Click here to read a transcript of Prudie’s live weekly chat with readers at Washingtonpost.com.
I share an apartment with four other women. We found one another on Craigslist and maintain a cordial environment within our common spaces but don’t interact socially. One of my roommates is four and half months pregnant but still smokes about half a pack of cigarettes a day. This girl isn’t even 20 years old and has no college education. I don’t believe the pregnancy was planned or is particularly wanted. One of the factors that’s made living with so many other women in a small apartment successful is respecting one another’s privacy. But do I have an obligation to say something to her? Is it possible she’s not aware that her behavior is harmful to her baby? Could I anonymously slip some information under her door? I hesitate to get into someone else’s business, but I worry for her unborn child. Should I leave this one alone?
—Not Her Mother
The issue is an innocent child who is being damaged in utero. Smoking increases the chances of an underweight or premature baby, which can result in a lifetime of complications. And I’m betting a young woman who’s smoking while carrying an unwanted child may also be engaging in other destructive behaviors, such as drinking, and is probably neglecting vital prenatal care. Even at the risk of disrupting your placid, hands-off living arrangement, you must speak up. Invite her to your room and say you are concerned about her and the baby and want to make sure she is getting the kind of medical care that will result in a good outcome. If she doesn’t have an obstetrician, say you’ll phone Planned Parenthood and see whether it provides such services or can refer her. Then offer to accompany her to the appointment. This young woman, so unready to be a mother, needs some nurturing and guidance herself. If she opens up to you, you two can discuss how she plans to care for the baby or whether she is considering placing the child for adoption. I know all you wanted out of your living arrangement was a quiet place to sleep and shelf space for your yogurt. But you will not be this girl’s roommate forever, and right now your intervention could make an enormous difference to two lives.
I have a 7-year-old daughter, “C,” with Asperger syndrome. Recently, a girl in my daughter’s first-grade class, “M,” had a birthday party. Every girl in the class was invited except for my daughter. C was extremely hurt and confused, because she considers M her friend. At C’s party last November, we invited every girl in her class, and all of them attended, even M. What is wrong with this girl and her parents? I am tempted to e-mail the parents to let them know how cruel and unfeeling their actions were to my daughter. C had to listen to all of the girls talking about the party, both in anticipation of it and then afterward. Being left out has made her even more of a misfit with her peers. The mother bear in me just wants to roar. Should I contact the parents to let them know the pain their actions have caused, not to mention their poor manners at not reciprocating an invitation?
—Protective of Her Cub
The mother bear in me would like to swat these parents myself. But your daughter is going to be classmates with this girl for a long time, and as angry as you are, the purpose of the conversation you have with her parents should be to maximize the chances of your daughter being included in future events, not to put them on the defensive. Forget pointing out to them their rudeness at not reciprocating the invitation—not every child gets invited to every birthday party. But in this case, your child was the only girl excluded, and that’s not acceptable. Muster all the self-control you can, call the parents, and say you’d like to sit down with them without the kids present. Tell them your daughter has Asperger’s, which means that while she has many extraordinary qualities, she needs help learning how to adapt to social situations. You understand her condition makes your child different, even sometimes difficult, but it was horribly painful for her to know that she was the only girl not invited to their daughter’s party. You hope that one of the lessons the rest of the children can learn from your daughter is how to understand people who have different ways of interacting. Tell them you know a birthday party is a little thing, but not to a 7-year-old. Say you hope now that these parents understand, they can help you put the word out to the other parents to please include C in such future social events. Next, ask for a meeting with your daughter’s teacher and principal. Explain that this incident has marked your daughter as an outcast, and see how they can intervene. Possibly for the future, the school can suggest guidelines for birthday parties, for example asking that invitations should either be extended to all classmates (or all classmates of one gender), or else fewer than half should be invited. And when your daughter’s birthday comes around, invite M; you will be giving your cub a lesson in graciousness.
I am a 30-year-old married female. Since I started a new job a year ago, I have been very attracted to a handsome, smart, and funny colleague. (Might I shamefully add that I am not bad-looking and not a bimbo.) At first I thought it was just a passing phase, but it’s not. I’ve never been so attracted to someone in my whole life, not even my husband. It feels like an innate emotion, something beyond my control, like an invisible string that pulls me toward him. I haven’t said or done anything to give myself away, but it’s getting harder. I’m in this dreamy state of mind after I talk to him. He is single, aware of my marital status, and has never come on to me. I don’t know what his feelings are toward me, but I cannot stop thinking and fantasizing about him. Should I try to stop these emotions or let fate and nature take their course?
Since you have such a wonderful husband, whom you say is—oops, sorry, you didn’t actually say anything about your husband, except that you apparently have never been very attracted to him. Stop with the “fate and nature” romance-novel lines. If something happens, it will be because you made known your desire to have an extramarital affair. Perhaps your colleague is tangled in string theory, too, and is hoping you two can tie each other in knots. Or perhaps he’s noticed he has an attractive married co-worker who seems overly interested in him, and he plans to avoid such a mess. But what actually matters here is the state of your marriage. If this has made you realize you don’t really have strong feelings for your husband, then deal with that, instead of trying to seduce a colleague.
One of my best friends has been in jail for a year and could be behind bars for up to two more. She had two pet sugar gliders, which I took when she was arrested. The other night, when I went to feed them, one was in very bad condition. I took him to the veterinarian, and he seemed to be improving, so I sent her a letter telling her what happened and that she shouldn’t worry. Unfortunately, the sugar glider just died. I don’t know what to tell her. I have grown attached to the little guys, and I am very upset. Another friend suggested that I tell her he’s fine, then let her know he died once she is released. I really don’t want to lie to her! However, she does have problems with depression, and, given her current situation, I don’t know how this news would affect her. I don’t know what to do.
You don’t mention that your friend is serving time for trafficking in exotic animals, but I’ll bet the kind of judgment that landed your friend in jail also drew her to conclude that what she needed as a pet was a nocturnal marsupial from Australia. I learned from this Web site that these tiny, adorable creatures require a rigorous, insect-based diet; a cage large enough so that they can jump great distances; and companionship of other sugar gliders, without which they can fall into a self-mutilating depression. In other words, neither humans nor sugar gliders thrive in captivity. The owner of a sugar glider should be prepared for “poo and pee on your clothes, skin, hair, and furniture” and know that “in the wild they normally peel bark off of trees, [and] human skin is much softer and easier for them to bite into.” With proper care, sugar gliders can live to be 15 years old. I’m assuming that while you may be well-meaning, you have not been able to give the kind of attention these animals require. You don’t know when your friend is going to be released, but since you have affection for the remaining animal, the kindest thing you can do is to release it to a better situation. The Web site of Wildlife International can direct you to organizations that can help you search for a proper place for your sugar glider. As for what you tell your friend, make it the truth. Explain that after the death of one of her pets, you wanted to be sure the other got the best care possible.