For the last 10 years, my wife and I have lived in a drafty old Victorian house near St. Charles and Jefferson avenues in Uptown New Orleans. Since we have five kids, we’ve needed all of the house’s 4400 square feet to contain our chaos: two fridges full of food, cubbies near the front door overflowing with school stuff, laundry piled up near the stacked washer and dryer in the upstairs hallway. Mardi Gras throws from three years ago under the back stairs. Dust that’s suspiciously the same color and texture of our dog’s fur.

Starting last fall, two of our kids were away at college full time and the house was feeling a little empty. Despite converting two of our rooms into an Airbnb apartment, we still had some empty spaces. We even started musing about whether we could downsize.

It’s a good thing we didn’t.

On March 14, our son, a college junior, flew home from his semester in Spain and moved back into one of our upstairs bedrooms. Three days later, I drove to Nashville to pick up my daughter who had caught a ride south with a new college friend from her school in New York. She took over her old room and displaced her younger sister, who is now sharing a room with our youngest son thanks to an ingenious (if I do say so myself) room divider created from dresser drawers, a clothes rack on wheels and one of my grandma’s handmade quilts.

Suddenly, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, our Carondelet Street home is operating at full capacity again.

We’ve been lucky. Everyone’s health has been good. My 70something mother-in-law, who lives next door, is doing fine. We know people who have lost family members to the coronavirus but we haven’t had any problems in our immediate family. Even so, the new lifestyle brought on by the outbreak has created its share of anxieties.

With the house at full capacity, we’re suddenly spending a fortune on groceries. We lost virtually all of our Airbnb bookings for the spring and summer (although a few new reservations have appeared in the last few days) and I’m afraid to even look at our Entergy bill this month.

But there have also been a lot of silver linings amid the worries.

After two months together basically 24 hours a day, I’m happy to discover the whole family has fallen into a productive and genial rhythm.

I sit at the kitchen counter all day conducting interviews and writing stories for My youngest daughter usually sits at the kitchen table nearby working on her homework. My youngest son is usually in the back room doing the same while the older kids do their work and connect with their friends from their rooms upstairs. My wife, a counselor for grade school kids, plies her trade from her space in the front living room. We pause midday to eat lunch and catch up. Maybe watch Seth Meyers or Trevor Noah from a laptop on the dining table.

Of course, we still have to fuss at everyone to make sure they fold their laundry and clean up after themselves in the kitchen, but the kids for the most part have been willing to help out and contribute.

Our older two have each taken responsibility for a meal once a week, so that’s two nights we don’t have to plan and prepare. Last week, my daughter, who’s a vegetarian, made a really good curry dish with lentils, chickpeas and raisins. I never would have tried that otherwise and I really enjoyed it. My son made mac and cheese cupcake things that fell apart but they were also delish. Of course, everything tastes better when someone else makes it …

Most evenings, we finish our day by walking a block from our house to play ultimate Frisbee in the front and side yard of the Latter Library on St. Charles Avenue. The games get quite competitive and we’ve had more than one injury, including my busted-up knee and my daughter’s broken nail, but these games are a highlight we never would have had in the parallel timeline when the kids were away at school and the parents were at work all day and then fighting traffic to get back home for the evening’s responsibilities.

There’s a group of regulars at the library that we visit with every night: my friend the podcast producer. A mom from our school. Billy the drummer who I’ve known for 30 years. And that might be my favorite COVID-19 side effect of all: Just as the virus has brought my family closer together, our whole neighborhood has become more of a family – and that I think that bond will stay strong long after the stay-at-home guidelines have given way to the “new normal.”