Advice on manners and morals.
Oct. 31 1998 3:30 AM

Drawing upon her rich experience of life, Prudence (Prudie to her friends) responds to questions about manners, personal relations, politics, and other subjects. Please send your questions for publication to prudence@slate.com. Queries should not exceed 200 words in length. Please indicate how you wish your letter to be signed, preferably including your location.

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Dear Prudence,

The Harris book (The Nurture Assumption: Why Children Turn Out the Way They Do, by Judith Rich Harris) suggests that parents contribute nothing to the development of their children. What do you think?

--Minnesota Contingent

Dear Minn,

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Prudie has only dragonfly knowledge of this book. That is, she has skimmed the surface by reading a few reviews. The title suggests the author is a childless geneticist. The research, however, is data-driven and well-supported. Though controversial, the theory that genes and peers play pivotal roles in development cannot be dismissed.

While genetic makeup and peer influence can override some elements of the home environment, parental attention, input, and example cannot be written off. Prudie hopes the Harris book will not encourage parents everywhere to leave their child-rearing duties to the neighbor kids and DNA.

--Prudie, developmentally

Dear Prudie,

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My wife and I recently had our second child, a boy. We have a problem concerning gift etiquette. We received a beautiful blanket from some out-of-town friends whom we see about once a year. The blanket has inscribed on it--in large letters--the baby's name and date of birth. The problem is that he was born one week earlier than the blanket says.

We can't decide whether to tell our friends about the error. If it was the store's mistake, I'm sure they would want to correct the error. However, if it was the friends' mistake, we have no desire to embarrass them with their error. (Actually, being exactly one week later, the blanket does commemorate his bris.)

What to do?

--Sincerely,Gifted and Grateful

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Dear Gift,

Mazel tov! Prudie suggests you be the first on your block to start the craze of bris blankets. You are correct not to want to embarrass the gift givers, and it's a major pain to deal with stores about replacing customized merchandise. (And luckily, the kid can't read yet.)

Like misprinted stamps that become valuable because they are mistakes, the beautiful blanket will have a little extra meaning--plus nice memories--because of the erroneous date.

--Prudie, snugly

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Dear Prudence,

My hubby just went to have his head stuffed. The nine point buck he got with a bow, that is. We live in a tiny cabin, and friends are asking where he is going to hang it. "Above the bed" seems to be their general consensus. To this, proud Hubby replies, "IN the bed."

1) What would Freud reply?

2) What do you think?

Personally, while I'm glad Hubby is happy, I don't want this dead thing coming between us.

--JEB in Pa.

Dear JEB,

How exciting that Hubby shot a hatrack, I mean, buck, with a bow. I think he is funning with you, as the Southerners say, when he tells friends the trophy will reside in the bed with the two of you. That, or he has mafia fantasies and is trying to tell you something.

As for Freud's reply, he is not taking any calls. My own thoughts you already know: Hubby is kidding, and the joke shows pride in his accomplishment. And Prudie thinks, especially in a tiny cabin, that the antlers would provide a wonderful place on which to hang hats and coats.

--Prudie, practically

Dear Prudie,

I am so disappointed you felt it necessary to opine on this matter. (The matter being the letter from Truthful in Torrance re the president's behavior.) Not only did I think your answer glib, but given the attention this matter has received vs. that which is warranted, it was also unnecessary.

Warmest regards,--Richard

Dear Rich,

Do you know what Prudie finds wonderful? That you disagree with her yet sign your note "Warmest regards." Civility reigns.

--Prudie, warmly