Dear Care and Feeding,
Early this past summer, my precocious 11-year-old daughter and I were downtown when she pointed out two teachers from her school walking hand in hand. She said that these two had always seemed particularly close but she hadn’t realized that they were dating.
School started a few weeks ago, and she has both of them as teachers this year. On the first day, the male teacher shared with the class that he lives with his wife, three young children, and a menagerie of pets, while the female teacher explained that she lives alone with her two cats—much to my daughter’s shock. They teach together, although they are supposed to be teaching different subjects separately. They have adjacent rooms and have gone so far as to convince the school to put windows in between their classrooms, so that they can teach both classrooms at once. My daughter says that most of her school day is spent listening to the male teacher lecture, while the female teacher sits at her desk. They have also briefly hugged and held hands in front of her and a few other kids.
My daughter, a levelheaded girl, seems perplexed and disturbed by this behavior. What, if anything, should I do? I know the principal’s style well and I know that she would likely tell me that my daughter is imagining things if I were to complain to her. However, this is not behavior I want modeled for my preteen child.
—Shocked and Appalled
WOOOOOOWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWW. (Repeat ad infinitum.)
My staunch views on infidelity and my lifelong love of drama are in deep conflict here. At 11, I’d be rushing home breathless and excited to share the day’s latest scoop with my mother. (“They were cuddling during the fire safety assembly, Mommy. Cuddling!”) In fact, I kinda want to call her now and tell her about your letter.
Alas, I doubt my mom would share my enthusiasm for this middle school Melrose Place you’ve described because she’d be too horrified by the messiness, which seems to be the case with your daughter—and that’s a good thing. She seems both aware that her teachers may be crossing some moral and ethical boundaries and that their approach to integrating their respective classrooms is pretty strange and likely inappropriate.
I say they “may” be crossing boundaries because there is the possibility that the two are actually married and/or otherwise in a relationship that is acceptable outside of the school, but are pretending otherwise because of rules that prevent them from being romantically involved. That would be a somewhat ridiculous charade, but is it not ridiculous to combine their classrooms and have one person doing the majority of the lecturing while the other one grades papers or listens intently like a love-struck teenager? It’s definitely ridiculous to hold hands with and hug your “co-teacher” (the one you claimed for yourself and forced the school to accept) in front of kids.
You say you don’t think the principal would believe you, but I’m curious as to why, since you also witnessed them behaving like lovers this summer and they’ve scammed the school into combining their classes. Perhaps an inquiry from you might finally trigger the “Why did Adam and Sarah need to share a classroom anyway?” lightbulb in her mind. (Seriously, though: Is your daughter sure this isn’t a practice taking place in other grades or homerooms? Because this is rather curious regardless of any outside relationship between the teachers, particularly the part about one instructor seemingly leading a class that is not his own.)
Your primary concern seems to be how to talk about all this with your child, as opposed to petitioning for some sort of change in how this dynamic plays out in the classroom. That is fair. This raggedy mess is a good opportunity to explain the complicated nature of human beings. These two can be great teachers that excel at their jobs while also being selfish, inconsiderate, and in the case of the maybe-married man, disloyal. People are complex and flawed, and teachers—those trusted authority figures who don’t usually seem to exist outside of the hours of 8 a.m. and 3 p.m.—are, in fact, people. Romantic relationships are also more complicated than she may realize. The concept of polyamory or open marriage may be lot for a kid to comprehend, perhaps, but they are increasingly normal and certainly worth a cursory explanation, as is the idea that there are husbands and wives (and wives and wives, and unmarried partners, etc.) who are not exclusive and have agreed to also see other people.
I’m sure your kiddo has some level of familiarity with divorce, be it from real-life experiences or from media. If she, somehow, is unaware of infidelity as a frequent factor in the demise of marriages (which is pretty unlikely at 11), you can explain to her that sometimes people fall in love with someone new before they’ve parted ways with their spouse.
Back to the teachers: If these two are, in fact, having an affair, the messiness that that could result in may have a more devastating impact on your daughter’s school experience than it already has. Imagine what may happen if they have a nasty breakup, or if these two get caught being even more trifling than they already have been, if you know what I mean.
I urge you to reconsider sharing the observations that you and your daughter have made with the principal. Do so anonymously, if you feel there might be repercussions otherwise. The combined classroom situation takes this beyond the realm of speculation about the nature of the relationship between these two people and gives you every right to express concern for how their professional partnership may affect your child.
Furthermore, it is unfair to expect a child to bear witness to behavior that is seemingly inappropriate for a married professional and the single colleague with whom he chose to share a workspace without feeling, at the very least, uncomfortable. If they are, in fact, doing what it sure looks like they’re doing, they brought whatever may come of this on themselves, and it would be better to see them tossed out on the street than to see an angry wife storm the school looking for her (possibly) dirty dog man and his trifling (maybe) lover.
Regardless of how you proceed with the principal, encourage your daughter to focus her attention elsewhere as much as she can, and to avoid the temptation of gossiping with her friends. If these two continue to make her uncomfortable, you may also consider sending one or both of them an anonymous note saying that it certainly appears that they are more than just colleagues and encourage them to be more discreet on school grounds in the best interest of their students, as well as their own careers. Good luck and please, please update us on this.
Dear Care and Feeding,
My 6-year-old recently wanted to put a temporary tattoo on her face for picture day at her school. We have generally been of the opinion that our kids can dress or adorn themselves as they please, as long as they aren’t doing anything permanent or that would get them kicked out of class. However, I didn’t particularly want to have her wear a distracting tattoo on her face for her school picture.
Assuming the school would allow it, would you let your kid wear the tattoo? Does it matter what age they are? Mind you, this was not a small one with, say, a butterfly or stars; it was a palm-sized bright pink square with a picture of a mom and a baby from the movie Storks, with the word “Storks” on it.
—Pretty Cool Mom
As a fellow mom to a 6-year-old girl (who is highly capable of making a similar request—thank goodness she doesn’t read this column), I am imagining her presenting me with this rather large temporary tattoo, as she earnestly asks with puppy-dog eyes whether she can memorialize her first year of grade school with a big-assed tattoo on her face, and I feel tears of laughter welling up in my eyes.
Would I allow my kid to wear a temporary face tattoo to school for picture day? Absolutely not. Children are now subject to being photographed on any day ending in y, but I still maintain a level of authority over any professional photos that will be shared with other family members, published in a yearbook, distributed to classmates, etc. And don’t forget—picture day also includes that awkward photo of all the kids looking absolutely miserable alongside their smiling teacher! If she wants to take a picture with a large promotional item from a movie plastered on the side of her face, she’ll have plenty of opportunities to do so on a day when there’s no school, no professional photographers, and no possibility that she’ll see either of her grandmothers (because I am not having that argument).
I am with you in terms of believing that kids should be able to express themselves through their appearance within reason. The trend of children coloring their hair gets me very excited, as I cannot wait for my daughter to embrace my habit of rocking fantasy-colored tresses. And I think we should all encourage our kiddos to explore fashion from a very young age so that they have a sense of style that might stretch beyond embracing current trends or wearing what their parents pick out for them.
However, I would not recommend allowing your child to wear a temporary tattoo of any size on her face to school on any occasion. On her arm or hand, sure, no big deal. But a face tattoo is bound to be distracting for both classmates and teachers, and could easily inspire a rule prohibiting temporary tattoos altogether, which would be a bummer (especially for the team responsible for promoting the movie Storks—who owe your kid a check, by the way, as I hadn’t heard of it before your question).
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Dear Care and Feeding,
I’m a transmasculine person who is going to be a dad for the first time. My wife and I have been going through IVF for about a year, and we are overjoyed. Now that people know we’re going to have a baby, they keep asking about gender. “Do you know what the baby is?” “Do you want a boy or a girl?” Even my wife keeps wistfully saying that she hopes it’s a girl.
I don’t want to upset my wife, who is going through so much for the sake of our kid. But every time she says that she wants the baby to be a girl, my heart hurts. Everyone in my family wanted me to be a girl, and I ended up being a huge disappointment. I don’t want our sweet baby to ever feel like a disappointment because of their gender identity.
I know my wife would never intentionally put that sort of pressure on our kid, but I’m worried about the future. What if our daughter’s a tomboy? What if our son likes dresses? What if they’re trans? What if they’re intersex?
I want our kid to feel safe to explore all sides of their gender and to enjoy clothes and toys regardless of the gender that society assigns them. And I want my heart to stop hurting every time someone genders our baby, who is currently the size of raspberry.
I know I need to talk to my wife about how I feel. What do you think is the best way to gently approach this with her?
—I Just Want My Baby to Be Happy
I am sorry that your wife is being so insensitive to your identity and experiences. I wish that I were surprised, but, alas, simply loving someone who is trans does not mean that she is automatically inclined to be empathetic or understanding … and it seems clear that she has not taken the time to either educate herself about gender identity, or that she hasn’t made the logical connection between her own husband’s journey with gender identity and what remains unknown about your unborn child.
I’ll also admit that many of us who’d like to think of ourselves as empathetic allies to our trans loved ones and neighbors are equally guilty of fixating on the biological genders of our children before they’ve had an opportunity to explain to us who they are for themselves, or selfishly thinking of what they’d like to do with a child as opposed to preparing to love and affirm whatever child we are fortunate to have.
I think the way you outlined your concerns here is already very gentle and a more than reasonable way to broach the subject with your wife. Politely remind her that your gender identity was not apparent to your parents at birth and that the same may be true for the child she’s carrying. Let her know that you’d love to have the little girl she’s dreaming of, just as readily as you’ll love any child that was born of your shared love for one another, but that you also hope that she won’t be disappointed if she doesn’t give birth to her own little “mini me,” that the constant speculation about the baby’s gender from other people triggers some anxiety within you, and that you’d appreciate it if she could refrain from engaging in that behavior in your presence.
Your wife can wax poetic about having a little girl with one of her friends or relatives if she must (and hey, perhaps her vision of a daughter may be expansive enough to consider that said daughter may be trans), but let her know that the conversations you need to have with her about the matter should focus on how you plan to introduce the concept of gender to the child, how you’d like to give them the opportunity to explore their identity without forcing one upon them, and how this will factor into things such as nursery décor, clothing, books, and toys, as well as how you’ll engage with these issues with your loved ones. You may also need to encourage her to take the time to better understand your own unique experiences, as well as gender identity and expression in general.
Hopefully, she’ll get it together rather quickly and will apologize profusely for making you feel bad. Best of luck to the three of you!
Dear Care and Feeding,
My wife is a terrible cook. Like, really, really, really bad. Much of what she makes is virtually inedible. Fortunately, I am pretty decent in the kitchen myself, and we live in a neighborhood where Seamless, Uber Eats, and Postmates offer pretty solid delivery options. Unfortunately, however, my darling wife seems to be unaware of just how bad her cooking is, and worse, she really enjoys cooking for me.
I’ve been pushing overcooked salmon and undercooked chicken around my plate dutifully through three years of dating and two years of marriage. I got a break during my wife’s pregnancy because she didn’t often feel well enough to stand in front of the stove. During that time and in the first few months of our daughter’s life, I gladly took on the cooking duties and identified the best carryout spots around in hopes that she’d get used to staying out of the kitchen for good.
Alas, my wife is now six months postpartum and excited to get back to “taking care of hubby,” as she puts it, and sharing her culinary disasters with our poor, innocent child who cannot fend for herself like I can. She’s talking about making homemade baby food and I am terrified.
I’m not a picky eater, but I struggle to force myself to eat her cooking. What’s going to happen if our little girl is a picky eater (aren’t most kids?) and can’t hide her own natural reactions to her mom’s yucky food? Be clear, I’m not terribly concerned about having to slog through these meals myself, but as a kid who grew up with parents who both cooked really well, I don’t want my daughter to have to suffer at mealtime. Also, it’s clear to me that cooking for her family means a lot to my wife, so I don’t want to take that away from her either. How do I protect her feelings and our stomachs all at once?
Bless your heart for keeping this secret from your beloved one for all these years. She’s never observed how much of your plate makes it into the garbage, or that you don’t go back to the kitchen for seconds or late night snacks? You may have a future in acting, or your wife may be really good at pretending not to notice.
I’d wager that while your lady may believe that you genuinely enjoy her cooking, or that it’s at least edible enough for you to tolerate, that deep down she knows that she’s not an excellent cook. If her food is that bad, it’s hard to imagine that she’s never seen how friends, former lovers, or other family members have a negative reaction to it.
The next time that she cooks, start planting some seeds in her head about things that she can improve. “Babe, I’m so glad you made a salad tonight. I ate too much junk at work today and I feel it weighing on me. Speaking of, I really feel like I need to cut back on my salt intake. Do you think we could start using a bit less when we make meat? I’m loving all these tomatoes and greens, but the chicken is joining forces with those fries I had earlier.” Be sensitive to her feelings while also speaking to her desire to “take care of hubby.” If her cooking is an expression of her affection for you, hopefully she’ll want to see you enjoy the fruits of her hard work.
Find a local culinary institute or community center that offers cooking lessons and purchase some as a gift—be sure to go for classes that are (hopefully) simple enough for her to succeed in but not an obvious commentary on her skills: “Savory Fall Soups,” “Romantic Meals for Two,” “Healthy Soul Food,” etc. If you’re able to find time to do so, you can even take the classes together, which would make it easier for you to help her improve since you’d be reinforcing what the instructor said, not simply meddling.
As far as preparing food for the baby, most of the homemade dishes that she can eat at this point are fairly simple: pureed carrots, mashed sweet potatoes, and such.
Get a baby food cookbook and make this a shared activity as well. Hopefully, by the time your daughter is old enough to say, “This is yucky,” it will be a matter of personal taste, not facts. Good luck!
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