Carolyn Hax Live: Gusbombing

Apr 10, 2020

Advice columnist Carolyn Hax took your comments about her current advice column and questions about the strange train we call life. Her answers may appear online or in an upcoming column.

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Hi everybody, happy Mobius strip day. 

Our school district began their distance learning program a week ago. I have found it to be incredibly underwhelming, both in terms of amount of time the teachers’ are actually teaching (roughly 45 minutes a day, four days a week, pre-recorded) and the worksheets/projects assigned. For all three of my kids, the curriculum appears to be at least a year behind what they were learning during regular school. I get that everything has been turned upside down. I get that teachers have family too and the adjustment for everyone is huge. But I don’t get how a 7-hour school day has now been reduced to 45 minutes plus a couple of really basic worksheets. Should I wait and see if this improves? Or can I ask the school board what gives? I don’t want to be a jerk. I keep seeing friends on social media imploring everyone to give teachers a break, they’re doing their best, etc. It doesn’t help that I have a friend who is a teacher and he’s been regaling me with everything he’s been doing with his “free time.”

It doesn't help that you have one data point?

The thing with remote learning is that it's an entirely different skill set, asked of teachers *and students* with almost zero runway, using an infrastructure that is not guaranteed by any means to be in place. So, you have some kids with everything--broadband, printer, laptop, adult supervision--and some kids missing one, some, or all of these parts of the platform that are essential to making a remote education work.

Plus, there are varying degrees of stress. Some people, like your teacher friend, are still employed and being paid and able to name "extra time" as their biggest adjustment. Others are dealing with sudden income loss, inability to escape abuse, health challenges, etc.

So, schools have little choice but to put equity first, education second. Many are being told this, a la doctors: First do no harm. As in, don't stress or freak the kids out.


And, also, learning by video, live or asynchronously, is more taxing for teachers and students. It's something a lot of educators and kids are learning as we type this here today. Even 3.5 hours of video learning--half your kids' old school day--is a nonstarter.

Last thing: Because of all of these challenges (and I may have missed some more), many school systems/administrations are encouraging parents to do what works for them, their families and their unique circumstances. Less so for older kids, almost entirely so for the littles, but to some degree across the PK-12 spectrum.

So, since you see the capacity for your kids to do more, I suggest you see what you can do to supplement. Ask the math teacher for access to/ideas for more challenging work your kids can do on their own; show them documentaries; sign up for a language-instruction program; use free videos for math instruction; get them involved in a charitable project; etc. I'll post any ideas people want to add.

Whatever you do, I think starting your thought with, "These are seriously abnormal times," is a winning strategy.

My mother, who has smoked since her mother died (before she was even in her teens), has lung cancer. My children only vaguely remember their other grandma who died of colon cancer before they were school aged. My mother hasn’t been fully tested yet (lung specialists and equipment are busy) but it’s likely she’ll be alive 5+ years, but also in treatment for the whole time. Any of the nuts got good resources for discussing this with kids? We are atheist so heaven concepts aren’t for us. Our big concerns are not having them think everyone has cancer (my sister is in long term remission from cancer diagnosed before they were born) or every sickness/respiratory ailment is fatal (in the age of Covid) Honestly many of my older relatives smoked and died of lung cancer younger than my mother was even diagnosed, so this is not unexpected or unfamiliar to me, even though it’s terribly sad and frightening and it sucks that I can’t hug her or be there (in the room) for her.

I'm sorry about your mom's diagnosis, especially coming at a bizarre time when a hug isn't an option.

I don't think you have to worry too much about how to talk to your kids, though. That's because the more you work to tailor your message to say all the right things, the more likely you'll run into trouble. If instead you stick to facts--a minimum to start, then wait for them to ask follow-up questions--then you'll always know what your message is and you'll remain consistent. When you know the answer to one of their questions, say it, in an age-appropriate way. When you don't know, say, "I don't know."

You can also trust your kids' ability to see what's around them. You don't have to prove to them that not everyone has cancer or dies of respiratory ailments because they live among that proof.



Carolyn, Yesterday I hit The Wall. I cried in bed all morning, in front of my kids. I realized I had been sprinting rather than marathoning, so I burned out even though I'm only on Week 2. Three things helped. 1, short-term: Last week someone linked, which was amazingly helpful and I will be returning to often. 2, medium-term: Giving up on immediate goals. No more work training that they would Really Like us to do while we're out of the office, no more projects, no pressure of any kind except health and safety, until at least next week. 3, long-term: Remembering that this is a choice. No one is actually forcing me to stay home (law or no law); I am choosing to do the right thing, even if it makes my life feel impossible. Having some semblance of control is very comforting.

I think these strange times have made it clear that my girlfriend and I moved in together too soon and are not actually ready to function as a family in the way that this requires yet. We have married friends who seem to have no problem splitting large grocery bills and splitting up the household duties, things we did not anticipate having to do for a while longer. I am realizing that pre-COVID, even though we lived together our lives still had a lot of built-in separation and we liked them that way. I am trying to figure out when to broach the subject of After. As in, "After this is over, I think we should go back to separate apartments." I think it will sadden and offend her but that there probably isn't a way to avoid that. So, when do I do it? Now, as soon as it's occurred to me? Or later, when it seems like restrictions are lifting and we might actually be able to start working toward moving out?

Have you tried talking to her about what isn't working?

Normally I'd just back your play and say, "go now," or, "wait till you're able to move out," but I'm guessing there are some couples of 10, 20, 30 years who are right now thinking they may have moved in together too soon. 

And, too, why not see whether she feels the same way, and whether you and she can be creative? You don't have to live like your married friends. 

Dear Carolyn, Our son has a 4-year-old daughter with his wife and two other daughters, 10 and 8, by an ex-girlfriend. We have not been able to spend time with any of them in weeks due to coronavirus restrictions. Normally our son has visitation with the older girls every two weeks, but for the moment he is not seeing them because they don't want to swap germs back and forth between households. When we called last night to say good night to my older granddaughters at their mom's house (as we usually do when they're visiting their dad), their mom seemed very exasperated and exhausted. I think that our son is calling the older kids every couple of days, but that the hard work is of course falling to his ex. We don't have much of a relationship, but I would really like to do something to help the mom of the older girls through this hard time. Can you think of anything I might be able to achieve from a physical distance? I have already considered but ruled out cooking food and delivering it.

Why don't you ask the mom, before/after your next call, if there's anything you can do to help her? 

I can post ideas, but 1. she's more likely to know what would help her than we are; and 2. her knowing you understand and care can be a gift in itself. 

And if I may: 3. Who doesn't look either exasperated or exhausted.


The comments from Wednesday's chat really hit me, particularly the observation that kids have a good radar for fairness. I will admit my knee-jerk response had been the same as many posters: "life isn't fair". Now, I see this as not only not binary (fair/unfair) but also really addressing several different issues - fairness as uniformly even, fairness as equitable, fairness as objective, fairness as (morally) correct. In the future, I will try to ask why there is a perception of unfairness, and what could be done about it. As one of three siblings, there were definitely different perspectives on what was fair, and I am thinking of cases like: 1. how to fairly divide dessert (or, given last discussion, should this be chips?) 2. how to have fair bedtimes (I imagine the 17 yr old doesn't think the 3 yr old's bedtime would be fair) 3. how to fairly distribute chores - will all kitchen tasks be assigned to females and all yard work to males? Would the 3 year old be expected to do the same chores as the 17 yr old? could the 3 yr old even push the lawnmower, let alone safely? 4. should everyone focus on 1 hour of math homework and 1 hour of reading, or should that vary depending on necessity and interest? What would fairness look like, and how can we move towards that? (non-binary) What can each of us do, right now and going forward, to be more aware and more fair? my sister is a naturally gifted artist, and spent a lot of time focused on it and became even better. my stick figures need work. fair? to me fairness doesn't seem to be part of that equation. If it is important to me, I can (and have) invested time and effort in developing artistic skills (though drawing still fails me)

This is great, thank you--I find questions of fairness and justice endlessly fascinating, especially given that American public discourse currently involves so much muddying of these waters, including what seems like large-scale self-interest and bad faith.

If you want a good read about this stuff, try "Justice: What's the Right Thing to Do?" by Michael Sandel, based on the course he taught at Harvard that I didn't have the sense to take.

Hi Carolyn, Because of these difficult times, my stepchildren (early 20's) have moved back in with my wife and myself due to being laid off from the normal jobs. They have both found jobs our area to help with their bills. We are glad we can help them in this emergency, tho of course it does bring back the mostly small challenges of sharing the household. In general, all is good. One of my stepson's friends has recently found himself without a place to live. In general, our house has always been open to all our of children's friends, including letting them live with us for a few weeks at a time while situations got resolved. However, these are not normal times. I am trying to figure if this is something with which we could help without jeopardizing anyone's health. One other point of concern is that while I am generally healthy and work-out, I do have a background health issue that does technically make me a higher risk. I realize the "smart" move would be to no allow anyone else into our house. But maybe there is a option I am not realizing? Or maybe I am just wanting to ease my conscience by saying no. -Sequestering in the Suburbs

If you want to say no, then say no with a clear conscience. 

If you want to say yes, then provide shelter on the condition of a two-week, in-home self-quarantine, followed by strict distancing after that. It's a logistical PITA, especially if you don't have a bathroom this friend can use exclusively, but it's something a lot of families have had to do. Not everyone was already a self-contained unit when this hit, and a lot of people had to return home from overseas, or business travel, or colleges. So it's doable.

Again, if you want it to be. Your health is more than cause enough to say no.


You should have said CALL CHILD PROTECTIVE SERVICES if after you have warned the parents ONE time. Please amend your answer so not just the person asking the q but others will be aware that this is the right thing to do.

The police are an option, too, if it comes to that. 

My father-in-law passed away recently. It was sudden and unexpected. Not connected to COVID-19, but his hospital stay was complicated by it and there will be no real funeral. My husband is grief-stricken and I’m doing my best to support him since he was not even able to be with his father at the end. I’m pregnant, with a boy, and my husband wants to name our son after his father. I don’t want to. In the first place, it’s my turn to name the baby (my husband named our daughter) and in the second place I couldn’t stand my father-in-law. I know he wasn’t truly a bad man at heart but he was an obnoxious, know-it-all, braggart. He was one of those guys who thought every waitress and checkout girl was flirting with him, he thought he could tell me how to cook dishes from my culture because he once ate them in my parent’s country of origin in the 70s, he never once saw my father without reminding him how much more money he (my father-in-law) made and how, unlike my father, he paid for his children’s college tuitions and weddings. He read a short magazine article about the work I do and then thought he knew more about my work than I do. My husband keeps telling me the only thing that will help him through this rough time is knowing our son will be named after his late father. I just can’t do it. I’ve suggested we use his name as a middle name but my husband wants the full name and nothing less. Is there any way to compromise on this?

You've already offered the best compromise--the middle name.

You can also use a named-for that isn't the exact name, like Liam for a William.

If you can postpone the whole discussion, though, then that would be ideal; your husband's grief will last but the rawness of the grief won't. 

I'd also make an argument for using the name and trusting your child to change your opinion of it, since that happens all the time--it'll become your boy's name vs. your FIL's, I'm guessing almost immediately--but I won't make that argument now, not this time. Your husband's grief notwithstanding, his "the only thing that will help him through this rough time is knowing our son will be named after his late father" gambit is still emotional manipulation, and I'll back you on not giving in. And timidly float the idea that your husband can be a wonderful husband, father and overall human being and still have picked up a few habits from Dad.

My parents are extremely adoring grandparents to my son, who's almost 2, and who for obvious reasons they cannot spend time with right now. (Usually they see him at least twice a week.) I get that this is a really difficult time for them and that they feel they are missing a lot of quality time, his milestones, new words he's saying, and so on (though we try to call every day so that they stay on his mind). But it's beginning to hurt my feelings that my mom can't seem to think of any other way in which this global crisis might be affecting our family. When we talk on the phone, she wants a detailed report on everything my son did that day, and her attention wanes as soon as I try to debrief about my own challenges (which involve everything you would expect, trying to keep my job while entertaining the kid nonstop). Knowing she misses her only grandchild so badly, is it too much to ask that she occasionally ask how I'm doing?

Apparently so. We're stuck processing a lot of our own and each other's shortcomings and blind spots in this fine moment, and your mom's fits right in that range of normal. I'm sorry. Have you tried switching it up and asking about her? Or just saying, "Your attention seems to wane when I talk about anything other than Sonny--but I could really use an ear right now"?

I was just wondering if your mom is not calm and is projecting her feelings? Or maybe that she is concerned you are your real feelings and she can't tell because she's not there? Just a thought that occurred as I read your question.

Hi Carolyn - I'm still freaking out about yesterday's column about the toddlers playing in the street. Last year, I turned the corner on a suburban street and encountered a group of parents and kids waiting for the school bus. One of the moms set her newborn - in it's car seat - on the street about five feet from the curb and I nearly ran over it. Fueled by adrenaline, I confronted the mother, telling her I didn't get out of bed that morning intending to kill a child, any more than she got out of bed hoping to kill her kid. She just stared at me. What are some parents thinking?

A million things, or nothing, it's almost impossible to say. I suspect the people in this col just had no idea what the driver's-eye view was. Maybe the mom in your case hadn't slept. Maybe they were all gathered in a group before and the group drifted. It's easy to look in from the outside and see recklessness, but it's also easy to be on the inside and just see good intentions and a terrifying lapse.

This I feel pretty confident saying, though: Your "just stared at me" could easily describe a deer in headlights. Not everyone can process on the spot a combination of being confronted by an adrenaline-jacked stranger and recognizing they almost made an error fatal to their child. I'm glad you stopped and said something; I'm guessing the mother won't soon forget or make the same mistake again; I, like you, would be horrified by what this negligence almost did to me in addition to the baby. I just think it's not inappropriate to put empathy next in that sequence.

Is it possible that it's painful for your mom to hear about it being challenging to be with your son when all she wants is to spend time with him? That she's disengaging because of it? I'm not saying it makes it right, but maybe that makes it more understandable and can help you cope with it.

Just a guess but it could be that OP's mom is distressed by current events and is calling to hear about her grandson because that is an uplifting distraction. Granted could also not be. Mom could be a terrible person. But if I am right, she is disengaging when you talk about your problems not because she does not care about you and your problems but because she is trying to manage her own distress and hearing about your problems adds to that distress. I get that you have needs and venting is helpful. However if what is really upsetting is not so much that you can't talk with her about your problems but rather the feeling she does not care, this different perspective can be helpful.

I bet the mom of the older kids would really appreciate new books, games and outdoor toys (or legos or craft projects, depending on the kids interests). Give her a budget and ask her to set up an amazon wish list. For the mom upset with the level of schoolwork, contact the teachers and request recommendations for apps and programs like khan academy. There are also lots of online elementary, middle and high school courses if you can pay for and access them. Remember that some of your kids classmates are a year behind academically, and the teachers don’t want to stress them out. For gifted students with resources and access to the internet, you can meet their academic needs outside of school.

High school teacher here. I'm trying desperately not to lose my mind. I WANT to teach. I WANT to engage with my students. But, until all of my district's students have laptops and internet access, we can't. We can start "new material" on Monday, but most of that has to be delivered asynchronously (i.e. videos and worksheets) because there are kids who are working to help support their families, babysitting siblings, or can't use the spotty internet connection until Mom/Dad/College sibling are done for the day. So, do I have free time? Yes! Am I enjoying freedom to use the restroom when I need to and take longer to eat lunch? Yes! But, I'm also recording videos (and having to do that multiple times). I'm trying to make worksheets interesting. I'm scouring the internet for resources. But, in my "free time" I'm working jigsaw puzzles with my 16-year old. I'm helping my 12-year old with math. I'm making sure my 14-year old doesn't spend the ENTIRE day designing something new on his 3D printer. I'm proofreading my college age daughter's papers. I'm learning how to make sourdough bread. I'm making phone calls to get our siding fixed). I'm cooking meals (A LOT). I'm the designated shopper (teacher = strong immune system). Bottom line - I MISS my students.

This is great, thank you. 

I opened Wednesday's chat with the question, anything surprising you? And I wish I had thought to offer this then: I'm catching parts of my husband's almost daily Zoom meetings with his fellow teachers, and my social circle is very teacher-heavy, and I am blown away--and moved--by how much teachers miss their students right now. I don't think people really see this when they're coming at school from the students' angle, which also often the angle parents see it from. At least I usually have.

So, thanks for what you do.


Hi Carolyn, Thanks so much for the many times you’ve helped me by answering questions I didn’t have the courage to ask. Since this whole C-19 thing started to be taken seriously my spouse and I have had little support because of social distancing, and none from family, at all. Our adult child and almost adult/adult grandkids have yet to even ask if we are okay or if we need anything. I feel so hurt by their apparent lack of caring or concern. This isn’t a new issue but given the circumstances and the fact that my spouse and I are part of the high risk population, I seem to not be as able to rationalize their behaviors as I have in the past . Our family is not clueless as to our circumstances and potential practical, medical and emotional needs. The lack of support is making me reevaluate my life, my family and how I plan to go forward once this lock down is past. I seem to be in space where anticipatory loss is the dominate theme. I’m feeling sadder and more hopeless as each day passes. My spouse is very supportive and more able to keep this in perspective than I am. I need a strategy to hang on for as long as is necessary before life begins to get back to normal and I can access professional help. The usual things I use to distract myself or channel my energy into some productive undertaking aren’t working. I worry about not being there, emotionally, for my spouse.

Hi, and thanks for the kind words.

And honesty: You say you've had questions you didn't have the courage to ask.

That tells me something. This is an anonymous forum, accessible worldwide, so the chances you'd be recognized are slim--and though I can be blunt, I haven't actually bitten anyone, at least not lately.

So, I'm taking away from your opening that you are highly reticent when it comes to talking about yourself, your feelings, your needs.

*If* that's a fair conclusion to draw, then I'm going to draw another conclusion from there, that you haven't let your kid and grandkids know how much it would mean to you to hear from them.

It is absolutely okay to do that. It is, as I've said a lot here, including in the past week, often a kindness to let people know what you need from them. 

Under normal circumstances, it's reasonable--though not particularly useful--to think, okay, people know we have "potential practical, medical and emotional needs" and so I am tired of having to beg them for attention. But these aren't normal circumstances, not even close, and a lot of people are  so deep into their survival mode that they have no inkling of what someone else might need. 

We *all* need to speak up.

Ideally, too, we would all peek out from our bunkers occasionally to see if anyone else needs anything, but I don't advise, and will never advise, simply waiting around for someone to notice and come to the rescue.

I am sorry for how far out of your comfort zone you will have to step to do this. It still sounds better, though, than waiting in heartbroken silence. 

Which I have presumed, so please do correct me if I'm wrong.

I’m a single mom with 4 girls at home ages 7-12 and a new job I started 3 months ago. I’m working from home now and it is incredibly difficult because I still don’t really know what I’m doing and there’s not really anyone to ask. The only other person who did similar work to mine has retired. My kids...I can’t turn my back on them for any length of time, apparently. They’ve had food fights, rock throwing contests outside (we live in an apartment and one of the rocks hit a neighbor’s car. There wasn’t any damage and the neighbor was nice about it, but you could tell they were irritated, with good reason!) Yesterday, I took a shower for the first time in days and they went outside and started messing around with the neighbor’s hose and sprayed people with it. They know I’m worried about being able to keep my job. They know not to sneak out of the house! I would have assumed they know not to have rock throwing contests but apparently not? We have talked about how it is important that they help me do a good job at work by following the house rules, allowing me time to complete my work, and choosing activities off a list I made for them. (Fun, indoor, quiet stuff.) I take them outside to burn off energy every day. It isn’t enough. Not to mention we haven’t done any school work at all this whole time. I’m up till 2 am every night trying to catch up on the work I couldn’t do because their days keep going off the rails. They seem unmoved by my pleas for help. I’ve asked them what they think it will be like if I lose my job while we are on lockdown and they provided pretty accurate answers. I don’t think I can do this. I don’t think my kids can be without supervision for the amount of time I need to effectively do my job. (I think they should be able to be, but our results are telling me they’re not.) I can’t stop working, I have no PTO or anything because I literally just started working there. The lack of sleep is catching up to me. And there’s no room in my day for anything pleasurable or restorative to help me keep going. There is no one to help with the kids. My stepdad has had lung cancer twice and my dad has no health insurance, so my parents have been on complete lockdown since this began. I don’t know what to do anymore. I’m completely overwhelmed. Throughout the day, I’ll notice that I’m crying (tears just start pouring out of my eyes) but I’m out of ideas to make this situation tenable.

I'm going to crowdsource this, but I have a couple of ideas:

You're in an apartment and your kids are running wild, so there's little to no distancing purity going on here. Can you hire someone to supervise your kids? Someone recently out of work, or out of school, someone who can practice distancing hygiene in their home situation, as so many essential caregivers are doing.

Maybe you don't have time to look, but I'm thinking the productivity you'd regain would more than make up for the time you lose searching.

Also, I wonder if your appeal to your kids is over their heads/asking for maturity they don't have yet. They don't understand jobs or needing to have one or needing to be good at one.

They do know how households work and what parents do, though. Have you tried talking to them one-on-one and giving them parent-like jobs? "You're the oldest, I need you to be in charge of the kids." "You're second oldest, I need you to be Oldest's deputy--that means being strong for Oldest so she doesn't get tired, and focusing on Youngest." To third: "You are so  good at XX. I would like you to be XX for your sisters. Oldest is in charge, Second is deputy, you are in charge of XX. I will tell Oldest and Second so they know. You report directly to Oldest." To youngest, same thing, except "You report directly to Second." Tell them you were waiting till you were sure they were ready for this big job, and now you are sure.

Still look for the person to hire, but try getting them to want to work hard, for themselves.

I really feel for you and hope this weekend allows you some respite. 

Some who are advocating that people get out more, for the benefit of the economy, seem to think that's more important than protecting oneself from potential exposure to the Coronavirus or trying to "flatten the curve" by reducing the number of contacts (because even asymptomatic people can be carriers). When pushed back against, they accuse us of being unreasonable or unpragmatic. This feels likes gaslighting, because it ignores the science of the disease. It also increases the risk of a second wave of illness a few months later, when there's still no vaccine available against Covid-19. It's so frustrating trying to explain science to those who are resistant to it.

Ask them to find someone more pragmatic than an epidemiologist, and get back to you.

Otherwise I suggest you don't engage more than you have to. It's likely got a very low ROI.

Can you please define "emotional affair" as used in the recent column about whether to apologize for it? If nothing physical happened it just seems like they were being friends and I just don't see what there is to apologize for. Not trying to be obtuse, sorry if it seems that way. Thanks.

There are friends, and there are people you would be in bed with in .02 seconds if you didn't have the infernal nuisance of already having a spouse. 

The latter is an emotional affair.

My sister is one of those relentlessly cheerful, up-beat people and I admire her for it but it’s just not my way. She’s insisting we have to have some kind of “virtual” Easter celebration on Sunday and is going to great pains to arrange it between 5 different households. I think it’s going to be a miserable shadow of our usual Easter and would rather just skip it. I’m the only one who will be all alone and I’m planning to do a Netflix party marathon with my boyfriend on Saturday, sleep in on Sunday, walk my dog and fix myself a nice meal. There’s 10 people that will be on-line even without me and I doubt I’ll really be missed. My sister is insisting my parents will be upset and worried if I don’t join in on this virtual brunch at 11:30 AM. I think she’s overstating and needs to chill. What do you think?

Yes, she is overstating the importance of your being involved and probably needs to chill.

And you are overstating the nuisance of being involved and probably need to chill.

You're entitled to opt out, of course, but if you want to find room for alternatives, it's there.

I just had to share that I'm sitting next to a son who's doing a live video class, and his insane brother just ran through the room wearing pajamas and making insane brother sounds, and I now have a new word: Gusbombing. 


Ok here it goes: DH has long had a very....dismal view of certain workers. For years he has grumbled about teachers and the teachers unions along with the contracts they have gotten. It long struck me as a naive way of looking at what the profession demands and after I became a museum employee I saw some of what they go through, with a different point of view. Holy cow, after a day of running field trips and teaching the same lesson up to 12 times a day (4 groups split into 3 subgroups of roughly a dozen or so kids at a peak capacity. Most of the time it was 8 ) at a break neck speed because the busses were late or they need to leave early to pick up the High school or was hectic and fast and I wondered if the kids got anything out of it. I came home whipped and beat! But this was a glimpse into what our classroom teachers do. Every. Day. I began to feel that maybe with what responsibility is put on them by society , maybe that pay is worth it. He remains rather steadfast in his opinion that because they don't work summers (I call BS on that!) they are overpaid or overcompensated. Fast forward to the current situation, he's been kind of miffed about the pay hikes/comp for the grocery clerks (and in our area the baggers) saying that they are not heroes. I get the painful feeling he doesn't get it, just like he didn't get people who are say working the counters at McDonalds and being THE breadwinner. (its a job for hello? Teens have a hard time getting these jobs because of labor laws and insurance. No one wants to hire someone under 18) I wonder has our definition of heroes been somehow cheapened over the years and how can I cope with his rather hard view? I get that I can never change his mind, I just wonder how to temper the reaction (ie ask him how he would feel if I was the one at the register or if I was the one in the classroom?) And BTW thanks for being a sounding board with the loss of some of the other q&a writers at the Post you have some big shoes to fill and a lot of voices that want to be heard. Bad timing for some of those shut downs.....

Happy to be here, thanks.

What would happen if you said to your husband, "I don't know about 'heroes,' but I have come to respect people's work in general. I am grateful for teachers and I am grateful for everyone working to supply food." 

We are so interdependent that scoffing at X group for not being as worthy as Y is just angrier/judgier/more myopic than anyone really needs to be. And I can't imagine he feels better, hosting all that bile in his system.

FWIW, the "don't work summers" thing usually fails to acknowledge the reality of teaching. Teachers do classroom -and- grading -and- prep; and conferences, and emails and calls to parents; and administrative meetings, which means when they're "on" during the school year, they work way more than a regular week. Plus, to an ever growing degree (like first responders), schools are having to address a lot of modern social ills--food insecurity, child abuse, income inequality, becoming instant online educators, ahem. So the summer is compensation for that--during which a lot of teachers take second jobs to make up for thin salaries.

So, yeah, no. Not having that.

Anyway, I digress. 

A platform of dignity in work is your friend. Though I don't know if that's enough to make resentment of $2/hour hazard pay make any kind of emotional sense.


Hi Carolyn, I have an almost 9 year old daughter with ADD and learning disabilities. She is on a low-dose anti-anxiety medicine and from time to time states matter of factly that she would like to kill herself. When I ask what she is talking about or to elaborate, she just shrugs and says she wants a gun so she can shoot herself or a knife so she can stab herself. I don't know how to handle these conversations or if saying these things now will snow ball into a teenager that hurts herself or worse. Not sure what to do here.

Yikes. Call your child's pediatrician immediately. If a child psychiatrist isn't the prescriber, then get that second opinion. Again, stat. Read up on anti-anxiety meds to prepare yourself, starting with the package insert.

I agree with all that Carolyn has said about the difficulty that everyone is having and how little we can expect immediately. But I want to say something as a retired engineer who has been thinking about education more since my granddaughter was born What I realized when I had my first “real adult” job was that I was never taught the most important things that I needed to know and things that I needed to be able to do. This forced absence from the school room is the perfect time to work on those. I can’t speak to early elementary school where reading, writing, talking, and listening really are the most important things for them to work on. But from perhaps 9 or l0 years old I think that they could do nothing better than working on: What would be interesting to learn more about and tell other kids about? Some ideas: * Watch and learn about the changes during spring (watch one plant grow, watch all of the plants to see when and how leaves and flowers come out, etc) * Learn how to cook just enough to make a nutritious day’s food. (What things are needed? What easy to cook dishes would be good enough?) * How is my house constructed? What holds it up and why does that work? How does it stay warm (or cool)? How do the parts go together? How did they get all those many pieces from having huge cracks where they join? There is almost always some math involved in any problem. It is best to draw as many sketches as possible of what one is looking at, because unlike photography drawing forces one to *really* see what one is looking at. And since the goal is to teach others about what you find so interesting half the effort will be in writing or speaking clearly.

I understand that there is a lot of fear out there, but can we please not accost or attack our neighbors for not meeting our preferred standard of virus safety? I am still in shock that a doctor, of all people, was caught on film choking a teenage girl for not properly socially distancing. All the emotion directed outward amps people up and makes this sort of thing more likely.

Can you rearrange your work schedule so that you can spend some dedicated time with your kids, maybe an hour or two in the morning and some more time after lunch? It sounds like neither the kids or your work is getting your full attention at any point in the day, and your kids are desperately trying to get you to notice them (even if it's negative attention). Maybe you could spend some time bonding with the kids and tiring them out in the morning, to build up their goodwill for when you need to focus on work in the afternoon. You might still be up late, but at least you'll have a chance to focus on one thing at a time.

Might be impossible if there are expectations of availability to the employer, but I agree the benefits to dedicating to one and then the other, fully, are significant. If possible. Thanks.

I never realized how loud my partner is on the phone.

I know the pictures that you've posted of them are from when they were much younger, but can I ask how old they are now? Or maybe you'd prefer that I have a mental image of a 10 year old Gusbombing.

17, 17, days shy of 16. Somehow I think that makes the image better.

About a week ago, we adopted an adult pit bull from the local animal shelter to give us reason to get out of the house regularly, and she's the sweetest, funniest, cutest animal ever. So my question is, how often is too often to show off pictures of her cutie pie face on social media?

no such thing. (I am obsessed with a FB friend's puppy right now, so, just in case you're this friend, I want to keep my supply chain intact.)

Fellow single mom here (2 elementary kids). Carolyn’s advice is spot on. Find someone. - I guarantee if you look on or FB groups there is someone out of work (who is low risk health wise) that would jump at the chance to help you with childcare. I have made my kids (7 and 10) step up tremendously with housework. And I have limited homework to two questions a day. It gives me a small goal to work towards with them and still have enough time to get everything else done. Stay strong - you will get through this.

I have a suggestion - join in Easter, but figure out an excuse to duck out early if you need to. Like a first-date rescue call scenario - where you get an "emergency" phone call and can leave if you want or stay if it turns out you are having a good time.

I am an older MD with rheumatoid arthritis and associated lung disease for which I am on immunosuppression. I continue to work doing telehealth and covering my partners but feel very guilty that I am no longer working in the hospital during the current pandemic. My partners have been great and no one has said anything other than I should stay home, but it seems like no one is free of risk in this situation and I should be doing more.

No, you shouldn't, because if you get sick avoidably then you will take resources from another patient who gets sick after you unavoidably. Your designated heroism is in avoiding the avoidable. Tele-provide with pride.

...and he does THE SAME THING. Only naked.


I taught elementary school aged children for years. I found that a quest for fairness was often one where a child wasn’t getting what the wanted. If we reframed the concern with being able to ask for what they wanted the other party could usually come up with a way to meet the friend half way or express their own desires. So “No fair” became “I am not getting what I want” and that was a legitimate concern. Fairness was then talked about more seriously when we were looking out for others. We broached issues of discrimination, limited resources, gender and access in terms of fairness. These two perspectives made for a more peaceful and caring classroom.

I am certainly no expert, but the kids sound as if they’re really scared, and acting out in fear and anger. Their lives, like all of ours, have been completely upended. With at least the 12 year old, I think a reassuring conversation might help - something like, I know this is scary, I’m scared too, and it’s hard for all of us - but we will get through this, if we work together. Let them acknowledge their feelings, as much as possible - and also ask them, or at least the older ones, to suggest ways to work together.

If ever there was a time for an electronic babysitter, now is it. Your first priority is to put out the fire and worry about the rest later. If the kids don't already each have tablets and you can afford them, buy them each one (Amazon Kindles are pretty cheap and if you buy the kids ones they come with free replacement not matter what your kids do to them...I know, I know, Jeff Bezos owns the Washington Post). They only get the tablets if they are distanced as far apart as possible. Then figure out what apps/games they each want and dole them out a few at a time so they don't get bored with any one thing. Take a break yourself as often as you can and when you do, take the tablets and engage the kids. That way they don't get bored with the tablets.

I was in tears just reading about your situation. This is hard on everyone in different ways, but I think it's fair to say you have one of the hardest versions possible. Is there anyone at your new workplace that you can confide in, maybe a fellow parent who can 1) assure you that you're not the only one struggling with an impossible work/childcare balance and 2) give you a little help or perspective on your new role? Even if the person has not done similar work to yours, maybe they can spark a deeper understanding of how your work fits into the whole. Or just purely commiserate! Sometimes it's okay to show vulnerability at work, and I think this is one of those times, especially when it's filtered through your obvious desire to do well for your company. Wishing you the very best from afar. You have more strength than many of us.

Don't do it. My sister was browbeaten into naming her daughter after her MIL and it still rankles her after more than 30 years. It's a constant reminder of a hated woman.

I have two teenagers at home who need something to do. I'd be willing to let them trade off watching a single parent's kids for 6-8 hours a day so that parent can work. Obviously, I'm not near enough to you to help - but there has to be someone nearby. There are plenty of hospitality workers without jobs who may be looking for a little income.

When my kids would complain, "That's not fair," I would ask, without snark or anger, "Why? What's not fair about this?" At least 89% of the time, their answers would contain issues of equity and justice I hadn't considered. Made forgiving the 11% BS answers that much easier.

I bet 90% of that 11% = laugh out loud funny.

"before life begins to get back to normal and I can access professional help." This could be a reference to a lack of the financial ability or health coverage due to job loss but if not, I would point out that my guess is that there are therapists happy to take on a new client and to do it via phone or video chat and accept payment via credit card or a mailed check. Not ideal but available.

For those who don't fee like picking up another book or who also regret that they were never able to attend Michael Sandel's marvelous course, you can also view the lectures online:

My two kids (different races) were accosted not once, but twice, yesterday, by strangers, riding bikes together and told to socially distance (one person telling them that they are part of the problem?). UH THEY SHARE A ROOM. Why don't we all give people the benefit of the doubt a little. The person honestly worrying about opening the economy could be seriously worrying about losing a business.

When family and friends rub me the wrong way...... I breathe and remember everyone is stressed fighting to be normal in an abnormal USA. Everyone is coping the best way they know how and everyone copes differently. So I give folks a pass and realize I am running people the wrong way too. Be kinder.

My teen daughter is acting EXACTLY as is age and stage appropriate. (Which is to say she is a bit self-centered and easily cranky, when she isn't being extraordinarily sweet or considerate.) There are two younger siblings in the house, you can guess how that is going. Question: Can I say to my beloved child, "FFS, stop being a (w)itch already"? Or do I just continue to suck it up and remind myself that this is age/stage/situation appropriate and kindness etc etc blah blah blah. Sigh. Day 28.

Ha. Yes to continuing on the suck-it-up plan, and see answer above ^^  for the bigger picture.

I think it's a good perspective that this is a few months out of your kids' lives. While the overwhelming societal pressure is to teach your kid "life skills" or to cook or whatever during this time, screens will not kill your kid nor keep them out of Princeton. Do what you have to do to get through the day. Your kids will remember how you kept the family going.

This is all great. 

Except this will be the one thing that keeps them out of Princeton. Fact.

Does she qualify for paid leave under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA)? It provides some PTO when you've got kids home, at no cost to your employer. Hopefully her employer is understanding, but even 5-10 hours of that per week could be very helpful for sanity and her productivity in the remaining 30 hours per week could be better for it.

"But I don’t get how a 7-hour school day has now been reduced to 45 minutes plus a couple of really basic worksheets." My mom is an elementary school teacher and has had similar complaints from parents that she isn't providing enough for her students to do to keep them occupied with work from 8am-3pm, 5 days a week. You have to understand that your children don't spend the entire 7 hours of the school day just listening to the teacher lecture or doing worksheets. They also go to art class, PE class, music class, have recess, lunch, snack, etc. They spend time transitioning between subjects and from one activity to the next. School is not wall-to-wall intensive worksheets for 7 hours, and it shouldn't be! Elementary school kids do not have that type of attention span.

For the wife whose husband has a poor view of teachers: My daughter works behind a counter in that higher end grocery store that sells prepared foods. She depends on that job for food and rent for her family, including a 3 month old. She is currently working without a mask, waiting for the store to provide something. The extra $2/hr won't be paid until later. Not worth the extra money? Not a hero? Hit him upside the head for me and tell him to get over himself. Walks away grumbling....

You, ma'amsir, get the last word today. I picture the upsiding implement as a fine parma ham.

Thanks everybody, hope you have a weekend that feels like a weekend, and I'll type to you again next week.

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Carolyn Hax
Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997 as a weekly feature for The Washington Post, accompanied by the work of "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis. The column has since gone daily and into syndication, where it appears in over 200 newspapers. Carolyn joined The Post in 1992 as a copy editor in Style, and became a news editor before turning to writing full-time. She is the author of "Tell Me About It" (Miramax, 2001), and the host of a live online discussion on Fridays at noon on She lives in New England with her husband and their three boys.
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