Care and Feeding

My Daughter’s Dance Teacher Is Selling Costumes at a 100 Percent Markup

Come on, Miss Emma.

A mom looks skeptical as her 5-year-old daughter dances happily in a tutu.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by 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,

My 5-year-old daughter does dance lessons with a teacher she adores, Miss Emma. Her Christmas concert was this week, and Emma asked each parent to pay $50 for the concert costume. I’ve just picked up the costume, and it has a price tag for $25 still attached.

Emma is a very kind teacher, and my daughter very much wants to continue classes with her, but I feel a bit annoyed. I was led to believe she wasn’t making a profit on costumes, and if I’d known she was going to charge us twice the price, I would have gone to the store and purchased it myself. Should I say something to her? How can I phrase it to ensure we have a good relationship if my daughter continues to take classes with her?

—Double or Nothing

Dear Double or Nothing,

I am a very conflict-averse person by nature, but I am fairly confident I would have taken one look at the price tag and said, with a smile, “Oh, this is odd. I’m quite sure I paid you $50. Was there a sale after you told us the price?” And then I’d let her reaction/explanation be my guide.

Did she make alterations? Is it a way to defray other costs she’s personally footing the bill for at the Christmas concert? By all means, Emma, I would be delighted to hear!

If there is a reasonable explanation, I would accept it. If she is indeed charging a 100 percent markup for a store-bought costume, I would incline my head and stare dubiously at her, then say that going forward I’ll be happy to buy any required costumes myself, if given the proper information.

It’s unlikely that you being mildly irked is going to turn a nice dance teacher into Miss Trunchbull, and I wish your daughter all the best in her dancing.

Enjoy special holiday content from our Care and Feeding columnists, including a gift guide of classic toys for children of every age from Nicole Cliffe, coping strategies to survive the holidays from Jamilah Lemieux, and educational (but fun!) kid gift ideas from Ask a Teacher columnist Carrie Bauer.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My mother was murdered when I was 6. My daughter is 9, and though she has long been aware that my mom isn’t living, she has never asked much about her or seemed to give it much thought. Recently, though, she has brought her up a few times in passing, and she finally asked me last night what happened to her. I don’t feel like she is old enough to hear the truth, so I told her that it was a sad story and one I didn’t think she was ready to hear.

She asked several specific questions trying to determine the cause and even point-blank said, “Did someone murder her?” I was surprised and worried someone else may have told her, but when I asked what made her ask that, she said she just knew that that happens to people sometimes. I finally said we just weren’t going to talk about that part of it and that I’d prefer to focus on the good things I remember about her. She was very sad about it all and cried for nearly an hour on and off. My question is, should I have been honest in that moment? If not, what age is appropriate for this sort of thing?

—I Thought I Had More Time

Dear More Time,

I’m so incredibly sorry for your loss. What an awful tragedy to weather, and at such a young age. I can see why you would want to keep any knowledge of such a horrific event from your daughter as long as possible and appropriate.

As it is, I’m afraid the minute you said it was a sad story that she wasn’t ready to hear, the clock started ticking. I don’t think I would have done any better in the moment myself, honestly. My inclination was to tell you (and readers facing a similar situation) that, had we a time machine, “It makes me very sad to think about losing my mother. She died very suddenly when I was very young, and I’d like to focus on the lovely memories I have of her instead” would be good enough.

Then I asked my mother, who is visiting, and one of the best mothers I have ever met, and she said that if a 9-year-old asks you a straightforward question that you know the answer to, you should always tell them that answer. This explains why I annoyed my teachers with my frequently age-inappropriate knowledge base, but I think she’s probably right.

Sidestepping the truth seems only to have fueled her imagination (things too terrible to speak of!) and increased her upset. The truth would have come with difficult follow-up questions—“Why? How? Were you there? Could it happen to you? To me?”—but difficult questions are part of the job, death is part of life, and she really, really wanted a straight answer.

Again, my condolences. I suggest sitting her down and doing your best to tell her the truth. You can say that you needed to take a little time to be sad before explaining. She’ll understand.

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

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Dear Care and Feeding,

I am totally on board with money to the PTA, the book sale, the art teachers—all of which is to support the actual supplies and workings of my kids’ elementary school. But once a year the school does a fundraiser for an external cause—this year is finding a cure for cancer, last year was promoting heart health, etc. While these are all worthy causes, I don’t like the idea of choosing one cause that the school must unify around. And I despise the trinkets that are given to “motivate” the kids into fundraising more. I know that my kids are not transforming into little philanthropists—they want the keychain and plastic bracelet. And I’m certainly not going to create social media posts fundraising on behalf of my kids nor send them to neighbors to grub for money.

When my kids were younger, I used to be able to intercept and toss the paperwork, ending it before it began. But they’re in third grade now and they want those trinkets, and expect me and the grandparents to hand them some money. My question isn’t how to say no to their specific ask, but discussing the overall idea that giving is personal, and one shouldn’t participate just for the trinkets.

As I write this out, I realize that I simply don’t think the school should be doing fundraising out of its educational bounds. Would a thoughtfully worded letter to the principal (with no expectation of a change occurring) be worth it to voice an opinion?

—ENOUGH

Dear ENOUGH,

Oh, I loathe that stuff. I think a thoughtfully worded letter to the principal is completely appropriate, and as I become older and noisier, I think I’d be Norma Rae–ing the next time the whole thing came up.

Now that we’ve handled our muckraking with the school, we’ve got the kids. I think the answer is to talk about what causes matter most to us. Pick something that resonates with the whole family (my cousin was constantly shaking us down for the “blind dogs,” and it took about a year to figure out this meant service dogs for the blind), and make a habit of dropping couch cushion coins, pennies from the street, and voluntary allowance contributions into an appropriately labeled jar. Talk about the cause. Learn about it. Make it personal.

Once they’re a bit older, kids love saying “My parents say I don’t have to” when teachers begin handing out fundraiser stuff, because being permitted to be a minor smartass is sweeter than all the keychains in the world.

Dear Care and Feeding,

I am a woman in my late 20s who has recently become more serious with a man in his late 30s. He has full custody of his 15-year-old daughter. I’m about to move in. What can I do to be a happy addition to their lives? I was an unhappy and rebellious teenager, and I can’t begin to imagine how poorly I would’ve dealt with my dad’s girlfriend coming to stay, so I feel as if my own experiences as a teen are not very useful.

Fortunately, I really enjoy his daughter’s company, and I think she feels the same way about me. She is kind, cool, and smart. I want to make sure that I contribute to a positive environment and don’t overstep any boundaries, and that I am going into this situation fortified with some sage advice. Please help!

—Not Baroness Elsa

Dear NBA,

You’re already doing so well! I don’t think you need any advice! Do you have any for me?

I think you and your partner and his daughter should sit down at a nice restaurant, the kind adults eat at and children usually do not, and talk as mainly equals about how their household currently runs, what will change as a result of you moving in, and how best to bring it up when things get a bit off-course. That may mean setting a standard check-in once every week or two, just to say “We should buy more bananas because now we’re going through bananas more quickly” or “It’s fine if you borrow my sweaters—just ask first,” etc.

The simple fact that you are asking me how to make this transition as easy and pleasant for your partner’s daughter as possible suggests you are going to do splendidly.

Also, the Baroness had some points.

—Nicole

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We are moving from the overpriced Northeast city where I was born and raised to a slightly less expensive coastal city 1,200 miles away. This won’t occur until the end of the school year. I want my kindergartener to be excited about the move, but I, myself, am not totally thrilled about it. My question is: When to tell him?