For me, the indelible image from Dr. Jill Biden’s speech at the Democratic National Convention was dishes stacked in the kitchen sink. She was describing busy weekday evenings when her husband, after having taken the train home, would be upstairs tucking in the kids so that Jill could complete more of her own work. The dishes would just have to wait.
Kathleen and I have had many of those nights. Walk home from the bus stop or the train station, sear chicken breasts and boil pasta, throw some frozen peas into the microwave for good measure, and call it a successful dinner. Then race into the bedtime routine. On lucky nights, there might be time for one episode of something before climbing into bed ourselves to begin it all again. Those undone dishes are such a mainstay icon of the working-family’s life. Even when they’re done, there’s going to be more dishes in the sink before everyone leaves the house in the morning.
The relatability thing is precisely what the Biden campaign was going for, of course. The campaign wants to portray Jill and Joe as “normal,” especially as it hopes to sway moderate republicans and suburban moms. After Tuesday night’s programming, I was certainly convinced. Just consider the contrast. Has Trump ever done a dish in his life? I don’t think crumpling up the Big Mac wrapper counts. Plus, he’s in front of a television more than anyone should be, let alone the President of the United States. Sometimes I think he should be impeached simply because of the documented hours he spends watching Fox News during working hours. If anyone else watched that much TV when they were supposed to be doing their job, wouldn’t they be fired instantly?
I put the word normal in quotes above, because it’s obviously not a term that can be neatly defined. Yet there are some things that feel normal—relatable—to most people (dishes in the sink, for example). And then there are things that feel entirely abnormal. Just think about pretty much everything to do with Trump’s presidency. A recurring theme, or perhaps a dangerous trend, in Trump’s White House is an attempt to normalize the unimaginable. We never thought we’d have an openly racist, openly misogynistic president. And yet. We never thought we’d have a president praising dictators and admonishing our allies. And yet. If we aren’t careful, we’ll have a president who was defeated fairly in an election only to refuse to leave. He’s already forced us to grapple with so many extremes that the worst-case scenario seems all too possible.
Enter Jill and Joe. Rather, re-enter. We already know them so well, don’t we? It’s funny to think that a white couple in their 60s and 70s, a husband and wife who have been in the public sphere for decades, could be a breath of fresh air. But when the world is this upside down, what else should we expect? We’re all missing what we used to take for granted.
Before this convention started, I already had the idea of returning to normal on my mind because Kathleen and I ate out at a restaurant for the first time since the onset of the pandemic. We celebrated our 5-year anniversary, in part, by going to our favorite Neapolitan pizza restaurant. We were seated inside, beside two open windows, and we wore our N-95 masks at all times, except when we were eating. There were some cool touches, such as the menu that we could load onto our phones using a QR code, but, mostly, it just wasn’t what going out to a restaurant is meant to be. It wasn’t relaxing. It was anxiety provoking. How many people were we possibly exposing ourselves to if, say, the host or the cook took off his mask for one second? Not to mention, it was hot and uncomfortable underneath our masks.
After dinner, I told Kathleen I don’t have any interest in going back to an indoor restaurant until there’s a vaccine and we no longer have to wear masks or sanitize our hands at every turn. Sure, we might be able to acclimate to the extreme protection measures now commonplace during the pandemic, but I don’t think anyone wants this all to be permanent. Still, as soon as things are back to the way they were, I’ll gladly walk into any restaurant. I mean, what’s better than a night off from dish duty?