We visit my family in California every year. I have a difficult relationship with them, but I want them to be part of my child’s life. My mother has ample room for us, but her house is cluttered and not very clean. My husband has severe allergies, but we all end up sneezing. Last year, we rented a house; my mother was insulted. This year, my daughter wants to spend more time with her, and I would like to avoid the expense of renting. My husband thinks I should offer to pay for a cleaning service before our visit. But there would need to be decluttering, too. Thoughts?
ANONYMOUS, NEW YORK
Honestly? I think you and your husband may be suffering from an empathy deficiency. You are only thinking of your side of the equation, which often leads to nightmares on Elm Street. How would you feel if someone, with whom you had a strained relationship, said, “Your house is too filthy for us to visit unless we engage professionals to give it a ‘Silkwood’ shower and prune back your ugly tchotchkes”?
Depending on how difficult your relationship is, you could make hay of your husband’s allergies: “We’d love to stay with you, Mom, but Jimmy’s allergies are out of control this year. Would you mind if I did some extra cleaning after we arrived? Dust is his mortal enemy.” Nix the professionals; it’s gentler to offer your own services. And note that clutter is an aesthetic hazard, not a health risk.
If this approach sounds insufficient, rent again. Tell Mom: “Please don’t take it personally. It’s good for Jimmy and me to have some time on our own at the end of the day.” No need to besmirch her housekeeping. It’s so easy for parents and (adult) children to press one another’s buttons. But if we try to be extra-conscious of the others’ feelings and slower to voice complaints, we can prevent many downward spirals. (Taking a walk works wonders, too.)
To Remain Nameless?
I feel like a jerk. For months, we have been working with a nice woman, who does odd jobs for us. We communicate by text. The problem: I have forgotten her name. But I couldn’t stand the embarrassment of asking her name again at this point. Help!
Just call her “Angel of the Morning.” (Oops! Juice Newton beat us to that.) Next up: Ask her to call you in your next text message and let the conversation go something like this: You: “Hello?” Her: “Hi, it’s Delta Dawn.” You: “Oh, hi, Dawn. I wanted to ask if you could [manufacture chore] this week.” Problem solved, no?
My family lives on a cul-de-sac in the suburbs. We chose it for the luxury of being able to let our children play freely outdoors. It was great until a new family moved into the neighborhood. One of the children of a long-term residenthas been really mean to the kids of our new neighbors. My children,11 and 16,are innocent bystanders, but haven’t done anything. And the new parents don’t want anyone to report the bullying of the misbehaving boy (also 11) to his parents for fear of hindering new relationships. What should I do?
BECKY, NEW JERSEY
The fact that “It Gets Better,” as that moving video project about bullying attests, is no argument for twiddling our thumbs until it does. Who lets their child be bullied for the sake of a few summer barbecues? Teach your children to intercede. Very few 11-year-olds will still be nasty after a 16-year-old says: “Knock it off. Being mean is uncool.”
If the teasing persists, report it to the parents of the bully (regardless of what the new parents want). The longer this behavior continues with your knowledge, the more you are signaling to your children that it’s O.K.
On a recent trip, I stopped by the airline lounge before my flight. After settling in, I couldn’t help hearing a businessman conduct a very loud conversation on his Bluetooth device. Everyone heard him. What to do about such rude behavior? Sit in front of him and glare? Ask the lounge staffers to intercede? Start my own loud phone conversation?
I just had the same experience — as did four million of our fellow travelers. When I complained politely to the woman working at the American Airlines lounge, she told me she wasn’t allowed to stop this man from torturing us. (Really?) And I’ve never understood the efficacy of glaring. If people knew they were shouting, or cared, they wouldn’t. So, why glare? Let’s not start competing screech-fests, either. Fighting fire with fire gets awfully toasty.
Which leaves a tried-but-true chestnut: Walking up to the businessman, interrupting him with a smile and saying: “We can all hear your conversation. Can you be quieter, please?” Most of the time he will. When he won’t, just move. The resulting spike in your blood pressure is not worth it.