Emily Yoffe, aka Dear Prudence, is on Washingtonpost.com weekly to chat live with readers. (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.)
Because of technical difficulties with this week’s chat, Emily Yoffe had to answer to the posted questions offline, hence the absence of reader responses in the transcript below.
Emily Yoffe: Good afternoon. I salute all the brave men and woman who have served our country (Hi, nephew!).
Q. I Caught My Son With the Vacuum Cleaner: I came home early from work on Friday to the unexpected sound of the vacuum cleaner running in my 12-year-old son's room. Thinking that perhaps this was a sign of the apocalypse—my son cleaning his room without major nagging on my part—I burst in there and caught him with his pants down and the hose attachment attached to his, well, you know. He froze like a deer in the headlights and, after picking my jaw up off the floor, I mumbled something stupid like "excuse me" and turned around and walked out and hid in my room. He left to go to his dad's for the weekend shortly thereafter. He will be home tomorrow night after school and I don't know what to say to him. Actually, do I have to say anything to him or can I just act as though this never happened and not say anything about it at all? (I much prefer option two, by the way.) What do you think?
A: I am sincerely hoping the Dyson company doesn't see your letter and come up with a new line of vacuums guaranteed to suck the living daylights out of the user. First, you may want to pick up a copy of Portnoy's Complaint. Let's just say the liver scene should reassure you that young men have always been creative when it comes to relief. Normally, I agree with you, Mom, that backing away quickly is the right path to take when stumbling upon such an uplifting scene. But I'm actually worried about the amount of suction your son could be applying to his private parts and the potential for gunking up the machine's filter. I think this situation calls for a man-to-man talk. I hope you have the kind of relationship where you can tell your ex about this and you both can laugh. Then your son's father can have a good-humored talk in which he explains that there are lots of ways to accomplish his goal, but it's a good idea to keep the household appliances out of it.
Dear Prudence: Play-Date Psychodrama
Q. SIL’s Unwelcome Intrusion in the Delivery Room: I am expecting my first baby and having problems with my SIL. My SIL is infertile yet she loves babies and children. She has been in regular contact with me throughout my pregnancy to a point where I found her attention a little overwhelming. Recently she told me she really wants to be there at the delivery room when I give birth. I was horrified and told her I wanted to have privacy. She relented, and suggested staying with me while I was in labor and leaving the room when the baby started coming out. I again reiterated my desire for privacy. Several days later she said she really wanted to be there and be the first to see our baby and stated she would wait outside my room. I explained that when I was in labor, I didn't really want to think about anybody else and that I would call her when I was ready to receive visitors. My SIL is now upset with me and says I have no right to stop her from waiting outside the delivery room. I tried reasoning with my husband, but he says I should be appreciative because his sister loves our baby so much. Am I being unreasonable to want her to stay away from the hospital? I am now having nightmares about my SIL snatching the baby away as soon as I'm wheeled out of the delivery room!
A: Your letter makes me hear those staccato violins that are the soundtrack to so many horror movies. Things need to get straightened out in your family. While it's sad your sister-in-law is dealing with infertility, you are not the surrogate mother for her child. She obviously has a lot more work to do to come to terms with her condition, but you are not her therapist. Some pregnant women want a cheering section in the hospital waiting room. Other women want their loved ones at home ready to get an alert of the good news. But no pregnant woman should be forced to have people lurking in the doorway marking the territory. If your husband can't understand his loyalty here is to you, you should discuss this with your obstetrician. He or she should be happy to put rules into place about who can attend the happy event. Then have a meeting with your OB and your husband. If he doesn't accept this, you might want to consider calling in a marriage counselor to be by your side telling you to push, and telling your husband to shape up.
Q. Thanksgiving Hell: My family is getting ready for our annual Thanksgiving dinner. We used to look forward to Thanksgiving, now we dread it. My sister's husband's side of the family has made a recent tradition of inviting themselves to our family dinner at my mom's house. Politically, they are much more "severely" conservative than Mitt Romney claimed he was. That’s OK, but the problem is that my brother is gay and insists on discussing politics with my brother-in-law's family. Comments from my brother-in-law's family such as "homosexuals are living a sinful life," "the gay agenda is destroying this country," and "if I ever found out one of my kids were gay, I'd never speak to him again" are the beginning of the end. As noxious as these comments are, my bigoted in-laws would never mention them if my brother and his partner didn't broach the topic. How do I convince my brother that engaging this family on this topic is a lose-lose proposition for everyone? He claims he's only defending himself and his partner when the in-laws bring up the topic.
A: First of all, how do people invite themselves for Thanksgiving? Surely these people had somewhere else to go before they started crashing your event. Some representative from your family (if everyone agrees with your point of view!) should have a blunt talk with your sister saying that her husband’s family is making your Thanksgivings very awkward. She can be told it’s understandable if she has to alternate holiday appearances at your family’s table to be with them in some years, but your family doesn’t want to set a permanent place for her in-laws. But surely they’re coming this year, so tell your brother that everyone agrees with you their views are noxious, but they are only expressing them because he’s provoking them. He’s not going to change their minds, all he does is congeal the mood like overcooked gravy. Ask him to leave the discussion of politics for more congenial company.
Q. Friend Changed Her Wedding Date for Me but I Don't Want To Attend: My friend is engaged and her wedding will be held five hours' drive from where I am. She spent a lot of money coming to my wedding in Tahiti so I really wanted to come to hers, except it falls on my due date. I already have a scheduled C-section. I told her regretfully I won't be able to make it, and she was hurt and upset. Then three days ago I received an invitation for her wedding, and it is two weeks after her original wedding date. She attached a note telling me how delighted she was to "surprise" me with the "great news"—she changed her wedding date especially for me so I can now attend! I called her asking what was going on and she confirmed she changed her wedding date because she really wants me to be there. It caused her in-laws a great deal of inconvenience and she had a big fight with her fiancé's mother about it. She genuinely thought I would be thrilled at the news. I know it sounds selfish, but I do NOT want to drive five hours and back with a newborn two weeks after a C-section. I murmured a noncommittal reply and my friend took that as a "Yes, I'm coming!" How do I tell my friend I won't be coming to her wedding, after all? Am I a terrible person?