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.)
Emily Yoffe: Good afternoon on this glorious day.
Q. Dog With Separation Anxiety: I am starting a promising relationship with an awesome woman, but there's a problem: she has a Chihuahua with such severe separation anxiety that (she says) they must be together 24/7. Otherwise the dog will chew off its paw. She largely works from home and has a large purse and takes the dog everywhere, including places it clearly is not allowed, e.g., food stores, restaurants, movies, and the Kennedy Center. I know some people are nuts about their pets, but this seems extreme. I bought a pair of fall opera tickets for $300 and plan to take my mother for fear we would be asked to leave if the dog was discovered. There does not seem to be room for compromise and I know if she had to choose between me and the dog, she'd choose the dog. Is there any hope for this relationship or should I just move on?
A: Occasionally you see dogs wearing a vest that declares they are "emotional assistance" service dogs for their owner. Your girlfriend should be wearing a vest declaring she's an emotional assistance human for her Chihuahua. Just think, if you forced your girlfriend to go out on four dates without Pepe, he would in short order be a dog without paws. This should give you pause about what you're getting into. You're actually the one I'm concerned about here. You knew your girlfriend was a nut on the first date when she started dropping table scraps into her Louis Vuitton. I can't imagine how you decided there was a promising future for you being part of a defunct Taco Bell ad campaign. The opera date is not until the fall. Before you ask Mom, expand your social horizons and see if you can't find a woman to accompany you who can leave her four-legged love behind for an evening.
Dear Prudence: Unwelcome Bridal Heirloom
Q. Nondisabled Son Feeling Ignored: My wife and I have twin 7-year-old boys ("Bruce" and "Clark"). Clark is intellectually disabled (can walk and talk, but about at the level of a 1½-year-old) while Bruce is not disabled in any way. They're both great kids and we love them to death. However, unsurprisingly, Clark gets a lot more attention from grownups than Bruce does. Clark is a charming kid with a great smile, but more than that, he elicits a lot of sympathy from parents, teachers, and friends because of his disability. Bruce has started to notice this and begun to feel neglected—recently Clark won "best camper" and "most respectful" at their summer camp while Bruce has not won anything, leaving him a little dejected. We work hard to make both kids feel loved equally and give Bruce lots of individual attention and special time together, but others are sometimes not so attentive to him. Is there a way that we can politely remind people that we have another son and direct some of their attention to Bruce?
A: This is a very difficult situation and as the years go on Bruce is going to have to deal with a myriad of emotions about his brother, including likely a sense of survivor's guilt. At 7 years old Bruce is old enough to understand that his brother has severe limitations and that some people will respond rudely to him, and some kindly. You can talk to Bruce about the fact that you appreciate when people try to include Clark in things, because sadly, not everyone is going to be comfortable around someone who is intellectually disabled. You can also be honest with Bruce and say that sometimes it may seem unfair that Clark is getting more attention than he is and that feeling a little jealous is totally normal. But talk to him about how things are never totally equal between people. Clark may get some more attention from adults because he needs extra help. But you can tell him that there are so many things that he can do now and more to come in the future that Clark just won't be able to do. If you're with other people and there is a graceful way to shift the conversation to Bruce, "Oh, Bruce, tell the Smiths how much you liked archery!" that's fine. But don't make things more awkward for everyone by being heavy-handed about this. The most important thing you can do is to make Bruce feel that he can talk out complicated feelings with you without being rebuked or judged.
Q. Child Left in a Car as Punishment: For the past three months I have nannied for the "Smith" family. Mr. Smith has a 7-year-old son from his first marriage (Jack), and Mrs. Smith is pregnant and has two daughters from her first marriage. This weekend I arrived 15 minutes early for my shift. I found Jack strapped into Mrs. Smith's Prius. The windows were rolled down, but the car was still very warm. Jack told me that he misbehaved on an earlier outing, and when they arrived home he was crying. Mrs. Smith left him in the car as punishment. I took Jack from the car and knocked on the door; when Mrs. Smith answered, she explained that Jack had been throwing a tantrum for over 30 minutes and that she left him in the car to let him calm down. They had only been home for 10 or 15 minutes by the time I arrived. I told her it made me uncomfortable that she left a child in a car on a hot day, even if the windows were rolled down. Mrs. Smith listened to me and later that night, after I went home, Mr. Smith called me to tell me his wife had made a mistake based on stress from Jack's outburst and her pregnancy. To them, the matter is closed. I still feel something's not right and that I'm letting Jack down by dropping this. I've known Mrs. Smith to be short-tempered with Jack, who is an admittedly high-strung child. Am I being paranoid? Should I keep nannying and chalk this up to a mistake?
A: Oh, how wonderful that these people are bringing another child into a volatile, out-of-control family situation. Leaving a 7-year-old strapped into a car unsupervised is the kind of thing that rightly gets people arrested. For now, I think you should call the 211 hotline (and 800-4ACHILD is another resource that can give guidance) and discuss what happened. This is not a government reporting number, but a referral line for to help people sort out whether to call government agencies. The Smiths sound like less than ideal parents, but obviously she copped to her husband about what she did, and he let you know she recognizes what she did was totally wrong and it won't happen again. But it sounds as if Jack needs gentle, compassionate handling, which he's not getting. You are obviously a force for good in Jack's life. If you want to continue being the Smiths' nanny, keep your eyes open and keep speaking up for him. And if you ever see a replay of anything like the left-in-the-car incident, do not hesitate to call 911.