Care and Feeding

Something Disgusting Happened in My Son’s Dorm Room and I Can’t Stop Thinking About It

It involves his hamper.

Two young men stand beside a hamper.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Kagenmi/iStock/Getty Images Plus, Kagenmi/iStock/Getty Images Plus, and Ridofranz/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

Care and Feeding is Slate’s parenting advice column. Have a question for Care and Feeding? Submit it here or post it in the Slate Parenting Facebook group.

Dear Care and Feeding,

We popped in to visit our son, a college junior, last Sunday, and discovered his plastic clothes hamper sitting in the bathroom filled with a mixture of bleach and water. When we asked about it, he went red and his roommates started laughing. No one would tell me what happened, and I started getting flustered, and we wound up leaving slightly earlier than planned. It had not been a planned visit, we were just driving by his college town, so now I am both inordinately obsessed with what happened to his hamper and also embarrassed to be That Mother, barging in and demanding answers.

—Hamper Stumper

Dear HS,

Oh, you sweet summer child. Your son either got very drunk and mistook his hamper for a toilet, or he got slightly less drunk and just threw up in it. Frankly, I am impressed that these fine young men didn’t just hose it off outside, and actually went out to acquire bleach! The children truly are the future.

These, of course, are not actually children. They are adults (college juniors!), as is your son, and you needn’t concern yourself with his excellent hamper cleanup efforts. He was not dissolving a body (although if he was, he was right to do it in plastic and not a bathtub, as in Breaking Bad).*

You have not done anything particularly wrong (merely awkward and prying). You gave his friends a chance to razz him a little, so if you see no other signs that he has a serious drinking problem, I suggest allowing this to fade gently into the mists of the past until he has his own kids and comes clean, as it were, about the Time He Deposited Bodily Fluids in the Hamper, which has happened to … many people.

Dear Care and Feeding,

I have seen many variations on this question elsewhere, but I want your read on it. My father was barely a presence in my life (and was usually three months behind on child support). My stepfather, however, has been a wonderful dad. Now my upcoming December wedding threatens to throw everything into chaos. My biological father is invited, he is coming, and he made an offhand reference to walking me down the aisle, at which point I hastily changed the subject to whether he wanted chicken or fish.

I want my stepdad to walk me down the aisle, along with my mother (we are Jewish, both parents traditionally walk down with both people getting married). I already asked him and he welled up. I have no intention of unasking him, I just need to know … how do I tell my biological father?

—Years of Detente, Down the Drain

Dear YoDDtD,

What a mess. Or, rather, what a delight that you have a strong father figure in your life and the opportunity to honor him in this tradition. Your biological father is the messy part.

You need to ask yourself a question I cannot answer for you: If your father throws a strop and refuses to attend the wedding at all, is that something you can deal with? I get the sense it is. Which makes this an easier conversation, if not an easy one, per se.

I think that, considering your spotty and infrequent communications, an email is a better option than a call, which can get heated very quickly. I will caution that I am a slight outlier on this particular question. I believe that delivering “bad” news via email allows the other party the dignity of reacting in their own home as they feel fit (scream away!) and then collecting themselves to respond when they are ready. That’s just me! You may be a serious-conversations-only-happen-in-person person.

I would first apologize and say that when he mentioned walking you down the aisle you were flustered and didn’t immediately know what to say. Then I would clearly and simply explain that you have asked your stepfather, as your primary parent throughout childhood, to walk you down the aisle with your mother. Assure him that he is a valued and welcomed guest at your wedding. Perhaps you can find some minor job for him to do, like the “have you signed the guestbook?” job so frequently given to the easily offended.

Then it’s in his court. Maybe he’ll cancel in a fit of pique, which he would eventually regret. If he says he’s coming, but he’s pissed about the situation, appoint a few large relatives to keep an eye on him during the ceremony and reception.

I’m sorry that this is distracting you from your wedding planning. I hope you have a lovely day.

• If you missed Thursday’s Care and Feeding column, read it here.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

My 11-year-old daughter does very, very well at school, and we invariably have A+ grade reports and assignments magneted to the family fridge. Our 8-year-old son is lazier, and tends to coast a bit. When he brings home B and B+ assignments, and we don’t put them on the fridge, his feelings are clearly a little hurt, but we honestly just want to encourage him to apply himself a little harder.

—Are We the Baddies

Dear Baddies,

What the hell? When did a B+ not become fridge-worthy? He’s EIGHT. Of course his feelings are hurt! Put his damn work on the fridge before you drive a wedge between him and his golden sister for the next few decades.

Get him a tutor, talk to his teachers, deal with his “bad” grades however you wish, but do not turn your fridge into the Battle of Agincourt in hopes it’ll shame him into applying himself.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My 16-year-old daughter has gotten very into tarot cards and astrology. We are Catholics, though not churchgoers, and send her to a parochial school. She doesn’t bring her cards to school, but we’re wondering if we should come down harder on this behavior in general, as tarot cards are linked to the occult and astrology is also not exactly in line with Catholic practice.

—Is This Silly?

Dear Silly,

(Massages temples)

Is Mercury in retrograde? Please do not bother your daughter about this. It could not matter less to anyone. I say this as an actual, churchgoing Christian. Perhaps she and our goth candle teen could become friends.

—Nicole

More Advice From Slate

My husband and I are expecting our first child in four months, and we’re really excited. The problem? My brother and his girlfriend are expecting their second baby two months after us, and we’re both really angry about it. I know I should be happy, but this particular brother has a history of constantly trying to one-up me and do things just because I’m doing them. I really think he planned this so that they could try to do a dual baby shower and cash in on our gifts. How do I get over the anger about this?

Correction, Oct. 11, 2019: Due to an editing error, this article originally misstated a Breaking Bad reference. You should learn from Walter White and dissolve a body in plastic, not a bathtub.