Ups and downs of the ‘new normal’


In the summer of 2019, well before our lives were upended by the seemingly never-ending “new normal,” I wrote a column about how my wife and I were about to become empty-nesters. At that point, my older daughter had just left for Ecuador to start her second year of teaching, and my younger daughter was about to leave for her freshman year at Johnson & Wales University, in Providence.

Well, we did indeed wind up being empty-nesters for a while (although my daughter at college returned periodically to wash her clothes and pick up groceries). But our status abruptly changed with the arrival of the coronavirus pandemic in March. First, our younger daughter moved back home when her campus dorms shut down, and then, in late April, our older daughter was advised by the American consulate to return home from Ecuador.

As a result, our house quickly became anything but empty. Our food bill increased, our washer and dryer use doubled, and, like millions of American families, we had to learn to get along with each other while living, and at times working, under the same roof.

In those early days of the pandemic, when we naively believed that this crisis would be a temporary hardship, we thought that having our daughters home again would be short-lived. But, of course, like so many American families found out, we were in it for the long haul.

It’s now October, and a summer missing many traditional activities has yielded to a fall that is also lacking so much that we once took for granted, like a normal school experience, many high school and college sports, fans at New England Patriots games and in-person cultural, community and religious gatherings. 

Today, though, instead of dwelling on the upsetting aspects of our “new normal” and our fall worries – a possible second surge in COVID-19, the anxiety caused by the bitter presidential election, the continued economic downturn and the racial protests – I’d like to balance the onslaught of 2020’s overwhelmingly negative news by sharing 10 positive developments in my life:

  1. My family has remained healthy. That deserves a prominent place on this list because as long as we stay well amid the worries of daily pandemic life, we’re ahead of the game.
  2. Yes, we’re empty-nesters once again – and that’s something worth celebrating, because our change in status means that both of our daughters are progressing in their lives. Our older daughter landed a full-time teaching position and has moved into her own place. Our younger daughter successfully completed a six-week summer make-up culinary lab program at Johnson & Wales and then moved into a dorm for her sophomore year, where she will take in-person lab classes and remote academic ones.
  3. Our longtime next-door neighbors, whose kids grew up with ours, continue to be menschen – they helped our oldest daughter move to her new place. That kind of friendship is priceless.
  4. In late August, as part of my time spent volunteering with the Greater Attleboro Relay For Life organizing committee, I helped plan a charitable pop-up event, “Luminaria on the Lawn,” at the Attleboro Arts Museum. The event – held with strict social-distancing – featured more than 100 candles lit in memory of cancer victims or in honor of cancer survivors. It raised money for the American Cancer Society and also helped the museum, which had been closed for more than four months during the lockdown.
  5. My wife and kids treated me to an honest-to-goodness sit-down birthday dinner at a restaurant. The outdoor dining experience in August was our first as a family since the pandemic began, and we savored every moment.
  6. I’ve enjoyed a few one-on-one outdoor picnic lunches with two good friends, something that I used to take for granted but which I now consider a blessing.
  7. I’ve been texting and emailing friends to keep up on their lives and to share my stories and columns with them. Our virtual correspondence has taken on added significance since it became impossible to predict when I’ll be able to see them.
  8. I’ve been able to read a few books, including “Homegrown,” by Alex Speier, about how the players who made up the 2018 World Series champion Red Sox were drafted by the team, and “Teammates,” a wonderful read by noted biographer David Halberstam about Red Sox legends Dom DiMaggio, Johnny Pesky, Bobby Doerr and the incomparable Ted Williams.
  9. I’ve been enjoying watching baseball, basketball, hockey and football again, despite the Red Sox’ historically bad season and the Bruins’ early exit from the playoffs.
  10. I’m still of (relatively) sound mind, which enables me to share these thoughts with the people who make it possible – you, the readers.

Now, if I can only find my sense of humor. Excuse me while I look for it somewhere under the stack of newspapers on my shelf.

LARRY KESSLER ( is a freelance writer based in North Attleboro.