A: You have a bunch of 10-year-old girls over and after the game of hide and seek, you finally get them settled into bed. I find it hard to believe you didn't know that a rule of sleepovers is that later that night the parents cannot play hide the salami. I have a daughter and have had many birthday sleepovers, and while I can imagine cleaning up the poop of one of the attendees, I cannot fathom getting in the mood while a bunch of elementary school kids are snoozing nearby—for just the reason you cite. Surely you know the propensity for small children to need a glass of water, or help stumbling to the bathroom in the middle of the night. Yep, you blew it. You should have expected the child to tell her parents and that they would be furious. However, if the other mother can calm down, I hope she will realize that it would have been counterproductive for them to get a call at 3:00 a.m. saying, "There's been an emergency. Kayla just walked in on us having sex, so the party's over." However, it would have been much smarter for you to have had a private talk with this mom, explaining what happened, apologizing, and saying you are not sure what the girl saw, but you wanted her to have a heads up. Now you need to call her and say you understand her distress and you are very sorry. Explain you had just checked on the girls and they were all asleep but that doesn't excuse your bad judgment. Add that of course you've learned your lesson and such a thing will never happen again. Say that it is her choice whether to tell the other parents, but since you know you made a mistake and none of the other girls were involved, you hope she doesn't. And so this doesn't happen with your own stepdaughter, when the mood strikes, flip the lock on your bedroom door.
Q. Star-Struck Supervisor: I am fortunate to have a job I love in these troubling times. I get along well with all of my co-workers, with only one real problem. My supervisor now has stars in her eyes every time she sees me. I happen to have a famous cousin and she has found out about this. There is a strong family resemblance and if someone notices I'm not shy about mentioning my famous cousin. But this time, I wish I had kept my mouth shut. She now considers me her inside scoop and is constantly asking about everything. I can't say it disrupts my work because it really doesn't, but I find myself running away from the office on my breaks because I know she will be right with me begging for news. How do I shut this down? She hasn't breached any office rules or policies so I can't justify going up the chain of command, but I can't just keep running away (gas is just too expensive!) every time break rolls around. For the record, I have tried everything short of being rude to her.
A: Tell her that you and your cousin are not close and from your conversations with the boss it's clear she knows more about your cousin that you do. Say that you don't follow your cousin's activities or read celebrity news, so you cannot add anything to the boss's store of knowledge. Then when she continues to bug you on break say, "Alexis, as I've said, if you read US magazine, you know more than I do. Excuse me, I'm using this free time to catch up on the Economist."
Q. Re: stepdaughter party: Wow, your response is a little harsh. Ten years old is not 4 years old. The kid could have woken her friend up. And, what about knocking? A 10-year-old kid should know better than to open someone's door up without knocking. That's a rude kid, the other parent should have taught her daughter better.
A. I don't think it's a good idea for the in flagrante parents to go on the defensive. What are they going to say: "Hey, doesn't your kid know to never enter anyone's bedroom without knocking? It's your daughter who was out of line and I hope you're raising her better than this incident indicates." This is a sleepover. Kids wake up in the middle of the night disoriented and they barge into parents' rooms. It's not going to work to try to shift the blame.
Q. Embryo Adoption: My daughter was born via embryo adoption—she is not related genetically to myself or my husband, though I gave birth to her. We have told family and close friends and have even begun to talk to her a little bit about it. (She's a toddler.) My question is what to say to well-meaning strangers and acquaintances who comment on the fact that she doesn't physically resemble either of me or my husband, as well as those who insist she does. I don't really feel like explaining the whole story to every single person who makes these observations, but I don't want my daughter to think there is something we need to hide about how we made our family.
A: Who are the "well-meaning strangers" who feel it's their duty to comment on the lack of physical resemblance between parents and children? They're jerks and they don't need a response. Just walking on, or saying, "I don't think I know you, so please excuse me," is fine. But I understand you don't want the issue of your daughter's biological origins or appearance to seem to be anxiety-provoking to you, and thus her. For people who do see a resemblance, or who observe, "What gorgeous green eyes she has," you can just say, "She is a cutie, thanks."
Q. Boundaries: My Aunt "Linda" has mild dementia and lives with my retired mother and me. Recently we were surprised to receive a visitor for Aunt Linda, "Dave," who turned out to be Aunt Linda's high school sweetheart. My mom later explained that Dave and Aunt Linda were engaged but his family vehemently opposed the match. Dave bowed under pressure and eventually married someone else. Apparently he came to regret it for many decades. He asked if he could visit Aunt Linda regularly and help my mother take care of her. The thing is, Dave is still married and has several children and grandchildren. Dave admitted his family doesn't know anything and his wife would obviously disapprove of his spending time with a former sweetheart. My mom seems to think it will be harmless for Dave to visit. We're not sure if Aunt Linda recognized him, but mom thinks she would benefit from some company. I think it's wrong for a married man to come and care for another woman, even if there is a zero chance of anything intimate (physical or emotional) occurring. It is still wrong. What advice do you have here?
A: If you and your mother are caring for an aunt with dementia, I'm sure it's a relief to have an old friend come visit and give you a break. Dave is a grown man, he's a grandfather for goodness’ sake, and it would have been better for you not to even have gotten into whether he's told his wife about these visits. It sounds like you gave him a grilling since you say he "admitted" his wife didn't know. However, you must be confident that Dave is not going to exploit the situation and try to have a sexual relationship with someone who can't give consent, and who will not be making demands on him. If the visits consist of playing cards, or reminiscing, or taking your aunt out to lunch, then his personal life is his business.
Q. My BIL Terrified My Son: Last weekend my husband's brother and his wife volunteered to watch our three kids so we could attend an out of town wedding. Since returning home, my 7-year-old son has had trouble sleeping and has seemed unusually fearful, not only for his sake but also for the sake of his sisters. On Friday evening, after he tried to get our entire family to sleep together, my husband and I pried the cause of his worries from him: While spending the night at his aunt and uncle's home, his uncle told him about a demon that devours children in the night. He told my son that men in their family hunted this demon and that now he was of an age to protect his family from the demon. I was livid and wanted to call my brother-in-law and tear him a new one. My husband called his brother, and his brother told him he had been joking. He apologized for scaring our son, and my husband forgave him. I'm still furious, though, and I'm worried about my brother-in-law's mental state. He has never done anything like this before, and his actions were irresponsible and cruel. What if he actually believes what he said? My husband wants to drop the issue, but our son still refuses to sleep alone.
A: Let me reassure all of you I didn't put out a call this week for the nuttiest sleepover letters. Unless you have evidence that your brother-in-law in having a psychological break, it sounds more like an instance of him getting carried away with scary stories and not being aware of how vulnerable his nephew is. After all, many of the Grimm fairy tales are unusually grim and full of violence and death. You need to continue to reassure your son that Uncle Joe thought he was being funny, and he didn't realize he wasn't. It would help if your brother-in-law called your son and explained he was telling him a totally made-up story, there are no demons, no man in the family has ever hunted one, and therefore you son doesn't have to worry about them. He should say he thought he was telling a funny-scary story, but he realizes now it was just a stupid-scary story, and he apologizes. That might be enough to get your son back to his own bedroom, gripping his teddy bear for safety.