Emily Yoffe, aka Dear Prudence, is on Washingtonpost.com weekly to chat with readers about their romantic, family, financial, and workplace problems. An edited transcript of this week's chat is below. (Read Prudie's Slate columns here.)
Emily Yoffe: Good afternoon, everyone. Maybe there'll be some questions about what to do when a friend is nominated to the Supreme Court.
New York, N.Y.: I'm a college student, and to make a little extra money, I've started working part time at a day-care center. Since starting to work there two weeks ago, I've noticed a lot of things wrong with this place. First of all, I know how difficult and stressful 2-to-4-year-old kids can be—I'm the oldest child in my family, and I have a lot of younger cousins. I know that the "terrible twos" can actually last a year or two longer than the name implies. The thing is, the other staff members go way too far in my opinion when they "discipline" the kids. They curse at them, they slap them, and they spray water at them from a water bottle. Even my boss, the owner of the day care, does these things. I feel that because of the way the staff treats these children, the children act out even more, such as biting, kicking, and hitting each other. I think that these kids believe that it's OK to do these things because they're done to them by the so-called caregivers. Also, when prospective parents visit the day care, the staff puts on a little "show"—they put on songs, tell stories, and show off art projects that the kids have done. But once the parents are gone, all these things go away. I was hired to help out in the afternoon during snack time, story time, and play/activity time. Snack time consists of sugary drinks and things like Twinkies, cookies, and other foods that are all-sugar and no-nutrients. I don't think I've ever seen any fruit in the day care's kitchen. Story time consists of the same two or three books being read for an hour and a half every day, and I haven't seen any other books. And those art projects that the children do? It's actually the staff who do them. I was even told to strategically place things like stickers and scribble on the projects the way a small child might. The children hardly ever have a crayon in their hands. I wanted to quit by the second day, but I made a commitment to work there until mid-June. I really want to do something to help these kids, but I don't know what.
Emily Yoffe: From what you describe, severe discipline is in order: The abusive director of the day-care center and her minions should be reported to the authorities and have the book thrown at them. Keep a detailed log of what you see for another week or so with names, dates, instances of violence against the kids, verbal abuse, staff-created "art" projects, etc. Then take this to the government agency that licenses day care centers. You could also take your information to the local newspaper, which in this case may be the New York Times. This place is an outrage and needs to be exposed and shut down.
Washington, D.C.: I have recently tried dating through a popular online dating service. I've been on dates with a few women and realize that no matter how I'm meeting potential mates, finding "the one" may take time, patience, and some trial and error. My problem is that I have been turned off by my last few dates because they have all lied about themselves in some way (online) that was not revealed until we met on our date(s). For example, I've had first-date confessions about being several years older than what they had posted and others whose photos, weight, etc., were completely unlike their actual appearance. I don't consider myself to be shallow and realize that everyone ages, that looks fade, and weight can fluctuate. After all, I have flaws, too. I feel that it would be very superficial (as well as a potential missed opportunity) to reject someone because of age or weight, but I also can't seem to get past being lied to from the onset. Is this wrong?
Emily Yoffe: What goes through the mind of a 40-year-old when she posts a picture of herself 10 years younger and 20 pounds lighter? Maybe she plans to carry around one of those cardboard cutouts of her more alluring self on the date. If someone seriously misrepresents who she is in order to get a date, then that is something to factor in at the end of the date. It's a seriously self-defeating strategy, and I don't blame you for making a negative judgment about someone who lies about the basics.
Everywhere, USA: My older siblings financially support and care for my sick elderly parent. My parent is admittedly happy as they do not want to live out their days in a nursing home. I live five hours away and get home only two or three times a year and do not earn enough of an income to help. While I appreciate my siblings' efforts, I disagree with the diet my parent is fed, which is not healthy and caters to my parent's every wish and whim. I also think that a nursing home is better equipped to care for my parent. This has created a divide in our once-close family. What can I do to narrow this divide?
Emily Yoffe: You can pitch in or shut up. If you're a five-hour car ride away, you can come on long weekends and prepare the kind of healthy food you think your parent should be eating. Since you contribute nothing financially and rarely visit, and the other siblings have taken on the burden of caring for your ailing parent, and making him or her happy—as you acknowledge—be grateful they have relieved you of this burden. Stop complaining, start acknowledging the sacrifices your siblings are making, and do more so that when it's all over, your siblings don't forever resent you.
Ugh: I had just psyched myself up to begin a job search that would end my time as a SAHM. After reading New York, N.Y.'s post, I'm not so sure I need a job anymore.
Emily Yoffe: I did a "Human Guinea Pig" column at a lovely, caring day-care center, and my teenage daughter volunteers at one that's also wonderful. They're out there, Mom—don't be afraid to do an unannounced drop-by to get a sense of the place.
St. Petersburg, Fla.: After moving across state suddenly in my junior year of high school, I dropped out and got my GED. Now, four years later, I am attending community college and plan to go on to get my doctorate. I have just been accepted to a nonprofit internship across the country with another student, and I am worried. She is from the Ivy League, three years younger than me, and went to a private prep school. I may have to share a room with this girl for over three months. I feel intimidated by her education and worry she may look down on my scholarly past and nontraditional age for a freshmen student. However, I have over two years of practical experience in the field and specific job of our internship, am well read, and have always worked to improve my mind. I don't want to come off as undereducated or overqualified. How can I start off on the right foot with her this summer?
Emily Yoffe: It sounds as if this internship was very competitive and you two were chosen because you bring the drive, intelligence, and dedication the directors were looking for. So agree with their assessment that you are highly qualified! Your Ivy League roommate may not be the snob you are expecting. She could be intimidated by your superior life experience and your ability to make your own way in the world. If you are confident and open-minded, instead of defensive and insecure, she'll surely be grateful she has gotten such an interesting, experienced roommate. You also don't know what struggles she's had to deal with in her life. Maybe her parents are divorced. Maybe she has a disabled sibling. Don't let a résumé dictate your assumptions about the entirety of who someone else really is, or even who you are.
Friend Nominated to SCOTUS: Not a question, but in response to your query on what to do when a friend is nominated to SCOTUS, Kagan was one of my professors in law school, and I (the entire class, really) loved her. I wish her the best!
Emily Yoffe: She's probably a little busy right now. But given the buzz saw she's about to encounter in the Senate, I bet she would appreciate a note of congratulations telling her what she meant to you.
Baltimore: I'm a 22-year-old guy, and I recently joined a dating site. I haven't sent any messages to any girls yet, but I'm preparing to. One of the things that bothers me is this: In the off chance that things do go well with someone and maybe even a real world meeting takes place, at what point should I mention that I've never had a girlfriend or relationship before? In some ways, I see this as something that needs to be disclosed early because some girls could see it as a huge issue, and I don't want to be seen as a liar later on. In another way, it's embarrassing for me, and I'd prefer to not mention it at all. I'm also concerned that bringing it up might look like playing a sympathy card, begging for attention, which I wouldn't be doing.
Emily Yoffe: As you can tell from the letter above on online dating etiquette, what you don't do is post a picture of Zac Efron and say that's you. In your letter is a possible key to why you haven't had any relationships. You say, "In the off chance that things do go well with someone and maybe even a real world meeting takes place ..." The whole point of dating sites is that you exchange a few promising e-mails then go ahead and meet someone in the real world. Maybe before you embark on this process, you should get some help figuring out why you are so down on yourself and feel normal relationships are out of your league. As for revealing that there's nothing to reveal about your romantic past—well, you're only 22, and there are many, many people out there who are also getting a later start on romance. So don't feel so awkward about this. Nor should you feel you have to reveal this in your e-mail exchanges, or even on your first date.
Not old yet: If I end up sick and elderly and want to live out my days eating bacon double cheeseburgers, I hope no one denies me because my cholesterol might go up.
Emily Yoffe: Exactly. The irony here is that the letter writer wants to improve the health of the elderly, ailing parent while contributing nothing to the parent's care!
For the interning student: The late Tim Russert used to tell this story: While working for the late Sen. Moynihan, Tim expressed his concern that his working-class upbringing and local college experience did not rate with his Ivy League colleagues. Moynihan told him that he could always learn what they knew but they could never learn what he knew.
And Tim Russert did pretty well for himself.
Emily Yoffe: Nice example! The majority of accomplished, successful people managed to get there without an Ivy degree. And while the current Supreme Court may make it look as if going to Harvard or Yale is a requirement for admission, historically it hasn't been.
New York, N.Y.: Thanks for the advice. I think the parents must suspect something, but the day-care owner installed hidden cameras outside the doors, so she always sees who's coming to the door, even when they're half a block away. That way, the parents' unannounced visits aren't so "unannounced."
Emily Yoffe: Reverse nanny cam! You've GOT to blow the lid on this snake pit!
For NYC, with the day-care-center problem: The original poster should find out which agency licensed the facility she works at (there's probably something posted somewhere) and complain to that agency. Also copy down the license number, name of individual/company it was issued to, and issue date. I did a quick Web search and the NYC agency that appears responsible is a bureau within the Department of Health. The standard NYC advice is to call 311, and they will connect you to the appropriate entity, but getting the day care's license info should jumpstart the investigation process. As for talking to the media, I would only go that route if official channels seem slow to act. But if I decided to go there, I'd call the Daily News or the New York Post, which do more local news than the Times. If the O.P. at any time feels a child is in serious, imminent danger, a call to 911 is in order.
Emily Yoffe: Thanks. NYC, this should help get you started. If the authorities aren't there within 48 hours, keep calling. And I like the idea of notifying the press regardless of what the authorities do.
Chicago: Especially in light of the NYC day care, I think your reply to Everywhere, USA, should include the qualifier—if you legitimately suspect elder abuse, then you have reason to speak up. If "eating what they want" means a diet exclusively of Ho-Hos and red wine; if they're getting more bedsores than exercise; if they are being abused, then whether you're contributing time or money is irrelevant; speak up. But if they're just fine and you're simply not happy with what you're hearing, then keep it to yourself or make yourself more useful.
Emily Yoffe: OK, good distinction. But the letter writer says the parent is happy and the parent wants more than anything not to go to a nursing home. There are some people who would rather eat "bad" food and watch a lot of TV in their own home than be in a nursing home with good food and an endless variety of interesting activities.
Feeling guilty: You know how it goes. ... College friend posts a bunch of old photos on Facebook, tags me and my old girlfriend in a few, and old girlfriend and I (both of us now married) get in touch after years (since the Clinton administration?) of no contact at all. Innocent enough, but we do a lot of reminiscing, via Facebook messages, about old times, old friends, and about how good we were together and why. I admit to her that I'm feeling a void in my marriage, a lack of affection (not just sex; affection generally) from my wife. She's happily married, but it sure feels like she's flirting, which she denies.
A couple months, and maybe a couple dozen mostly short messages ("Where you been hiding?") go by, and we plan to try to get together during one of my work trips to a city near her, and we do finally get together for a bite to eat and stroll around town. A lot of catching up about our families, friends from school, and "Do you remember?" It was all good, and innocent, though I think pretty heavy, for both of us. She described it as having a good friend back, and I agree. No hanky panky here.
The problem is I never said anything to my wife about anything beyond the initial friending online, and now I feel I need to say something. I don't like the feeling of keeping this hidden from my wife, and I don't want to worry about a stray message in my e-mail being misinterpreted. How do I tell my wife at his late date?
Emily Yoffe: I just read an article saying that Facebook is now mentioned in the legal pleadings in a substantial number of divorces. You need to tell your wife that when you were in Chicago on business, you had a hamburger with the old college girlfriend you mentioned you had been in touch with through Facebook. Tell your wife you feel stupid not telling her before and that nothing went on beyond catching up.
It may be lovely to have this "old friend" back in your life, but I assume you have plenty of friends in your current life you could concentrate on. This old girlfriend has made you face some of the problems in your marriage. So face them directly, instead of dancing around the possibility of picking up where you left off.
For 22-year-old relationship newbie: Don't worry too much about it. I was my husband's first girlfriend when we started dating at 30, and needless to say, he's been a keeper!
Emily Yoffe: There are so many people who feel they missed the message in high school or college on how to figure out relationships and are now forever doomed to be alone. Your letter should be an inspiration to late bloomers!
Philadelphia: My mother-in-law is a good person at heart but has now twice done something I am having trouble digesting. On visits to our home (she lives a few hours away and visits about three times a year), she will see one of my possessions that she admires and will ask to have it! The first time, I was startled and relatively newly wed, and agreed in order to keep the peace. The item was part of a collection I had built and was to be added to a collection of her own. I was very irritated at the time but chalked it up to one of those marital sacrifices one must make. Fast forward about three years—it has happened again! This time the item was of no real importance, but I agreed to part with it for no money. (She did half-heartedly offer to buy it this time.) I really believe that relationships are more important than stuff, but I object that a family member would view my house not much differently than the mall—and I feel certain she doesn't do the same thing in her friends' homes! Prudie, is it an in-law power struggle? Do I say no, and if so, HOW?
Emily Yoffe: I agree your mother-in-law is way out of bounds, and fortunately she's only done this twice. The next time just say, "Oh, Shirley, this has sentimental value to me, so I don't want to part with it. But if I see something like it when I'm out shopping, I'll be sure to pick up one for you."
Atlanta: I am getting married soon. It is the first marriage for my fiance and me. My problem is deciding about having a gift registry. We are both very successful (I'm an attorney, and he is a professional athlete), and we have a lot of money. I have tons of friends who are not rich, and I am having a hard time doing a gift registry knowing that we already have so much. At the same time, I want the experience of opening our gifts and sending out our thank-you notes. He says we should do several registries for all price ranges. But is it selfish to ask someone who has considerably less income to buy us a gift when we already have so much? Any insight you can give would be greatly appreciated.
Emily Yoffe: Let's see, you could register at Yachts 'R' Us for your wealthy friends, and Target for your nonlawyer nonathlete friends. Miss Manners dislike registries, and I understand her sense that it seems like a gift grab, but most people appreciate the convenience they offer and knowing they're getting something the couple wants. And people still want to get gifts to acknowledge the wedding of their successful friends. (Although what's with wanting the "experience" of opening gifts? Well, at least you know you have to follow with a thank-you note.) What you can do is when people ask what you want, tell them you appreciate their thoughts, and would be grateful for anything they choose. And you could also register at two stores—and pick a range of affordable items.
Nashville, Tenn., for St. Petersburg, Fla.: I am a nontraditionally educated woman. My company is dominated by people with MBAs, Ph.D.s, and J.D.s. It is easy to feel intimidated. And I often have been embarrassed by my lack advanced degree, minimal network, and nonexistent alumni group(s). But it's the work and the drive and the smarts that move you up. I'm a senior officer in a publicly traded company, and at this point everyone wants to hear about my nontraditional path. Be proud, be strong, be yourself. You don't need to be like anyone else.
Emily Yoffe: Yes to the work and drive and smarts! And you may be overestimating how involved your colleagues with many degrees are in their alumni groups.
Los Angeles: Is hand sanitizer a substitute for washing your hands? I was at the gym the other day, and in the women's locker room, there was hand sanitizer next to the sink. I noticed a few women putting hand sanitizer on in lieu of washing their hands after using the restroom. Is my disgust warranted? If this were acceptable, why have faucets at all when you could just stick a bottle of hand sanitizer in the locker room instead?
Emily Yoffe: Yes, it's a substitute. In many hospitals, medical personnel use sanitizer instead of sinks. Your disgust is unwarranted.
Washington, D.C.: I recently attended a wedding of a mid-30s well-off couple. Their registry included the names of a number of charities.
Emily Yoffe: I like that as an alternative. But people shouldn't feel forced to give.
Emily Yoffe: Thanks, everyone. And I hope all the kids get sprung from that nightmare day-care center!