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Home for the pandemic

Returning to my parents’ home in my 30s, husband and children in tow, is taking some adjusting for everyone

The more things change, the more they stay the same. Photo: iSTOCKPHOTO
The more things change, the more they stay the same. Photo: iSTOCKPHOTO

My mother tells me to eat oatmeal multiple times each morning.

“And sprinkle some flaxseed on it,” she adds. “It’s in the drawer in the fridge and it’s really good for you.”

I tell her I really don’t enjoy the texture of oatmeal and she shakes her head and then watches me quietly as I make my coffee.

“What?” I say.

“Nothing,” she says. “I’ve been reading so many studies recently on the harmful effects of sugar.”

I stir my coffee and look at her, waiting to see if she will make the explicit connection to my drink or if she will wait for me. I pick up my cup and sip; she places a spoonful of oatmeal in her mouth.

My husband, children and I have moved in with my parents in upstate New York for this phase of the pandemic. It was too difficult to stay home in a small apartment in the middle of Mumbai with two young children who need to run around and move and play all day.

My parents have enough space in their home, a front and back yard for our children to play in, and they are happy to help out with childcare so we can split duties four ways instead of two and keep all four adult careers afloat.

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We are also less isolated in isolation. Six people, instead of our four or my parents’ two. My parents, who otherwise only see my children a few times a year, now get to spend every evening telling them stories. They are forced to take breaks from their work to sing Baby Shark and look for spiders. Their quiet academic home full of books now vibrates with music composed by my musician husband in his makeshift studio in their spare room.

We are all very fortunate but given that I had moved out when I left for college at 18, returning in my 30s, husband and children in tow, it is taking some adjusting for everyone.

“There’s a global water shortage,” my mother says as she walks past me as I momentarily turn away from a running tap to get a tomato out of the fridge.

“And large corporations are to blame for the destruction of our planet, not the small actions of individuals,” I say, now rinsing the plump tomato.

At 17, I fought with my parents the way most 17-year-olds do, with slammed doors and tears and shouts. Now, our disagreements are a more delicate dance but I still have an adolescent urge to disagree.

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The subject matter of our arguments has aged with us and is now less about what time I need to get home from a party and more about how much sodium I should be consuming (less. The answer is always less).

“Read instead of wasting time on your phone,” my mother says.

I ignore her and keep scrolling even though it was this very advice (read instead of watching television) that turned me into a writer in the first place. And now I enjoy our sparring, tucking away the lines to use in future books. Unlike when I was 17, I no longer feel like the misunderstood victim of the world so there’s really no need to slam doors and rage against the world.

At 17, my parents would have to drag me out of bed at 7am in order to get to school on time; now at 7am I stand outside their closed bedroom door trying to get my children to be quiet and let their grandparents sleep.

But the more things change, the more they stay the same.

At 17, my friends and I snuck sips of alcohol from our parents’ liquor cabinets.

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Now my husband and I sneak pieces of salami in the car because processed meat can lead to colon cancer, my mother reminds me.

“And you don’t need so many lights on,” she says.

“Yes, I do,” I say, even though I don’t.

“God, I need this pandemic to be over so we can go home,” I say to my husband. Then I shout down the hall to my father to please put the air-conditioning on and ask my mother what’s for dinner.

My husband laughs.

“What?”

He shakes his head but says nothing and returns to his work.

“You don’t need so many lights on,” I say to him.

When my mother isn’t looking, I sprinkle flaxseed on my cereal.

Diksha Basu is the best-selling author of The Windfall and Destination Wedding.

  • FIRST PUBLISHED
    25.10.2020 | 12:00 PM IST

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