Pandemic Chore Schedule

The main thing that has changed is who makes lunch and who does the lunch dishes. Making school lunches used to be the weekly rotating job of Mark (12 years), Luke (9 years), and Diana (6 years). Based on ingredients I would leave out, every morning before school one of them would fill 5 plastic bento boxes, each with a lid of a different color. (Although in recent times, Virginia, 16 years, got tired of the salami sandwiches and brie with crackers and said she’d pack her own salads and smoothies.)

Now that all the kids are home during the week, the former lunch person sets the table and pours drinks at lunchtime, and the kids take turns making the meal for everyone except for Virginia, who is now vegan and usually makes her own lunch. (My husband, Enrico, works more than ever and is out of the house from early morning until late at night in his job as a hospital administrator and physician.)

When it’s Mark’s week to set the lunch table, it’s Luke’s week to clean the litterboxes (on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday), and Diana’s turn to empty the dishwasher in the morning. Then the jobs rotate, although Luke sometimes tries to get Diana to trade dishwasher for litterboxes, which only has to be done 3 times a week instead of 5.

Another new routine, suggested by the teens when schools closed and adopted at a family meeting, was that each person would do their own lunch dishes, and the person who prepared the lunch would clean the pots and pans and countertops.

Sofia (18 years) makes lunch on Monday, Luke makes lunch on Tuesday, Diana on Wednesday, Virginia on Thursday, and Mark on Friday. 

The teens used to get the younger 3 kids ready for bed at night, until they traded that job for making an extra dinner per week, so I make dinner on Monday, Virginia on Tuesday, Sofia on Wednesday, me on Thursday, and on Friday, we order out from a neighborhood restaurant, one of our new pandemic traditions

Sofia sets the table for dinner on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and vacuums the kitchen after dinner on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday, and Virginia sets the dinner table on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday, and vacuums after dinner on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

On the weekends Mark and Luke set the table and vacuum the kitchen after meals. Mark sets the table on Sunday lunch and vacuums after Saturday lunch and Sunday dinner, and Luke sets on Saturday lunch and Sunday dinner and vacuums after Sunday lunch.

The boys also take out the trash and recycling and bring the dirty laundry down to the basement, alternating week by week. I do the laundry on the weekends, and each person bring their clothes up and puts them away.

We usually have 2 dishwashers to load and unload every day, so the afternoon shift is done by Mark and Diana on Monday and Thursday, and by Luke and Diana on Tuesday and Wednesday, and only Diana on Friday.

Dinner dishes are washed by Virginia on Monday, Sofia on Tuesday, Mark on Wednesday, Luke on Thursday, and Diana on Friday (although Enrico or I usually do them for her because she still needs a stool to reach the faucets).

On the weekends, Enrico finishes meals first so he usually jumps up and does the dishes (minus the pots and butcher knives, which I usually do) and he also unloads the 4 to 5 dishwashers per weekend (except for the weird stuff — mixing bowls, whisks, carrot peelers, and baking sheets, which I do).

I make lunch on Saturday and Sunday and Sofia makes dinner on Saturday night and Virginia on Sunday night.

On Sunday, the weekly turns end and new shifts start on Monday. Monday also begins a new bathroom schedule — Mark, Luke, and Diana are assigned different bathrooms each week to get ready for bed because all that used to happen in the kids’ bathroom was playing and fighting. I usually stay with the person in the basement bathroom because no one wants that one, except for Diana who likes that bathtub better.

Diana takes a bath every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday, and Luke every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and they both take one on Sunday, except when they’ve convinced me they don’t have to, or I’m too tired to make them. 

We only have 1 TV which was not a problem before the lockdown (except on weekends when Sofia and Virginia sometimes wanted to see different movies), and no one was allowed to watch on school nights anyway, unless they watched in Italian. But without friends, play practices, meetings, swim lessons, and babysitting jobs, the rules relaxed and it became clear that we needed a pandemic schedule for the TV too. It was decided that Virginia gets the TV on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday night, and Sofia gets it on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday night, and they alternate Sundays.

For other occasional and semi-regular jobs, like taking out the compost, cleaning baseboard moulding, and weeding the garden, we rely on our point system, where unwanted behavior (such as potty play, teasing, and bedtime-flouting) results in points which can be cancelled by doing one job per 3 points. 

I know I’ll want to remember this one day.

Friday Night Pandemic Diary

Restaurant sign only open for take out and delivery during coronavirus

It’s become a lockdown tradition to order out on Friday night from a neighborhood restaurant. We’ve tried Mexican, Korean, French, Italian-American, Middle Eastern, Peruvian, and tonight, Indian. I wonder which of them will still be here when we emerge.

At Masala Arts, you can order the Community Package of 4 main courses, 4 breads, and 2 appetizers, and they’ll give you a free tray of 30 eggs and 4 toilet rolls. We already scored a 12-pack of Charmin mega rolls at CVS on Monday, so we go a la carte.

I tuck 2 hand-made masks into my back pocket, a credit card, and two $5 bills for homeless people we might run into on the avenue. Diana gets out her brother’s hand-me-down bike, and we head out into the goldenrod evening. 

At the top of the hill near SuperCuts, we pass a group of older teens with masks hanging off their faces. Restaurants and dry cleaners say they’re open, but Tenleytown feels empty, like it’s made of scaffolding.

When we pull open the door to the restaurant, Diana says, “There’s no one here!” Instead of a take-out and delivery operation, the place looks exactly the same as it did before the pandemic. Just the bodies are missing, as if they had been vaporized.

A man with a mask is on the phone taking another order, so we walk around, noticing the spice orange walls, the sensuous Indian sculptures, the charcoal drawings of women with real gold jewelry attached. I wish I wore jewels on my forehead and garlands of gold around my waist and ankles.

As I take our warm paper bag of food home in my arms, a bald man I’ve never seen before is resting his forehead on the Mexican restaurant patio post as if it were a walking cane. I drop $5 in his empty 20-ounce Pepsi cup, and he says, “God bless you.”

In the CVS parking lot, Duane has returned to his station on a blanket-padded milk crate, writing the next installment of The Black Fields Chronicles: THE HOBO on his cell phone. He always says “I’m blessed” when I ask how he is. I give him the second bill to help pay for dinner, we say good-bye, and Diana coasts down the hill toward home.

After we eat all the lamb korma, coconut curry chicken, and rock salt cilantro naans, Mark draws dolphins on Virginia’s feet and faces on her toes with a ballpoint pen because it feels good. Sofia starts melting chocolate chips over a pot of boiling water, and it’s time for people to get ready for bed. Virginia vacuums the rice off the floor in a knit strapless dress because it’s her turn.

When I tuck Diana in, she says, “I’m grateful that restaurants are open.” I stay in her room and write about this day while she falls asleep, because she doesn’t like sleeping alone, and because it was a beautiful, sad, special, ordinary day.

Down to the River

I went down to the river today. It felt like touching the feet of God.  

I hadn’t driven a car in a month. Weeds were growing around the tires. My phone was dead so I drove there without a GPS. I felt grappled to the earth. I got lost.

Cars were parked all over the shoulder by the trail heads like beetles to nectar.

Sometimes you can be too safe. Like a plant in a pot, your roots go round and round and nowhere. The walks we take around our neighborhood. Nature is not tame like this. Landscaped bushes, tulip beds, Dogwoods placed like armchairs in the corners of yards.

In the woods, trees are dangerously high. Others lie dying at their feet. Black Vultures circle high at the edges.

Table manners, Office 365, social media headshots, calorie counts, rankings: what does all this matter?  

Violent beautiful nature. I feel calmed, sobered.

I came back to the river at sunset with my family. I want to give them more than errands for shampoo and canola oil, or bike rides to parks where security guards shoo us away.

We take foot bridges over the punching water of the Potomac. It rips over black bedrock. Diana is scared. She knows the river can kill you. 

I want to know that it is possible to die. This fear stops me from tinkering with dials and buttons, and makes me look up at the sky, and feel the clay under my feet.

Quarantine Goals

After riding her bike on the sidewalk in front of our house, Diana, 6, stops at our weeping cherry tree, grabs some of its small bitter fruits, and says, “Now I’m going to do my spitting-far practice.”

Teen Shopper

We used to get our groceries delivered 
but now slots are sold out for weeks
and only 1/2 of what we order is in stock

So Virginia, 16, goes shopping
at the family-owned grocer on Wisconsin
But she’ll only take one tiny black tote
to carry the fruit, butter, and yogurt
(anything larger would be embarrassing)

With no school, plays, Starbucks dates, or babysitting jobs
I’m grateful for the half-full truck
and the small tote
Now she has a reason
to walk in the sun and the rain 
over the wind-flown flowers

Trading Potty Words for Silver

The word diarrhea has been said about 13 times so far today and no one is sick. With kids home from school and all their time spent together, the number of points they collect for saying gross things, making potty sounds, and being mean to each other is surging. Our house has become a potty-word-slinging, insult-hurling hot spot.

When we moved to New York City 10 years ago, we were so proud that we could take our daughters Sofia and Virginia, who were 5 and 7 at the time, to places like the Metropolitan Museum of Art, institutions that would surely instill a worldly sophistication. We soon realized that the Met, and especially the Greek and Roman statue room, would not be a regular cultural destination due to its extensive collection of butts and penises.

This week alone Luke has earned points equal to 12 jobs, Mark 4, and Diana 3, and I’m running out of chores to give them and the will to enforce it all. I feel like a shipwrecked captain on a deserted island, slowly losing control over her crew.

It’s Saturday morning, and when the usual pillow-fighting, furniture-rocking, and ear-splitting screaming starts after breakfast, I am unable to get the kids outside, so I tell them they have to start doing jobs, like emptying these two dishwashers for example. Then Luke, 9, says, “No, I’m going to polish silver!”

We have a collection of silver-plated serving dishes from my grandmother and thrift shops, which are not valuable but I like to display their old-world beauty on our hutch and occasionally use them to serve fruit salad or dinner rolls. My mom would be happier if we would polish them, but I think their bronzy patina of neglect has an air of faded elegance, and who has the time anyway?

Luke gets the stool and reaches up to get one of the tawny bowls, and I start spreading the table with newspaper. “I want to polish silver too!” Diana, 6, says, climbing up on the hutch and trying to grab another serving dish. 

Earlier this week we had taken an outing to the hardware store, one of the only stores open now, to get more polish and Luke suggested we get two tubs. “I’m going to be doing a lot of polishing,” he said, recognizing perhaps his penchant for potty words and his attraction to this method of penitence.

Mark, 12, says, “That’s not fair that he gets to do all the fun jobs!” and soon three polishers are at the table rubbing silver platters with pinky-gray cream, running over to the sink to rinse them off, and calling, “Whoa, Mama, look!”

We look into these once brown and cloudy platters and see a surface so bright and clear it’s like a mirror miraculously appearing out of a murky pond in the dark woods.

Virginia, 16, who is sitting on the couch going over the list of supplies she’ll need to paint her walls Middleton Pink, comments, “That’s the way they really look?”

After lunch Luke has to do half of Mark’s vacuuming job because he was playing with Legos in his pajamas when it was his turn to set the table. Enrico has started to help Diana with her Italian homework, and as Luke pushes the sweeper wand back and forth over the tiles, he sings diarrea in Italian over and over to the tune of “Oh My Darling, Clementine.”

I let the song wash over me and don’t even consider doing anything except going upstairs for a nap, when I hear the sound of reinforcements arriving. Sofia, 18, that former Metropolitan butt connoisseur, gets up from the living room couch and walks toward the chart with a pen like a dart, yelling, “Luke, do you want to be shining silver your whole life?” 

She adds another tally mark next to his name, and I think, maybe I won’t be carried off by a band of savages. Or maybe I will, but we’ll dine together on the finest silver.

A Prayer

The world is quiet, like a winter day when giant snowflakes fall one by one until everything is thick and round, telling us to stay home, go back to bed, play.

Every weekend now is a family weekend, every meal is a table set for seven, every night children are all safe in their beds.

Now is a time when it feels natural to write a letter by hand, to call a friend and talk long, to make rolls from flour and salt when the shelves are bare.

But how can I love this life when it’s covered with the blood of sacrifice?  How can I know this joy when it is lifted from the shoulders of misery?

I confess that I dread the glorious day when normal life opens up again.

When our calendar will be colonized like a strategy game being played by ourselves and others on the territory of our lives.

When I will once again take up battle with my princesses about what they are wearing, where they are going, and who they are with.

When I am alone in the crowd and feel like a girl in a rushing windstorm, trying to find my way home.

I am powerless to direct the evolution of the world. The only thing left to do is ask.

May this time change me. May it open me to suffering I have not let myself feel, to beauty I have not stopped long enough to see.

Show me how to sit in my own heart, so that when it is time, I may walk gently into this new world and not lose my way.


The mayor announced Friday
schools will not reopen this year
and distance learning will end
three weeks early

I feel like a balloon in a bunch
when the man loosens his grip
and one by one
we just fly away

Bless You

We have to wear masks now to go to stores. 
My mom sent us 7 in different sizes
out of fabric I recognize from her curtains and dresses.

We wear them to the Bullfrog Bagel truck 
in the bike shop parking lot.
The bagels are so creamy and chewy,
“hand-rolled and boiled the old-fashioned way.”

Luke sneezes just as we get to the window,
his mask lowered to his chin.
The guy in the truck looks stricken.

People used to think 
sneezing was like expelling your soul.
Hanging in the air,
a “bless you” was needed
to save the devil from snatching it.

Now sneezing is like expelling the devil.  
And it’s the not the sneezer who needs the blessing,
but the witness 
to save him from the devil hanging in the air.

Quarantine Blessing

Today was the first time in years my husband was home for a weeknight dinner. His evening appointments have slowed. He was worried, but a break from his schedule feels like a gift we are going to hold gently.

He sat across from me and between Diana and Luke, and when Sofia set down in front of him a bowl of her red lentil and farro salad with roasted carrots and arugula, he said in his deep voice, “This is beautiful.” I know he meant it, even though he loves meat.