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Is showering even worth it these days? Plus advice on kicking expensive habits

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

Help! I’ve become a slob

Dear Abbys,

The other day in the shower I started to shave my legs. I got through one leg and then I was like: What’s the point for the other? So I left the other one to its hairy self. Mind you, I hadn’t showered in possibly three days.

This is not me! I normally am a two-a-day-shower-kinda-girl. I used to love being clean and shaven and to wear a little makeup and don a cute skirt every now and then. My daughter asked me if it was the fourth day in a row I wore a ratty black T-shirt. I lied and said, “Of course not!”

But we both knew the truth. Pandemic or not, how do I get back to my clean, cutie self?

Dirty Girl

Dear Dirty,

Remember those early days of motherhood when you spent all day in the same breastmilk-soaked T-shirt and ratty sweatpants? Remember not washing your hair in…how long was your maternity leave? Or maybe you were the one who made it to the shower only to wash your hair twice because by the time you got to the end of the shower you couldn’t recall whether you’d washed it at the beginning or not?

Yeah, it wasn’t pretty. But you had a great excuse. Le bébé.

We get it: Why on earth would you shave both your legs right now?

Because you are not on maternity leave (we assume, given the level of your daughter’s commentary). We, too, have resisted makeup, shaving and putting on cute outfits — but a few weeks in, one of us Abbys started putting on jeans, makeup and earrings a few days a week (yes, regularly) and it felt like one of those “Before/After” makeover moments — but for free and without a cut or dye job! Do you know how good it felt to not recoil at her own image in the mirror?

Basic hygiene (yes, please shower daily and brush your teeth twice) really helps. Simply putting on jeans can alert you to how much banana bread you are actually consuming. Putting on makeup can inspire you to walk around the block or call up a friend on Facetime (“I put on makeup!”) or just trick you into a sense of normalcy for a few hours. See how you feel, all dressed up and ready to go (nowhere!).

Now, as for shaving: we Abbys are just as feminist as you can get, so if hairy legs feels like a way to protest the patriarchy in the middle of a pandemic — or just the pandemic — put down your razor. Who will know?

Will my baby be a screen zombie?
kid in baseball cap

Image by Liana finck

Dear Abbys,

Not only am I worried about my 10-month-old now watching TV, but I’m also worried about how much he sees me on electronics. He’s obsessed with my phone and computer. I know I should be on them less around him, but I’m always around him and need to zone out sometimes. Not to mention, work!

Only a saint is sticking to the now ancient pre-Covid American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines about screen time. So he loves TV and is obsessed with your phone — whatever. Aren’t you, too?

At the risk of sounding like a psycho sleep trainer, use his naps to your advantage: Presumably he sleeps 12-13 hours a night, and at that age still has two naps that are an hour each? This is the moment to force him into those sanity-saving midday 3-hour whoppers so you can DO WHATEVER YOU WANT. Work. Call every person you know. Stare at the ceiling.

Everything is upside-down and inside-out right now, but every child psychologist in the world will tell you kids still need a schedule — and, surprise, so do we. So instead of trying to work for 12 minutes here and there while he slobbers all over your phone or computer, put him down at the same time every afternoon and get on with it.

And by the way: your phone and computer aren’t evil. We Abbys have more than once wondered what it would be like to survive a pandemic and democratic unrest without technology. How would we stay in touch with friends, hear about the latest protests, see grandparents from far away? Think of your time online as modeling a different kind of connection for him. Hopefully someday soon he’ll find out that people other than his family are also in 3-D.

A (very) expensive habit
Illustration of a woman running away from something.

Image by Liana finck

Dear Abbys:

I am pretty stressed, and fearful of coronavirus. I take all the precautions but I am so nervous I sneak a few cigarettes. I know it is a terrible habit; I have tried to quit so many times but never succeeded for any significant length of time. Every day I evaluate all the tried and true methods to stop, but still have a few a day, no matter what new idea I come up with. My doctor calls and asks if I have quit yet? Weekly. Oy, he is becoming a very big annoyance.

The thing is, hardly anyone knows I smoke! I use the old “smoke & spray” routine. Chanel No. 5 is great (what a fragrance!), but here is the problem: I am running very low. It’s hard to get, not like I can go to Target for it. I am self-isolating so I do not get out much. Who is going to go to Saks Fifth Ave. for me (Is Saks still in business even)? If I have no spray, I surely cannot smoke; if I cannot smoke I will go crazy, be more than cranky and no one will want to even email me, let alone see (six feet apart, of course) me. And OY, it’s so expensive, the Chanel, and the cigarettes. What does an addict like me do?

I hope you have some creative thoughts but please, do not tell anyone about my secret behavior.

Yours very truly, Smoke & Spray

Dear Smoke & Spray,

Please, for the love of all things Chanel, stop.

Yes, easier said than done, we know. One of us Abbys did a stint in rehab for addictive behaviors, and it was not pretty. Addiction is not a logical thought process. The best analogy we know is that your brain is like a locomotive hurtling forward on this one track and you have to jump the rails and forge a new path. It’s painful and messy. But every time you use a coping strategy like chewing gum, getting exercise, or even delaying your smoke for 10 minutes, you are making those new grooves deeper and stronger.

You don’t have to do it alone. There are tons of support groups, counselors, and even phone apps ready to guide you through this process — all while you self-isolate. Just type in QUIT to your toolbar and see what happens. You also have a built-in deadline. When your Chanel runs dry, you’re done.

If nothing else, please think of how precious a deep breath of air is right now. Yeah, we’re laying on the Jewish guilt.

You’re welcome.

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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