Family argument cartoon by the Forward

When your vacuum is your new best friend plus advice on husbands’ troubling quarantine behavior

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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 dearabbys@forward.com.

Cleanliness is next to….

Dear Abbys,

I recently got a new Dyson v7 Motorhead vacuum. I can’t stop vacuuming. Morning, noon and night it is in my right hand, vigorously going to town on my hardwood floors, area rugs, wall-to-wall carpets. It’s driving my family insane, especially during this pandemic. (Thankfully, I got the vacuum right before the whole world stopped!)

I see a crumb or a strand of hair on the floor, I run to get my trusty friend. I feel like if I got myself a housecoat, my life would be complete. And I’m (normally) a working kinda girl, so this life of obsessively cleaning is very new to me.

I need your advice on how to chill the eff out so I don’t burn out my beautiful purple, pink and red BFF — and so I can get my family to stop their eye-rolling at me.

Can you come over to our houses and vacuum? Please? Seriously?

If this is how you’re channeling your anxiety, more power to you. The last thing your family should be doing is rolling their eyes — you’re vacuuming! By choice! They should be bowing down to you.

If you are honestly worried about your obsessional cleaning — or that the vacuum will break, which is doubtful — here’s some advice we poached from one of our husbands: Worry about something else.

When a husband won’t help

Dear Abbys,

My husband and I are senior, senior citizens that are obediently following the shelter-in-place rule. We are getting prescription deliveries from CVS, and our children are shopping for us, leaving our food packages at the front door. Normally I have day help from a housekeeper to clean our home. Since I do not want anyone else to enter our house at this time, she has not been here to help me for about six weeks.

Meanwhile, my husband is enjoying watching TV and viewing websites, jokes from friends on emails, etc. on his computer. He has never helped with house cleaning and isn’t about to start now. I am not in good enough physical condition for house cleaning, doing dishes, washing clothes, preparing all meals and cleaning up afterward. He claims to be in worse condition than I am, which is questionable.

He says, “Just ask me and I will help.” Then when I do, he stands up to do so, and then suddenly realizes he needs to use the bathroom. The job can‘t wait, or I can’t wait, so it is done when he reappears. I have tried everything — getting mad, threatening not to cook or clean, saying I will find a nursing home for him, which of course I wouldn’t do at this time. I am sure that other older couples, and maybe even younger ones, also have similar issues. Any suggestions?

From a Tired Senior Spouse

Dear Tired,

In order to do justice to this question, we consulted with some of our own senior-citizen parents. Here’s what two 80-something-year-olds said: It’s hard to teach an old dog new tricks.

The reality is that if your husband has never cooked or cleaned, a pandemic won’t change that, even if there is no cleaning lady in sight.

That said, you say the job can’t wait, or you can’t wait, so you just go ahead and do it. We can definitely relate to that one. Putting away the dishes, toys, laundry, etc. just to get it out of the way. But that’s what keeps this cycle going. That’s what’s running you ragged.

This pandemic is an opportunity for all of us to recalibrate our relationships — especially with those people we are living with who don’t know how to recap the toothpaste or understand the phrase “alone time.”

Tired, instead of finding a nursing home for your husband, tell him that you’re exhausted and you need him to wash the dishes. Then step back and let him either pony up or watch the dirty pile grow. Don’t pick up the sponge, no matter how it takes for him to get the job done.

One last point, from one of those 80-somethings we consulted: Nobody will see how messy your home is but you (and, let’s hope, your husband). So how about just lowering your expectations for cleanliness. You won’t be having company over anytime soon, so maybe you can ignore the mess a little while also staying married.

Rational? No, Normal? Absolutely

Dear Abbys,

My husband’s grandparents (age 105 and 102!) live in Queens, N.Y., about an hour’s drive from us. They haven’t been feeling well lately (muscle & bone issues, not COVID) and my husband really wants to go visit them. He says he won’t go inside their house, but I’m still really nervous for him to drive all the way there and back.

It feels dangerous to me. What if he gets into an accident? I’ve asked him to put it off, but I worry that if something happens to his grandparents, he will be so upset that he didn’t see them one more time. They don’t have a computer or cell phone so we can’t even see them virtually. What do you think? Am I overreacting?

Thanks,

Worrying in N.J.

We aren’t therapists but are pretty sure this is what the professionals would call displaced (or misplaced?) anxiety.

One of us Abbys has taken to checking the stove every night, convinced a gas leak is going to kill everyone in her family. Is this rational? Not at all. Is this a normal reaction to life being so scary and unknown? Absolutely.



Feeling overwhelmed? Need advice? Contemplating murdering your kids/spouse/roommate? We gotchu — send your problems to dearabbys@forward.com.



Same with your fear of your husband getting into a car accident on his way to see his 105- and 102-year old (!!!!!!) grandparents.

Let him go. Better yet: go with him if you can. It will be such a joy for all of you to see each other, even if it’s from six feet away. Nobody should be denied that joy, because COVID or not, his grandparents probably don’t have much time left. Show up for them. You’ll all be O.K.

Side benefit: A drive can be a way to feel normal again — windows open, music blaring, one might almost forget that stoves can have gas leaks and all the other frightening things in the world — and there’s very little traffic.

Abby Sher and Abby Rasminsky are writers living in, respectively, Maplewood, N.J., and Los Angeles. Got a question? Submit your questions to dearabbys@forward.com.

When your vacuum is your new best friend plus advice on husbands’ troubling quarantine behavior

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