What Would You Do If Your Child Had Coronavirus? For Us, It Was 'Room Service' Food
Two days after President Trump instituted a ban on travelers from Europe, our daughter Rhea was on a flight home from Madrid.
Her college study abroad program had come to an abrupt end. At the airport, she was surprised and annoyed I wouldn't give her the usual tight hug and kiss. I was awkwardly practicing social distancing with my firstborn.
And when we pulled up to our porch, my husband was waiting with a mask and gloves, hand sanitizer, and a disinfecting spray for her luggage. She started laughing incredulously: "Wait, what?"
Two days later, though, no one was laughing when she started complaining of chills and aches. I thawed a Cornish hen and made my children's favorite soup from scratch. Worry etched our minds as her temperature reached 100 degrees. We knew it was the start of a strict 14-day quarantine.
My husband drove her the next day to our local hospital. A nurse came out to the car to take a swab. Three days later, we got a call that Rhea had tested positive for COVID-19.
She just turned 20 and is healthy and athletic, but it's still frightening when your child comes down with a disease that has killed nearly 150,000 people. Her symptoms were mild, but we were still scared, given how little people know about the disease. Our family has many advantages and that put us in a good place to nurse her through this. But the quarantined are lonely and my daughter was no exception. None of us could comfort her in person when she had to go into solitary confinement in her room.
But all of us — my husband, our son and I — were determined to make it less frightening for Rhea. That meant turning to food. It's how the family bonds. The kids have spent a lot of time in the kitchen. I remember them standing on step stools when they were little, rolling out rotis with their tiny hands on the rolling pin, eagerly watching me as I made them on the fire. They chopped green beans or okra for me. A home-prepared feast has marked many a milestones, be it a birthday or a graduation.
In celebrations, we spend days planning and making a vast array of dishes that could include lamb biryani, pulled pork, roast chicken and pasta, all in one meal to accommodate their many desires. And in sickness we turn to soup. So we got started on a menu. After all, for 14 days she would have at least three meals a day plus a snack. Thankfully, my husband and I both love to cook. Below are just a few of Rhea's quarantine meals. It wasn't haute cuisine, but we tried. And more importantly, we tried to keep the mood light.
My husband made some of her best breakfasts. Here's her first one: sunny-side up eggs with toasted croissant, sliced avocado, a wedge of watermelon. Small bowls of almond and grapes, served with iced coffee topped with almond milk, all nicely arranged on a tray. My husband stood outside her room and announced: "Room Service." She giggled.
I don't drink coffee but my Gen Z daughter loves it, so I learned to make cold brew in a French press.
The breakfasts I made for her were less elaborate than my husband's. Yogurt and honey, topped with granola and sliced strawberries. Or avocado toast, or just plain rice crackers smeared with peanut butter and a banana. I tried my best on the presentation. My daughter's an Instagram kid who's delighted by a beautiful display.
An all-time family favorite: tomato basil bisque, made from freshly baked and charred tomatoes, a whole head of garlic, onions and a sprinkling of fresh basil. My kids have ordered it many times at restaurants, only to be disappointed. It's always unanimous: "Daddy's is so much better!" They don't order it anymore.
My husband's "Room Service" announcement became a ritual. We said it whenever we delivered Rhea's tray. After a while she didn't giggle over that. It's hard to be locked in a room alone. Our short chats through her bedroom door became more important. And her phone was a savior. It was her lifeline to the outside world — her friends via Snapchat or FaceTime, or us via text.
Evening snacks were a mix of her favorite things — like fruits and nuts. One day it was sliced persimmon, a bowl of pumpkin seeds, with cranberry juice, or olives with hummus and pita bread, another day fresh guacamole with tortilla scoops, and yet another day: dumplings with soy sauce.
Now, it's been more than 14 days and she's out of quarantine. She's healthy. And we are, too.
It's ironic that I can say we feel lucky, when a member of our family tested positive for COVID-19. But, compared to so many others who have lost loved ones, I know that we are truly fortunate.
Our brush with the coronavirus puts a lot into sharp relief. The value of family ties, the sustenance and comfort that food can bring, the good humor that can provide salve during a lonely quarantine.
And Rhea? This past weekend, she sent the rest of the family a text message, inviting us to dinner. Her one condition: We had to dress up.
When we came downstairs at the appointed time, she had set out a cheese board with goat cheese, brie, fig jam, manchego and prosciutto, a side plate of bite-sized caprese salad. And a jug of sangria.
For our main course, Rhea had baked salmon with sliced tomatoes and basil, accompanied with linguine. And dessert: homemade chocolate-covered strawberries and sliced apples with warmed caramel dip.
It was her thank you, expressed in the most heartfelt way possible. The food was beautifully arranged and the best part: She didn't have to say, "Room Service."
Pallavi Gogoi is NPR's chief business editor.