Protecting Grandma, Entertaining The Kids; How Multigeneration Families Are Coping With Coronavirus Isolation | WBEZ
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Protecting Grandma, Entertaining The Kids: How Multigeneration Families Are Coping With Coronavirus Isolation

So far it’s been fine.

The Sullivan’s haven’t really left their house since Saturday.

They decided to self-isolate last week, mostly because they want to protect the matriarch of the family, 74-year-old Nancy Makar.

“We all understand that just because we are healthy and it's not a big deal if we catch it, that we all have to make sure that we're not bringing it to grandma,” said Makar’s daughter-in-law, Lettie Sullivan.

They’ve been inside their Oak Park home, three generations, three adults and three kids all together under one roof, basically all the time.

“Everybody’s just kind of been in their own zone...and on screens,” Lettie Sullivan said of the first few days of isolation. “And so we’re all here, spread out and together.”

The Sullivans are one of many multigenerational families during coronavirus isolation trying to make the best of a difficult and unique situation. And trying to keep their elderly family members healthy.

On Wednesday, Oak Park announced its first confirmed case of COVID-19, and the village issued a shelter-in-place order for residents from March 20 through at least April 3.

Megan Zambrano lives in Berwyn with her two children, including a two-week old baby, and her two parents.

She said they decided to isolate to protect her parents, and her newborn daughter. Her son is 5, and they decided to pull him out of daycare to take away the risk of him bringing the coronavirus home with him.

Zambrano is home on maternity leave, and through laughs she said it was “absolutely not” the plan to have her 5-year-old son home with her.

“It's a hard decision because my parents are elderly. And while they do help out, you know, myself as a brand new mom going through this and trying to bond with my baby and just kind of have that time with her. You know, a five year old is very active,” Zambrano said.

She worried that her parents would not be able to keep up with her son, and with her husband forced to keep going to work, there wasn’t really another option.

“It turns out [my parents] have been helping a lot. They are best buddies,” Zambrano said. “But again, you know, me being here, taking care of this newborn, you know, and hearing my son downstairs, either like being disobedient or being not there, you know, and I'm kind of yelling from my room when I'm taking care of a newborn, ‘listen to your grandparents.’ You know, I think it's just tough on everyone.”

Still Zambrano wanted to stress that she feels very lucky. Lucky that she has the option of staying home, lucky she has parents who are able to help out and lucky that her daughter came two weeks earlier than her due date. Zambrano was expecting to give birth on March 15 instead her daughter was born on Feb. 29.

“It was just on the cusp of kind of this, you know, outbreak, I guess you could say. And they weren't really talking about coronavirus at the time,” Zambrano said.

Zambrano’s cousin, Kate Crook, is isolating with her husband, two sons and her father, Donald. Crook’s dad has COPD, a chronic inflammatory lung disease, and that’s prompted the family to be “overly cautious.”

“He’s not just high risk, he’s much higher risk than most,” Crook said. “He is really staying inside as much as possible. And so we're wiping down surfaces more. Everybody is obsessive about washing their hands...Because if one of us gets it and is exposed, you know, what is my dad going to do?”

Crook has two sons, 7 and 2. She said a key for them with the kids in the house is upholding a consistent schedule.

“Getting out and, you know, making sure that we're starting our day as normal as possible, has been sort of how we’re handling it,” Crook said. “We're by no means experts or have it figured out. I think every day is figuring out what a new normal means.”

The Sullivan family, also in Oak Park, is doing OK with the “new normal,” at least so far.

“It's hysterical, absolutely hysterical, because we're playing games or watching movies,” Nancy Makaro said. ”I'm not trying to say we're having fun. But I mean, we're trying to keep positive here.”

Makaro’s granddaughter, Maia Sullivan, 16, said she’s been using FaceTime and texting with her friends from school, but she still misses actually spending time with them.

“I know it always seems like we're living through our screens. [But], you know, we still like to see each other from time to time,” Maia said.

Maia said she likes being with her family, but she’s a little worried about spending too much time cooped up with her 10-year-old sister Imani.

“I mean, I love them, but it can be a bit of a struggle because I share a room with my sister and now I have to be around her a lot longer,” Maia said. “I think I have a solid week or week-and-a-half before I start to lose my mind.”

Patrick Smith is a reporter on WBEZ’s Criminal Justice Desk. Follow him @pksmid. Email him at

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