Home Local Voices Conversations, Kids, And The New Etiquette In The Age Of Pandemic

Conversations, Kids, And The New Etiquette In The Age Of Pandemic

Photo: Archive

Moraga, California

“He called him up and said, ‘I’m in trouble. I need help. I’m addicted to meth,’” – this was just one of many conversations I’ve overheard in recent months as I work quietly in my upstairs home office. In the cool summer mornings my windows are open to the street below as my neighbors and
friends walk by in the early morning light.

Sydney Chaney Thomas

I love the quiet and am usually up early in the pre-dawn hours before the walkers, leaf blowers and tree trimmers are out. With the recent heatwave the walkers have begun earlier and earlier beginning in the predawn darkness. As the sun begins to rise their words float into my open windows and quickly fade away.

I’ve never had so many hours at home working alone to hear so much as the hours go by. Even the sound of a closing car door outside makes me stop.

I’m training myself not to go to the window because this could go on all day long. As quiet as it may appear at my creekside home it is busy all day with the neighbors coming and going, the school friends of my daughters dropping by and the many deliveries that come throughout the day.

Yet, the anxiety in the voices that come and go mirror the collective tension and fear of the unknown many are feeling. It is evident in their words and tone of voice. There are many men that walk by surprisingly in pairs confiding in one another. There are groups of women talking about their kids. There are groups of three that run by discussing the tech market and their investments.

At four o’clock if it’s not too hot I walk my dog. We head southeast toward the park. In the past we would stop and say hello along the way or stand in groups at the park and talk, but no more. We say hello and step off the sidewalks and into the street. Yesterday a young family walked by without so much as acknowledging me with a nod. I looked at their preschool children wearing masks and thought this is now the norm to these young children. I wondered how they will unteach this behavior to their children and teach them how to interact in the world with all its subtleties in the future.

At the park people, even people I know, pet my dog only after asking permission. In the early days I would take her home and wipe her coat and feet down. All of these precautions are too tedious now. I put the dog through the the side gate to run in the backyard, then remove my own shoes at the door and that is all.

Interesting times to say the least.

At my house we’ve been opening boxes in our attic; sorting school projects, photographs, books and letters. I often think I will move one day, but year after year I find reasons to stay. The most recent being the pandemic and having a houseful of kids again. I am thankful for my flower beds, graceful pool beneath the redwoods, and most of all the cool green grass that I watered by hand during the heat wave and fires.

It’s been a luxury having so much room to work and study here together. It’s been like a sequel to a favorite book, but better. I thought both kids were off to college, but no. I am enjoying this unexpected time together. I never dreamed I would have six months of almost purely family time. We’ve cooked together, watched dozens of movies, cleaned the house, gone on short trips and driven around listening to music without destination.

Soon, my younger daughter goes back to college for her sophomore year. Although she could stay home and do her courses online she needs this time to be independent. I want her to learn to manage her time, her money and her own life. She needs her privacy and a chance to grow into herself without me standing over her asking questions like: “what are you going to do today, this week or for the rest of your life?”

She doesn’t have to tell me how annoying I am because I already know.

Over the past few weeks she’s been working for me. I give her a box full of her assignments for the day. She’s a business major, and acts as an informal intern to my company, counting zippers and supplies on hand. She does graphics for ads and is now working on public relations. She runs errands and follows up on things like a gift card I can’t remember if I used or not. She makes phone calls. She installed my screen protector after my phone was run over by a golf cart. She is quick to get things done, but soon she will be gone. She tells me until Christmas. I can’t imagine that, but we will see.

In the mornings I check in on my older daughter. I find her reading a book about the history of Russia drinking an expresso in her spotless room. The theories on birth order are not lost on me as my eyes sweep over this scene. She will finish her senior year in college at home online and work. This is not how I imagined her senior year, but I’ve lowered my expectations and now only hope for an in-person commencement if at all possible.

I am now grateful for the mundane things that the college experience offered. The things we took for granted: student orientation, shopping for the dorm room, moving into the dorm room, meeting new roommates, stocking the dorm fridge. These rights of passage stand alone isolated in my memory.

At the time less important than scheduling classes, they now form some of my most treasured memories with my daughters.


  1. Thank you for sharing. You have managed to gather a glimpse of our strange environment many of us face on a daily basis of course personalized here to your unique environment… what comes to mind is perhaps your words need to be placed in a time capsule like they do with a building and buried only to be dug up and read 100 years or so from now… anyway, thank you for sharing your thoughts with us….

    • David, Thank you for your kind words. It’s such a strange time. I found a journal from 2001 after 911. I wrote about the bomb threats on the bridges, the parks void of people, fear of going to the mall. It had a similar feel.

  2. Not sure how I feel about the kids returning to school. I think they’re happy about it but we were all blessedly free from the colds and other little sicknesses they brought home with them before The Crazy Times made us all stay home.

  3. An interesting byproduct of everyone wearing masks is that people think they can talk without being overheard. I’ve picked up some great local gossip that way.

    • @Siobhan, Haha, I’ve noticed some people also think we don’t know who they are when they’re wearing a mask. I was in Safeway on Saturday and heard some crazy things and your right the audio was way up. That’s another article however. Have a wonderful day.

  4. Even with all of the costs of this lockdown which are shared so unequally, this extra time to reflect upon what is important and what is necessary has been helpful. The world has slowed down for a brief respite, a brief respite from a headlong trajectory to I know not where.

    • I have enjoyed the slower pace and the ability to get to things that have been long left undone. I just reorganized my linen closet and have three sets of sheets missing their other half. I’m tossing them all! Hopefully we can keep the things we like; spending time with our family, cooking at home, not commuting so much etc.

Leave a Reply