"Do you think that I should come home when coronavirus breaks out badly?” my 24-year-old daughter texted from Los Angeles on March 1.
Gary, my husband, answered her from our home in Berkeley: Yes. “That's what family is for — to protect each other,” he wrote.
Two weeks later, Juliet was on the road, driving a loaded car north. Our lives had changed drastically since her first text. The Bay Area was on lockdown. The restaurant where Juliet had been working as a cook shut abruptly, and she had been laid off. Grocery shelves had been stripped bare of toilet paper and Clorox wipes.
Juliet arrived in the early evening, and we collapsed into each another's arms. It felt so good to squeeze her, to savor the tightness of her arms around me. I hadn't seen enough of her in recent years as she left for college and then crossed oceans to pursue her passion for growing and cooking food. Though I was delighted when she settled in L.A., my more-than-full-time job as a news editor gave me little opportunity to visit her.
As I helped Juliet carry her bags to her childhood bedroom, I told myself to be careful. She was no longer a young girl who needed supervision or chore lists. I made myself a promise to parent her as little as possible.
Gary and I were not alone in this sudden transition from empty nesters to roommates of an adult child. Parents across the country have had kids come home from college or show up seeking sanctuary from the coronavirus. For the first time since the Great Depression, a majority of the country's 18- to 29-year-olds — 52 percent — now live with their parents.
And in Berkeley, soon there were four of us. Juliet's boyfriend, Wes, left his graduate program in Wisconsin and moved in. It was more noise and activity than Gary, who is retired, and I were used to, but we were grateful to have Juliet and Wes nearby; our older daughter was in New York City, where COVID-19 was killing people at alarming rates. We had no idea when we would see her again.
Once at home, Juliet started cooking with a vengeance. Our kitchen morphed into a sourdough starter lab. Then she started making face masks, setting up her sewing machine on the dining room table. She, Wes and I tackled the garden, and then Juliet and I immersed ourselves in YouTube videos featuring home makeovers. We took long walks in our hilly neighborhood.