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The New Normal

Families are learning to live together.

by Fran LoBiondo

Fran LoBiondoHappy April Fool’s Day, everyone! We are now in week two of the corona virus lockdown and things here are calmer than last week.

This is a huge change of routine for my kids and me, and Gregory does not like change. He’s a rut lover, generally.

I wrote recently that my daughter was bored with the same old meals dictated by Greg—Monday, escarole soup, Tuesday, chicken and rice and onion and peas, etc.—and wanted me to grow a backbone and start cooking something different.

Well, she got her wish.

Everything is different now. Because of the novel Coronavirus that is spreading worldwide, the state has shut down all “nonessential” businesses—schools, most stores, and no services for adults with special needs!

This edict hit our family like a sudden storm that changes the whole landscape. We knew the virus was spreading and that it was survivable, and (at the time) we had no cases in Cumberland County. Next thing we knew, the whole State of New Jersey shut down and everyone was advised to stay home and not touch each other, as if that could happen.

Our son’s family in Brooklyn reported that things were weird there, too. Broadway and movie theaters went dark; schools closed; pro sports games, concerts and arena events were cancelled and people were out of work. Restaurant closings were not too bad, because they have lots of takeout and delivery places nearby, even Wegman’s, a high-end fresh food store. George and Kaitlin are working from home, as much as is possible in a small apartment with a rambunctious two-year-old bounding through rooms and bouncing off walls—and parents.

They keep sending us phone videos of our grandson, Ben—climbing onto the bed and jumping or sliding down, laughing uproariously, or hiding in the bathroom closet because he emptied a roll of paper into the toilet and clogged it up. Dad is standing by the toilet saying, “Ben, what did you do?”

The closet door cracks open, showing tousled blonde hair and some red cheeks.

“I don’t know, I just …” and the door shuts. At least he had the decency to blush.

These vignettes cheer us immensely, isolated as we are here at home.

They are still able to shop for groceries, and are cooking full meals at home when they can.

Therese is home because her work at a clothing shop is temporarily closed down, and she spends her time buying new ingredients and “making something different.” So far, I’ve seen cauliflower rice and vegetable salad, chocolate cookies with nuts and oats that looked yummy but came out too dry to chew. And we have on our counter a large container of chia seeds, that I prefer to let her introduce to Greg.

Tonight I am cooking chicken and rice and onion and peas, usually a Tuesday dish, but yesterday we had sausage and baked potatoes crusted with Lipton onion soup mix. See, I am cooking something different, at least switching up the days. Perhaps tonight I’ll throw some chia seeds into the rice and onions. Therese may be happy, Dad won’t even notice, and Greg will give it the stiff-arm “Just leave it.”

But he’ll eat the chicken.

Our President has said that he hopes things will be back together by Easter. Socially, at least. To quote Captain Picard of Star Trek: “Make it so.”

But things really have quieted down here in Paradise. Greg has miraculously stopped asking to go to his adult programs, thank God. The first week in lockdown he was beside himself. Here’s how our conversations went, every minute until my molars started grinding.

“Mommy,”/ “What, Greg?” / “Tomorrow PAFA? Saturday Evanoff? / “They’re not open, Greg. When they open, you can go.” Over and over again. My jaws ached from not screaming.

This week he’s still playing the Mommy What game, but not repeatedly, and he says “Nice and calm.” He means himself, not me.

Okay, so moving on to today’s celebration of April Fool’s Day. My old roommate’s birthday falls on April 1st, and I learned that they do birthdays differently in her native Seoul. The honoree gives gifts to her friends and family, and she cooks foods so spicy hot that I turned red and started to sweat and my nose ran copiously.

But man, I still miss her cooking.

Life Sentences