Help! I Caught My Son in a Compromising Position With the Vacuum Cleaner.

Advice on manners and morals.
Nov. 12 2012 3:12 PM

Look Ma, No Hands!

In a live chat, Prudie counsels a woman who caught her son in a compromising position with the vacuum cleaner.

(Continued from Page 1)

A: Even if you were the one getting married to your friend, I would advise you that under the circumstances, you would not be able to make it. Unless the groom himself is off his rocker, I’m thinking you probably won’t have to worry about when this wedding takes place because surely he has to wise up and call it off. Anyone as immature as the bride is not ready for the adult responsibilities of marriage. You can call or email the bride and say you really wish she hadn’t changed the date without consulting you. It turns out you have consulted your doctor and have been told you simply cannot make a 10-hour car trip two weeks after your delivery. That means as much as you wanted to see her get married, you can’t. Period. Maybe the bride will join up with the sister-in-law in the letter above, and you will find yourself watching her wedding take place in your delivery room.

Q. Stepson: I am married with two small children, and I am also stepmother to my husband's 14-year-old from his first marriage. My stepson "Jeremiah" is a good kid, has been accepting of me, and appears to love his younger siblings. However, lately he has been moody, sullen, and generally just a teenager. However, things have recently taken a turn for the worse. He refuses to clean up his room, and since it was smelly, I decided to clean it after he returned to his mother's last week. I found piles of clothes I had forgotten he even had, rotten food, and he has apparently been too tired or lazy to go to the bathroom, as I found two “refilled” soda bottles. I haven't spoken to his father, my husband, yet, as I don't want to seem to be a wicked stepmother. His ex hates me and I doubt she would take kindly to me suggesting that her son has a problem. I am really concerned about his influence in this state around my young kids. Please tell me what I should do next.

A: You’re not a wicked stepmother for refusing to let your home become a Superfund site. But it's odd that you would write to me before alerting your husband to your concerns. You have some plain facts to convey to him, which you have to do so in a caring but not melodramatic way. Describe the scene, show him the soda bottles/chamber pots, and say you're worried that Jeremiah is experiencing something more than the normal teenage angst. Do not go nuclear and say you don’t want him influencing your own children. Let's say Jeremiah was your child, not your husband's. You surely wouldn't be musing about getting him out of the house. His father should then take action and find out what’s going on, including whether his son is drinking or taking drugs. When Jeremiah comes over next you can tell him his room has sunk below acceptable teenage standards and that you've got to set up some rules for picking up clothes and keeping food out of the bedroom. But probably you don’t want to tell him it’s time he started vacuuming.

Q. Secret Engagement Plans Driving Me Crazy: My boyfriend and I have been dating for almost four years and both feel very strongly that we want to get married and spend our lives together. However, every time I bring up actually getting engaged (starting about a year ago), he tells me I'm ruining the surprise element of the proposal and that I have to just be patient. I am strongly feminist and believe getting engaged should be a joint decision and not just the man's. I know he's saving for the ring but I absolutely don't care about that stuff. I'd be equally happy with a $250 ring as with a $2,500 ring. I am 32 and want to start a family. I feel like we are at an impasse and I have to just wait until he's got all his ducks in a row, however I feel incredibly out of the loop on a very important life decision. How can I bring this up yet again without him shooting me down? Or should I just accept that this is an important moment for him and grin and bear it?

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A: I know the proposal has become an ever more elaborate ritual: billboards, fake movie trailers, Jackass-style surprises. But I’m with you that this should be a joint decision between two equals, not something the man controls. I also hate how the ability to buy a big rock has come to dictate this life decision. I know there’s a general feeling that people should avoid ultimatums, but life presents us with its own ultimatums—one of them being your fertility. Yes, you’ve still got plenty of time, but not endless time and after four years you should be past the games and ready to move forward—or not. Calmly sit down with your boyfriend and say you are very torn because turning into a nag is not your style, but waiting for someone else to make all the decisions is not your style either. Tell him you don’t care about rings or “surprise” proposals. You do care about him because you love him and can’t imagine not spending your lives together. Add that you’ve never been the kind of woman who imagined a guy on his knee and a ring box, so you hope that if he’s ready, you two can make some decisions about getting married.

Q. Christmas Wedding: My husband and I were invited to my cousin's wedding in the middle of December. It is going to be an elaborate, formal wedding with a heavy Christmas theme. It sounds like a lovely event, but both my husband and I would rather spend a Saturday in December doing Christmas-y things with our kids instead of getting a babysitter for the day. My cousin and I are not particularly close and the guest list is 300-plus, so I can't imagine she is giving a whole lot of through to our attendance. Is not wanting to attend a wedding is a good enough reason not to?

A: In this case yes. She’s a distant cousin who’s inviting everyone she knows. This isn’t your sister or best friend. Decline and send a lovely gift.

Q. How To Deal With Racist Figurines: Recently, an elderly woman gave my brother a box filled with little toys and figurines from the ’30s and ’40s in return for help cleaning her basement. He passed them on to my boyfriend and me. At first glance, I was thrilled. The toys on top were old-school wind-up ducks and cartoon whales, and each was individually wrapped, so they were in excellent condition. However, I found 15 or 20 really racist figurines of African-Americans. All of the figurines are the stereotypical depictions from the era. My first thought was to smash them. My boyfriend thought it would be better to sell them online. That doesn't work for me at all—these things are awful. However, now I'm torn about destroying them. They're an ugly part of our history, but they are part of our history. What should I do?

A: I hope that if you contact the Jim Crow Museum at Ferris State Univerisity they will have an answer for you. I agree you should get rid of these items, but I’m sure there are institutions that would be able to put these terrible objects in context. As for the other goodies, if you’ve ever watched Antiques Roadshow it sounds like you have quite a windfall.

In a new approach, we’re publishing the chat transcript in shorter, more digestible pieces. You will still be getting all the questions and answers, and we may even publish bonus letters Prudie didn’t get to address during the chat hour.

Emily Yoffe is a regular Slate contributor. She writes the Dear Prudence column. 

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