Dear Prudence

The Neighbor Kids Tore Up My Garden. Now Their Mom Says I’m a Bigot.

I don’t want her to spoil my relationship with my other neighbors, but people keep asking me about it.

Young child hiding behind a bouquet of flowers
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Getty Images Plus.

Slate is now asking those who read the most to support our journalism more directly by subscribing to Slate Plus. Learn more.

To get advice from Prudie, send questions for publication to prudence@slate.com. (Questions may be edited.) Join the live chat every Monday at noon. Submit your questions and comments here before or during the live discussion. Or call the Dear Prudence podcast voicemail at 401-371-DEAR (3327) to hear your question answered on a future episode of the show.

Dear Prudence,

I have a large backyard with a vegetable and flower garden. Most of my neighbors don’t. Since the pandemic started, I’ve let many of my neighbors’ kids spend afternoons in my garden. I’ve even printed up “lesson plans” so they can learn more about agriculture. But I have strict rules for my visitors on what they can or cannot pick. Everyone can see these rules on social media. “Amber” agreed not to pick my decorative flowers when she brought her children over. Recently I came home to a messy bouquet on my front porch and loose petals everywhere. Amber sent me a social media message praising her children’s “thoughtful” gesture in giving me my own flowers. I said I didn’t enjoy seeing my hard work picked apart, reminded her that she had agreed not to pick my flowers, and asked her to tell her children not to do it again. Amber lectured me about how hard her life was and how “assholes” like me expect her to “control her children like dogs.”

I told Amber that she and her children would not be welcome on my property again. Amber went wild on social media and accused me of discriminating against her because she was a single mother of a child on the spectrum. I didn’t know any of those details about her family. I just didn’t want her to tear up my garden. I haven’t responded. My niece thinks I should “fight fire with fire” and post details proving Amber wrong. I don’t want her to spoil my relationship with my other neighbors, but people keep asking me about it. I like seeing families in my garden. I love teaching children about growing things. I am not good at social media. What do I do?

—How Does Your Garden Grow?

“Please make sure your children don’t pick my flowers again” is a far cry from “Your children are monsters and should be disciplined like dogs.” I imagine that Amber is under a great deal of stress as a single parent during a pandemic, and I’m sure her children did mean well in picking you that bouquet, but that doesn’t make it right for her to take it out on you. She agreed to your rules before her first visit. It’s not discriminatory to remind her of them later, nor does it in any way diminish the difficulties she may have experienced in life.

I think the best response available to you is to offer a reasonable, succinct version of what happened so that your neighbors have an alternative to Amber’s and to politely clarify your garden policy, both on your publicly available list of rules and with your neighbors who have asked you what happened. You don’t have to make it your goal to convince Amber that you were right in the first place, or to get her to apologize, or to respond to everything she may say about you (directly or indirectly) online. She may later regret overreacting, or she may continue to think ill of you. If you feel prepared to make such an offer, you can say that she and her children are welcome back if she agrees to make sure they don’t destroy your flowers. But you certainly don’t have to make such an offer if you think it’s best you and Amber keep your distance from now on.

Help! Should I Say Something About My Neighbor’s Racist Statue?

Danny M. Lavery is joined by Rachel Fershleiser on this week’s episode of the Dear Prudence podcast.

Subscribe to the Dear Prudence Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts.

Dear Prudence,

I work for a company that has many global locations. Recently I received an email from a manager (located in Europe) who started a conversation by saying, “Hope you are well and nobody burned down your house last night!” This was when the Black Lives Matter protests were starting. I found this to be a rather offensive statement. I said so to my reporting manager, who said it was just a joke in bad taste and that I should move on. He encouraged me to talk to HR if I wanted to, but HR would likely defend the manager being accused. What, if anything, can I do about this? Could this just be a joke in very bad taste and I am interpreting this wrong? What can I do, as speaking to management about this could lead to retaliation?

—Lost in Translation

I’m not quite sure why your manager thinks calling this statement a “joke” is somehow mitigating. It seems quite obvious that it was a joke. But just because something was a joke doesn’t suddenly mean it’s content-free, impossible to dislike, automatically exempt from criticism. The point of contention is that your boss thinks you should either “move on” or speak to HR and then “move on.” I imagine you might like this manager to apologize, commit to not making similar comments in the future, or both. While I know HR’s primary goal to protect the company, there’s reason to assume they don’t want their managers making light of protests against racist police violence, either. Given that your own manager has already conceded it was a bad joke, even if his subsequent response was to say “just forget about it,” I don’t think it’ll be too difficult to persuade HR that it’s a bad joke this particular manager should agree not to repeat in the future.

Dear Prudence,

My father has always been difficult and racist, but recently things came to a head when he picked a public fight on Facebook and then got angry with us for disagreeing with him again. He “doesn’t believe” racism exists and told me to “get your shit out of my house and get off my phone plan” when I refused to agree with him. My sister tried to reach out to him two weeks later, but he lashed out again. I sent him $500 to send me my things (mostly yearbooks and other childhood memorabilia) and told him to remove my cell number from his plan. I have a phone through my job, so it doesn’t matter to me. He hasn’t done either. After how he treated my sister, I don’t want to try to reach out again. Where do I go from here? Do I have a responsibility to try to change his mind? And I hate that I’m still thinking about this, but: How do I get my stuff back?

—Raised by a Racist

You’ve challenged your father’s racism more than once, both in private and in public, and he’s only ever shouted you down. You haven’t avoided difficult conversations or pretended to agree with his racist views because you were afraid of conflict, and you don’t have to keep banging your head against a wall just because this man happens to be your father. He’s not interested in listening to you, or reconsidering his position, and you do not have a responsibility to let him yell at you whenever he feels like it. You have my cheerful permission to stop talking to him.

When it comes to getting your stuff back, you have a few options: If you’re still on speaking terms with any other relatives who live with or near him, try coordinating with them to leave your things by the front door, or to meet you somewhere mutually convenient, so you don’t have to go through him. You can also petition for a court order through small claims court. You shouldn’t need a lawyer to do so, and the filing fees are likely to be low. Obviously your father may get his back up if you go through the courts, and he might try to argue that the childhood items are technically his or find other ways to drag out the process until it’s no longer worth it. (Some people also “steal” their childhood possessions back. You understand that I cannot encourage you to steal. I merely point it out as a matter of fact.) And don’t assume that your father will go to the trouble of removing your phone from his plan. He might do it out of spite, or he might avoid it out of laziness. I think you’ll feel better having your own phone plan anyway.

Catch up on this week’s Prudie.

More Advice From How to Do It

My wife and I are in our 50s and in a wonderful, 28-year monogamous marriage. When we were in our 40s, she started losing interest in sex and blamed herself and possibly early menopause. I decided the problem was me. I dove into studying sex techniques and beliefs about women and sex. I realized she wanted to do more exciting things, but she needed me to lead in the bedroom. I started my never-the-same-sex-twice philosophy. I taught her to squirt, have multiple orgasms, extended orgasms, sensory play, light bondage, etc., plus I started taking her away for three-day sex weekends.

My transformation fixed her interest problems. Early on this adventure, when she was hanging on the edge of a PIV orgasm and having difficulty getting over the edge, I slipped a finger one knuckle deep in her anus, and this tripped her over the edge with a loudly expressive, convulsive orgasm. For several months, I only occasionally used this when she was needing a little more spice to get off. Then suddenly she said she did not want me touching her back there. She admitted it had felt good but said it was dirty and gross, even though there had never been any incident that could be described as such. I told her that it was just touching, and it did not have to lead to PIA, which I knew she strongly opposed. With her insistence, I stopped and just used other things to enhance her orgasms. Fast forward to now in her 50s, and she actually does have a little libido or menopause issue occasionally, and a little spice helps. I know there are lots of things I can do to add spice to get her off, but I would still like to play with this again. But if I get near there she quickly says, “No, I don’t like you touching me down there.” I get it—no means no—but when something was so effective, it makes me want to push her boundaries a little. I can’t get her to budge. Any ideas to warm her up to the idea again, or am I being unreasonable?