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Credit: Rachel Joy Barehl
From left to right: Tyler, Sheila, Nicolle, Allie
The Way We Eat

A Reunited Family Discusses the Unexpected Magic of Spending the Last 5 Months Together

updated Sep 11, 2020
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Names: Nicolle, Sheila, Tyler, and Allie
Location:  Columbus, Ohio
How many people regularly eat together in your home? Usually 2; Nicolle and Sheila. During 5 months of quarantine they were joined by their daughter, Tyler, and her girlfriend, Allie, who typically live in NYC.
Avoidances: The family has a strong aversion to peas.

According to the Pew Research Center, more young adults are living at home with parents right now than ever before. (The last measured peak took place during the Great Depression.) As an adult woman who has lived at home with her parents in New Jersey for half of 2020, getting to talk to Nicolle; Sheila; their daughter, Tyler; and her girlfriend, Allie, who spent the past 5 months together in Columbus, Ohio, was validating to say the least.

Here’s the situation: Nicolle (a marketing director) and Sheila (a middle school principal) have been empty nesters since their daughter, Tyler, moved out for college 13 years ago. Back in March, Tyler and her girlfriend, Allie (both college basketball coaches in NYC), returned home to ride out part of the pandemic alongside “the parentals,” as Tyler fondly calls them. It was a time they say, “we didn’t know we needed.”

We caught up with the family over four-way Zoom call (as one does these days), to talk about their WiFi strength, “vacations” in the backyard, Nicolle’s heavy-handed bartending, and the five months together that they wouldn’t trade for the world.

Credit: Rachel Joy Barehl

Can you give me a bit of the family backstory?
Tyler: I like to say that Nicolle and I met on February 7, 1989. The best day of her life. Then she met Sheila.
Nicolle: Sounds about right.
Sheila: A mutual friend introduced us at the time. I don’t think Nicolle paid me any attention quite honestly. We went out on one date officially and then 22 years later here we are. That’s the short and dirty version.
Tyler: Nicolle and I came as a package deal. Sheila joined our duo and made us a trio. She made our family whole. And about five years ago, I met Allie through mutual friends and our profession (coaching college basketball). We were friends for a while then we got into a relationship and have lived in the city together for four years.

Credit: Rachel Joy Barehl

And now you’re back, Tyler! What have the past few months been like for you all?
Tyler: In March, Allie and I were living our best lives in NYC, coaching basketball, and then the world shut down. We spent a few days in our apartment and all of a sudden we were like, “Let’s get out of here.” Prior to this, the extent of my Columbus longevity was probably Christmas time or a long weekend to visit the family. This was definitely an extended stay. We went from staying five days to five months.
Allie: Sheila and Nicolle opened up their home and lives to us and that was amazing.
Tyler: They definitely wooed us a bit to get here. They sent us a video of them dancing in the kitchen. It was like ‘Wow they look like they’re having fun.” We packed our bags and they greeted us with open arms and our dirty laundry.

Credit: Rachel Joy Barehl

And then you just kept extending your stay?
Tyler: It started as a running joke, like, “We’ll be here til June.” Then it became July, and August. Like wow, we’ve been here a really long time. Within that time, though, we made a ton of memories. I hope you guys are taking care of my garden.
Sheila: We got you.
Tyler: We started a quarantine garden … tomatoes, strawberries, lettuce, cucumbers, corn.
Sheila: The cucumbers choked out the peas.
Allie: If that’s not 2020 in a nutshell, I don’t know what is. (Their whole family hates peas. It’s a big thing.)

Walk me through a normal day of quarantine in Columbus?
Sheila: We were all working from the house during the day, all spread out with our laptops and desktops. Nicolle has her whole office. I was in the basement. Tyler and Allie spread out between the kitchen and bedrooms.
Nicolle: Several times someone had to yell “Get off the WiFi!” We managed, though. If you would have asked me about 2020, it was really rough. But those 5 months were magical and I wouldn’t have traded them for the world.
Tyler: It’s so weird. I love living in New York. One of my favorite things is always having something to do or something to say no to. I love my hometown too, but I’d never say that about Ohio. But this morning, even before I said good morning to Allie, I thought, “I wish we were back in Columbus.” It would be Pizza Friday. We’d probably have a made-up “vacation” in the backyard, with mom in charge of the cocktails. And we’d we playing a game of cards that Allie and I would win.
Sheila: There you go lying!

Credit: Rachel Joy Barehl

Vacation in the yard! How does that go?
Nicolle: I love being the family bartender because there’s always an audience for my made-up recipes. I make a lot of Sunday sippers, brunch drinks, margs, lots of pool drinks. We did a day that we pretended we were in Cabo.
Tyler: My mom is a fantastic-yet-sneaky bartender. Everything is meant to be a “sipper,” but you want to chug it.
Sheila: There’s nothing sneaky behind her heavy hand!
Nicolle: My pours are based on whatever song comes into my head. My mood determines the amount of tequila.

Credit: Rachel Joy Barehl

What is dinnertime like in your household?
Tyler: We really like to gather as a family. No phones. We started the tradition of Taco Tuesdays and Pizza Fridays. And we’d talk about the peaks and valleys of our days. That’s something Allie and I took away from this quarantine. There’s time to slow down and be with each other.
Allie: I come from a big Italian household in New Jersey, and Sunday dinners are really important to me. So being in Ohio, dinnertime was something I looked forward to as soon as I woke up. This is a time we’ll never get back, so we tried to take advantage of it every day.

Credit: Rachel Joy Barehl

Have the past few months together changed the way you eat normally?
Sheila: Nicolle and I definitely cooked more when they were in the house than what we do now that they’re back in NYC.
Tyler: Allie and I started quarantine in NYC with big dreams to cook elaborate dinners every night. Our profession doesn’t allow time during the week to really slow down or have set dinner plans, so we usually eat out all the time and enjoy all the restaurants in our area. So we started cooking a lot, trying new recipes, and then came home and had dinner together every night. Their kitchen is amazing. They have all the room — and all the appliances.

What about grocery shopping. How’s that going?
: Not only is the food in Columbus great, but our grocery stores are amazing. On Tuesdays, Allie and I would go on a weekly grocery store trip. We learned to buy more in bulk in Columbus. Like, “Let’s buy a full chicken, that sounds great.” Having a car, driving there, putting the groceries in the trunk … you almost forget how pleasant that is until you’re back in NYC, walking and lugging.
Allie: We also weren’t really going many places, so even just grocery shopping was our way to get out and about in the world.

Credit: Rachel Joy Barehl

What was the best part about everyone being home together?
Allie: Tyler and I are a force. We have a lot of personality, we’re loud, so we could not have lucked out any more. Nicolle and Sheila made the transition so seamless and we felt so welcomed and loved.
Nicolle: I’m not the kind of parent who wishes her child away. Tyler could live in the room next door forever and I would be so happy. I miss that. I miss it already. Our lives slowed down.
Sheila: This is the longest time that Tyler has been home since high school, so it was cool to have them there. As soon as Tyler and Allie left, I was like, “Wow the house is so quiet.”
Tyler: Before quarantine I was like “Wow, I’m an adult, I fend for myself.” But moving back and living with my three best friends was something we didn’t know we needed.

Thanks so much for sharing!

The Way We Eat is a series of profiles and conversations with people like you, about how they feed themselves and their families.We’re actively looking for people to feature in this series. You don’t have to be famous or even a good cook! We’re interested in people of all backgrounds and eating habits. If you’d like to share your own story with us, or if you know of someone you think would be great for this series, start here with this form.