieHunjaWriter and Instagram at @elliehunja