MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
COVID-19 has forced many families to improvise child care. For some, it's been like a months-long bring your child to work day. Paul Montanaro runs a pizza shop in the Bronx, and that is where his daughter Francesca has been spending most of her days since her school shut down in March. As part of their Hunker Down Diaries series, Radio Diaries brings us her story.
(SOUNDBITE OF PHONE RINGING)
FRANCESCA MONTANARO: Katonah Pizza, Pasta, please hold. Dad, we have someone on line one.
PAUL MONTANARO: Thank you, Frankie (ph). Can I help you?
F MONTANARO: Hello. I am Francesca Montanaro. Right now it is 10:57. I'm at my dad's pizza shop, Katonah Pizza.
P MONTANARO: Thank you, buddy. Want some plates and napkins for that?
F MONTANARO: Since my mom's an ICU nurse, she's on the front lines, and she can't really watch me. So every day, I go to my dad's pizza shop, help out making pizza...
(SOUNDBITE OF PHONE RINGING)
F MONTANARO: OK, here it goes. Katonah Pizza, Pasta, please hold.
Right now I am making pizza boxes. Here you go, Robert (ph).
ROBERT: Thank you so much.
F MONTANARO: OK.
Sometimes I feel bored, mostly because there's nothing really to, like, do here for, like, an 11-year-old like me. Like, it's not like it's a jungle gym or anything like that. It's a pizza shop.
Dad, do you have a couple minutes to talk?
P MONTANARO: Yeah, of course.
F MONTANARO: OK, so I'm going to just ask you a couple questions. Do you think business is busy or not that busy?
P MONTANARO: Well, with the pandemic, I'm short-staffed. We've had workers scared to come in. And we have a school right across the street from the pizza shop, and I've had a big customer base from that with teachers and school kids. But we haven't had that. We've lost all that because of this. Now we're doing trays of food for 30 nurses, 40 nurses, for the police officers, EMS. It's been able to keep my business afloat.
F MONTANARO: Like, when your customers walk in, like, what are your customers' emotions?
P MONTANARO: Well, they're all different. I have some customers that come in that just look miserable. I mean, they come in, and they're - you know, they're not working. They're stressed out. Some of them have, you know, sick family members. Some of them have actually lost family members. And then, you know, you have customers that are just exercising, riding bikes. They come in, and they just - no big deal, and, you know, we just got to hang in there and do what we got to do.
F MONTANARO: So now that I'm more at the pizza shop, does that stress you out more or not?
P MONTANARO: Well, to be honest with you, it does stress me out only because I know for a kid, your patience is what it is. And sometimes I see that you're bored and you don't know what to do with yourself. But still, it's been great. I see you learning the register, and you know how to handle money now. And I want you to also know that you're very calming, and you're very soothing to me. Having you there in my time of stress or whatever has actually calmed me down because you're built that way.
F MONTANARO: So the hardest part for me is you're usually busy, and I feel like some days I could just sit in the back without you even noticing me.
P MONTANARO: Well, I understand what you're saying. It is what it is, right? And - well, I do want you to know that sometimes I feel very guilty that you're there with me so many hours because mommy doesn't come to pick you up until, like, sometimes seven o'clock at night, eight o'clock at night. And that's probably why I give you more money than I should because I want to make sure that you're happy. And I think that you've handled it very, very well. And I just want you to know that I'm proud of you for that.
Actually, I do remember the day that you made your first pizza pie, like, three weeks ago. And I do remember sometimes you'd sit there, and you'd just watch me for a long time. And you'd see how I would work the dough, and you see I would put the sauce and the cheese on. And you took that in, and you made the perfect pie. It was, like, perfectly round. I couldn't believe the amazing crust that you made. Even my pizza guy was like, oh, my God, she is a natural.
F MONTANARO: Do you think you'd want me to take over the pizza shop and run the business?
P MONTANARO: I wouldn't want you to do what I do only because - I mean, I've been doing it for the past 23 years, and it's tough. It's not an easy business. And honestly, I think what mommy does, being a nurse, is a lot more important. Whereas I can feed people, mommy can save lives. And not to say that I'm not intelligent, but I see how you are and I see what you can be, and I know that that would be a lot more than what I've been in my life and am. And I think that you're going to use that brain and do much better things than what I do.
F MONTANARO: Yeah.
P MONTANARO: Hold on a second. How many slices you got, buddy?
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: I got three plain, one chicken...
F MONTANARO: Francesca Montanaro, sitting in Katonah Pizza, Pasta in the Bronx.
P MONTANARO: Your total is $17.50. Thank you very much.
KELLY: Francesca says she is hoping to become a nurse or a psychologist. In the meantime, she'll be spending her summer at the pizzeria. Her audio diary was produced by Sarah Kate Kramer of Radio Diaries. You can hear more stories from the Hunker Down Diaries series on the Radio Diaries podcast.
(SOUNDBITE OF LORDE'S "THE LOUVRE")
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