Dear Prudence

I’m Worried My Deaf Son Is Being Used as “Inspiration Porn”

Prudie’s column for Jan. 3.

A woman signing to a child as another child looks on.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Huntstock/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

Dear Prudence,
I have two children, the younger of whom is Deaf. Though some Deaf people consider themselves disabled, still others do not and instead consider themselves part of a cultural minority. My husband and I (both hearing) are working hard to learn American Sign Language and integrate ourselves into the Deaf community. Through our son we are connected to a local school for the Deaf, and herein lies the issue. Recently I came home to find that a nearby church had sewn quilts for all of the children at the school. A sweet gesture … but my older son, who is hearing, has never come home from child care with more than some fun art projects. The school wants us to take pictures of our children with these quilts to send along to the church, but I really balk at this—I’m worried my children are being used as “inspiration porn.” I’d much rather these churchgoers spent the time to volunteer at the school or learn ASL instead of making quilts and asking for photos demonstrating their charity. Am I being overly sensitive?
—Misguided Charity?

You can decline to let your children participate in any group photos you don’t feel comfortable about! Generally speaking, if it’s not a picture you’d take yourself to share with friends and family, it’s better to err on the side of being too restrictive. Tell the school that it doesn’t have your permission to include your child in any publicly shared photos. If you’re worried this may be part of a broader trend that involves letting well-meaning but clueless strangers offer unasked-for and unnecessary presents because of their assumptions about Deaf students’ needs, then you should certainly express your reservations to the school administrators. I imagine that part of the reason you’re worried you’re being “too sensitive” is because these would-be do-gooders offered the kids handmade gifts and clearly mean well, so it might seem churlish to opt out of the pictures or to ask that the school reconsider donations it would otherwise accept. But all you owe anyone is basic politeness and respect in saying “thanks” or “no thanks.” Just because they decided one day they wanted to make a quilt for your kid, completely absent any personal relationship or stated need, does not obligate you to accept it.

Dear Prudence,
I’ve been dating a guy for about a month and a half now (we’re both gay). Recently I met his friends for the first time, and he volunteered that we met at a “group medical meeting,” where all members had the same illness. Instantly the air went out of the room, and I could feel the others felt sorry for not only him, but for me. I am not comfortable sharing this medical information, and I haven’t even shared it with my own family. How do I tell him that this will make me uncomfortable? I do not want to offend him, and I don’t want to hide behind my illness either.
—When to Disclose

I don’t think you should worry too much about offending him, given that he spent absolutely zero time thinking about how disclosing your private medical information to all of his friends might affect you. It’s not “hiding behind your illness” to say that you’d rather be the one who decides when, how, and if you disclose that information to other people. My guess is that your support group has some sort of formal policy about not outing other members’ status (and if it doesn’t, it should), so your boyfriend can’t exactly claim ignorance either. He should have asked you first, and he owes you an apology for springing this on you and turning what should have been a relatively low-key getting-to-know-you meeting into something uncomfortable and full of unnecessary, unwanted pity. If he’s not pretty quick to realize why what he did was wrong and to offer a sincere apology, you might want to reconsider this still-new relationship. What other serious things is he liable to treat casually?

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Dear Prudence,
I’m lucky to live on a street with friendly, kind neighbors. The folks directly next door are the nicest people, but their house is in terrible condition: peeling paint, dry-rotted windows, and a roof that needs redoing. They are aware it looks terrible and have been claiming for years that a painter is coming to spruce the place up at any moment. Sometimes they start an improvement, but it never gets finished. For instance, they took down their shutters (in preparation for the phantom painters), so now everyone sees the dirty outline of missing shutters on their house. Then they needed to do some drainage work, so they ripped up the side yard that adjoins mine. (The drainage work was completed, but they never replanted, so we’ve got a weed patch between our homes.) They also did some window work, but that resulted in a large window being boarded up with plywood for the better part of a year. They did eventually take the plywood down, thank goodness, but they also stopped fixing the rest of the windows. I thought maybe it was a financial issue that could be stopping them from fixing the house. Yet they go on vacation regularly, have newer vehicles than most of the people on our street, and buy extravagant gifts for their adult children. They also hire a gardener for their yard. (It looks wonderful … but is unfortunately behind a privacy fence, so not something that benefits the neighborhood.) Every other neighbor has privately expressed frustration at the way the house looks, but none of us really knows how to bring it up with them. They keep talking about their upcoming trip to Europe, and I find myself feeling really resentful! Is there some way to bring this up with them that won’t result in neighborhood strife? Or should I just count my blessings and avert my eyes?
—Love the Neighbors, Hate Their House

Yes, count your blessings. You have friendly neighbors, you presumably own property, and your own house is apparently in good condition. Avert your eyes when the sight of plywood gets to be too much.

Dear Prudence,
My husband and I have an incredible marriage, but our relationship with his mom is strained. He has a small family, and we rarely see them. Every time we are around them, though, I feel awkward and ridiculous. I’m a funny person—90 percent of the people in my life say so—and my sense of humor is one of my favorite qualities and the only quality I feel consistently good about. My in-laws don’t see it, and all my jokes, which increase when I’m nervous, land with a thud. Every time I’m around them, I feel awkward and nervous because of my last interaction with them, which makes me extra nervous, and then I say something else weird. I am rapidly becoming Chandler Bing, and I hate it. My husband doesn’t seem to notice this, and no one has said anything about it, but I feel it, and it makes even brief visits with them uncomfortable for me. How can I move past this and not feel so miserable around my in-laws?
—Straining the Moment

It will do you good to let go of the need to try to be funny around them, or even to think of yourself as a “funny person,” if only once in a while. No one is funny 100 percent of the time, and your in-laws clearly do not need (or want!) you to make them laugh. There’s a miserable feedback loop in place for you right now, where you feel already off-kilter the moment you set foot in the same room as your in-laws, so you start making jokes because your sense of humor is the only part of your personality you feel completely, consistently good about. So when that fails, you don’t just feel like you’ve messed up a little bit; you feel like you can’t do anything right and like your in-laws have rejected your most essential self. That’s pretty rough and a lot of unnecessary pressure. I think you should talk to your husband about this dynamic before you make plans to see them next, not because he can fix it for you, but because it will help you to say out loud: “I’m going to try something different the next time we see your family. Usually, I’m a little nervous, so I tell a lot of jokes to cover up for my nervousness, but that hasn’t worked well for me. Today I’m just going to ask how they’re doing and let the conversation flow naturally from there. I’m a little anxious at the prospect of sitting through a brief silence or two, but I’m ready to try something new.”

Dear Prudence Uncensored

“I expect you are trying way too hard and stepping on your own dick as a result.”

Daniel Mallory Ortberg and Nicole Cliffe discuss this letter in this week’s Dear Prudence Uncensored—only for Slate Plus members.

Dear Prudence,
My team at work primarily consists of strong women I really look up to. A couple of months ago, a man in his 50s joined our team, although we don’t work with him on a daily basis. When we do have larger team meetings, he usually interrupts my boss to explain something that she not only has already mentioned but probably knows more about than he does! His tone is usually very brusque, and these moments tend to feel awkward, especially as he’s long-winded. I’m not sure what to do. He’s otherwise polite, but I don’t like seeing my boss (or anyone for that matter) interrupted when she’s the expert on the subject being discussed. Should I speak to her about it and see if she’s noticed? He doesn’t report to her. Bring it up to him? I’m in my late 20s, so I’m not sure how well that would go. Or just ignore it?
—How to Interrupt the Interrupter

Even if this guy doesn’t report to your boss, if she’s leading these meetings, she’s well within her rights to ask team members to save their questions until after she’s finished talking. It’s fine to raise this issue with her the next time the two of you meet one-on-one: “I’ve noticed that Maximandrake has a habit of interrupting during team meetings, usually to restate things you’ve already said, and that these interruptions are distracting and eat up a lot of unnecessary time. Is there a way to address this?” If she decides not to have a conversation with him, don’t press it; since you do report to her, it’s not really your place to insist that she does. If she is receptive to the idea, takes him aside, and tells him he needs to cool it, great. And if he still derails your next meeting, you don’t have to just chew your nails and trade pointed glances with your co-workers, especially if he’s obviously rehashing something that’s already been said: “I think Boss already covered [Subject X] when she mentioned [Subject X–inclusive Issue Y]. Do I have that right?”

Dear Prudence,
I am a college student with three aunts on my stepmother’s side. Each holiday, two of them send me a Christmas gift. My dad always asks what I’d like, then relays the message onto them. For the past five years, I’ve always requested and received gift cards. My (very low stakes) question: How can I write better thank-you notes? I am friendly with these aunts, but we aren’t at all close, simply because of geography (I haven’t spoken to any of them since 2015). My stepmother relays general life updates between her sisters and me. Currently the formulation I use is one to two sentences of specific thanks or how I plan to use the gift, one sentence of general good wishes plus one sentence of “hope to see you soon,” and an offer to host if they are ever in the area where I attend school. This seems so bland and perfunctory! How can I improve my thank-you notes without making any statements that would ring false considering our friendly but not intimate relationship?
—Help Spice Up My Thank-You Notes

Thank-you notes are definitively bland and perfunctory! This is a sign that you are doing thank-you notes right, weird as that may seem. Frankly, going into detail about how you plan on using the gift and offering to host them if they’re ever in the neighborhood probably puts you in the top 20 percent of thank-you note writers. (Besides, how creative can a person get when writing about a gift card, an admittedly useful but hardly meaningful or personal gift?) If you’re getting a little tired of the usual ritual and you’d like to include a few lines about what you’ve been up to lately, instead of relying on your stepmother to pass those updates along, feel free to do so, but otherwise don’t treat thank-you notes as outlets for your creativity and individuality.

Classic Prudie

“I met a girl on an online dating website, and we started chatting online and eventually on the phone. She was smart and funny, and we connected really well. She expressed apprehension that I might not like her when I saw her. When we met for dinner, I saw that she was overweight. However, our first date went well. We’ve been on three dates now, and she’s a marvelous human being: caring, sweet, and smart. I know that just by asking you this question I come off as a really shallow person, but I can’t seem to find the physical attraction. There is this voice in my head that tells me to appreciate the physical side of her, too, but I can’t do that. Should I discuss this with her?