Playing video games nine hours or more a day wouldn’t be considered a hardship for a teenage boy under normal circumstances, but for Johnny Pillitteri, the problem is that he doesn’t have his cousin, Vinny Pillitteri-Smith, playing alongside him.
The two are usually pretty much inseparable. They go to the same high school, travel on the school bus together, and typically hang out together after school.
And since their families are close, they have regular Sunday dinners together, and recently returned from Florida together, with 19 family members away on holiday.
But all that came to an end when they returned home to a 14-day period of quarantine, in separate houses.
Johnny and Vinny recently asked people to sign an online petition saying they should be allowed to hang out together, a light-hearted attempt to deal wth a serious issue — the impact of COVID-19 on family life.
The boys understand why they are restricted to their own homes, but they don’t like it.
So their plan was to use the 14-day isolation period to play video games together, but each in their own homes.
It’s not something they would normally be allowed to spend so much time at, but these are not normal times.
Johnny says he sometimes turns off the controller to help out his dad, Joe, with chores such as cleaning the garage, and he likes getting outside, even if it is to work — he’s okay with that. “Easily, the hardest thing about isolation is not being able to hang out with Vinny. We always play video games together, and it’s much better when we’re in the same room and we can talk to each other. But that’s not all we do. We play hockey together, but that got cancelled with two games left. We go for walks, and we take the Gator for rides on the farm, but we can’t do that any more. I don’t know how I’m going to get through this,” says Johnny, who’s been in isolation since March 18.
“We can talk on the phone, talk about what we’re doing, share our frustration. But it’s not the same. It’s just better with him around.”
They both have other friends, but not that they would see every day, he says. And he realizes how fortunate he is, that he can just be who he is with Vinny, “as goofy as I want to be,” and actually looks forward to family dinners and celebrations, because his best friend will be there as well.
His family has been very strict about self-isolation — they won’t take any risks or put anyone else at risk. And he gets that it’s important. But he’ll be glad when it’s over.
In the meantime, the family is taking advantage of virtual socializing, having their Sunday dinners by video conference. It’s not quite the real thing, but everyone is in on it and it’s better than not seeing each other at all.
With their oldest daughter away at university, Johnny’s father Joe says, “I’ve never seen three kids who want to go back to school so badly. They miss the social interaction, and they miss their teachers. I think that they’ve learned how much they take for granted — they appreciate those things now.”
With four kids, ages 12 to 20, Joe says they “live pretty independent lives, and all have different interests,” so typically, at home, there isn’t a lot of interaction between siblings.
“But we’re spending more time sitting down to dinner as a family, and having long talks about the virus and how it’s affecting everybody. We’re definitely having more meaningful conversations,” he says.
He and his sisters Eileen Pillitteri-Smith and Caroline Martinelli have been working together, ordering food and supplies online for all of them and delivering to each other safely, to ensure each family, and their parents, have all the supplies they need.
With less than a week to go in their 14-day isolation period, they remain healthy. “All 19 of us are feeling great. There is no Indication of any illness,” says Joe.
He will begin going to work Thursday, respecting the changes made in recent weeks while he was away, as will his wife Rebecca, a midwife, with the family continuing the restrictions all are being asked to live by.
Eileen Pillitteri-Smith says she’s glad the family had such a great time together in Florida, before coming home to a new reality, and they’re all doing what they need to do to look after each other. “Life changed so much while we were away. We had what we needed delivered to our homes while we were gone, and we’re continuing to do that for each other, so we’ve all been totally fine.”
The seasonal opening of Seaway Market, the family business on Lakeshore Road, will be delayed, with Pillitteri-Smith in quarantine, “but we’re trying to stay positive. It’s not just us, it’s the entire industry, every restaurant and so many other businesses. Hopefully we’ll look back on it in two or three years and know we’ve come out of it okay.”
This year is the market’s 50th anniversary, and they are hoping to be able to celebrate the milestone, but for now, “it’s a matter of all of us doing what we can to stay safe.”
That means “instead of all of us sharing our kids, which we usually do, they have to stay in their family pods. That’s very different for them, and it’s especially difficult for Johnny and Vinny.”
Vinny says he is doing most of what he would be doing with Johnny, only alone. He goes out on the Gator with his brothers, and there are those video games, “but it’s better playing with Johnny in person. We’re texting all day, and talking on the phone, but I miss the contact. We’re more like brothers than cousins. We’re used to being together. Time flies when I’m with him.”
But as “awful” as it is not being able to do the things they normally do together, says Vinny, “I’m definitely thankful for our family and the time we get to spend together. Looking back, I realize how much I have, and I’m really thankful for that.”
Vinny and Johnny are beginning to receive school assignments, Joe says, leaving a little less time for video games. “They’ll do whatever they have to do to keep up with their school work. At the end of they day they are taking this seriously. And they are looking forward to being able to see each other — while keeping their distance.”