Category Archives: Family & Celebrations

Hopeless and Helpless

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

My 13-year old son has a very disruptive syndrome called POTS. You
can Google it but assume headaches, weakness, food issues, nausea,
exercise intolerance, temperature sensitivity (in both directions), heart
palpitations…the list is long It has disrupted his life for years but we
finally have a diagnosis. He is doing poorly at school, in part after
missing a few weeks after a bad fall. We tried a tutor (a retired high-
school teacher) but they did not get along. We are at our wit’s end and
are thinking of hiring a nanny. Money is not an issue, at least for the
next year or two till we get him stabilized and past what we fear might
be such low-self-esteem that he could become suicidal. Where do we
start? What do we need to in order to find the right person?

Hopeless and Helpless

 
Dear Hopeless:

You start by using a word other than nanny, because no 13-year old
male wants to be infantilized, regardless of his health needs. Tutor,
Buddy, Helper…find a word he can handle. Then summarize the
situation in a short document so that when you talk to people they
have answers to the questions anyone would want to about.
Re your son: What’s his personality like? What types of people does he
relate well/badly with? Does he have behavioral issues? If yes, what
sets him off/brings him back? How does he respond to authority? Does
he think he needs help? How does he relate to his condition? What is
his emotional state now? Is he in counseling? What is his medical
prognosis? Any idea if puberty makes it worse or better? Does he have
friends, peer group, girlfriend, etc? Does he have hobbies, interests,
focal points for engagement other than school? What subjects does he
need the most help in? Will he be in summer school?

 

Re the helper: What hours? Weekdays/weekends? What pay per hour?
Tutoring expectations and expertise? Subject area needs? Medical
training (even just first aid) and/or knowledge re timing/interventions?
Or just as simple as eat/drink now? Location? Car required? Mileage?
Additional useful skills?

 
I like the idea of a team approach. Have someone (perhaps you but
not necessarily) be a team lead and get your son engaged in the
process. You don’t want him to think he’s having an actual nanny.
Rather a cluster of supports, some slightly older role
models/tutors/college-aged, and also others to engage him in new
activities that will support self esteem (perhaps art or music?) and
even organize activities he can bring a buddy or two along on so he
feels less “different.” This a long-run challenge. I’m glad you have the
resources to help him.

Not Moneybags

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

‘Tis the season of invitations and gift trolling. Many are for B’nai
Mitzvahs, which I recognize as an important rite of passage, though
some of these children turned 13 back in autumn, but apparently
needed the extra six months to learn the prayers and Hebrew. Some
are from colleagues for their children and others from seemingly
random synagogue members. The other half are about weddings,
which is a huge commitment and I honor (having failed myself). But
when I get an invite from second cousins in states across the country,
I feel more like I’ve been asked to contribute to the newlyweds’
coffers, and less like a valued relative. I‘m just your average middle-
aged, middle-class guy. I have family of my own that I support and
gift. What are the limits, beyond a polite No thank you?

Not Moneybags

 
Dear Not Moneybags:

Any invitation can be responded to with a polite note of No, thanks. I
wish you all the best, though it tends to be less blunt if accompanied
with some personal thoughts and good wishes enough to fill up a note
card. Only you can decide which of these to accept, but here’s some
baselines to consider, which can be augmented as much as you like for
people whom you genuinely love.

 
For B’nai Mitzvahs for children you do not personally know well, decide
on a book or two and give it with good wishes. I’d vote for something
about Jewish heritage, perhaps even a Holocaust memoir, and/or
something about Jewish values aimed at teens. You might even enjoy
sorting through the options. Then give exactly the same gift to each of
these young people, so there is no interpretive comparison.

 

 

For newlyweds, I give the same thing to each married couple, and you
are welcome to appropriate the ritual: a wooden soup ladle,
accompanied by a note about the importance of good nourishment and
nourishing communication as the key to a long-lasting relationship.
Again, for those you genuinely know and like, you can decide what
more is appropriate, even a cookbook or a stockpot.

Momma

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I have been deluged with all things holiday. The confluence of Hanukah and
Christmas this year seemed to consolidate stress rather than spreading it out. So
when my future daughter-in-law (age 23) asked me to take her dog to the vet for
her because her boss needed her. My first thought was Aaarggghh one more
thing! But it allowed me to spare her a $1,000 bill for an ultrasound that showed
her ten-year-old companion lab (an amazingly sweet docile boy) has terminal
metastasized cancer. That explains his recent listlessness. The vet said he might
last three months, with or without a several thousand-dollar surgery. I think it is
time to say a sweet goodbye, and the money would be better put towards their
down payment on a house. But she is heart-broken, and in the spirit of the
holidays I let her make a bad decision to go ahead with surgery. Now I am
thinking that perhaps I should quietly tell the vet to slip the pooch a needle and
say that because he died during the operation she would charge only a minimal
fee. It feels both right and wrong to me in a confused emotional mess. Can you
help?

Momma

 
Dear Momma:

You’re trying to spare your future daughter-in-law the sorrow and pain we all go
through when we have to say goodbye to a beloved companion. You’re also
attempting to impose adult values on a girl who is new to adulthood. Being a
homeowner is as mythical to her as a large debt or losing a companion she’s
known since her Bat Mitzvah. You can’t transplant your sense of the world onto
her any more than you can expect a vet to violate ethical standards. I know you
want to make this go fast and have it go easy on her, but you can’t spare her
pain now or in the future.

 
Give her a cup of tea and a strong drink and sit her down to talk it through. Ditto
with your son, who seems absent from your note. Talk about the options, and
then respect her decision.

Horrified!!!

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

This is a 21st century question of etiquette. My son didn’t date much in high
school. After a long college romance he is now with a young woman I hope he
will one day marry. But that day and parenthood seem very far off. Yesterday he
got a text from a young woman he was in a local pre-school with, who is three
degrees of separation friendly with my future daughter-in-law. She (the neighbor)
asked him, literally, in a TEXT!!, “Would you consider being a sperm donor for my
partner and me? We married last year and want to start a family. I always
remember what a great guy you were so I thought you might be willing to spare
some of the secret sauce. We would love to start as soon as you say yes.” Your
column is several pages too short for me to expound all the reasons I am
appalled. They are 24 years old. They have no personal relationship. He’s not
ready to be a parent, or to give up a child. “Secret sauce”?! A text?!? On and on.
My specific question is this: I want and expect him to say No, or No!, or NO! I
know about it because he told his dad over the phone, with the intro “You’re not
going to believe who I heard from.” How should we respond to this bombshell?

Horrified!!!

 
Dear Horrified:

I’m with you on virtually every level. But neither of us was asked to be a donor,
so your question is the proper one, how can you be a resource to your son? And
the subliminal question as well: how can you ensure he makes the right decision,
as in No, thank you. I’m not ready to be a parent, and when I am it will probably
be with my future wife.

 
Your husband and you should schedule an in-person meeting if possible or a
Skype if not. Be sure you can watch his face and body language when you talk.
Ask him what he thinks his response will be. If it is No, your work is easy. You
can focus on communicating the answer clearly and firmly. If he is in any way
considering the possibility, start with the more serious objections, from their youth
to the legal issues and responsibilities, to the possibility that any future fiancé
might have strong negative opinions. If he thinks that being a sperm donor is
something he would consider in the future, encourage him to do so anonymously
or for a very close friend with whom he might have an ongoing relationship. Also
insist that if he is serious now, that he commit to several extended sessions with
a counselor and a lawyer to understand the implications of a Yes.

Earplugs???

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

My mother was diagnosed with a terminal disease three years ago. At the time
she was given “one to three” years to live. We all became very indulgent towards
character flaws that have been driving us crazy all our lives, especially one that
over the last few months of holidays was enough to taint many family gatherings:
She hogs all the air time. She talks, whines, blathers, opinionates, and pontificates.
She does not allow anyone else to speak for more than a sentence or two before
taking over the conversation again. I love her and don’t want her to
be gone. But this is driving a wedge in our family. Her new experimental
medication seems to be working so well that now the doc says she could go
another five years. I can’t. How can I tell her the rules have to change?

Earplugs???

 
Dear Earplugs:

Regardless of what you say, you will need to do it compassionately.
We’re all dying, but your mother is old enough (given that you have an
adult son of your own) that she lives with thoughts of mortality every
day, augmented by a terminal diagnosis. Sometimes people need to
hear their own voice just to reassure themselves they are still here. So
what may feel like an extra burden to you and your family is also part
of the process of being a kind person, and needs to be viewed through
that filter.

 
I’d counsel a one-on-one to start. Take your mother out for a ladies
lunch, in a nice restaurant where raising one’s voice would be very out
of place. Explain very simply that you are delighted that her treatment
is working and she will be among the living for far longer than the
doctors had originally projected. Then say, But I think that when we
were afraid we would lose you far too soon, we all got into some bad
habits, that for the sake of family congeniality I’d like to amend.
Explain that her current habit of dominating conversations has become
a social liability to you and other members of the family who are
beginning to shy away from time with her, the opposite of what you
and she presumably want. Suggest that she expand her social network
so she has other social outlets, and say you’re happy to give her tips
on being a good listener as well as a good talker.

 
Don’t expect her to be appreciative. She may even pull rank as your
dying mother. Continue to profess your love, and set up a cue word or
signal that you’ll use to alert her if she’s crossed the line. It will take
time, perhaps more than she has. So be kind.

Not A Hotel Again So Soon

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

My college-graduate son has been living at home while he conducts a
job search. Then his girlfriend arrived. We are actively rooting for
them as a couple so we turned over the rec room to them and they set
it up as a mini-apartment, admittedly small. This weekend his best
college buddy and his fiancée came to visit so I relinquished my
sewing room (which doubles as guest bedroom) for the two days.
When I went in after work on Monday I was dismayed at how they left
it. Can you please give some tips for guests who will be staying in
someone’s home, with special attention to young folks who seem to
have been raised without the manners that my generation was taught
to display?

Not A Hotel Again So Soon

 
Dear Not So Soon:

The rules for adults are pretty much the same as for young adults: be
kind; be clean; say thanks; don’t be a pain in the patootie to have
around. But to elaborate a little more…

 
Generally it’s considered polite to bring the hostess a thank you gift
when you say hello. That can range from a bouquet of flowers to food.
One friend in Alaska received a hunk of freshly killed elk, but
personally I prefer pre-packaged or vegetarian gifts. It could even be a
small box of candy, or an offer to take the family out to dinner. But it
is important to make some gesture to show you appreciate the
hospitality. It’s also good manners to ask the hostess about the timing
and rhythms of the house: what time are folks up and about, and what
time does quiet evening begin? If car sharing is involved, be sure to
show proof of license and insurance. Limit showers to a reasonable
length given the extra burden on the hot water heater. Keep smoking
outside and avoid getting drunk. No drugs. When you leave, strip the
bed and fold it nicely. Wipe down the bathroom and treat it like your
own home, not a hotel with on-call maid service. Follow up with what
we used to call a bread and butter note, or at least a phone call to say
Thanks, we appreciated the time with you.

Afraid

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

My Uncle Hal and my Great-Aunt Sarah haven’t spoken for six years.
It’s a war of shrill and nasty remarks more than live ammunition, but
noisy and distracting all the same. I am not sure they can even
remember what originally started it, but with so many mean things
said about each other to so many people, their feud has taken on a life
of its own. They are both so sure they are right that if you even
suggest there is a middle ground they act like you are a traitor. I am
getting married in two months. I do not see how I can’t invite both of
them, but the idea of how they could ruin the day gives me a stomach
ache. My fiancé thinks I am exaggerating and makes Hal and
Sarah jokes, so I have no help on that score. What should I do?

Afraid

 
Dear Afraid:

You could resolve the whole issue by ending the engagement, telling
your fiancé that his refusal to credit your knowledge of family history
makes him ineligible to join the meshpoche. But that’s probably more
draconian than you’re willing to be and means tossing out the good
because of the bad.

 
If you don’t want your wedding turned into their sideshow you are gong to have to
get their attention. Tell each of them that their acceptance card must include a
check for some hefty sum ($1,000?) made out to the other one. Based on their
behavior at the wedding, you will decide if their check gets awarded to their rival
or returned. Their appearance at the event is contingent on agreeing to your
terms, or else they can stay home and you’ll cheerfully explain their absence to
the rest of the family. Unless they decide to gang up on you, in which case
eloping sounds wise, you should be able to enjoy your wedding and get the last
laugh.

Grand Nonny

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

My husband and I quasi-adopted two teenaged boys twenty years ago.
Their mother was relieved and our sons think of them like brothers.
They have each grown into fine young men, employed in the trades,
and each married, and each now parenting. My husband loves the
“grandkids” but we have a very tough time with one of the mothers,
who constantly reprimands her children like they are violent offenders.
She yells at them that they are lying no matter what’s going on, and it
is clear that they are terrified of somehow upsetting her. We have
never observed any lying on their part, but have no reason to believe
she is abusing drugs or alcohol. When we have hinted that her children
are afraid of her, she seems pleased that “they won’t try to pull any
nonsense.” The husband either doesn’t notice or seems to agree. But
we are very disturbed. What can we do?

Grand Nonny

 
Dear Grand Nonny:

I am assuming that the abuse you are describing is psychological and
not physical. I’m not diminishing the impact, but if there are any signs
of physical harm it would be a little easier to get external help. In the
short run, I would start with a family intervention. Talk first to the
husband and his brother. Say how much you love them and value the
familial relationship. But express your concerns clearly and without
attempting to sugar coat them. Be very clear in the examples you
give. Ask both if they have observed anything that they find troubling.
Explain what bothers you in terms of short run and long run. Have
some citations about the impacts of psychological abuse on tap to
reinforce your point. End very simply by asking what the husband will
do.

 
If that doesn’t work, you will need to address the mother directly. Be
clear this comes out of love for the whole family, and that you know
you are risking their esteem and even access to the children by
speaking up. But be clear that’s how important it is to you. And that
you are paying attention and will continue to do so. If you can afford
it, you might suggest anger management or family counseling on your
dime, just to put an exclamation point on the message. Above all,
monitor the children so they don’t carry these scars. Abuse is a
generational problem. Nip it in the bud!

PTSD-ed

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

How can we plan a family Thanksgiving when everyone is traumatized by the
recent elections? We are a surprisingly diverse family in terms of or political
views. My side was raised as knee-jerk liberals but some of the cousins (whom I
will confess I do not like for this reason as well as others) voted for many (though
thankfully not all) Republicans. All summer they were coy when discussing their
vote, which of course just made me suspicious that they were doing what would
have our grandparents spinning in their graves. I was a nervous wreck for
months. You know what’s going on out there, from threats of militias and
impeachment to people swearing they are going to leave the country. I know we
cannot put the genie back in the bottle, but is there any way to have a family
holiday that will not rupture on the very dysfunctional ship of state? I’m tempted
to only invite the people who agree with me, but I recognize that’s as divisive and
polarizing as opposition pols who swear they will be obstructionist for the next
millennium or two. Helllpppppp!!!!

PTSD-ed

 
Dear PTSD-ed:

If we cannot heal families we are going to have a helluva time healing a country. I
too cannot remember an election that felt this divisive and that had so many
people binge-eating, hysterical with hyperbole and fear, depressed and anxious,
and un-friending friends and relatives at a rate that would make Einstein
reevaluate his theories. We’ve all lived through “this is the most important
election of our lifetimes” more often than I want to count. But this one was a
colossal disaster in so many ways that I hope America never repeats it. I still
have hopes (fantasies?) that democracy will raise her weary head and enough
people of reason will say Enough!! But that will have to start with each of us.

 
You should not un-invite or not-invite relatives who you might otherwise share the
holiday with. You can impose some rules for social interactions and distribute
them before the day. They should be unambiguous and even-handed, but most
importantly enforced. If you say you are going to fine anyone who talk about
politics, disparages candidates and their supporter, etc, then be prepared to do it.
Ditto if you say you will toss someone unceremoniously for rudeness. Having a
strict policy might cause a permanent rift, so be forewarned. Better would be to
set aside some specific period to go around the room and have everyone share
their feelings without crosstalk, then try to continue with family as usual. Try to
avoid the Thanksgiving disaster in the classic film Avalon, where brothers fight,
and one chases the other into the street waving a drumstick; sadly, they lose five
decades of familial caring.

Not Yet Voting Age

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

One of my cousins overheard his father joking to another uncle about
“having tossed the old fool’s absentee ballot into the trash because she
was going to make a stupid vote for that &;^% woman.” I know that’s
hearsay of the worst kind, but hard to listen to since the elders in my
family (who live in nursing homes) are Holocaust survivors and gave
far more to live in a democracy than any of the rest of us could ever
dream of surviving. What should I say or do, because I know that is
also illegal? I am not a snitch but I am upset.

Not Yet Voting Age

 
Dear Not Yet:

You could try to talk to your uncle directly and ask if this is true, but
the odds that he would admit committing a crime to a young relative
are low to zero. You could suggest that your cousin ask his dad if he
heard him right. Then, even if the father denies it, he will learn the
value of discretion if not honesty. Sadly there is no way to protect
against this kind of fraud. But it takes much more focused hacking to
sway a whole election.

 
You should very much go to visit your ancient elders as often as you
can, both to make them happy to see the progeny so many were
denied, and to harvest the stories of their lives, which are passing
from us more quickly each day. You can say that you heard from your
cousin that she had felt it was important to vote and say how proud
you are of her for being such a good role model for you and your
generation. You can tell her that the next time there is an election you
would like to sit with her while you both vote, and then you would be
proud to carry her absentee ballot to the collection place.

Trimming

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I’m in the process of cleaning out my house. I try to do an annual purge during
the holiday buying season, in part to spread the wealth around to women’s
shelters, homeless shelters, non-profits that do all manner of good, schools and
gift-giving community events. I feel that I have so much that it is more than just a
mitzvah. It’s necessary to remind myself how easy I have it in a world where so
many have so little and make do without on a daily basis. I’m living on a fixed
income now, so donating money is harder. I am trying not to buy what I don’t
need, and to trim what I have to what feels appropriate. Many of my friends are
into shopping and gifting. And even though each year we say to one another “NO
gifts, please!” when the moment comes to show up at their door it feels churlish
to come empty handed. Do you have a simple solution, especially one that does
not involve my checkbook?

Trimming

 
Dear Trimming:

I suggest a very simple solution that you apply uniformly to all your
friends. Identify the array or organizations that you plan to donate do,
whether it is in cash or in kind. The write an email to all your friends
and send it to them individually, not as a mass mailing. Personalize it
for each of them, with some acknowledgement of their individual
achievements for the year, such a promotions, weight loss, children’s
accomplishments, etc. Summarize your own gratitude for the plenty
you enjoy, and say that you are choosing not to participate in the
commercialism and consumerism of the season, instead opting to
donate to [insert your list here]. Say that you are going to show up
empty handed, and that you do not want your lack of gifting to be
perceived as anything other than what it is, an appreciation of your
happy sheltered life, and a wish that everyone can have at least as
much as they need.
Encourage your friends to do the same.

Outgrown this Gift

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

Every year my aunt sends Hanukkah presents for my three children. It
started when they were children, and she was pretty good about not
sending cheap plastic toys. Now they are 11, 8, and 5. Each year she
buys T-shirts made by a local to her artist. She lives a very hippie
community across the country so this is generally counter-cultural,
political humor, or just odd. We live in an upper middle-class
somewhat red district. The first couple years I like seeing my kids in
tie-dye and thought it was cute. But now she’s latched on to somebody
whose art is, not to put too fine a point on it, just plain weird. Even I
barely get the humor and the kids certainly don’t. We had made an
annual photo practice to dress the kids and send her a pic. But I want
to stop her from she spending money she doesn’t have a lot of on
something we don’t need or appreciate. Should I say something or just
let her keep sending them. I love her and appreciate the sentiment,
but….

Outgrown this Gift

 
Dear Outgrown:

However you do what you do, you should do it kindly. The fact that
your aunt thinks of your children each year is a lovely thing. I don’t
know how often she visits or you see her, but a conversation like this
in a vacuum may sound harsher than it might said casually over tea.
To imply reject a gift out of hand is churlish and cruel. Your family is
something to be honored so handle this gently.

 
You might tell her the children are growing so fast that the T-shirts
that fit now will be out of size or fashion by summer. Tell her that
perhaps switching to books or apps or something that doesn’t require
shipping is better. Tell her what each of them is particularly interested
at the moment, from dinosaurs to chess to a favorite movie or show.
Then hope for the best and say thank you very sincerely. Who knows,
she may have them in her will too; so at the risk of sounding venal,
think long run love and family, not just a gift you could easily donate
or regift.

Momma

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

My son graduated engineering college several months ago. He wanted
some time off before starting his job search but moved to a nearby
city which was his first choice of where to live and rented a room from
a former housemate and his girlfriend. Long story short: they broke up
and now she and my son are in love. I vastly prefer her to his previous
gal. Now the two of them want to move to our town and specifically to
the apartment rental that’s been vacant all summer while we did
repairs. They are both in job-hunting mode and want to pay as little as
possible. The only downside to his new flame is that she didn’t have a
break between guys and they are starting off living together,
something I’d have cautioned against but here they are. I normally
rent the apartment for $600 and was half-thinking of turning it into an
AirB&B but hadn’t decided. They are willing to take jobs in our city or
the college town an hour up the road (their first choice). What should I
charge them? My friends think I’m being a softie when I say nothing,
but his college cost us very little because of academic scholarships,
and we all live very simply.

Momma

 
Dear Momma:

There’s nothing bad about helping your child launch into adulthood,
especially if he’s a good kid and you haven’t showered him with an
expensive up-bringing. Lots of children in transition return home
without being burdened with an exaggerated sense of entitlement.
Looking for work is painful and arduous. In his case perhaps more so
as the low-hanging fruit of entry level jobs were probably plucked by
the folks who began looking in June or even before graduation.

 

I’d recommend a multi-tiered approach. In month one through
Thanksgiving, give them free to ultra-low rent in exchange for helping
with fall cleaning and garden cleanup, plus make them responsible for
cooking one superb meal a week (where cooking includes shopping and
cleanup). Between Thanksgiving and January 1, double the rent. If
they don’t have jobs by the beginning of the year, sit down with them
and discuss what market value is and what you are giving up. Then
agree on what they will pay. You might also say that a requirement of
the deal is that you will help each with their resume. Note: Good
prospective daughters-in-law are hard to come by. I’d say err on the
side of generosity until they have a solid start in their new lives.

Ready to Write

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

My husband has been disabled for nine months. His first hip surgery
went great but the second was a disaster. Only now, four plus months
after, has he been finally released to do physical therapy. I surprised
him with a weekend away at a B&B in the country, but it depressed
him more than anything. He was acutely aware of everything he could
not do, which are all the things he used to love to do: hiking,
mushroom hunting, canoeing, etc. He’s not a reader or game player,
and living with him as been like being tethered outside the cage of a
pacing tiger. I feel the waves of frustration emanating from him with
enough force to power a small nuclear power plant. I’m a teacher and
need my summer to decompress. What’s fair in terms of together time
versus alone time for me to do those kinds of things with more able-
bodied friends or to get away and write? He is ambulatory and if he
doesn’t try anything stupid like getting on ladders or going into his
workshop he would be perfectly fine home alone for a weekend. I have
an idea for a series of young adult novels and summer is my only
chance to get a leg up on trying this. I don’t want to feel like I am
abandoning him, but the past few years have seemed all about him.
When’s my turn?

Ready to Write

 
Dear Ready:

You shouldn’t just walk off with your laptop and wave goodbye. All
marriages are negotiations, and tougher times bring about harder
conversations. But yes you have the right to claim some of your time,
both at home and away. Both of you need to know he’ll be safe while
your attention is elsewhere. And he can diversify the people he spends
time with so you don’t feel chained to the cage.

 
Start at home after coming to some agreements about time. Say you
get three mornings a week and two afternoons. Or whatever works in
the schedule of PT appointments, gardening, and house chores. Agree
on the time that’s dedicated to undisturbed writing. He commits to not
interrupting you with the normal vagaries of life, and also to occupying
himself in ways that do not promote trips to the emergency room. You
commit to quality time together afterwards. Try it for two weeks and
refine the plan as needed. Work up to a weekend away, perhaps with
him having buddy time with friends for big pieces of it, so he doesn’t
get lonely and decide to do something risky. Before you leave get the
agreements on paper. Yes it sounds silly but might be enough to keep
him from climbing a ladder. Try it once. If it works, do it again. I’d
caution about asking him to read your early writing because he may
treat your laptop like a rival. Eventually it would be good to share, but
glide into it. He’ll be more fun again eventually.

Liberal

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

Every year at Passover I am confronted by the fact that my relatives
are bigots. This despite that we’re a family of immigrants. The story
should be a cautionary tale: both sides of the family escaped Nazi
Germany in 1939, with the assistance of my father who had emigrated
a few years earlier. They worked amazingly hard their whole lives so
we kids had it easier. I live a life of privilege compared to the rest of
the planet so do all my family. So why should I have to sit without
speaking up at a ritual that’s supposedly about liberation from slavery
and hear my aunts and uncles say words my first-graders aren’t
allowed to us about people trying to immigrate here now. My parents
give me the eye-rolling looks that say I am not supposed to cause a
scene and confront anyone with their hypocrisy. How can I educate my
relatives that the door did not slam shut on America right after our
meshpochah landed?

Liberal

 
Dear Liberal:

Some families have rules forbidding discussion of politics at
gatherings, especially holidays. Others indulge in free-for- alls. While
it’s always possible that one or more are talking that way to annoy or
provoke you, the more possible truth, and sadly embarrassing
knowledge, is that they probably don’t realize how bigoted and
hypocritical their language is.

 
Given that it’s after the Seder, I’d send a follow-up email to the
offenders, or even to the family as a whole. Say very simply what you
tell your students when they use inappropriate language: that it is
dehumanizing and cruel, and reflects more poorly on the speaker than
the spoken of. Draw the obvious parallels between your family and
current immigrants, and ask some open-ended questions to spark a
dialogue. You might or might not have an impact, but at least you’ll
have served notice that you’re not going to be quelled from expressing
your own views. At a minimum, they’ll have to listen.