Help! How Do I Ask After a Kid With Cerebral Palsy Without Being Weird About It?

Advice on manners and morals.
May 6 2013 2:48 PM

Awkward Question

In a live chat, Prudie advises a woman who doesn’t know how to talk to the mom of a kid with cerebral palsy.

Emily Yoffe.
Emily Yoffe

Photo by Teresa Castracane.

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 prudence@slate.com.)

Emily Yoffe: Good afternoon. I look forward to your questions.

Q. High School Graduation: My son graduates from high school this month. There is a girl in the same school system who has severe cerebral palsy. She has been in the same schools as my son since kindergarten, and was mainstreamed into the classrooms; she even "graduated" along with the other kids in sixth grade. She is also a neighbor. Her parents are delightful, optimistic, friendly, and caring neighbors. But, as graduation approaches, the talk in the store when we meet other moms is always happy talk about college choices. Even this mom happily asks about other kids. I ran into her recently, and had this happy chat, but I felt self-conscious that I didn't know how to ask about her daughter. I know there must be sadness that her daughter does not have the hopeful future that our kids have. I want to be kind and honest when we visit. How should I handle this?

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A: I really dislike the way you put "graduated" in quotation marks as regards this girl's movement through school. She had participated in school all the way through and has graduated every bit as much as more typical kids. Yes, she has a disability, but I don't know, and maybe you don't either, whether college is an option for her. What you do with this mother is talk to her as if she has a child who is now moving on in life, which is what she has. "So what's Deirdre going to be up to after high school?" is a good opening once you've given her the scoop on your son.

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Q. Telling My Parents I'm Getting Inked: I'm in my late 20s, living independently, and about to get my first tattoo. My parents hate tattoos and I figured I just wouldn't tell them, but now I'm wondering if I should. They may see it or hear about it and I don't want to hide things from them like a teenager. I also don't want to get scolded like a teenager. I'm not quite sure how they'd react, to be honest. Should I break the news? If so, how might I do it?

A: I often want to say to young people like you, "You may not believe it, but if everything goes right, you will eventually be as old as your parents. Imagine Mom or Dad with a turtle on their clavicle or barbed wire around their biceps." Youth is fleeting, but a tattoo forever. I have heard from many, many readers about how they love their body art, so fine. But you haven't inked up yet, and since you seem to be having some qualms, I'm here to stoke them. The other day I took a yoga class from a lovely young woman who (among other designs) had a large, dramatic black and white tattoo of a young man that looked like a photograph from the ’50s. I asked her about it and it was of her grandfather. I presume he's passed on and she wanted to honor and remember him. I, too, loved my grandparents. But I am so happy that I have not had to go through life looking every single day at a photograph of one of them on my epidermis. Believe me, twentysomething, things you think you want to celebrate now, in decades to come you may be glad that you get to not think about very much. Skip the tattoo and put that money into something more worthwhile or ephemeral.

Q. Husband Needs More Privacy?: My husband of four years says he needs more privacy. As of right now, he has an iPad, iPhone, laptop, bank account (he refuses to share an account with me, but has one with his mom), and a tool box—all of which I am allowed no access to because they are password protected (or in the case of the tool box it's padlocked to keep me out). He says I control everything, which I don't feel is true (he holds all the money, pays all the bills, does all the grocery shopping, etc.) and that he can't trust me not to go through his things because I've snooped before (in my defense, I found gay porn and dating websites on his computer). I honestly don't want to snoop anymore because I'm too afraid of what I might continue to find. While I understand every couple deserves a little privacy, I feel like my husband's whole life is private. Right now I'm so furious over this privacy situation and his not wanting to get one joint account with me that I've moved out of our bedroom and into our son's.

A: The tool box is a new one, but surely it's a Pandora's box full of secrets about what he likes to do with his most precious tool. When I start reading letters such as yours—descriptions of wholly lousy relationships—and I get to the point where it mentions the young child, I can't help but wonder what the letter writer needed to know before concluding reproducing with this person was a poor idea. Nothing you say about your husband sounds good, but nothing you say about yourself does either. This marriage is based on deceit, secrecy, and espionage. Good training for the CIA perhaps, but not a formula for marital satisfaction. You two are at an impasse, so there's not much more I can suggest then turning to some professionals: first a marriage counselor, then (likely) matrimonial lawyers. I hope at the least that you two are able to transcend your terrible personal dynamic and are looking out for your son's emotional needs.

Q. Stalker? Work Tension: I joined a soccer team last year with my co-workers and a friend of one of my co-workers developed a bit of a crush on me. I'm in a happy relationship, but I'll admit, I enjoyed the attention. He never really talked to me but when he'd smile, I'd smile back. Shortly after, he sent me an email asking me out and I, of course, refused flatly. He then began a Facebook message campaign, telling me we were destined to be together, if I could only see, that he's heard that my boyfriend is a loser, etc. I felt pretty guilty and talked openly to my boyfriend about this and he was very understanding and, I think, thought I was overreacting. I asked this guy to leave me alone and he responded angrily that I'd led him on. I blocked him from Facebook. He's sent me a few messages since, all of which I've ignored. In the meantime, he's ingratiated himself into my work circle. He attends many get-togethers and I avoid them. Soccer season is coming up and the emails have started again. My strategy has been to ignore the emails (most of which demand an apology from me) but it's making me really anxious. What can I do?

A: First, stop feeling guilty that you got a kick from smiling back at a mutual acquaintance who smiled at you. Creeps like this guy love to make you feel you were complicit in their campaign. You two smiled, he asked you out, you said no, and now he won't leave you alone. That's bad. Since he's keeping things at a level that probably doesn't yet rise to a stalking charge, talk about this with a lawyer. A cease and desist request on legal letterhead that explains if he doesn't leave you alone you and your attorney will pursue recourse with the authorities, could be enough to get this guy to back off. Let's hope so, and if not, you've laid the groundwork for escalating your complaint.

Q. Re: Tattoo: Come on, Prudie. If you can't answer tattoo questions objectively then maybe you shouldn't answer them. If OP wants a tattoo but is worried about how her parents feel, then I suggest she get it and either never tell them or show them when she feels ready for it. They may be disappointed, but once it's inked there is nothing they can do and they'll learn to deal. My own parents survived.

A: I didn't corner an uninked young woman on the street and tell her that if she was thinking of getting a tattoo she should forget about it. She wrote to me, thus invited my opinion. One's feelings about tattoos are by definition subjective. I don't like them, and I especially am concerned that young people who get covered with them will come to regret it in decades—yes people, you will live decades!—to come. But I understand from the overwhelming visual evidence that my view about tattoos is becoming a minority one.

Q. Re: High School Graduation LW: I grew up with a girl who had severe cerebral palsy. While her motor functions and speech were greatly affected, her cognitive abilities were not. She went to college after high school, got her degree, and now writes a monthly article for the local newspaper. She was extremely intelligent and has proven to do so much with her life. Please advise the LW to learn a little bit more about this condition if she would like to have a comfortable discussion with the parents about the girl's plans.

A: Exactly. The letter writer apparently has no idea about the cognitive abilities of this girl. Other people are defending the use of quotations around the word graduation in referring to that sixth grade event as meaning it wasn't really a graduation since it was from elementary school. OK, but the mother's point pointedly was that this child hasn't really been a functioning member of the class. That seems ignorant and even rather ugly.

Q. Friendship: I have been friends with a girl for years. We grew up together and have known each other since we were kids. She moved away a few years ago and although I've tried to get in contact with her, she is dismissive and never follows up. I noticed a few months ago that she took me off of her Facebook friends list. I saw her at an Easter party and she didn't even look at me. I have no idea why she is acting like this. I feel very hurt and confused as to why she doesn't want to be friends anymore. I want to ask her for an explanation of what happened to our relationship. Should I ask her or just move on?

A: If you have no idea, absolutely no idea what could be going on, then accept that she's physically and emotionally out of your life. Removing you from her friends list and snubbing you at a party are pretty harsh and direct messages that she wants nothing to do with you. Accept that friendships sometimes end, sometimes abruptly.

Q. Re: Here's some helpful advice for “inked”: Prudie, you raise fair points about tattoos (and I say that as someone who has a tattoo that I don't regret but don't love, either), but you didn't actually give her the advice she was looking for. You're in your late 20s. If you're old enough to live on your own and fend for yourself, I see no reason to tell them if you decide to get the tattoo. If they find out, don't act like you were hiding anything—you're an adult. Just say something like, “Oh yes, I did get a tattoo." And move on. If they're going to throw a fit or something, just ignore it. You're an adult—if you think you're ready for a tattoo, you're ready to act independently of your parents.

A: Of course once you're an adult you don't need your parents' approval to get tattoos. Thanks for making that point. And also thank you for conveying that one's enthusiasm for a tattoo may wane, but the tattoo doesn't.

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Q. Re: High School Graduation: I have a son with cognitive disabilities who is mainstreamed. I think we should give the LW (who wrote "graduation") a break. She is asking advice about how to handle the situation. She's doing the best she can. Maybe she doesn't understand this disability, but she is obviously trying. I'm just tired of people getting up in arms when others are trying to do the right thing, and they kind of do it in an awkward way.

A: Thank you for this. I agree that people can be awkward around this issue and that not getting offended at every stumble is the way to go. But the letter writer has known this girl and her mother for years so by now she should have developed a much more natural, relaxed way of talking to the other mother about her child.

Q. Attending Wedding With Someone I Fired: I'm attending a wedding next weekend where one of the other guests is a gentleman that I fired a few years ago. He was let go for not showing up for work, refusing to follow explicit directions, etc. He was given multiple written warnings in advance. However, he kept making bad choices. He and his wife (I attended their wedding prior to the firing) tend to drink a lot and get rather boisterous when they drink. Considering the open bar and the feelings of the bride and groom would want a happy event to remember, I will do my very best to avoid them. However, it is a small wedding and there won't be lots of places to hide. Any suggestions on how to keep things under control if either of the offended parties decide (after downing a few) that the reception is the correct place to air grievances?

A: If this guy gets drunk and starts publicly berating you for firing him, then he will be making an excellent case for your decision. Do not fret about this and let it ruin the wedding. Be cordial to this guy when you see him, engage in a few moments of small talk, then move on. If he makes a scene just say this is not the place to discuss his grievances and walk away.

Q. Is This reasonable?: I work at a small office and like many office workers, sometimes eat at my desk. I snack on nuts on a daily basis and find myself lethargic if I don't. A co-worker—I'll call her Rita—asked me not to eat nuts at work anymore. She explained her daughter is anaphylactic to all nuts and she is worried about cross contamination. I told her I would be careful about cleaning up and made a point of wiping my desk down regularly and ensuring I don't leave a mess. Apparently Rita is unhappy about this and glares at me as if internally raging whenever I have nuts now. Am I being inconsiderate or is she unreasonable to expect me to stop eating nuts?

A: I don't know the medical answer to whether your nut habit could actually result in nut debris clinging to Rita so that she comes home and her kid ends up in the emergency room. But you need to sit down with Rita and talk about what she perceives as the dangers and how you can mitigate them. Be sympathetic, not defensive. Having a child with a life-threatening condition is a weight to carry. After you hear her out, see if she finds it reasonable for you to offer to eat your nuts away from your desk. I understand that may sound annoying to you, but think of it like getting up, stretching your legs, and getting coffee. Sure, she can't stop you from eating nuts. But instead of thinking, "Nuts to you!" both of you will have a more pleasant work day if you feel you've accommodated each other.

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

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