Our advice columnists have heard it all over the years. Each Sunday, we dive into the Dear Prudie archives and share a selection of classic letters with our readers. Join Slate Plus for even more advice columns.
I am getting married next summer to my wonderful fiancé. We have asked his niece to be a flower girl along with my niece at the wedding. Just over two years ago, my sister-in-law lost “Baby Ella” at about 5 months. It was a very difficult time for all of them. Baby Ella is now in a small, sealed urn and travels with the family everywhere. It is sweet, and it helps them deal with the loss. I always figured that Baby Ella would come to the wedding but assumed that she would sit in the pew at the church. Over the holidays, my sister-in-law brought up how sweet it would be if my niece (her daughter) carried Baby Ella down the aisle! I don’t want to be a bridezilla but I’d much rather she carry a bouquet or basket of flowers than an urn of ashes. My sister-in-law had another baby this fall who will be too young to walk down the aisle. Am I a jerk for suggesting that maybe Baby Ella could stay with her and the new baby in the pew? I would get a small flower bouquet matching the wedding party’s flowers to set with the urn.
I don’t know how large or heavy the urn is, or how difficult it would be for a little girl with possibly less-than-excellent motor skills to carry down an aisle compared with a posy, but I’m inclined to encourage you to at least consider incorporating Ella’s urn into the ceremony, because it sounds like a lovely, meaningful way this part of your family is able to feel like they don’t have to hide their grief. If your sister-in-law is open to the idea of wrapping a small spray of flowers around the urn, that might be a lovely way to blend celebration with mourning. That said, I certainly don’t think it’s overbearing or dismissive to say, “I’d love to set aside an aisle for Baby Ella and Baby [New Name] toward the front, and have [Niece] carry a bouquet.” Since your sister-in-law asked in what sounds like a fairly gentle manner, my guess is she’d be open to a compromise. —Danny M. Lavery
From: “Help! Should We Let Our Flower Girl Walk Down the Aisle With Her Dead Sister?” (Jan. 22, 2020)
I have an adorable nephew who is just learning how to talk, and his attempts at pronouncing names have resulted in the usual “baby words.” His family (parents and grandparents) have proudly taken on those “words” as their new nicknames and use them when talking to him and to each other. Recently, my husband and I were informed of our nicknames and the family has begun using them almost exclusively in family conversations, when addressing us in written correspondence, etc. We would prefer that our nephew eventually learn our real names; however, no one is using our real names in front of him anymore and everyone seems thrilled about this new symbol of our collective bond. We use only our real names with him (and everyone else) but no one else seems to pick up on this. I can put up with a goofy nickname for a few months without feeling slightly irritated, but it seems like this is becoming a more permanent thing. Is it appropriate for us to tell everyone what we would like to be called, or should we just go with it and hope that our nephew will start correcting everyone at his high school graduation?
Here’s an area just ripe for academic study: What make some silly childhood pronunciations of names stick forever, while others fall way. There are families in which grandma is always pronounced Beebah, because a now middle-aged person once mispronounced it that way and it has gotten passed on as a family legend. I can understand that while it’s darling to have your nephew call you Dante Doon instead of Auntie June, you do not want to be known at Dante to the rest of your family for the rest of your life. But don’t have a tantrum; instead just explain to everyone that you want the nickname to be used only by your nephew, since you know he will eventually get the hang of your real name. If they continue to call you Dante, you can with increasingly exasperated sighs say you need to be left out of this developing tradition. Then continue to refer to everyone else by their actual names, too. If they correct you, say, “I’m just too old to start calling you Beebo and Deedah.” It sounds as if nephew may be your family’s first entrant in the latest generation. Surely, when the next kid comes along, everyone is not going to adopt a whole new set of baby names. —Emily Yoffe
From: “Help! My Family Calls Everyone by the Nicknames My Baby Nephew Makes Up.” (Dec. 10, 2013)
Sixteen-plus years ago, I met a man at a nightclub and we had an amazing connection. He was a young elementary school teacher and I was a college student. We danced the night away, and when the time came for us to exchange digits I thought it was romantic to tell him, “If it’s meant to be, we’ll meet again.” You see, in the early 2000s I was obsessed with the movie Serendipity. What girl wasn’t really? As time passed, I genuinely hoped I would run into him and definitely regretted that numbers were never exchanged. However, I eventually met the man who would become my husband and I figured that it was obviously not meant to be. I forgot about him.
Until this August, when the new school year started. It turns out that man is now the new assistant principal at my children’s school. The first time I saw him I couldn’t place him, but later that week it all came back to me. When we finally were face to face, there was a look of recognition, but I’m not sure he could place me either. I’m a happily married woman with children, and I assume he is too. However, the “if it’s meant to be, we’ll meet again” thing is really wearing on me. Do I just let this go? Do I ask him if he remembers me?
As a fellow early-2000s Serendipity obsessive, I urge you in the strongest possible terms to not blow up your happy marriage. The next time you see him, say, “David? I thought that was you!” Start a pleasant conversation, and do not start texting or having solo meals. —D.L.
From: “Help! Everyone Loves My Sister’s Loser Boyfriend.” (Nov. 25, 2019)
I was an unmarried teenager when I gave birth to my now 8-year-old daughter Mandy. I am now engaged to Peter, a wonderful man who loves me and adores Mandy. The issue is Peter’s parents. They don’t care for Mandy, and they don’t think much of me because I was in a position to give birth as an unwed teenager. They have lectured me a few times about premarital sex and the like. Christmas is coming up, and my future mother-in-law has informed me that she and her husband will not be buying presents for Mandy, and neither will Peter’s siblings. Mandy’s not entitled to presents, but since Peter’s family does a big Christmas get-together, Mandy will see a bunch of kids get presents while she does not. It’s hard to explain something like this to a kid. Peter’s pretty upset with his family, but they’re still his family, and ditching them would be incredibly painful for him, obviously. Do you have any advice?
Peter may be a wonderful man, but I hope one of his good qualities is that he is capable of standing up to his parents on behalf of his future wife and stepchild. There are still a few weeks left before Christmas, so Peter needs to have a sit-down with his parents informing him that you and your daughter are going to be a part of the family and if his parents want all of you to be in their lives—and that includes the grandchildren to come—they need to stop making invidious comparisons among the grandchildren. Since Mandy is a new arrival it would be fine if they simply get her one thoughtful gift, but to deliberately leave her on the sidelines is unconscionable. If they back down, then you and Peter should each buy her a gift for under the tree so she doesn’t feel left out. An 8-year-old is also old enough to be told that joining a new family can be a awkward and uncomfortable but that you and Peter will be looking out for her. If you go and Peter’s family behaves dreadfully, you and he should have a signal that enough is enough and make an early exit from the nonfestivities. —E.Y.
From: “Help! My Future In-Laws Want To Exclude My Daughter at Christmas.” (Nov. 27, 2012)
More Advice From Dear Prudence
My ex remarried within a year of our divorce to a woman eight years younger. His new wife whelped out three babies within three years and likes to think she is an authority on my child, “Katy.”