Stressed

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I have a husband with a long-term disability that is healing but not yet healed.
There are two issues. The first, which is medical, is that he has to NOT DO
certain things that might push his healing backwards. We have had several fights
about this during his convalescence. He thinks he is more fit than the doctors do,
and has many times too often done what I consider risky behaviors. That usually
involves trying to fix things around the house and yard, things he would have
been able to do in his sleep before his injury, but that are on the list of forbidden
activities (for example climbing on ladders).

 

The second issue is that he feels emasculated by my attempts to set up boundaries,
even though they are fully in line with the doctor’s instructions. He doesn’t get that
if he goes down again, everything falls to me. I am a working professional and already stretched thin, especially after six months of caretaking. This has impacted not just our intimacy but emotional trust. Can you help?

Stressed

 
Dear Stressed:

The practical side is far easier than the emotional side. Write up a checklist of
activities and submit it to the doctor (or more likely to his nurse). It can be really
simple: two columns headed by “allowed to do” and “not yet.” When you get the
list back, put it on the frig with a magnet and extract a promise that he will not do
anything more physical than daily life without consulting the list; if an activity is
something he is not yet ready for, the two of you will agree on a plan to get it
accomplished.

 
As for the emotional stress, you need a marriage/couples counselor. Most
marriages would benefit from this kind of tune up on a regular basis, but usually
folks wait until they’re in deep trouble to get help. If they wait too long, the bonds
are too fragile to sustain the pressure. In your case, if his illness is the primary
culprit, and is time-limited, you probably have a great chance to recover
communication and trust. But someone who is skilled at helping people on an
ongoing basis would be a real asset to the two of you. Ask discretely among your
friends and you will get names. People don’t tend to advertise when they have
seen a counselor, but your situation is one they will be able to relate to, and you
will find referrals.

Craving Space

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I’m a teacher who is returning to work this week. My husband is recently retired,
and suffering from the lack of social contact that he got from his colleagues. In
summer, when he had me around all day, we did a great many things together.
But when I would go off and visit my girlfriends or do volunteer work, I could tell
he was restless and overly needy when I got home. When I walk in the door after
teaching I need some time to decompress before I am ready to be social or to
take care of him. I simply cannot absorb or fulfill all his emotional needs. Ideas?

Craving Space

 
Dear Craving Space:

Your hubby needs something to occupy not just his time but his
mental energy so that he has something to share with you when you
are together, so he’s not so needy that he pounces on you the second
you walk in the door. Consider: projects like things to do around the
house, a new hobby, volunteer work of his own, or to enroll in classes.
I always suggest having a signal (beyond Hi honey I’m home.) as a
cue that you are ready to interact. Even 10 minutes to put down your
purse, check the mail, make a cup of tea, and exhale can be enough to
reset your mood.

 
I suggest a family planning council where you sit down and talk about
a typical week. Map it out on the calendar, where you block out all
your commitments and obligations, as well as the things you would
like to do in your leisure time, both with and without him. Then ask
him to do the same. Hopefully the yawning void will inspire him. If not,
talk about things he “has always wanted to do,” whether it is learning
a foreign language (perhaps in preparation for a future trip) or a new
skill. Perhaps his former profession is useful to some non-profit in a
volunteer capacity. Help him get excited about possibilities, and
remember there’s always going to the gym. That alone should make
him look for alternatives, lol.

Momma Wife

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

Everyone in my family relies on me and I am going a little nuts from
having zero time to myself. My husband is 20 years older and
medically dependant on me. My two adult children seem to be in
constant crisis with their own health, finances, jobs, and children. The
phone doesn’t stop with needy requests. I feel a little like I am being
eaten alive. I cannot remember the last time I sat with a book in my
garden and relaxed. The closest I get to quiet time is when I volunteer
to cook and serve at the senior brunches at the synagogue. Can you
help me find me again?

Momma Wife

 
Dear Momma Wife:

Bear with me on the math. There are 168 hours in a week, minus approximately
70 for sleep, showering, brushing your teeth etc. In the remaining 100 hours each
week, I am suggesting that you figure out a way to carve out 10% of them for
you. Just for you. No phone, email, caretaking, problem-solving, listening to
whining, or doing for anyone else but yourself. That comes to about one and a
half hours a day. For you. Repeat you.

 
For your own mental health, which everyone around you seems to rely on, you
are going to have to figure out how to do it. And I’m not talking snatches of time,
five minutes here or there. I’m talking about a solid chunk, a minimum of 30
minutes at a time. If you nap, nap. Meditate, do yoga, whatever rocks your boat.
Or just take whatever book you are longing to read to a coffee shop and have a
cappuccino while you sit there basking in the quiet or chatter or people who are
not depending on you to solve their problems. Start there, and then when you
have more fortitude write me again and we can talk about boundaries and more
levels of self-care.

Tongue Tied

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I am an exceptionally competent and hard-working person. I don’t
know how to work less than 50 hours a week and often closer to 70.
Not for pay, because no sane employer would pay for that. I left my
last job out of stress and overload and am now starting to look for
another professional job. My resume is excellent and I have no
problem getting interviews. But I am realizing that my menopausal
brain (I’m 55) is starting to trip me up. I am having issues around
finding the right words when I need them. Then I get flustered and
red-faced (both from embarrassment and hot flashes) and things go
downhill from there. My counselor is helping me learn how to cope
better with stress itself. But can you help me with the interview
problem so I don’t have to add financial woes to the other issues?

Tongue Tied

 
Dear Tongue Tied:

The single most important aspect to job interviews, beyond
demonstrating competence in the field you’re being hired to work in, is
that indefinable quality of “fit.” Fit means whether people like you,
want to work with you, feel you are someone they can rely on to show
up and do a good job, and are comfortable around. Unfortunately
that’s led to decades, even centuries, of white males running
boardrooms and on down the corporate food chain; though we’re on
the road of diversity, there’s still along road ahead. Gender
notwithstanding, people don’t feel a sense of fit or comfort with people
who are nervous. It’s contagious, makes folks uncomfortable, and shy
away. So the only thing you should focus on is making yourself
comfortable so they lean in, not away.

 
Interviews are a way to showcase your history. Do it through stories.
When you’re telling a story about your life, you won’t get tongue tied.
I suggest giving yourself one 4×6 flashcard that is easy to read. Have
two dozen keywords on it in two columns. Left column is a list of
typical interview questions: a big success, failure, challenge, deadline,
etc.. Right column are one word prompts: a name, a project, a date,
whatever will prompt you to tell a succinct and articulate story. Make
them laugh. Make them like you. Make them see your true self. That’s
the best you can do.

Primo Fan

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

My name is Jessica and I love watching football. I feel like someone in
a 12-step program who is supposed to confess my sins and never turn
on the television on weekends in autumn and winter. I know there are
bad injuries caused by the game. I would not want my child to play.
But I am a real fan of the local college team and of some of the pro
teams that my guys now play for. Someone just compared me to a
person who likes dog fighting, and I was horrified and insulted.
Football is coming. What can I say or do, and is it as bad as that?

Primo Fan

 
Dear Fan:

Yes, and no. Yes what happens on the football field is violent and yes
there is increasing evidence that the sport damages people. At a
minimum it damages players who get clunked in the head. It is
possible it damages us viewers (and yes I too am a college fan) in that
we become too desensitized to violence and start to care less about
people’s health and too much about our own entertainment. Does that
mean I won’t be watching kickoff Saturday? No. Does it mean I think
much more than I used to about why this sport, like boxing or other
full-contact sports? Yes. Do I think we can make a transition to
watching sports like tennis, track and field, or other ways people use
their bodies competitively, or even to chess or bridge or mental
sports? On a good say Yes. But as I watch the horrifying news cycles
we are living through, I fear more often than I used to for our
collective humanity, and for our ability to see kindness as a goal at
least as worthy as winning.

 

My summary advice: If you have a team you really care about, go
forth and cheer, both for them and for the sport to become more
humane, and more protective of its players (in rules and equipment).
Then go out to do something good for the planet for at least as long as
you watched the game.

The Ref

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I’ve gotten in the middle of two friends who are having something
more than a spat and less that a full break-up and I’m trying to figure
out what to do. Both of them have taken to calling me to air their
grievances about the other. The specifics range from sheer pettiness
to legitimate sources of concern. But as this has escalated it has begun
to verge on the comical, or would, if I didn’t genuinely care about both
of them. The lack of honesty and closeness between them has been
happening over several years, but now has escalated to a point where
when they hang up with one another both of them dial my number
almost immediately, starting their conversations almost identically,
“You’re the only one I can talk to about this. You won’t believe what
she just did or said….” I’ve tried to tell them they should talk to one
another more kindly and cut each other some slack over the small
stuff, but it feels like I am talking in Swahili. Neither one responds and
just rants about the other. What else can I say or do?

The Ref

 
Dear Ref:

Take yourself out of the center of the ring, unless you are enjoying it
ways you aren’t copping to. The next time each of them calls and
starts to rail, just keep saying Stop! Stop! Stop! until she hears you.
Then deliver as blunt a message as you can. My script goes something
like this: I know you two used to be closer. I certainly know you are a
long way from appreciating each other’s finer qualities. But the war of
words isn’t helping either of you and frankly I’m starting to like you
both a little less for it. Please stop using me as your sounding board or
source of perceived rationalization for what you say and how you feel.
My advice is that the two of you go off somewhere and talk or shout it
out until you are hoarse from yelling and end up laughing about how
silly you have been. But if you can’t get it together to do that at least
stop making me unhappy as well.

 

That’s unlikely to win you any brownie points with either of them. But
at least you’ll have had the satisfaction of getting your frustrations
out. The alternative is to try and broker a peace accord, inviting them
both over for tea (probably without revealing why in advance) and
trying to say something more softly that conveys the same message.
The only thing I can promise is that the odds you will be thanked for
your efforts are slim, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth a try.

Almost New Knee

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

When I worked professionally, for thirty years, I was in Human
Resources. I have helped far more than my fair share of relatives,
friends, friends’ children, etc with their resumes and career goals.

 

Generally I start by asking them what they would most like to do, and
then compare their existing experience, education, and skill sets to
their goals. Recently my PT asked me to counsel his son, a college
dropout with four years of experience managing a food truck, who is
now working in an office job. After a lengthy discussion, I counseled
him to follow his passion, music, by approaching his former
employers– who now have a very hot and successful Peruvian
restaurant—about managing their evening shifts and introducing
performances to increase revenues and clientele. He hung up with
stars in his eyes, motivated and ready to draw up a plan to present.

 

But his father called me furious. Apparently the only thing he wanted
was for his son to go back and finish his BA. From what I can see, that
is not this kid’s path, and that’s what I said. I had three months of PT
scheduled but am now leery about putting my pain into the hands of
someone who is angry with me and am thinking about changing to
another PT. Am I being too cautious?

Almost New Knee

 
Dear Almost New Knee:

I think it’s a fair question to ask your PT if he can separate your
personal and professional interactions. You shouldn’t have to suffer
more than you already will. I’d like to think that he’s an honest and
compassionate therapist and that being cruel is not in his skill set. But
if you feel wary, resistant, or even to unsure, explain to him that
you’re changing your therapy plans based on your concerns. At worst
you get a less competent PT, but any regimen you undertake will
mean pain and you should not have to anticipate or endure more than
necessary.

 
As for the counseling, no parent or outsider can make any young
person return to academia if that’s not a goal. The expense, time, and
effort would be wasted without a clear sense of how higher education
would serve him. There’s no time limit on degree completion; many
colleges specialize in programs for returning adults, many of whom are
working fulltime. If your PT’s son decides to return to school later, I
am certain he will have options. Many fine people pursue their
passions and succeed, and many others fail. I’d rather see him try and
find motivation than become a wage slave and feel he had never
pursued his dream. I think you did well and good.

Feeling Jacked

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

Every year there are a variety of festivals in my city. I’m always pretty
good about putting folks up if they want to stay for an overnight,
letting them have parking in my driveway (which is near one of the
major events) and giving people information about where I keep my
house key in case they need a bathroom or to replenish the water
bottles. This year one of my colleagues offered to return the favor
when I wanted to attend the festival in his area. I pack for an
overnight and even brought a house gift. But when I got there I was
told oh, the wife overbooked, so you’ll have to sleep on a cot in the
laundry room. I politely demurred attended the festival for the day and
now have to figure out how to relate to him next week. Any good
advice?

Feeling Jacked

 
Dear Jacked:

Rather than parading him angrily, I would be cool and calm. As in
smiling politeness, but not excessive friendliness. If he had warned
you that you were among a throng of people, you might have prepared
accordingly. But in the absence of reliable information, you were
blindsided and I don’t blame you for feeling jacked.
The next time he asks for a favor tell him “the end is full” with this
sincere a face as he you can muster. I wouldn’t spread the story
around the office, because anything you say will be repeated with
malicious intent by people who enjoy public drama. But I wouldn’t rely
on this person for very much, let alone something that might influence
your professional future, without digging down hard on the details.

Just Friends

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

Recently I went on an excursion organized by one of my friends. There
were 20 people from the various interest groups in her life (rowing,
hiking, book group, etc.). I’ve been mostly single for the past decade,
but I met someone with whom I genuinely think I could become good
friends. I’m a lesbian; I suspect she is not, and I’m worried she might
see me as interested in her for social, read dating, reasons, where in
fact I mostly just looking for a movie or travel buddy. I am done
dating! Is there a polite way of saying “I like you but not that way”
without it coming off as creepy, arrogant, or some other estranging
adjective? I guess if she were interested in dating I might be, but the
truth is that in my late 60s making a great new friend sounds like
more fun and less hassle. I think I’m too old to be share my home
again.

Just Friends

 
Dear Just Friends:

I think you’re a little too self-conscious. Most people assume friendship
as the baseline for interaction, unless they meet on some kind of
obvious hook up or dating site. Did you exchange contact information
when you me? Did the interest seem mutual? What kind of things did
you think you had in common? Since you did not already know her
from rowing, for example, I suspect there’s lots of room in both your
lives for independence, so start where you think it’s safe and see what
happens.

 
If you have not already done so send this person a quick text saying
roughly, Are you up for a movie and a bite to eat? If you get a no
thanks you can always go to your friend who organized the original
event and explain what happened, though I tend to err on the side of
direct communication. I think any ambiguity will be cleared up very
quickly if you get together, share personal histories, and say with the
emphasis you showed me that you’re very happy being single but are
very interested in expanding your social base for fun and adventure. If
she is a lesbian it will evolve or not. If she is not, you have no worries.

Sidelined

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I have a friend of almost 25 years with whom I speak daily, or even
more often in a life crisis. We refer to ourselves as “twin sisters
separated at birth,” even though there’s a decade and more between
us and I’m short, round, and dark and she is tall, thin, and blonde. But
it’s more than a joke; we really have functioned like sisters. Now she’s
moving to a city two hours away, for reasons that I neither agree with
nor understand. I’ve tried to be supportive, including listening for
endless hours about finding and buying this house (and the deals that
fell through before it) and now the remodeling, but she knows how I
feel. She’s been on vacation for the last two weeks, and I’ve barely
heard from her. I feel rejected. I understand she’s had bad Wi-Fi on
some parts of her trip but there’s been a noticeable absence of texting
or chatting in Words With Friends. Do I take this as a sign that she
really wants to unplug from the friendship? Should I say something or
just see how she is when she returns?

Sidelined

 
Dear Sidelined:

Give her time to get her footing when she comes back. Then set a time
for tea perhaps a week out, after you have gotten back into a normal,
or new normal, daily rhythm. Yes pay attention to changes, if any, but
also remind yourself that working people need more time to recover
after they have been away, so if she is not back to daily chatting, cut
her a little slack.

 
Virtually anything you say in your current mood will sound
confrontational, so I suggest avoiding the subject of how you relate to
one another and instead simply relate. Act as though nothing has
changed and see how she responds. Once you’ve reestablished that
you enjoy one another will be time enough to say how much you
missed her and to ask the hard questions: How come you were so
quiet on your trip? I know I am upset about you moving how do you
think it will affect the friendship? Then listen. If your relationship is
primarily by phone, it may not change as much as you fear. If it does,
it’s time to cultivate new friends to round out your emotional life.

No Fence

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

The house next-door has been a rental for decades. It has finally been
sold to a couple, and as they were moving in and talking abut what
they planned to do to the house and garden I realized that I’m not
used to having a relationship with neighbors that’s based on equality.
With the tenants, I always had some degree of authority, because I
was friendly with the person who owned the property, and acted as
sort of a watchdog to be sure the renters didn’t do anything stupid. So
the tenants were somewhat deferential, and I could be nice in ways it
was easy to be, like giving them a quart of soup every so often, and
never had to worry about them doing things that were seriously
disruptive to my life. The new folks seem okay, if a little chatty, and
interested in gardening the median strip together, which sounds great.
How else do I get things off on the right foot?

No Fence

 
Dear No Fence:

The strongest message to ensure your privacy would be to build a
fence. But I don’t think that’s what you really want and ironically I
don’t think that it sends the message you want to give the new
owners. I would give them time to settle in, and make the house their
home. Bringing them soup or perhaps your extra zucchini and
tomatoes would be a welcome gesture of friendship.

 
Decades implies you’ve lived in your house, and developed it nicely, in
a way that might intimidate new owners. Don’t rush to invite them
over in the flurry of excess friendship. Write them a lovely note of
welcome, and let them settle in quietly without a lot of fuss. Then
when the time is right, agree on the boundaries that work for you both
regarding noise, shared phone numbers and/or keys, and so on, and
then make plans for the garden next spring, when you feel like
comfortable equals. Personally I’d hold back on the keys until you
know them better. Good neighbors are a wonderful thing. Take your
time making it happen.

Auntie Me

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

Three of my best friends have sons who each just got engaged. I was
immediately struck not only by how each of the young men proposed,
but the vastly different approaches each is taking to the ceremony and
inclusion of guests. I have been an auntie to each of them since they
were in high school, helping with everything from college essays and
scholarship apps to employing them as garden and house chore
helpers. Like most young people they need me when they do and are
polite and casual the rest of the time. I am afraid the weddings will
collide next summer, and I’m trying to figure out how to solve a
problem that doesn’t yet exist but could cause angst in the future,
assuming of course I get invited. Any great ideas?

Auntie Me

 
Dear Auntie:

You’re fretting over a problem that doesn’t exist. Go do something
useful instead, or at least take a walk around the block every time you
start to perseverate.

 
Talk to each of the moms and the young men. Say how much you care
about them and how tickled you are that their lives are turning out so
well. Acknowledge that they may choose to have a wedding that has a
limited number of guests, or that may be in locations you cannot
attend, even if you are invited. Add that you know of several young
folks with whom you have a similar relationship, all of whom are
marrying next summer. Say you would love to attend and can they
please let you now the date when they choose it, so you can block out
the time. Then, if there is a conflict, you can decide which wedding to
attend. One more thing: especially if they know one another, make
sure the gift to each is identical so no mom thinks you played
favorites.

Buddy

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

When is the right time to stage an intervention for a friend? It’s food,
not alcohol or drugs but her bad habit is going to kill her just the
same? She’s in her 60s and weighs well over 300 pounds. She has for
a long time, except for the year she lost almost 100 lbs by living on a
very strict anti-inflammatory regimen. She glowed from good health
and compliments, but then various issues in her family life resulted in
her taking in a very embittered relative who made her life a living hell
for more than a year, until she finally told her husband he had to
choose which of them was going to move out. The regained all the
weight and hasn’t looked back.

 

Now she is rapidly losing many forms of self-mobility and care as her aging
body copes with what’s simply too much for it to handle. The docs cannot figure
out a diagnosis or cure for her various ailments, and all of her friends are
concerned that she’s going to keel over, which would be a loss to us all. We
think bariatric surgery could be a great help, if her body could sustain it.
How can we say this to her without making her angry? She is fierce
when she feels cornered.

Buddy

 
Dear Buddy:

Once things involve doctors it is very difficult for what friends might
consider rational advice to hold sway. The person in question can
always say, My doctor says… as a defense. And while I cannot imagine
a doctor who would say 300+ pounds is a healthy weight, it sounds
like there are enough complications since the original weight loss that
the time for bariatric surgery may in fact have passed.

 
Rather than a formal intervention of several or many people, I’d
counsel one or two of you sitting down to have a heart-to- heart.
Explain how terribly concerned you are, and ask how you can be
supportive of her becoming healthier. You can offer to connect her
with nutritionists, health coaches, or even go on the same diet plan
that was once successful. Then listen very well, because she is the
woman who raises a fork to her lips, not you. And no intervention
short of incarceration will work if she is not as committed as you are.

Buttinski?/Not

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I have a niece to whom I am very close. She has had three
miscarriages this year and just announced that she is “giving up” on
attempts to have a baby. I know she is under a lot of stress at work,
and that she and her new husband, who is a wonderful parent to her
eight-year- old from marriage number one, would be fantastic parents.
But their lives have been so overwhelmed with selling and buying old
and new houses, with work, and with attempts to get pregnant and
deal with the medical aftermath and the grief, that I think the odds
have been stacked against her. What can I say to help her realize that
it’s just too soon to stop trying?

Buttinski?/Not

 
Dear Buttinski/Not:

If you are truly “very close” and a regular confidante, you have the
right to talk to her about things that some couples might consider their
own private business. Timing matters, and so does tone, so you should
choose both of those very carefully. I’d suggest inviting her for tea and
talk. Start by telling her how concerned you’ve been about their very
hectic year, how much you love her new husband, and how happy you
are that her new family is blossoming, despite the setbacks with her
miscarriages. Encourage her to give the possibility of another child
another six-twelve months, after her life has settled down. And keep
telling her you love her and that when she is less stressed out, nature
may respond differently.

Not A Fun Day

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

Every year I go to an annual local arts and music festival (a three-day
weekend) with a certain friend. We have a way to get in early by
helping a mutual friend set up her booth, and then get to stroll for
several uninterrupted hours before the “tourists” come. While the
paths are crowded (think 10,000 people) we tend to camp out in one
of the music venues, alternating between saving seats and going for
food and bathroom runs. We walk about 5-7 miles all told, hear great
music, and often find unique art to bring home. It is a start of summer
tradition that we both value.

 

This year another friend asked if she could join is, and, against both of our
better judgment, we said yes. She was no help with set-up, and slow and
whiney most of the day, particularly when we didn’t want to change our habits
and brave the overcrowded afternoon hours moving through crowds. Then she
wanted to leave several hours earlier than we did and complained
bitterly on the ride home several hours later (after we had parked her
in the shade by some good music to chill out) about what bad
hostesses we were and declared “After today, I don’t even like you!”
Should we attempt to ameliorate this situation or just see if it blows
over?

Not A Fun Day

 
Dear Not A Fun Day:

I always advocate communication instead of passive-aggressive
silence. Your friend sounds like a handful in the best of times, and in
the worst, someone I too would want to park in the shade and walk
away from. I’m assuming you told her the rules of the days when she
first asked to come along, as in: This is when we leave, how long we
stay, what we do, etc etc. If she came along with full knowledge, most
of the responsibility for the angst is on her, though you bear some
burden for not predicting her meltdown in advance and having had her
agree to a default plan to get an early ride home or take a nap till you
were ready.

 
As for now, write her an email that says basically: I’m sorry you had a
hard time. We told you what the day was like and that’s what it was.
Maybe this isn’t your scene but it is ours and perhaps we erred by
sharing it with someone who’d never been there before. I hope you
recover from your fit of pique. Call me when you’re ready to chat
about other things. As the old saying goes, that puts the poop in her
pocket, and you can close the door on this chapter with an easy
conscience.