Emily Yoffe, aka Dear Prudence, is on Washingtonpost.com weekly to chat with readers about their romantic, family, financial, and workplace problems. A transcript of this week's chat is below. (Read Prudie's Slate columns here.)
Emily Yoffe: Welcome to the holiday-themed chat. Let me warn you that you should take my Christmas advice with a grain of latke since I'm Jewish. However, I was raised in a secular home and grew up with Christmas trees, stockings, and Santa. So even though I no longer celebrate Christmas, I do have wonderful memories and some understanding of what the day means.
Minneapolis, Minn.: We got terrible news this week. Our 4-year-old lab is dying of metastatic cancer. His time left with us is measured in weeks. I'm absolutely heartbroken; he's young and I thought we had a lot more time.
We've been planning to go to my Mother-in-Law's for Christmas for several months. But she's several hundred miles and an 8 hour drive away (provided the weather's good). I'm not sure I want to put the dog in the car and drive him all that way, not to mention risk having something terrible happen while we're guests in her house.
Her suggestion is to leave the dog in a kennel. Prudie, he's dying! I don't want to leave him alone in a kennel, on Christmas. She thinks I'm being irrational—"he's just a dog"—but I feel like I have many more Christmases to spend with her than my pooch. What do I do?
Emily Yoffe: You don't say your mother-in-law is refusing to host the dog. If she is amenable to it, and the dog is good on car rides and can sleep most of the way, that might be the best compromise. Failing that, perhaps you and your husband could be apart this Christmas and he can return home, while you take care of the dog.
I understand how wrenching this is for you, but you are pretty far away from your mother-in-law's, and it would be a huge disappointment to her not to see at least some of you for Christmas. And while you may assume you have many, many more Christmases ahead with her, as you know from your own situation with your dog, you can never predict what will happen. I agree a kennel is out, but try to find a way to care for your dog and not leave your mother-in-law without her family at Christmas.
Washington Post-land: Our paper carrier kindly gave us a Christmas card (he can tell we celebrate Christmas from the type of bricks on our house, I guess, or maybe from the shingle color) with an addressed return envelope for a gift for him. The return envelope seems crass to us ... we recycled it. Bah humbug.
Emily Yoffe: He's not selecting you because he knows you celebrate Christmas. Our house says we don't and we got cards from all our carriers (we get three papers a day). I gladly write a check (I give them $75 each) for their excellent service. Your newspaper carrier gets up in the middle of the night every night, no matter what the weather, and has a paper on your doorstep every morning. He or she deserves a bonus. If the return envelope seems crass, your bill should have a line on it where you can write in an amount for a tip.
The way the industry is going, your carriers might have to find another line of work one day—so appreciate what they do for you now all year.
Houston, Texas: My parents are divorced and both have been remarried for years. My step-mother unfortunately falls under the "wicked" category and made our teen years very challenging because she "didn't want to raise any more children." Over the years the relationship between my father, my brother and myself has been strained. We still see him on occasion and tend to get together briefly for birthday lunches and Christmas. Every year I struggle with what gift to give them. I hate for it to be impersonal considering he is my father, but I do not know him very well anymore, so it becomes difficult to pick a gift. What would you suggest a daughter get her father that she hardly knows and sees 3 times a year?
Emily Yoffe: It's a subject for another time, but I have long wondered about mature men who, after getting divorced, decide to try again with someone who resents and wants to wish away the children from his first marriage. Are these women that good in bed? What would prompt a man to put a new wife ahead of his relationship with his kids?
But, in answer to your question, I think there are two ways to go here. One is before the Christmas lunch to have a phone conversation and say that since all of you are adults and can provide for your own needs, you'd prefer the pleasure of just getting together instead of exchanging gifts. The other is to make a contribution to a charity in his name, and give him a certificate indicating what you've done.
Bethesda, Md.: My husband's family refuses to make plans before any major holidays, often waiting until a day or two before the "big day" to decide at what house to congregate. It's usually ours.
For six years I've been trying to roll with it, but now that we have children, it's gotten really hard to do. I often wind up being given two days' notice to prepare a holiday meal for 10 people, while juggling my family's plans—which are always set weeks in advance and somehow always get trampled because of his family's lack of planning.
Now Christmas is coming again. I've had it. I've asked my husband to follow up with his family about plans but have gotten no responses. I've told him that I think someone else should host the holiday. Is it acceptable to flat-out refuse to host my in-laws if they pull their usual routine again? I'm feeling willing to go to them (all local, btw), but I really don't want to host them anymore unless they can give us ample notice like normal human beings.
Emily Yoffe: Have they not caught on that this Christmas thing happens every year, oh, around December 25th? What's with the, "Surprise! Christmas at your house this year! And boy, are we hungry." You have time now to put out the word that you can't—and won't—host this year, and that someone needs to step up. The family should then divide up the cooking duties so no one's Christmas is ruined. If you already have plans with your own family, go ahead and keep them. If your husband's crew can't get it together, they should stock up on the frozen turkey dinners so that they all don't go hungry.
Cinderelly, Cinderelly: My boyfriend and I entertain often, always in my apartment because it's more conveniently located. He's great at prepping food, getting the apartment set up, greeting guests, and so forth. He also always offers to help with the washing-up.
But when the party's over, he's all talk and no trousers. There's always one reason or another he can't (or won't) help—usually because he's too tipsy or sleepy, or his ride home is about to leave. So I seethe in the kitchen, feeling taken for granted and angry, while he starts coming up with ideas for the next gathering.