Illustrations by Tess Smith-Roberts.
If you, like me, are prone to forgetting holidays, mark your calendars. This week brings three noteworthy dates: Juneteenth, on June 19, a holiday celebrating the end of slavery; the official start of summer, on June 20; and Father’s Day on June 21. For the last one, we asked a young journalist to interview her dad and send us the tape. (I’m grateful to Chris Colin, the founder and editor of Six Feet of Separation, a publication by and for kids that was created during the pandemic, for connecting us to this dad-and-daughter duo.) Below you’ll find a slice of their conversation, which has been lightly edited and covers everything from self-quarantine to baseball to San Francisco’s Dogpatch neighborhood. Happy reading, happy summer and happy Juneteenth.
— Nneka McGuire, Lily multiplatform editor
My name is Charlie Steinberg. I am 11 years old and will be in sixth grade next year. My dad’s name is Jon Steinberg. He is a creative director at Vox Media. We live in San Francisco, where we’ve been quarantining since March 12.
Charlie: So my first question is, when did we know that things were going to be different?
Jon: In the second week of March, we actually got a call from your school, and they said that several children have been showing symptoms and that everyone at the school immediately had to go home and quarantine for the next 14 days. This was before the city of San Francisco had closed down, or the state. So our school community was among the first people in the whole city and state to be under lockdown. And that’s when we knew this was going to be a big deal for us, for our school, for our whole city. What happened for you?
Charlie: Well me and my friends did a play, and we were filming at our school. And we got a message from, I think it was the principal or the secretary or someone, and they said school is going to be shut for the next three weeks. And so we had to go home immediately.
Jon: And you said goodbye to your friends?
Jon: At school that afternoon?
Jon: And that was it?
Jon: We didn’t see them for months.
Jon: I mean, you still haven’t seen some of them.
Charlie: Yeah. Except like, virtually. Okay, that brings me to another question, which is what things are you missing about life before you were in quarantine?
Jon: The first thing is seeing people and socializing, and being able to just easily go over to a friend’s house to have dinner or meet people outside for drinks or in the park or anything. Baseball. We were about to start baseball practice.
Charlie: The baseball season.
Jon: I coach your sister’s baseball team. I used to coach your team, but we were just about to start our season, we were about to have our first game the next weekend. That was gone.
Charlie: Right. We had our first practice, and my coach was like, I don’t think we are going to have any more games. That was it.
Jon: That breaks my heart because I know you guys love to be on your baseball teams. And it’s such an annual ritual for us to have baseball season.
Jon: I miss that. I miss being out in the world and not having to worry. We took a walk yesterday in the Dogpatch, which is a neighborhood of San Francisco that I hadn’t been to in months because we just stopped exploring our city. That’s one of my favorite things to do. When you live in a city, you want to enjoy it, because you have to make so many sacrifices to live in a big city that you should get something out of it, too.
Charlie: Yeah, definitely. There are some things that I feel like I’ve been doing more, like the Great Highway next to Ocean Beach in San Francisco, it has been closed to cars, and so we’ve been taking a lot of bike rides there, which is nice. But then there are areas in the city that we haven’t been to at all.
Jon: Yeah, yeah. But I love the car-free streets.
Charlie: Are there any other good things that have come out of this, besides the streets being closed?
Jon: In our own household, there are a couple of good things. I’ve gotten to spend a ton more time with you than I used to when I was working all the damn time. I would leave for most of the day, not see you all day long and get home at 6 o’clock at night, after you’d had a whole day out at school and out in the world without me. And now I get to be a part of your life every single day, which is cool.
Jon: That’s good.
Charlie: It is.
Jon: And the other thing is I had to travel for work a couple times a month and go across the country or go even to another country. And I’m not doing that anymore. That has given me back so much time, which all goes into you and your sister and your mom. You can’t take that away. I’ve gotten to watch you guys literally start to grow.
Charlie: Like physically or mentally?
Jon: Both! You’ve physically grown. You’re at an age where you can start to see you guys sprouting up, and you’re growing. I’ve watched you guys handle this time, which is really a hard time, with such a positive attitude. There have been moments where you and everybody has struggled, but you come out of it and you guys feel, to me, like you’ve thrived.
Jon: That’s really cool.
Charlie: Yeah, it is. How have your everyday routines changed? I know that you’re not traveling anymore and you get to spend a lot more time with me. What things have we been doing?
Jon: Well, first our mornings are totally different. We have been sleeping later as a whole family, because we don’t have to get up to get to school. In the before times we would have to wake up at 7 o’clock and start taking showers and eating breakfast, getting on our clothes, brushing teeth —
Charlie: Rushing to get to school —
Jon: And get out the door. And if it was 8:32, we were stressing because we were gonna be late to school, and now there’s no stress.
Charlie: Right. [laughter]
Jon: We’ve made an effort every day to go out in the afternoon and either go somewhere or at least just take a walk, take the dog for a walk. And those couple of hours a day or less have been some of my favorite times that we’ve spent together in the last three months.
Charlie: I agree. Like taking bike rides, taking walks, playing soccer.
Jon: Yeah, playing soccer. One of the best things is we would sneak into — I don’t know if we should say this, but okay we’ll say it. We would sneak into the community college near us, their soccer field.
Charlie: It’s like a gigantic soccer field.
Jon: Gigantic soccer field.
Charlie: Like two goals on either side and it’s really huge and really fun.
Jon: Yes. And a couple of times it was just us on this entire big field. Me, you and your sister. And we would just run around, kick the soccer ball around and have this whole space virtually to ourselves. I will always remember that.
Charlie: That brings me to another question. What other things will you remember about this in 20 years? What memories will you still hold on to?
Jon: Well, on the bad side of things, I will remember that early on, your mom got sick. We didn’t know what she had, but she had a really bad fever and she was wiped out. And it lasted for several days. So we were all convinced that she had the coronavirus. She got tested and she turned out —
Jon: She was negative or at least that’s what they told us. But it still was super scary.
Charlie: It was very, very scary. We had just gone into quarantine and it was really scary to have my mom so sick and I had no idea what she had.
Jon: I will always remember that feeling of fear and knowing that was something that thousands of people all over the world were probably going through at that time and maybe even worse. Other things I’ll remember are just some of the good times we’ve had. I’ve watched you and your sister — what’s cool is I feel like you guys have learned how to become better conversationalists. You’ve had to learn how to talk to your friends without being with each other.
Jon: Which is kind of amazing. Especially your sister, who’s 8. She has to get onto these Zoom calls with her friends and just converse.
Charlie: And that’s all she has with her friends. She can’t be with them. She can’t play with them. They just talk over a screen.
Jon: They talk. And how often do 8-year-olds just sit around and chit chat?
Charlie: [Laughs] Yeah.
Jon: That’s not really what you guys do. You play and are crazy and silly and fun. And this has forced everybody to sit around and, I don’t know, grow up — have almost adult conversations, and I think it’s probably good for you. But it’s also been pretty weird.
Charlie: Yeah, it is.
Jon: I’ll remember that.
Charlie: Yeah, I think I’ll definitely remember the only communication I had with my friends was on a screen and was really, really, really weird. I also had my birthday in quarantine.
Charlie: We went on a bike ride and we went to three of my friend’s houses and just said hi to them from afar, and they told me happy birthday. That was really fun. I’ll never forget that.
Jon: I will never forget rolling up to a couple of your friend’s houses and they had signs saying “Happy birthday, Charlie.”
Jon: Right, it was so amazing. Okay, I have one more question, and it is, have there been things you’ve done during this that you’ve regretted or wish that you hadn’t done?
Jon: Um, God, yes. There’s been a couple of times when I’ve gotten frustrated with my kids in particular.
Jon: It’s partially because we’re spending so much time together, partially because —
Charlie: It’s hard.
Jon: There are a lot of other stresses and strains on our life right now that you can sometimes lose your patience —
Charlie: I’ve been fighting with my sister more than I usually do. I’m spending like 12 hours a day with her. Because we share a room, we’re always together right now.
Jon: Well, I have regretted the few times, a couple of times I can think of that I’ve lost my temper with you guys. And there was one time when we were on the soccer field and your sister was kind of throwing a fit. Wasn’t that what happened?
Jon: And I just got so fed up that I kicked the ball really hard over her head. I didn’t kick it at her.
Charlie: It didn’t hurt her.
Jon: It didn’t touch her, it went way over her head. But it was clear that I was acting really angry.
Charlie: At her.
Jon: At her, but I was taking it out on the soccer ball.
Charlie: Which is much better than if you were taking it out on her.
Jon: Yeah. [laughter] But I still felt pretty bad that I acted so juvenile at that moment.
Jon: But I think it had to do with just a lot of built-up stress and worry.
Charlie: The world, everything that’s happening right now.
Charlie: So how does this compare to other times in your life that — I mean, there’s nothing like this before that’s ever happened to any of us. But have there been similar things?
Jon: Yeah. Good question, Charlie. So, like you said, there’s nothing that we’ve ever experienced that’s anywhere close to the coronavirus, and having to quarantine for months at a time in your house. That’s never happened in our history.
Charlie: Well, the 1918 flu pandemic was similar.
Jon: That’s right. But not for 100-plus years has this happened.
Charlie: Yeah. [laughter]
Jon: The only thing I can compare it to is there were a couple of moments when I was your age, when I was a kid in the late ’80s, early ’90s, when the AIDS epidemic was really serious. I remember I met some friends of my parents who were a gay couple and they lived in Boston and we went on a family trip to meet them and we spent a bunch of time with them. I really loved them. And they seemed like such great people. I learned a couple years later that one of them had passed away from AIDS, and it was the first time in my life that I knew someone who had died of that disease. And it connected for me something that was big that was going on in the outside world to something that I was experiencing personally. It was one of these times when, as a kid, you’re really only focused on yourself and your family and you’re not thinking about the bigger —
Charlie: The big picture.
Jon: The larger world outside. That time was when I connected the dots between people I had met and something that was bigger and affecting a lot more people. And this virus is a lot like that. It’s a shared experience with millions of people.
Charlie: I feel like everybody has something personal that has been related to this.
Jon: You said something to me about the veil. Explain that.
Charlie: So it’s like everyone is living under their own veil, and once in a while, a little corner of the veil gets lifted and we see the big picture, instead of just living in our own world, our own bubble. And right now, I feel like our veils are lifted and we’re all seeing everything that’s happening. So it’s really weird and crazy and something we will never, ever forget.
Jon: That’s true. I don’t think we’ll ever forget this time.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated.