A: It's really too bad your mother was never able to tell you herself. Maybe husband No. 1 wasn't such a fine gentleman. Maybe your mother wasn't such a fine wife to him. In any case, as you've discovered, it's better for the person to tell their life story while they have a chance, instead of leaving some big mysteries for loved ones to ponder. I disagree with your friend. You are simply trying to understand your mother's life better. If you inquire in a respectful way, those who knew your mother back them might be relieved to finally get to tell the story to the person who will love her memory no matter what is revealed.
Q. Accidental Deliberate Pregnancy: My son and his wife always wanted children, but they kept delaying child bearing each year because of various reasons. I was so disappointed because I knew they were ready for kids and would make excellent parents. When they stayed at my house for a few weeks during their home renovation, I found some condoms in their room and decided to poke holes into a few of them. I didn't seriously think it would result in a pregnancy, but it did. They were happy, I was happy, and as I predicted, they are now wonderful parents. I do wonder, though, whether I should come clean about the circumstances of my grandson's conception. I feel a little guilty, even though it's resulted in such a happy outcome. On the other hand, maybe it wasn't even the holey condoms, maybe they just forgot to use it one night. Should I confess?
A: You say you poked holes in the condoms, Grandma, but I'm going to poke holes in your story. I think that this young couple would have noticed when they went for a condom that the wrapper had been ripped open. I doubt they would have concluded, "How thoughtful of Trojan to pre-open the condoms to save us time while in the throes of passion." At least you didn't say that you picked a used condom out of the trash, put Ambien in the couple's dessert one night, then used a turkey baster to inseminate your daughter-in-law. I rarely get questions I think are fake, and when I do I discard them. But here's an example of one I'm not buying.
Q. Mother-in-Law Calling Herself Fat in Front of 3-Year-Old: My mother-in-law has complained about her weight since I've known her, despite being petite. However, prior to my meeting her son she was overweight, so I can see where this could come from. Her weight gain/loss is a topic of conversation that comes up every time we see her, which is frequent. I'm currently six months pregnant and made the mistake of calling myself fat (I'm not) to my husband in front of our almost 3-year-old, which resulted in our daughter telling everyone she met for two days about how fat she was. I've learned my lesson, but I'm now worried about the body image my mother in law is presenting to my daughter. I try not to censor what people say to my daughter, unless it’s abusive, profane, etc., and am unsure of how to broach this topic with my MIL, or if I should even bring it up. My MIL is an overly sensitive person who is overly sensitive about her weight.
A: As is usual with cases like this, I think it's better for the biological relative to broach sensitive topics with in-laws. Your son can tell his mother that he knows she struggles with her weight—and he is proud of how well she is doing! But that kids are really impressionable and you particularly don't want your daughter hearing a lot of negative talk about body image. He can tell the anecdote about your 3-year-old and how that was a warning signal for all of you. Your mother-in-law will probably never be perfect in this regard, but let's hope she finds it liberating to not talk about her weight while enjoying being a grandmother.
Q. Re: Condom poking: I agree that the condom question is probably fake ... but I don't think, in the throes of passion, that I would notice a pin hole in the wrapper!
A: Your insight shows how bad I'd be at this kind of insemination game. Of course, the now-grandmother would have just have pierced the package and not actually opened it! My goodness, what if this is for real? In that case, Grandma, keep forever to yourself that you briefly ran a successful fertility clinic from your own home.
Q. Re: Grandma's fertility clinic: You're letting her off pretty easy. If her story is true, it's an incredible breach of trust, something so heinous that she should run, not walk to counseling.
A: Yes, it's totally appalling. Let me state unequivocally that grandma should stay away from the couple's birth control even if in a year or so she starts thinking it's time for a sibling.
Q. Free Shoes: I live in a fairly large apartment building, and we have an unattended mailroom, in which carriers routinely leave packages for residents to pick up. One of our (former?) neighbors in the building whom I do not know ordered a high quality pair of shoes, easily worth several hundred dollars. The shoes were packed in well-marked box and left by UPS in the mailroom. Although some folks had long-ago opened the box to investigate, six months after delivery, nobody has taken the shoes. The shoes are very nice, and, did I mention that they fit perfectly? I figure I have four choices: I could make the effort to take the shoes to one of the shipper's retail outlets, I could pay to ship them back, I could consign them to the mailroom for all eternity, or I could keep them. Can you offer some guidance and possibly some rationalization?
A: I think you should call the local TV station and have a crew come to your mailroom to record this example of the world's most honest apartment building. The Tale of the Abandoned Choos would become a fable for our time. I can think of a fifth option, which seems pretty obvious. Go to the management of the building, and say this tenant—either current or former—never received her shoes. If she's moved on, you hope they have her forwarding information so that the shoes end up in the right place. I'm guessing that given the time that has passed, the tenant is no longer in residence and either forgot about the order during the business of moving, or thought it never arrived and got reimbursed. If management does not have the information, since the shoes are tantalizing you and driving you crazy, then take it upon yourself to do some detective work. You have the order number, so contact the shipper and simply ask what you should do. If they want the shoes back, they should send you a free shipping receipt and you can arrange for UPS to pick them up. If they say too much time has passed and they've written off this order, then you've just gotten a pair of shoes that fit, Cinderella.
Emily Yoffe: Thank you all. I appreciate the chance to talk about the loss of the great Philip Seymour Hoffman. Perhaps his death will prompt some important discussion about addiction and the dangers of relapse.
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