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Winning with a full house

| Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Unpopular opinion: I am thankful for the coronavirus. I am grateful for the quarantine. I am glad to be home.

The day Fr. Jenkins’ message to students announced the move to online classes, I was devastated. Like many other students, I felt robbed. Cheated of one-eighth of my college experience. Heartbroken by the thought of not seeing some of my friends for a year and a half, as we will be studying abroad opposite semesters next year.

When I came downstairs, though, the mood was much different. My grandmother, who moved in with my family a few years ago, beamed at me. 

“Did you hear? Thanks to that germ, you get to stay home,” she said. 

I didn’t even bother mustering a smile.

“Yep. I’ll be here ‘til August.”

My 4-foot-11-inch grandmother pumped her tiny fist in the air.

“Until August? Oh, yes, five months of all my babies home together,” she said. “We’re certainly lucky.”

I immediately felt guilty. While I was sulking about lost cereal nights and dorm dances, my favorite person in the world thought only of me. Of course, she was right. Battling cancer at 90 years old, my grandmother tells me goodnight every evening by saying, “See you in the morning, God willing.” Any time with her is a precious gift. Five months is a godsend.

As I further contemplated the issue, I realized my homebound fate offers even more blessings.

The quarantine provides a unique opportunity: a second chance at childhood. With my little sister graduating high school this year, my older sister now working full-time and me going to school across the country, there’s a good chance this will be the last time my entire family will all be living together under the same roof for such a prolonged period of time. 

It might be the last chance we have to sit down to dinner as a family every night. To hear my dad yell at my grandma when she demands ketchup before even trying his food. To feign indignance when my sisters gang up on me, mocking my melodramatic tendencies. 

It offers a last chance to get ready for a school day with my little sister, arguing over why she doesn’t let me wear her clothes, though I happily share mine. To bicker with my older sister over who needs the bathroom in the morning. To have my mom come into our bedroom and make sure everyone is awake.

It offers a last chance to lay on the couch with my grandmother and watch romantic comedies while she tells me how lucky I am that I don’t have to wait for a boy to ask me to foxtrot when I go to dances. To shake my head in confusion when she insists on telling knock-knock jokes in Greek, despite my lack of understanding. To whisper conspiratorially with her about the other members of our family, even though our whispers are actually full volume because her hearing is less than optimal.

Without choir rehearsals or track practices, Girl Scout meetings and mock trial hearings, Jazzercise classes and piano lessons, no one has anywhere else to be — no prior engagements, no conflicting appointments. For the first time in a long time, our only place to be is home.

Of course in a dream world, I’d be lying on a picnic blanket on North Quad, eating grapes and playing Bananagrams with my pals. But life is about playing the hand you’re dealt. You don’t always get a royal flush, but sometimes a full house is enough.

Staying home from work, my dad gets to learn how I like belting “Fiddler on the Roof” songs while I make myself lunch. I get to exercise with my mom and learn her surprising ability to do clapping push-ups. I Skype my cousins whom I normally only see once a year. I have time to bake cookies with my sisters.

As millions of people pledge to stay home, as Times Square empties, as neighbors fill their windows with teddy bears and shoe companies start producing masks instead of sneakers, we are once again reminded that in times of need, an obligation to one’s community trumps an obligation to oneself. How lucky we are that this obligation means we get to gossip with our grandmothers.

Julianna Conley loves cereal, her home state of California and the em dash. A sophomore in Pasquerilla East, if Julianna can’t be found picnicking on North Quad, she can be reached for comment at [email protected]

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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