Sweet Tomatoes buffet

When surreal becomes reality

For me, it was the ads that indicate that face masks are now a fashion accessory and the announcement of the permanent closing of one of our family’s favorite restaurants.

As these type of things appear in everyday life, the realization of our new reality is sinking in. We’ve rarely left the house in the past eight weeks and although our city is opening up lots of businesses today, we’re cautious of heading out too quickly.

I know we’re in a different situation than many, as we have been able to work from home and the boys’ school has been amazing about switching to remote learning. It has its challenges for sure, but having that connection and some kind of structure has been really helpful.

We’ve somewhat adapted to this new reality. Our days are busy with work and school, just like they were before, except we have no commute, we are all here together, and I spend lots more time throughout the day preparing snacks. During many weekends before the coronavirus came to town, we often spent time at home because we were getting settled in our new home so that hasn’t changed much, except of course we used to leave the house for play dates and other children’s activities and had Shabbat guests.

Designer face masks and restaurant closures are only very minor examples of our world’s new reality. There are so many monumental changes that it’s difficult to process it on a larger scale. The way the pandemic has affected businesses, entire industries, education, cultural institutions, arts, families, etc., is ginormous. So many people are hurting, so many people are dying.

I realize that the fact that buffets could now be a thing of the past shouldn’t be such a big deal, but it still feels like a loss. Here’s what I wrote in a post two years ago on National Buffet Day.

Sweet Tomatoes is the restaurant that our family most often frequents, starting with when our oldest son, now 11, was an infant and I used to spoon feed him mashed sweet potatoes. We’ve moved through many stages of Sweet Tomatoes in the years that followed, from walking through the salad bar line with an infant carrier, to maneuvering multiple plates and trays with my husband and I filling them with developmentally appropriate foods while accompanied by little ones too short to see what their choices were to where we are now, with three boys who fill their own plates – fortunately with a variety of vegetables rather than just croutons and pasta – and even carry their own trays to the table and fill their own drinks.

We have so many memories of that salad buffet restaurant. We often take these little bits of life for granted. Who would have thought the last time we ate dinner at Sweet Tomatoes that not only would that be our last time but that three months later the company would permanently shut all 97 of their locations, leaving 4,400 people out of work?

A family visit to Sweet Tomatoes, 2018

Life is always changing and adapting, it’s part of the story of the world. After 9/11, airport security changed forever and we no longer greet travelers at the gate. Technology changes. What’s new becomes old. Our generation witnessed the journey of records to mp3s, VHS to live-streaming, typewriters to the Internet. History is full of wars, famine, genocide. The world has gone through enormous changes before and this is the current chapter.

This is what I tell myself when the news gets overwhelming. Our society has been through tumultuous times before. We’ve heard stories of the heroes of those times that can inspire us today. The loss of little things may be painful, but small acts of kindness can also be powerful. Breathe.

Today we are seeing many signs of similar great acts of heroism, including first-responders, grocery store workers, teachers and volunteers.

All the changes bombarding us are affecting everyone differently and at different levels of severity, but everyone is affected in some way. We all need to be patient with each other and help when we can.

On an unrelated note, I’ve been looking for my set of keys for nearly two months. I’d looked everywhere, I thought, but it hadn’t derailed me too much because we have an extra set of car keys and all the other keys weren’t necessary yet because I wasn’t going anywhere. But yesterday, as I was looking through the hall closet to see if we had any more paper towels, I came across my keys in a pile of grocery bags.

Perhaps that symbolizes something, but I’m not sure what.

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