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Miss Manners by Judith Martin, Nicholas Ivor Martin and Jacobina Martin

Toddler Dominates Family Video Chats

DEAR MISS MANNERS: My sister and I are very close, and we chat about every other week. About a year ago, she moved across the country, so now (and especially with COVID) we don’t have the chance to see each other in person.

She is married and is her daughter’s primary caregiver, so she has her hands full. When I initiate a phone call, it usually goes to voicemail. Whenever my sister calls me (or calls me back), she always makes it a video call, and she always has the phone’s camera fixed on my 2-year-old niece.

I am happy to see my niece and interact with her, but I find it impossible to have any kind of meaningful conversation with my sister in this format. I tend to keep these video conversations brief (about 10 minutes or so).

Months ago, my sister complained that I don’t really talk to her anymore, so I explained that it is difficult when every time we talk, the camera is pointed at my niece. She replied, “Well, (niece) just wants to see you!”

I know she does this same video call thing with my mom, who absolutely loves it -- it is her first grandkid. How can I tell my sister that this is a real problem for me? I know she is sensitive about this topic and I feel like this is a potential minefield!

GENTLE READER: It may be worse than sensitivity. You may be threatening a few precious moments of your sister’s sanity.

While your niece is on the phone with you, her mother may be getting a quick chance to wash a dish or dash off an email. This might be why she is reluctant to change the system.

Miss Manners suggests that you address both problems -- delicately. Ask for separate calls, making certain to start each week with the niece. Then tell your sister that, having spent valuable one-on-one time with the little one, you would now love to have a grown-up chat just with her.

Acknowledging both needs (even if indirectly) and agreeing to do your part will go a long way toward getting your own time together.

And soon enough, your niece will be getting her own communication device and the separate calls can be more defined. Or she will be unavailable -- except to exasperatedly assist her helpless elders with their technology.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: Here is a common but difficult conundrum: At the bank, I was greeted by a lovely older security guard. His fly was down. I mentioned it to a gentleman bank employee, who then told the guard. It all felt terribly awkward. Oh, and this probably matters: I’m a not-young woman.

GENTLE READER: Matters how, exactly? Miss Manners is curious if it is the “young” or the “woman” that you consider problematic. Regardless, she assures you that you handled the matter perfectly. A not-old man could not have done better.

(Please send your questions to Miss Manners at her website, www.missmanners.com; to her email, dearmissmanners@gmail.com; or through postal mail to Miss Manners, Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.)