Emily Yoffe, aka Dear Prudence, is on Washingtonpost.com weekly to chat live with readers. An edited transcript of this week’s chat is below. (Sign up here to get Dear Prudence delivered to your inbox each week. Read Prudie’s Slate columns here. Send questions to Prudence at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Emily Yoffe: Good afternoon. Let's get to it.
Q. Vegan Baby: My ex-daughter-in-law has full custody of my 18-month-old granddaughter "Kimmy." We always had a strained relationship, even more so after the bitter divorce she and my son went through, but I was able to get her to agree to let me visit my grandchild once a month. Last month I took her out to a park and fed her a nutritious lunch and snacks. When "Irene" found out I had fed Kimmy meat and cheese, she chided me for not respecting her decision to not feed Kimmy animal products. I am convinced that depriving my grandbaby of nutritious meat and dairy (except for her mother's milk) is abusive, and I called the authorites. Now Irene won't let me see Kimmy anymore, but the authorities haven't done anything either, as far as I know. I'm so sad and angry. And worried for my sweet little Kimmy! What can I do to make sure she gets well fed and taken care of?
A: That was quite a lunch, Grandma. It has ensured that instead of being a loving presence in your granddaughter's life, and a bridge to her father's family, you are probably forever persona non grata. All because of a Happy Meal. You have turned a single visit into a reason Irene will probably one day tell Kimmy that sadly her grandmother is a dangerous person who tried to have Kimmy taken away from her, so that's why she can't see Daddy's family anymore. After a bitter custody battle, your daughter-in-law graciously allowed you visitation—something she was not obligated to do. You needed to be extra careful not to say or do anything that would sever this delicate connection. Instead, in response to a "chiding" by Irene for deliberately flouting one of her child-rearing requests, you called the authorities to report her an an abuser. I'm not surprised that Child Protective Services hasn't acted—lack of ham and Swiss doesn't rise to the same level of concern as beating and molestation. Yes, it takes special attention to nutrition to raise a vegan baby, but probably half the children in Berkeley, Calif. would be removed from their homes if this constituted child abuse. For the sake of shoving a milkshake and cheesburger into your grandkid, you've deprived her of the sustenance of a relationship with her grandmother. But given the obliviousness of your letter, perhaps this is for the best.
Dear Prudence: Double Ds and a Jealous Friend
Q. I Don't Want To Chat: Is it rude to tell people performing a task upon you—hairdresser, dental hygienist, etc.—that you don't want to talk with them? I like to use those periods of time to relax and read a magazine—yes, even at the dentist's—but I never know how to tell chatty people I would prefer not to talk about my personal life. I appreciate what they are doing for me and don't want to seem arrogant.
A: I'm also one of those people who just wants to sit in the chair and read or day dream. (Although it's helpful to look up when one's bangs are being cut.) There must be people in these industries who would love the occasional client or patient who gives them a quiet time. At the hairdresser's I think it's fine to say, "I don't want to be rude, but I love letting you do your work and using this time to catch up on my reading." As far as being in the dentist's chair is concerned—how do they expect you to articulate when they've got a saliva-sucking wand in your mouth?
Q. Brain Tumor Adultery: Several months ago my husband turned into an unrecognizable person. He began snapping at me and our kids, then quickly became cruel toward us. He openly began sleeping with a woman half our age. He left our family to be with her and we have been going through a hellacious divorce. Not long ago he discovered that he had a sizeable brain tumor, which apparently affected his behavior. He has had the brain tumor removed and is undergoing chemotherapy. He is also racked with guilt and can see how awfully he behaved; he has shown me true remorse. My husband wants to give our marriage another go and has cited the brain tumor as the reason he behaved how he did. I cannot bring myself to forgive him, though, even if he's not entirely responsible for his recent behavior. Should I give our marriage time, or am I justified in pursuing my divorce?
A: This is the reason I so often say that when someone has a gradual, or sudden, change in character or personality, a complete physical and mental evaluation is called for. I think "The brain tumor made me do it" is a pretty compelling excuse. Of course it doesn't undo the pain that was caused, but it does explain your husband was not in his right mind. If, no matter what the cause, you are done with your marriage, then I don't see how you return to it. If you can get some distance from your pain and see that a medical crisis was causing his behavior, perhaps there's hope. In any case, your kids have been through an awful trauma. Their father turned into someone else, and now he's very ill. Please get some counseling for the whole family. You don't have to decide what you want the outcome of this to be. But having a safe place for all of you to express your pain and your fears will at least allow you to go forward with everyone's best interests in focus.
Q. Boss: My boss is well respected in our company. He offered one woman to work six months part-time on a higher, full-time salary after her husband passed away, leaving young kids. He even paid for a semester's tuition for a secretary's son, simply because she was a single mom and he knew she was struggling. There are so many examples of his generosity. But there is one issue: He is a racist. He refuses to hire African Americans because, based on his experience, he thinks they are "unreliable." We have suppliers and clients who are black, and he is genuinely friendly with them. But he will not have a black person as an employee. Our company is otherwise culturally diverse, so nobody has noticed that he is a racist. As someone with many African American in-laws and eight nieces and nephews who are half-black, I find his stance deeply offensive. We've had heated debates over this issue but he won't budge. Is this something I should resign over?
A: This situation is what the anonymous letter is for. You have heard your boss disparage black people and give his justificiation for refusing to hire them. This is outrageous and illegal and he should be reported. But outing yourself as the writer of the letter would have no benefit for you. It doesn't matter that you have African-American relatives. Your boss is a racist and his bosses need to know.
Q. Make Restitution for Lost Necklace?: My daughter's friend Leila has been harassing her over the phone because a few weeks ago, when Leila spent the night, she allegedly accidentally left a valuable necklace here. Turns out the necklace belongs to Leila's dad's girlfriend, and Leila did not have permission to borrow it. My daughter and I have scoured the house for the necklace but have found no trace of it. I am not sure it is here. On top of Leila's abusive profanity-filled phone calls, Leila's dad and his girlfriend expect my husband and I to repay them for the lost necklace. First of all, I don't know if the necklace is in our house and I don't feel responsible for Leila losing it. Secondly, they say the necklace is worth over $300, which we have no way of verifying. How do I handle these people and their daughter's bullying? Our daughters are 12, by the way.