A: Here's a recent article in the New York Times about a subset of successful Wall Street women who are backed up by stay-at-home husbands, some of whom have "mastered complicated cooking techniques." Now that's my idea of a nonworking father! Unless you are the lucky couple in which one person happily takes on the bulk of the chores, or the two of you just naturally divide them, this is often a constant source of friction. I think the goal should be that both parties feel the division is equitable, not that there's a mathematically perfect split of labor. In your house, meals are a trigger point. He obviously doesn't like to cook, but I agree it's simply unfair for you arrive at the door, faced with a starving family, and forced to start rattling the pots and pans especially if he's been home all day. I think you would be helped by creating a cooking schedule and putting into place some basic meals. Let's say you do the weekend cooking, and even agree to do the bulk of the grocery shopping. Sit down with your husband with some cookbooks—Mark Bittman's are a good place to start—and find some simple recipes for delicious, manageable meals. Then he knows Monday is spaghetti, Tuesday is roast chicken and potatoes, etc. Instead of this being his dreaded chore at the end of the day, he and the boys should do it together. Measuring, chopping, stirring, are not only life skills but teach math, chemistry, and hand-eye coordination. If the boys are old enough, maybe they and your husband can watch Top Chef together, to get them to see cooking as an exciting skill. Let's hope you end up with a pair of sons who fight over who gets to the stove!
Q. Re: Friends (or the One That Got Away): I was in a similar situation for years. My best advice to this woman is, stick with the guy you just married. He's really "the one." The guy who was distant to you for all those years acted that way because he secretly likes being distant; he likes being emotionally unavailable, and that's why he let you be "the one who got away" because some men are like that. Your life is NOT a romantic comedy. If you pursue letting him play mind games and wrecking your marriage, it won't end happily. I've been there, and I speak from experience. On the other side now with a faithful man who cares about me deeply, and I won't give the time of day to someone who messes with me and my relationship now.
A: This is very instructive, and an excellent warning. Let her feel great relief that she got away.
Q. Pictures of a Former Co-Worker's Deceased Son: About five years ago, before the economic crisis, I worked with a wonderful woman who had three children. She and I were very close. One of her sons had leukemia, and was battling it at the time we worked together. She often brought her son to work, since he was so sick, and because of my position in the company (secretary) I had a lot of down time to entertain him. She often brought him to my desk so I could serve as office babysitter, and we played Legos together on many occasions. I have many photos of him in the office and of him and his mother and brothers and sisters and with other co-workers. Many people in our small company got to know him very well. He and I had a special bond because I was going through chemotherapy myself at the time (but still working.) However, the company didn't make it through the financial crisis and we all had to seek other jobs. I never gave her these photos as her son got seriously ill and died the next year; but this year I was going back through old photos and saw them and wondered if it would be appropriate now that time has passed to send them to her. Do you think it would just stir up old hurt, or it would be appropriate to send them on? It was immensely painful to her when he died.
A: Excuse me if this answer contains a lot of typos because I'm crying. I think you should send your friend a card saying how often you think of her and how much you miss working with her. Say that you were going through some photos and came across many lovely ones of her boy. Tell her that after you had a good cry, you were happy to have the memories of his bright spirit and think of what a creative and fun child he was. Say you're enclosing some of the photos in a separate envelope. That way, she can look at them now or not. You are not stirring up old hurt—no one ever completely gets over losing a child. And I've heard from many people who say one of the most painful parts of going on is that people are so uncomfortable talking about this loss. You were a good friend to her then. I'm sure she'll appreciate this gesture now.
Q. Re: Chores and gender politics: Cook up a big batch of meals on the weekend that you can freeze and your husband can just pop them into the oven on weeknights. Also, the Crock-Pot is everybody's friend!
A: Good advice! And preparing those meals can be a fun family time—the boys can go through the Crock-Pot cookbook and pick their favorites.
Q. Re: Friends dilemma: I had a scenario like this. One of my husband's good friends from college got completely hammered at our reception. She made a scene on the dance floor during which I'm told (but thankfully missed seeing) there was a flash of panty-less private parts. The DJ told my mom at the end that this woman was sobbing about watching the "only man she'd ever loved" marry another that day. Confirmation that I married the right guy: He cut her off completely after that. People who do these kinds of things are selfish and controlling. Don't give your friend a pass on bad behavior.
A: Great story! And at least give her credit for sparking many uproarious conversations on the ride home for the rest of your guests.
Q. Holiday Blues, but Not the Normal Kind: I live with my mother and this holiday season, we have hit some hard times. We came close to losing our house. My mother (and the very nice mortgage company) just managed to pull it out of the fire. The issue is with Christmas—my mom just doesn't seem to be in a joyous mood. My brother and his girlfriend dropped some presents off last night when we were not home and while I opened mine, she told me to take hers and put them in my closet. She has been to the doctor and they are fixing her up with medication. But I am worried about her. Any advice on how I can help her get through Christmas without one or both of us coming to tears? Going elsewhere for me is not an option, my friends are all out of town. And I couldn't leave her at Christmas, she is my mom and I love her!
A: Joyousness does not arrive on schedule. There's nothing wrong with tears when times are tough. But there are all kinds of shades possible for this blue Christmas. Despite the hard financial news, you also all have each other, which is a comfort and joy not everyone gets to share. You can acknowledge what's rough, celebrate what's good, and make a hopeful toast to 2014.
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