Category Archives: holidays

Tradition transitions

In Carolyn’s Saturday column, a young woman seeks advice about talking to her (apparently long term, serious) boyfriend about how they spend their vacation time. This year, he plans to spend all of it at his family’s cabin–as apparently he has always done. According to the LW, “It is one of his favorite places on Earth, and he would love nothing more than to spend the entire summer there. The two of us went last year, and I also loved it, and am excited to go again this summer.But, she is nervous this means they won’t go anywhere else, ever, ever again. (For example: while he’s willing to accompany her on visits to her family, he offered to take a week of unpaid leave to do so, rather than shortening his time at the cabin. On one hand, wow, that’s a generous thing to do. On the other, it sort of demonstrates exactly how much it is worth to him–to the dollar–not to change his cabin plans).

Carolyn advised her, wisely, to try to see the biggest possible picture here, and to be brutally honest with herself about how she hopes to spend her leisure time and money in the future. In reply to the question “how seriously should I be taking this?” Carolyn wrote:

As seriously as context tells you to. I don’t think inflexibility on one thing is automatically a sign of trouble — especially something that you can appreciate as “one of his favorite places on Earth,” and especially when he (quickly, it seems) volunteered to sacrifice something valuable to create a little more flexibility where previously there was none.

But that simply means you need to air this out more; don’t just take your consolation week and like it. If you see yourself wanting to go to the beach with him in February some year, or whatever, in addition to your normal week of family visits, then don’t be shy — say it now, and see what he says.

If his answer is, “I have no interest in the beach, and the whole time I’d just be annoyed about my lost week in the cabin/lost pay,” then you have to take that very seriously as a prediction of life with him. I do hope he’d be that honest with you, if that’s how he feels. Speaking a truth that might make us look mean or selfish is far better than saying all the right things and having no interest in following through— yet nerves do falter at truth time.

Even if you don’t feel strongly about variety in vacations, you also need to pay careful attention to other non-cabin things he feels strongly about. When people don’t care much about an area where their partners are inflexible — say, religion — it’s easy to resolve differences by letting the ones who feel strongly have their way. Sometimes, though, the mellower halves go on to find out their mates aren’t just dug in on religion, but instead are one-person Maginot lines of entrenched positions on issues — some of which the erstwhile mellow ones do care about, a lot.

So, try to see as much of the picture as you can before you decide whether this is about a great cabin, which isn’t terribly serious, or inflexibility, which is. Make sure the “give” lines up with the “take” — not just his, but yours, too.

Makes sense, but I was amazed at how quickly many of the commenters on this column jumped all over the boyfriend, when actually we don’t know very much about his response at all. For example:  “this is all of their free time for the rest of their lives doing only what he wants. if she wants to visit friends, or go to Europe or any wish she has — it must be subordinate to his plans for their free time. sounds like a lifetime of a man who doesn’t really care for her or for pleasing her — his way or the highway — I say the highway.

Whaaa?

Carolyn’s advice was consistent with her general philosophy, which is to acknowledge and honestly deal with your preferences and annoyances in (dating) relationships, because no matter how good you think the relationship is, or how much you want it to work out, if on a day-to-day basis you don’t want the same things, and don’t make each other happy, you’re on a track to years of  resentment and misery. This means sometimes you break up over reasons that feel really petty–but actually are reflections of whether or not you are well suited for each other. I think this is really important.

But I also think it’s really important to give people room to consider and accept change, and to gradually work their way out of lifelong, beloved patterns. It sounds like this boyfriend has always spent all his vacation at this cabin. Last year they went and had a great time, so he had no reason to think about changing his plans. This year, it’s in the air that she wants something more, and while he wants to be supportive of her, he’s not willing to change his plans. I think it’s important they talk about it so he can get used to the idea of doing something different, but I also think it’s fair to give a summer or two for that transition to happen, and to come more naturally.

This situation reminds me very much of Christmas 2008. SK had just moved to Michigan, and we were engaged, but not yet married. We’d both done various versions of holiday events with each other’s families for the previous couple of years. We were talking about how we’d handle the holidays that year, and we found that neither one of us was willing to break with our personal traditions just yet. We both had expectations, with lots of emotions attached, about how we’d spend Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, and it was really hard to mash them up. In the end we did go our separate ways for part of the holiday, and then joined up again for the rest of it.

I don’t know about for him, but for me, that year was really important. It was a chance for me to experience my childhood traditions with the knowledge that it was probably going to be the last time, or at least the last time they’d be quite that way. With that mindset, I was also able to see with clear eyes that the traditions had changed, too, and things weren’t always going to be “the same” anyway. It also gave me a chance to realize that I wanted us to spend the holidays together more than I wanted to go through the motions of the events that I thought made the holiday. I needed to do things my way that year, but it wasn’t purely selfish inflexibility. It was a turning point for me that made me ready to plan our holidays as a couple in the future.

Now, this couple isn’t engaged or married, so I’m certainly not advocating that she spend one or two or three more years just waiting to see what happens when summer vacation time rolls around. But if they are together for the long haul, I guess I would just add to the converstion that the seemingly stubborn decision of one year, even if it seems hard and fast (and reduces one party to piteous weeping), can be the beginning of the conversation, not the final word.

Advertisements

There’s nothing like a hootenanny for the holidays

Gentle readers, it’s been a long time.  I realize the last month or so has been pretty lame, A-Little-Help-wise.  Things have been busy and exciting around here, which means they’ve been absolutely dead around here. It’s not likely to get much better before Christmas, but things will pick up again in the New Year!

In the meantime, I want to remind everyone that it’s almost time for Carolyn Hax’s annual Holiday Horrors Hootenanny!  Each December, in the weeks before Christmas, Carolyn turns one of her live chats into a festival of Festivus fiascos.  Don’t miss the fun–and her dad’s annual “Night Before Christmas” parody.

As a bonus, this year I submitted a holiday horror story of my own (you can too!), so there’s that to look out for.  I don’t know whether it will be posted in the chat or not, but if you follow along, take a guess at which catastophe is one of the ghosts of A Little Help’s Christmases past.

Happy holidays, happy flurries, happy shopping, happy parties…happy happy.

Halloween: now *that’s* scary

Halloween paranoia reaches a new low (high?) in Dear Abby today:

DEAR ABBY: I have always enjoyed Halloween. I like seeing the children in their costumes and, for most of the little ones, it is a fun and magical time.

In our neighborhood, a group of 15 to 20 parents escort their trick-or-treating children from door to door. Sometimes there are 25 to 30 kids. When they approach a house for their treats, the parents remain on the sidewalk, apparently oblivious to what’s going on when the door opens.

We have a small front porch that rises about 8 inches above the sidewalk. The kids push and shove, jockeying for position to get their “loot.” Last year, a 5-year-old fell off our porch. Fortunately, she was not hurt. The parents did not issue any directions to their children to take turns accepting our candy because they were too busy chatting among themselves.

Because of the inherent danger to unsupervised children (and the possibility of a lawsuit if there should be an accident), I will not be turning on my porch light this year — the signal in our area that alerts kids that the home is participating in trick-or-treat.

I hope my letter will remind parents to practice mindfulness and make this Sunday a Happy Halloween! — LIGHTS OUT IN HARRISBURG

Ah, yes, the three P’s of Halloween paranoia: poison, pedophiles, and….porches?

Good Lord.  Now, kids whose parents don’t hold them by the hand and walk them to the door are “unsupervised” and in “danger”?  Their parents not “be[ing] mindful” because they’re standing 10 feet away on the sidewalk, chatting? And a five-year-old fell 8 inches?  Cripes.

Even more disturbing is Abby’s response:

DEAR LIGHTS OUT: So do I, and that’s why I’m printing your letter, which arrived just in time for me to include it in today’s column. Last year your neighbors were lucky the child who fell didn’t break a wrist or an ankle. Parents, when escorting your little ghosts, goblins and vampires, please remain vigilant. Common sense must prevail.

Right. Common sense.  Like, kids can probably walk a few yards on their own two feet–and that hardly counts as unsupervised.  If anything, these kids are probably too supervised: if they were on their own, they’d be wandering in groups of 3 and 5, not escorted in a mob of 50 as the entire neighborhood approaches each house at one time.

And, of course, if the homeowner feels that she or a little hannah montana is in danger of being trampled by a herd of mini justin biebers, she can just shout out, “Hey kids, one at a time!  no candy until you line up to the right, please!”

Lights Out might try a little common sense herself, rather than bitterly shutting off the lights on the entire holiday.

For some refreshing attitudes on Halloween, and, um, life, please check out Free Range Kids.

Mum’s the word….

In honor of Mother’s Day, Prudie devoted her whole column to, well, mommy issues (“Prudie offers advice on matriarchs with salacious secrets, deadly diseases, and pernicious personalities, just in time for Mother’s Day“): two grown kids trying to make the best choice to stay close with their moms, one teenager tired of everyone thinking she’s a mom when out with a baby, one crazy mom (there’s always got to be one!), and one mom letting the ghosts of her own jr. high past color her kids’ experience.

Some are quite thoughtful, though not all are necessarily the best way to honor moms and motherhood….. For example:

I’m fed up with my mother’s lifelong helplessness and dependency.

Yikes!  (The person who wrote this was not unjustified, but it’s a bit incongruous to choose her as the Mother’s Day poster child, no?  Then again, maybe not: moms of all kinds will be recognized this Sunday, in all kinds of ways–see also: Carolyn Hax live chat, about 2/3 of the way down–and the difficult situations probably deserve more advice column inches than the warm and fuzzy ones)

Happy Mother’s Day!  If you are a mom, enjoy your brunch and handcrafted elementary school delights….and if you have a mom, don’t forget to call!


Still sulking two months later…

…or at least Abby’s editors give us that impression, by waiting until April 14 to print this:

DEAR ABBY: For Valentine’s Day I bought a dozen red roses and had them delivered to my girlfriend’s workplace. On her way home that evening, she made a stop at the grocery store and encountered a distraught young man near tears because he couldn’t afford to buy flowers for his girlfriend. She offered him money but he refused, so she gave him the roses I bought for her. (Abby, they had cost me more than $82!)The whole episode still has me upset. I know the roses were a gift and she had every right to do with them as she wished. But I think what she did was thoughtless and insensitive and didn’t take my feelings into consideration. She says I am narrow-minded because I don’t see it from her perspective. What do you think? — GRINCHED IN IOWA

DEAR GRINCHED: I can see how, having spent as much as you did for the roses, you could be upset. I can also see how your kindhearted girlfriend might have had pity on the guy and acted on impulse. While the roses were hers, she could have accomplished the same thing by giving him one or two of the roses to give to his girlfriend. However, if you care about this relationship, you’ll stop brooding and drop the matter.

Yikes!  I know flowers are expensive, and I know prices are hugely inflated around Valentine’s Day, especially for your classic DRR.  But I did not know that a dozen roses ever cost more than $82.

My first guess is that, like me, the girlfriend has (or had–I’m sure by now she’s been made well aware) no clue how much the flowers cost.  It’s tricky, because she encountered this guy at the grocery store–she offers him money for, say, a $30 bouquet, and he refuses–so she gives him her fancy schmancy one.  Kind of like offering your diamond ring to a guy who can’t afford CZ.  A person who understood the difference–if only in market value–between the two would probably never do it.  Sounds like, when it came to roses, the girlfriend didn’t.

If she’d known, she might have thought twice about giving away her boyfriend’s pricey gift.  And if she’d known in advance that he was going to spend so much on flowers for her, she might have suggested a nice dinner out instead.  I know I would have.

I have a sneaking  suspicion that, given his resentment over this, no delighted reaction from her could possibly satisfy him.  What if she’d forgotten them at work, or simply didn’t feel like hauling them home?  What if she’d given one rose to every lonely co-worker without a Valentine’s Day date, keeping only one for herself?  What if she’d dropped the bouquet, not in the hands of a stranger, but at a hospital or nursing home?  What if she’d simply dropped it, in a puddle or in front of a bus?  Or what if she’d brought them home, buds and vase intact, and simply shown lukewarm appreciation?  Would any of these outcomes bring him any more satisfaction?

I sort of doubt it.  Because he simply spent more than he should have–more than the entire situation was worth.  For some men, $82 may be a small price to pay for 12 roses and a free pass on the weeks of punishment I’ve heard some women can inflict on their partners for failing to provide Valentine’s Day roses.  Our letter writer has learned that for his $82, all he got was….12 roses.  All that extra Valentine’s day baggage that justifies the huge price tag?  His girlfriend doesn’t seem to have it.  That’s a good thing.

So if it makes him happy to give her flowers, he should do it–but he should choose what to spend with the knowledge that at least one of the following is true:

  • She’ll get the most happiness from his gift by sharing it with others
  • She doesn’t distinguish between grocery store flowers and florist flowers
  • All he’s guaranteed is that flowers will show up wherever he pays for them to be delivered.  No guarantee on her reaction, what she does with the flowers, or how this reflects on him, in her eyes.

And as a final note…if you find that your girlfriend doesn’t swoon for red roses (and some do, I hear), put some effort into finding out what she does swoon for (lilies?  Coach gloves?  beer?).  Red roses can say “I love you.”  They can also say, “I haven’t bothered to figure out what you actually like.”

Ho, Ho, Ho, Merrrry…..wait, we missed it!

After a couple of weeks of lots of holiday horror stories and “shocking” breaches of Christmas etiquette, I was a bit surprised to see that on Christmas Eve, most of the columnists didn’t even touch Christmas. (Maybe they figured any train wrecks are now far beyond stopping….).

  • Abby revisited the issue of reading or not reading collections of private letters between deceased relatives (I responded to this one after the original October column)
  • Kathy and Marcy of Annie’s Mailbox counseled a high school student who’s being buillied about her Jolie-like “duck lips”
  • Dan Savage, whom I read weekly, but rarely write about here (partly because most of his answers are a bit out of my range of expertise, and partly because when I started this blog I checked the “no adult content” box, and generally try to avoid profanity, etc.) gives a slight nod to “last minute Christmas gifts,” but mostly covers the standard Savage Love grab bag of spanking, smelliness, and electro-stimulation.
  • Miss Manners hits on foreclosure and telecommunications
  • And Carolyn wrote about HPV, of all things!

Golly gee whillikers, where can a girl get a little holiday spirit, or at least a little festive forehead slapping?

  • Amy hits the spot, featuring a woman (I’m guessing) who is obsessed with the fact that her relative cannot send Christmas gifts on time. The gifts always arrive eventually, but she’d apparently do away with gifts altogether rather than have them show up late. How old is she, 9? Unless there are kids thinking Santa’s been run over (by a reindeer?) because the presents aren’t there, what’s the big friggin’ deal? Amy conveys basically the same sentiment, though not in so many words.
  • Prudence devotes all four of her weekly featured letters (plus the video!) to Christmas conundrums (conundra? help me, Latin speakers!). Get ready for simmering sibling entitlement, multicultural mishaps, mysterious gifts from married men, and my two favorites: absurdly political Christmas cards and prank gift wrapping that would give Wile E. Coyote a run for his money.
  • Carolyn’s last pre-holiday live chat also had a few doozies: gourmet cooks griping about lame holiday food, obnoxious custody arrangements, and this, my favorite one (scroll all the way down to the bottom):

Washington, DC: Carolyn

Any tips for surviving driving my sister from one parent’s house to the other this weekend? It’s a three hour trip and she commandeers my radio, criticizes my driving, and generally drives me nuts every time we’re in the car. Plus, she’ll be ready late and want to stop at every Starbucks we pass, which will make her have to pee. I’m anticipating the three hour drive will take roughly 4.5 with her in the car. How do I do it so we arrive at parent no. 2’s house with me still in the holiday spirit?

Carolyn says: Read this, see how funny this is, and treat yourself to a foofy hot somethingorother on one if not all of the stops.

Gentle readers (to snag a phrase from Miss Manners), thanks for sticking around for year two of A Little Help Please?! Happy holidays, and see you in the new year! (unless things are boring at home, in which case I’ll see you, like, tomorrow).

Pick a card, any card…

This complaint to Amy Dickinson is amusingly timely, since it was published over the weekend, as I was having this exact experience myself:

Dear Amy: I found out that my husband’s side of the family is yet again having a “gift exchange” in which we give a gift to the person whose name we’ve picked out of a hat.

There is one rule — no gift cards. I am not fond of this idea, but in past years I’ve exchanged a gift despite my objections, and kept quiet.

All relatives are adults, and I can’t see the purpose of giving a gift to a person whom I do not really even know and see only once a year.

I would much rather pool our money or donate it to someone in need. I’ve made this suggestion, but no one wants to mess with their tradition. I understand that the grandparents get joy out of seeing all of us open our gifts and then pass them around, but we are adults. Isn’t this a bit childish, or am I just being selfish? How can I get out of this silly tradition?— Bothered


Dear Bothered:Not only do I approve of your in-law family’s gift exchange tradition (especially the “no gift cards” rule), I am tempted to try to marry into the family myself in order to participate in it.

Drawing names is a great way to cut down on the number of gifts exchanged; it also gives you an opportunity to get to know the person whose name you’ve drawn.

When you draw “Aunt Myrtle’s” name before Christmas, you have an incentive to do a little research with other family members to try to figure out what she would like to receive. When Aunt Myrtle opens her gift in front of others and expresses her delight at your thoughtfulness, this forms a connection between the two of you that will last beyond Christmas Day.


Bothered’s wish to donate the money to an organization or people in need is certainly in the right place. It’s a worthwhile thought at a Christmas (and any time of course) where every person is buying for every person, the floor is covered wrapping paper, the bellies bloated with pie, and the excess of it all starts to get a little nauseating. But I agree with Amy that drawing names so that each person buys only for one other person is a great way to drastically decrease the madness, while keeping the “silly tradition” (that goes WAY beyond Bothered’s husband’s family) of placing gifts under the tree and opening them together. Indeed, often the idea of such a name draw is to ease the financial strain on each family member–leaving enough in their pockets to make a charitable contribution that season, if they choose to.

Bothered seems to be missing the point that, typically, a name draw gift exchange isn’t an add-on to a gifts-free Christmas, but a welcome relief from every person bringing a present for every other person. Would she find buying gifts for 17 people she doesn’t know well and sees only once a year preferable to buying for one?
If even a single gift seems wasteful to Bothered, certainly she could mention to the person who has her name, “I think the efforts of the ASPCA are so important and underfunded, and I would be honored if you’d make a contribution to their organization as a gift to me.” She could even find out what causes are important to her assigned recipient, and make a contribution to that group (though in this case it’s important to honor the recipient’s cause, not the giver’s pet project).
I spent this weekend in Ohio with SK’s family, where they have virtually the same tradition. They, too, have only one rule, but it’s a different one: there’s a $35 limit on each gift. Unlike in Bothered’s family, in SK’s, gift cards are allowed–though I wish they weren’t. Basically, everyone winds up trading $35 gift cards (another explicit rule of the game is that you don’t have to spend $35–or anything–on your gift, but when all you’re giving is a piece of plastic that required no thought or effort, it seems cheap to go under the limit, and no one does. SK’s brother received a $25 gift card and a $10 bill.)
I’m not excusing myself in this case–I wound up with the name of SK’s uncle, to whom I’ve barely spoken before. At his wife’s suggestion, I got him a Home Depot gift card. Were gift cards “outlawed,” I really have no idea what I would have gotten him instead–but it would have been neat to learn more about him: what teams does he cheer for? what does he do in his spare time? What projects is he working on around the house? Having spent just a day with him and his family, I have several ideas of things that might have made funny or useful gifts–what might I have come with if I’d actually tried, instead of taking the easy way out?
Then again, of course, the reason many givers turn to gift cards in the first place is that recipients are hard-to-please, and letting them shop for themselves turns out to be the best gift. How sad, though!
There were enough creative, thoughtful, and reasonable gifts in our mix (most of them rule-breaking, going above and beyond the name draw) to make opening gifts a lovely and festive occasion: homemade soaps, adorable sweaters craftily plucked from the thrift store, a book of wedding photos, a pine cone Christmas ornament put out by the national wildlife foundation–for every ornament purchased, a tree is planted, etc. I rather wish they’d ALL been that way. Shopping can be overwhelming and exhausting–not to mention a huge financial burden!–but when you’re only buying for one, I think it’s worth taking the time and making the effort to get to know something about that person, and trying to come up with a gift that will show you, um, care.
And to get back to Bothered’s question….no doubt, Christmases can get way out of hand–but her husband’s family sounds like they’re doing a decent job of keeping things reined in, and focusing on being thoughtful and family-minded at the holiday. (Bothered doesn’t mention what her own family’s tradition is re: gifts).
Claiming silliness and overkill when the tradition is to give and receive a single gift once a year seems excessively self-righteous and Scrooge-like to me.