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My sister and I are both married with young children. Our mother, who lives near us, is almost 60 and has physical disabilities due to chronic pain. She is also flighty, stubborn, and tends not to make rational decisions. In recent years, she has started supplementing her income by being a foster parent and has become very dedicated, sometimes having four high-needs children at a time. Last year she adopted one of them, "Cindy." My sister and I were skeptical about this. Also, my mother's sister has an affluent lifestyle, which my mother would like to emulate. So, soon Mom will leave on a three-week European vacation with her sister. The state will provide temporary housing for the foster kids and a week or so of respite care for Cindy. For the rest of the time, my mom wants me to take Cindy. Cindy has been hospitalized for acute psychiatric care recently, and my mother has had to call the police because of Cindy's destructive behavior and threats to herself and others. My sister refuses to help my mother, saying that she won't enable her bad decisions. My husband has also said that he will not agree to allow Cindy to stay with us, although I think I could insist. My mother is getting resentful of my sister and me and says she will try to line up a string of people to keep Cindy for a day or two. My heart breaks for this child who is bearing the brunt of an adult's bad decision-making, and I am feeling guilty. How I can reconcile my own family's needs, the needs of my adopted sister, and my relationship with my mother?
—The Good Daughter/Sister/Mother/Wife
I know there aren't enough people in the world who want to adopt older, severely needy children. But how did an older, severely needy adult get approved to be the adoptive parent of one? Poor Cindy! You're right, she is the victim—a lifetime victim—in all this, but I understand why your husband does not want this potentially dangerous girl in your home with your own children. Tragically, your mother sounds like exactly what Cindy, and the foster children, don't need: a do-gooder who ends up doing bad because she's erratic and incapable. If your mother wants to be paid for her altruistic impulses, it would be better if she worked at some kind of institution for troubled children, where her responsibilities would be limited. You need to have a blunt discussion with your mother, telling her that as much as she needs and deserves a break, she can't do it at the expense of the children. She needs to arrange a stable situation for Cindy while she's away, and if she can't, then she needs to cut her trip short. I also think you should give your mother warning that you want to talk to the social service agency about how overwhelmed she is. Then you and your sister should contact this agency and tell them you are deeply concerned that your mother doesn't have the physical or mental capacity to cope with high-needs children, and that you are also worried about Cindy's future. Explain that as your mother ages, and her condition worsens, neither of you is able to take in your adopted sister, and that both of you fear that even now Cindy's behavior is becoming more than your mother can handle.
I am a female graduate student who teaches undergraduate English. I have feelings for a student—actually he is a former student of mine, and there is zero chance that I will be his teacher again. Even though there are no hard rules preventing us from being together, there are definitely cultural taboos keeping us apart. If we had met in any other context, I would have no question about pursuing him, despite our age difference. (He is 19, and I am a 25.) I love teaching, and I worry that if word gets out that I am dating a former student, my reputation as a teacher will be undermined. But I also do not want to let go of a chance to be with someone I really think I could care for deeply. Nothing has happened yet, and he and I have not talked about our feelings. I just need some guidance as to what to do when that inevitable conversation comes up, because at this point, it does seem inevitable.
—Stuck in the Middle
I wish you'd explained a little more why you think it's inevitable. You say that nothing has happened and you two have not talked about your feelings. It sounds possible he doesn't have any for you. If you'd told me that when he wrote his paper on Pride and Prejudice, he put the following quotation by Mr. Darcy in bold letters and covered it with heart stickers—"In vain have I struggled. … My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you"—then I'd say you've made a better case. But right now you just sound like a slightly older woman infatuated with a teenage boy. As you acknowledge, your dating a former student will not enhance your reputation or your career prospects. Since you're an English scholar, you know that the great novels teach that sometimes the people we long for may be all wrong for us, so forget this young man and look for someone more suitable.
I am a 42-year-old woman who was diagnosed with lung cancer late last year. I had surgery followed by chemo and radiation, and I will take a chemotherapy pill for maybe two years. I read that the life expectancy of someone with my diagnosis is no more than five years, and I am scared out of my mind. All I can think about is dying. I have two young kids, a husband, and my parents, and I can't imagine not being part of their lives. I don't know how to get past this and just live my life now. I often have a feeling of impending doom in my stomach, and I feel like crying all the time. I plan to fight and beat this, but I need my emotional state of mind to be such that I can give this everything I have. But how do I do that?
—Needing to Get On
I am so sorry about this, and I hope you recover fully. Of course a grave illness results in roiling emotions and thoughts of death. But that doesn't mean you'll be stuck in this state. Don't beat yourself up for feeling scared, even desperate. Too many cancer patients get told their emotional condition is what determines their outcome, or even caused their disease, and that's both false and destructive. There are many steps you can take to ease your burden. Please contact Imerman Angels. This is an organization that pairs people diagnosed with cancer with others who have survived the same diagnosis. You will be able to talk to someone who really understands your treatment and your fears. The organization can also match your husband with another young husband who has supported his wife through lung cancer treatment. Your hospital should also have a social services office. Check and see if it organizes support groups and also provides individual counseling. Talk to your physician about how you feel and ask about medication to help relieve your anxiety. It is not a sign of weakness for you to take advantage of good psychopharmacological treatments to help you get through this. If any of the people you turn to make you feel worse, then end the session and seek other help. Don't be afraid to lean on your friends, who I'm sure would love to do something useful. You could ask for dinner deliveries a few times a week, or assistance with the kids' car pools. Taking these actions will relieve some of the darkness that now engulfs you, make you feel more in control of your life again, and help you enjoy each day.
I work in a department of eight people, and I am one of three men. One is infirm, and the other is near retirement age. I am in my mid-30s and healthy. Our office has two water coolers. My dilemma is that one woman is constantly e-mailing me requests to change the water bottles when they're empty. I mostly bring water from home and rarely use either cooler. I am pretty sick and tired of being the office water boy every week. Am I stuck having this a part of my job description because I am deemed fit enough to carry a five-gallon jug 10 feet? What happened to women's lib, anyway?
—Water, Water Everywhere
If you belong to a gym, on the days you change the water bottles you can do one less rep on the biceps machine. Look at your fellow male workers, and instead of feeling resentment at having to do a task that must suck dry an entire minute or two of your week, rejoice in your good health and upper body strength. (Although I agree that a fit female should also be able to wrestle with a water bottle.) Instead of creating waste with your own bottles, take advantage of the free drinks at work. That way, you'll notice when the coolers are running low, and you can avoid the e-mail reminders you find so intolerable. And while you're quaffing your beverage, maybe you'll want to drop a chill pill in it, because you sound like a healthy, young crab.