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My husband is too productive in quarantine — how do I keep from killing him?

From its start in 1906, A Bintel Brief was a pillar of the Forward, helping generations of Jewish immigrants learn how to be American. Now our columnists are helping people navigate the complexities of being Jewish in 2020. Send questions to [email protected].

Illustration by Liana Finck

Image by Liana finck

Stuck in the stages of grief

Dear Abbys,

My father passed away last year after a brief illness. He was truly the light of our lives. My mother has become extremely angry and bitter. (Understandable. They were married for 50 years.)

The issue is: she has been extremely caustic to my brother, sister and me. Says the most negative things to us and disparages our dad. She is downright mean. We live far from her and she is alone. We dread calling her, let alone Facetiming/Zooming her.

Our roles have reversed and she has become the child. We want our mom back. It seems that we lost both our parents the day my dad died.

How do we move forward?

Nancy, Connecticut

Dear Nancy,

Nancy, we are so sorry. As you wrote, it sounds like you lost both of your parents this past year. Whether your mom is physically present or not, she sounds like she’s been swallowed up and spit back out by Grief with a capital G.


One of us Abbys clearly remembers her own mom spiraling after the loss of her husband. She didn’t lash out in Anger, but she channeled her heartache into reupholstering most of our home with scraps of fabric and a staple gun. It was at least a full year of crafting in Denial.

Anger and Denial are, obviously, two well-known elements of Eizabeth Kubler-Ross’s Grief Cycle. These stages of grief are widely accepted and written about because they’re true — and people often get stuck in one for a considerable length of time. It sounds like your mom is stuck in anger, and maybe this isolation is only making it worse.

But what about you? Your emotions are just as valid as your mom’s and we don’t want your heart to break any more than it has already. So maybe take a breather. Rotate check-ins with your siblings, and find ways to honor your dad’s memory on your own.

You can have cake on his birthday, tell his worst jokes or pour his favorite drink. It won’t take away the pain, but it can create new ways to remember him. And maybe one day soon, your mom can join in.

dove flies through broken heart

Image by Liana finck

Lo hablo espanol

Dear Abbys,

My husband is spending his free time right now learning to play the piano and relearning the Spanish he studied in high school. I’ve tried to follow his lead and work on some of my hobbies, but I often just want to do a puzzle and watch Golden Girls reruns. How do I support him while not feeling like a lazy good-for-nothing?

Learning new things is overrated

Dear Overrated,

There is nothing more maddening than co-habitating with an overachiever who doesn’t define over-achievement as bingeing The Bachelor.

Even before the pandemic, one of our husbands relaxed by mastering Russian, Hebrew, Lithuanian, old Irish and Welsh while we valiantly inhaled Better Things. Or scrolled Instagram. Or took a bath. Or paged through Real Simple. You know, actual relaxing activities.

Here’s what we can advise based on years of experience: The only thing you need to do is not make fun of him for it. (This usually happens to make yourself feel better about being “lazy.”) You can throw him an occasional, “Sounds good, babe!” but he doesn’t actually need your support. He’s happily hablaing Espanol again while playing a Beethoven fugue. He probably feels pretty smug, too. You’re the one who needs support, and we are here to give it: Golden Girls rule!

Marriage is not a competition, and what you do in your free time has no moral value, especially in a pandemic. Keeping our collective blood pressure down is really the goal here. So what if you do it with a puzzle and he does it with rompecabezas (yes, we just Googled “Spanish for puzzle”)? He might feel self-righteous and you might feel like a loser, but basically you’re both just doing your best to steel up for another day in the unknown. Salud!

kid in baseball cap

Image by Liana finck

Moving on up

Dear Abbys,

We’ve had our daughter in preschool since the fall and she’s going (hopefully) to go to Pre-K in the fall. In the meantime, we’ve been paying the preschool for a few online classes a week. It made sense at first — support our preschool.

As we get further along in the process, knowing that we are not returning in the fall, it seems like a lot to be paying for five days a week 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. when now all we get is five 30-minute virtual classes. I feel like a schmuck, but my job is also iffy and if I keep paying for preschool and lose my job then I’m in a pickle.

I want to support our local businesses, but I feel like I need to put myself first.

Susan, NY

You can blame the American childcare system for this mess: In other countries — see: Austria, Germany, Italy, we could go on — daycare is free, or close to it, so these are not questions anyone needs to ask an advice columnist.

Of course it is ridiculous to pay something close to $2,000 per month for only a few hours of virtual “care” a week (hours that are probably more rather than less work for you). It’s a miracle anyone can afford preschool, even when we aren’t in the midst of a pandemic in fact, most people can’t. But back to you.

Your daughter is moving onto Pre-K (mazel tov! Or: here’s hoping?), which will surely be a tremendous relief financially. Until your contract is up, consider this: preschools are almost always operating in the red. Many barely pay staff a living wage. This is by no means your problem, but if you still have a job, we say: pay the tuition. The staff is probably working really hard to figure out how to continue to educate the kids under these horrible circumstances.

If you lose your job, explain the situation to the director and see what you can work out: you need to take care of your family first. Just remember, homeschooling is not for the faint of heart.

Abby Sher and Abby Rasminsky are writers living in, respectively, Maplewood, N.J., and Los Angeles. Got a question? Submit your questions to [email protected]


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