Emily Yoffe, aka Dear Prudence, is on Washingtonpost.com weekly to chat live with readers. An edited transcript of the 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.)
Q. Haunted House or No Ghosts Allowed: Last year one of our neighbors was really ticked off about our Halloween decorations being too scary. We really do go for the more ghoulish decorating and have a lot of fun with it! What's Halloween without the fog machines, scary music (not loud), ghosts, and gruesome decor? The neighbors on either side of us have joined the fun and put up quite a display themselves. None of the decorations are over-the-top blood and guts, but the standard Halloween fare. The angry neighbors across the street have a 5-year-old daughter. They said she wouldn't sleep with the light off for a month after our "horrifying" decorations "scared the daylights" out of their little girl. They also said they hoped that we would refrain from the frightening decorations since we now knew they upset their daughter. They still will barely speak to any of us who decorated using anything "scary" to a 5-year-old. Prudie, the kids on our street are a wide variety of ages, with the vast majority of the kids being 8 or older. I have three boys ages 8, 10, and 12 who have a great time with the scary stuff. Is it insensitive for us to decorate with tombstones, scary witches, and skeletons? My boys and their friends next door are already planning new ideas for the Halloween display. Should I pull the plug on the fog machine and plan a super-duper Happy Halloween?
A: My daughter was still in her high chair having dinner when our first trick or treater—wearing a wolfman mask—came to the door, and my husband thought it would be great to bring him into the house and show our toddler. Naturally, hysterics ensued. Nonetheless she recovered and went on to be dressed as a witch and a skeleton during her elementary-school years and even asked to go back twice to the house of the people with the twitching plastic rat. Sure, your neighbor's daughter was scared, but being a parent means not expecting the world to bend to your child, but guiding your child through the world. If the parents have carried out this grudge for a year, I feel sorry that their little girl is missing lessons in humor and resilience. My suggestion is that before you start the decorating you go over and speak to the parents and say that you'd enjoy it if their daughter (and her parents) came over to help your sons decorate the house. Say that you think if she helps the big boys, and can see all this scary stuff is just things in boxes and not so scary after all, that she will really enjoy the festivities. If they shut the door in your face, tell your sons to skip their house when they go out for candy.
Dear Prudence: Excessive Family PDA
Q. Saving Worms: I'm engaged to my amazing, funny, smart, sexy girlfriend. There are so many things I love about her, but there's one thing that worries me a little. She's a really sensitive person and so she doesn't ever want to hurt any living thing, for any reason. She's a vegan (so am I, so that's not a problem), she belongs to a couple of animal rights organizations (which I think is great), and she won't harm even an insect. (I don't like trapping cockroaches and setting them free outside the apartment, but it makes her happy.) This weekend, it rained overnight, and as a result the streets were covered with worms in the morning. She wanted to go out and save as many as she could before the sun warmed up the road and baked them to death. She also insisted that I go with her, and when I said I'd rather sleep in, she got tears in her eyes and told me she couldn't believe I would just sleep in knowing that hundreds of living creatures suffered a horrible death. After a short lecture on Karma, I gave in and helped save the worms (which was totally gross). I love my fiancée, and want to support the causes that are important to her, but how can I tell her that I find some of her behavior bizarre and over the top without causing a huge fight?
A: I'm no vegan, but I'm gratified to know I'm not the only worm-rescuer out there. I just can't stand to see them sizzling as they try to navigate a hot sidewalk, so I often bend down and place them on the grass. This deed is balanced out, however, by my smashing of the moths that make it into the house and the stomping on the ants in my kitchen. It could be that your fiancée would be happy being a Jain. These people are so nonviolent they refuse to eat root vegetables because of the microorganisms they contain, and sweep a broom in front of them as they walk to avoid stepping on insects. In India such beliefs are a religion, but in the U.S. this behavior would be seen as madness. Being so exquisitely attuned to suffering down to the earthworm level means your fiancée is going to go through life in a constant state of pain. I'm afraid she needs to toughen up and focus her efforts on a few things she can change. How you get her there will require some delicacy on your part. But first of all you need to draw your own boundaries. Say that you support her worm-rescue efforts, but next time it rains, you're sleeping in. Explain you are a vegan for health and moral reasons, but in order to get through life you can't make everything a cause. Before you get married think long and hard about spending your life with someone willing to fight for cockroach rights.
Q. How To Explain My Boob Job: In a few weeks, I'll be undergoing breast-augmentation surgery. I'm very excited about the operation, and can't wait to see the results. I am a bit unsure, however, if I should offer any sort of explanation about the major change in the size of my chest to my friends and co-workers. I'm currently a size A, and I'll be getting size D implants, so they are going to notice a difference. Do I just ignore it and pretend like nothing's different, or do I address the "elephant" in the room? If so, how on earth do I make that announcement?
A: Unless you work at Hooters, or a strip club, breast size is one of those things that is not on the approved list of water-cooler conversation. There will be some people who can't help themselves, "Jeez, Louise, you almost knocked me over with your new knockers." But while there is sure to be plenty of chatter about this behind your back, if not in front of your chest, you should just slap on one of those Mona Lisa smiles and change the subject. To fend off comments such as, "I wish every woman went on vacation the same place you did!," in advance of your departure you could also confide in the office gossip. You could tell her that you're finally getting the breast-augmentation surgery you've always wanted, but you're worried about what will happen when you return because you really, really don't want to talk about it. Before you go ahead, I'm going to urge you to rethink your plans. I get that you're unhappy being small-breasted and that there's a fix for that. But it just doesn't make sense to overreact to the tune of a D cup. Before you make this change permanent, get some gigantic falsies and spend a few weekends wearing them. Maybe you'll see that the attention they engender is not something you want to experience every day and that you'd be happier with a more modest expansion.