Daniel Mallory Ortberg, aka Dear Prudence, is online weekly to chat live with readers. An edited transcript of the chat is below. (Sign up below to get Dear Prudence delivered to your inbox each week. Read Prudie’s Slate columns here. Send questions to Prudence at email@example.com.)
Readers! Ask me your questions on the voicemail of the upcoming Dear Prudence podcast. Just leave a message at 401-371-DEAR (3327), and you may hear your question answered on a future episode of the show.
Daniel Mallory Ortberg: Let’s do this, comrades.
Q. The talk: I never got much sex ed. and certainly not from my parents. My sister once joked that our mother threw a box of tampons at her, said she could ask questions, and then practically ran away. So I recently asked my wife if she was planning on having some sort of talk with our daughter, because I wouldn’t feel comfortable having that talk with her. (When our son is old enough, I plan to take care of those talks.) She told me to stop asking weird questions and made it clear she didn’t want to talk about it. I was a little surprised, but I guess she’s gotten more conservative as we get older. Still, I was hurt that she assumed that I was being some sort of pervert when trying to come to some sort of consensus on how to educate our kids. So I’m not sure if I should just trust that our daughter will find out what she needs to know from school, and maybe from my wife (maybe she just didn’t want to tell me about what she’s telling her, which I’d understand), or if I should try to bring it up in a different way. Any ideas?
A: My main idea is for you to ask your wife why she thinks talking to your children about bodies and sex is “weird.” There’s nothing perverse about planning to explain to your daughter how her body works and what sex is; it’s one of the many duties of parenthood, and your wife’s squeamishness won’t excuse her from it. Refuse to allow her discomfort with the topic to put you off. Her irrational response (“Why do you want to talk about this when I don’t? What’s wrong with you?”) is an attempt to get you to leave her alone so she doesn’t have to think about the basics of sex ed., which is a childish stalling tactic. Calmly insist. If she again suggests you’re doing something wrong in bringing it up, remind her that having the sex talk is a standard-issue milestone for everyone, and there’s nothing inappropriate about discussing how you two want to handle it together. If your wife communicates to your daughter what she’s communicated with you (that talking about sex and bodies is perverse, that having questions is weird), she’s going to do her a real disservice.
Q. Friend’s son with Down syndrome hurts others: We have a group of friends that used to get together more frequently before we all had kids. Most have young children around our children’s ages. One couple has a teenage son with Down syndrome who is very strong and gets too rough with the little ones, chasing them and sometimes hurting one of them enough to cause tears. After several incidents, our kids are scared of him. I have explained what Down syndrome is and that he doesn’t mean any harm, but I can’t fault their feelings. My husband thinks that this couple should be invited to our child’s birthday party because those are some of the only times our friends get together and it would be rude to leave them out. I think that it’s a little kid’s birthday, and that a teenage boy who scares them doesn’t belong there. I can’t find articles or advice on the internet regarding this situation, and I feel like people will think it’s just special needs discrimination or that it should be a teaching moment when, to me, the teen really needs closer supervision (which is not a topic that can be broached with the parents). Help!
A: I’m not sure why you can’t discuss their son’s behavior with his parents, but you’ve really hamstrung me here. If the reason is mere discomfort (or the fact that they’ve bristled over previous discussions in the past), I think you’re going to have to forge ahead and have a painful conversation anyway. It’s not safe for your children to play with him at present without careful supervision, and it can’t be good for this boy to find his play frequently disrupted in tears and confusion. Surely it’s alienating and confusing for him to repeatedly be drawn out of playtime. He’s not hurting the younger children because he’s naturally destructive but because he’s being inadequately supervised and, it would seem, not given appropriate outlets for his energy. The situation is in some ways as unsafe for him as it is for the younger children.
That said, your question isn’t about how to deal with your friends’ son in the long term but whether or not you’d be able to host him at your child’s upcoming birthday party. I think right now the answer is no, and you should absolutely be honest with his parents as to why, otherwise they might assume your decision has been made as a result of stigma and feel further isolated.
Q. Respecting miscarriage grief: My SIL and I got pregnant around the same time, but sadly she miscarried. Recently she asked (via MIL) if my husband and I will skip the annual Christmas family get-together because she will be too upset to see my baby, who will by then be a few months old. I have been really looking forward to introducing my first child at this family gathering, which I’ve always looked forward to and enjoyed. I know she must be distraught over the loss of her baby, but I am also upset she is asking me to skip out on an important family milestone—if the situation were reversed, I would opt to miss the Christmas gathering rather than ask somebody else to not attend. Am I a jerk or is she out of line?
A: She is out of line, and your mother-in-law should never have brought this absurd request to you. No, asking people with children not to attend a Christmas celebration is not an appropriate response to having had a miscarriage. She is turning her grief outward, as if your having had a baby was something you did to her, or your living child is somehow an affront to her loss. It’s not. If she cannot stand seeing a baby (the world is full of them), she needs to focus on her own emotional well-being until she is well enough to do so.
Q. Buzzing neighbors: We have two large trees in our front yard. In one tree, there is a well-established beehive. It is pretty high up (20 feet or so) and centered where the tree splits into two larger trunks. Our neighbors recently asked us to remove the bees, as their kids have been stung a few times. While they are not allergic, having multiple stings a year is not fun. I think the bees are drawn to their pool. We contacted some bee relocation services and it seems the general consensus is we would have to exterminate the hive, as it is not well positioned for relocation. Personally, my husband and I would not want to remove the bees at all, especially if it means killing them. I don’t want to be a bad neighbor, and I feel bad that the kids have been stung, but bees do so much good. It doesn’t seem like there is a way for both sides to be happy. What do you think we should do?
A: I’m reluctant to encourage you to kill the hive, given that Colony Collapse Disorder is such a serious problem. (We’ve lost something like a third of the honeybee population in the U.S. over the last decade.) I’m also aware this probably isn’t the single colony that’s going to tip the scales. Still, we can’t really afford to lose more of them, and bee stings (for the nonallergic) are an unpleasant but hardly traumatic part of childhood. If they’re not getting stung regularly, I think you should at least consider leaving the hive where it is.
If, however, these bees are not honeybees, then I think your neighbor’s children should take precedence, and you should destroy the nest. If there are any apiarists out there with further suggestions, please write in and let us know!
Q. Hey—I just met you, and this is crazy: I have been working as a server in a restaurant for the past couple years. On several occasions, guests have left me their phone numbers on the check, often along with a note expressing interest in me and asking me to text them sometime. I have never taken anyone up on his or her offer, as I am in a happy and committed marriage. (I wear my ring every shift, so I never know if these guys are just not paying attention or choosing to ignore it.) Recently, another server had this happen, and she did not text them, as she has a boyfriend. But then the worst-case scenario happened: The same guest came back a week later, was sat in her section again, was cold and rude to her the entire time (despite being with friends), and topped it off by stiffing her on the tip. So my question is: Should we be texting these people to let them know we are unavailable or otherwise uninterested in order to avoid a situation like this? On one hand, never hearing from someone should get the message across. But on the other hand, this isn’t like most situations, where you will most likely never see the person again. These people know where we work, and lots of people make repeat visits to the same restaurants. I have never contacted someone to let them know I was unavailable, and I’ve never had it come back to bite me. Going forward, is it more polite to do so? And then there’s always the possibility that a nice “thanks but no thanks” text wouldn’t change anything and the guest would still be a jerk about it. What do you think?
A: Oh my god, what an actual nightmare. I’m trying to imagine the kind of entitlement and concomitant love for conflict that would lead a person to seek out a waitress who had turned him down for a date in order to stiff her on future tips, and I’m coming up horrified and blank. No, I do not think a polite “Thanks, but no thanks” text message could have averted this situation. I think this man was determined to be rude, and the gates of Hell themselves could not have stopped him. You do not owe the people who ask you out while you’re on the clock a formal rejection; anyone who gives a member of the service industry his number unsolicited must acknowledge, if only to himself, that he is swinging wildly in the dark. If that particular jerk returns, your co-worker should alert a manager to handle the situation; she shouldn’t be harassed at work for not accepting a date with a customer.
Q. Passengers on the sailed ship: I recently received an unexpected, passionate invitation from an old flame from South America to go away for a weekend while he is traveling through Europe. The message was very flattering, going on and on about how much he missed me, and how he couldn’t forgive himself were he to miss out on a chance to be with me again. I turned the invitation down, not only because I have no desire to cheat on my fiancé but also because he has a serious girlfriend who appears with him in every thinkable social media picture. It’s possible that they have an open relationship that I don’t know about, but I doubt it. Do I have any obligation to tell his girlfriend about this? If my fiancé were making similar plans, I would be heartbroken and rethink my engagement. He kept trying to convince me to join him, long after I said no. I never led this guy on, but I still feel terrible!
A: You don’t have an obligation, especially if you don’t know the girlfriend in question or the nature of their relationship, but you certainly wouldn’t be wrong to alert her to her boyfriend’s efforts to lure you into an affair. If you do, remember the Meddler’s Mantra: “This may all backfire on me.” If you’re willing to acknowledge the possibility she may blame you, call you a liar, or explain that she knew and encouraged his torrid missives, then go for it.
Q. Re: buzzing neighbors: I’m a beekeeper. They should provide a bee-safe water source (shallow enough so they don’t drown readily) in their own yard, close to the hive. Then the bees will leave the neighbors’ pool (and kids) alone, and the hive need not be relocated or destroyed.
A: Thank you!