I Need a Vacation From Parenting in Isolation

My ex-husband, the father of my two young children, moved to the Catskills with his girlfriend. He hasn’t been seeing our kids during the pandemic because he says his girlfriend is “terrified she will die if they visit.” She claims to have a lung issue (that he only learned about recently). The kids and I have been staying at home in Brooklyn for over a month. No one is sick. And I’ve been on my own with them this whole time. I could use a little break. Can I ask my ex to take them to the Catskills for a visit?


I can only imagine how stressed out (and exhausted) you are by now! But please don’t send your children to the Catskills. It’s risky. The president’s Coronavirus Task Force calls for 14 days of self-quarantine after leaving hot spots like Brooklyn. Do you really want your kids alone in a guest room for two weeks before they join a household where one of the adults is terrified of them?

It’s not fair to question the girlfriend’s recent claim of a pulmonary condition either, tempting as that may be. Before this pandemic, there was little reason to share relatively minor health problems that could be big risk factors now.

You will probably notice that I’ve been no help to you so far. So, here’s an idea: Can your ex come to Brooklyn? If he stays at your apartment or finds a place nearby, he can pitch in with the kids. It’s not ideal. He will have to quarantine when he goes home again, and his girlfriend may not love the idea. Still, after a month (and counting!) on your own with two children, it’s the least he can do as a co-parent.

A woman I know has become much friendlier since our stay-at-home order was put in place. She often calls just to see how I’m doing. Then she asks whether I’m going grocery shopping and if I will pick up some things for her. I have done so a few times, dropping off her groceries in her lobby. But when I ask her to reciprocate, she says she’s too busy. Her risk from coronavirus is no greater than mine. By asking me to spend more time in stores and at her building, she is jeopardizing my health to protect her own. How can I say that I’ll help her only if she helps me?


Selfish friends are the worst! But for me, they are only slightly more annoying than friends who police strict tit-for-tat arrangements. I don’t like ledgers in my friendships.

Sure, friends make mistakes all the time. If you actually like this woman, say: “Why do you keep asking me to shop for you?” Then discuss the imbalance. Otherwise, when she next requests delivery service, just say: “Sorry, I don’t want to prolong my time in the shops or on the street.”

My father died last week. My heart is broken. We lived in the same town, while my two sisters moved out of state. I didn’t mind taking care of him, and I mostly didn’t mind how little my sisters helped. Because of the pandemic, we can’t have a funeral now. We agreed to hold a memorial service later. My problem: The day after he died, my sisters began texting me for copies of bank statements and pictures (I’m not kidding!) of things they want. Finally, I replied: “Why don’t you pretend to grieve now? We can deal with the stuff later.” I know it was catty. And since then, silence. Help!


Losing a parent can be so unmooring — and we’re already living through wildly unmoored days. Perhaps a generous reading of your sisters’ speedy inventory is that they were looking for something to control at a time when there aren’t many other options. But I’m more concerned about you.

Don’t beat yourself up over one mean text. Call your sisters. Apologize for being snappish and say that you (or the executor of your father’s estate, if that’s not you) will get back to them about their questions. Then share your sadness at your loss. They may respond in kind, opening a new line of communication. If they don’t, pull back and take care of yourself, OK?

I often see a woman in town walking a sweet dog. Somewhere along the line, we developed a routine where she lets go of the leash, and the dog comes running to me for petting. I used to love this. But now, I’m feeling so uncomfortable on the street that our routine feels almost like an assault. Am I out of line?


Of course not! All kinds of things that used to feel utterly normal — remember hugging friends? — are unthinkable now. Your neighbor will understand. From a safe distance, say: “You know I love your dog. But these days, his approach makes me feel anxious. Can you keep him on the leash for now?” Don’t be afraid to air your skittish feelings. You’re in really good company.

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