Christmas Jeers

Advice on manners and morals.
Dec. 17 1999 3:30 AM

Christmas Jeers

Please send your questions for publication to prudence@slate.com.

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Dear Prudie,

I received the worst version of the dreaded Christmas letter--addressed to no one in particular--with an early Christmas card. The computerized letter began with the rundown of every family member's "accomplishments" for the last year. Included in the "accomplishments" were being fired from a job, suing someone for discrimination, three near-death experiences, and an extended hospital stay. Having spilled their collective guts all over the page, the writing family then began a paragraph that ominously began, "We don't know how to begin this next paragraph ..." What followed was breathtaking in its bad manners. They went from third-party narrative to first-person accusatory stating that their youngest son (insert name here) had been married in May, and they spent A LOT OF TIME making sure YOU were invited to the wedding, and that YOU had not cared enough to attend, send a present, OR EVEN SEND A $1 CARD. Finally, they say they want to know WHY.

Yes, I was one of the boorish many who didn't attend their son's wedding, or send a gift, or even a $1 card since I had met the son only once when he was 8. Do I owe my friend an apology and her son a card?

--To Ignore or Not To Ignore

Dear To,

How about ignore till the end of time? Of all the tacky, cloddish, judgmental communications Prudie could imagine, this one is right up there. (Prudie doesn't care for these "Christmas letters" to begin with, finding them most often little packages of braggadocio and bathos. They are extremely difficult to do well, and the bottom line is that nobody really gives a rat's patooty whether the writer has had a near-death experience or a promotion.) In this particular case, Prudie hopes your friend does not get Dutch elm disease.

--Prudie, immovably

Prudence,

I'm married to Mr. Angry at the World. He isn't always this way. When we're with friends he generally covers it well, but with family his anger is obvious. So obvious that our children refuse to go places with him because his temper is always flaring. Holidays with him are a nightmare. He makes everyone nervous, and no one has a good time. He whines and yells at the kids for laughing or playing too loud. My 4-year-old-son suggested that we just get Dad a motel room for the holidays and let him deal with room service. I'm considering it--being so tired of dealing with his tantrums and childish attitudes. His family doesn't celebrate holidays, and he feels that my family traditions are impossibly overdone. I feel, however, that children need holiday celebrations, and I like the traditions, feeling they give meaning to life. My question: Since he seems to hate holidays so much, would it be appropriate to just let him spend holidays at a motel? I keep thinking that maybe if he saw what holidays would be like without us, he would realize what he's missing. Please help me.

--What To Do?

Dear What,

Your grinch sounds like Scrooge with a mood disorder. If he goes bananas because the kids are laughing too loud, and your 4-year-old is suggesting shipping him off, you have a real problem, one for which Prudie doubts that parking Dad at a Holiday Inn is the answer. The fact that his family didn't celebrate, and yours did, may have something to do with it. Your whining, yelling spouse may be whining and yelling for help. Try to get him to see a mental health professional, using the argument that his behavior goes way beyond not being in a celebratory mood. Christmas with a room-service waiter is not a solution.

--Prudie, encouragingly

Prudie,

As a former store manager and a shopper, may I add a small P.S. to the store manager who wrote last week about "grazing" in the supermarket? I had a lady who would feed her child all the way through the store. When it was brought to my attention, on her next visit I met her at the door and told her we wanted to weigh her son ... and then we would weigh him again on checkout. That was the last time she ever fed him while shopping, though she continued to shop at our store for many years. Sometimes all it takes to put a stop to it is to let the grazer know that you know.

--b.f.

Dear b.,

You must have worked at some wonderful store to have embarrassed the lady like that and still kept her as a customer. That was a very creative solution, but risky; she might as easily have asked if you were a pediatrician and then stomped out. A few things we do know from the original letter, however: Eating from supermarket shelves is stealing--an act all consumers pay for--and open-access bins may not be pristine.

--Prudie, informationally

Dear Prudence,

All I ever think about is sex. All I ever look at on the Internet is sexual stuff.

--In Trouble or Not

Dear In,

If you're a teen-age boy, your preoccupation would be pretty normal. Actually, a lot of people think about sex a lot of the time. Now that they've lifted censorship in the Soviet Union, for example, it's a good guess they're not reading Solzhenitsyn online. This is not a moral issue, per se. It's OK to feel sexy--or to be interested in erotica, though much of what's on the Net hardly qualifies as "erotic."

If what you are really concerned about is that your sex drive and interest are unmanageable--that is, dominating your mental life, your compulsive interest may in fact be about something else ... anger perhaps, or feelings of inadequacy. It may be an avoidance mechanism. Because you are concerned (and Prudie is not a psychiatrist), why not see a professional to find out what's what? Insurance often pays cognitive/behaviorist therapists. You might, perhaps, wind up with Prozac, considered a notorious "cold shower." Moderation is what you're aiming for, and consider it a plus that you know your interest may be excessive.

--Prudie, pharmaceutically

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