Housekeeping Issues

Yes, I know I’ve been behind on TV reviews. I do have a day job, but I appreciate both of you for sticking with me anyway.

I’m dropping Constantine from my normal review schedule because it’s probably a dead show walking and because there just isn’t a lot happening in individual episodes now. But in a little while, you can look forward to my reviews of iZombie, a new show airing soon on the CW and based on a DC comics property.

Now, where was that Gotham review…

Ask Xantar #14

Slate’s Dear Prudence column was unusually rich in ridiculousness tonight. I couldn’t resist putting in my own pin.

Dear Xantar,

My husband, Tom, who is in his mid-40s and who is an otherwise polite, hip, and modern guy, has one annoying habit which is old-fashioned and maybe even rude—he always answers his cellphone with “Hello?” even after he has looked at the screen and knows who’s calling. I have repeatedly suggested to him that, since he knows who’s calling, he should say “Hi” followed by the name of the caller when he answers his phone (for example: “Hi, Fred” or Hi, Mom”). That kind of greeting lets the person on the other end know that he already knows who it is so that introductions can be skipped, and the conversation can begin. Tom completely disagrees. He claims that it would be impolite to say the caller’s name because then that person would know that he had checked to see who was calling before he answered the phone, and Tom feels that screening calls is rude. WHAT? I mean, who DOESN’T check to see who’s calling before answering a phone these days and who DOESN’T already assume that everyone who can screen calls is doing so? Please help. Tom says that the only way he will even consider greeting his callers by name is if you side with me.

-Phone Etiquette

Dear Hello Anybody Home,

I can clearly remember a time when I called a friend of mine on his cell phone and he answered with, “Hello?” How rude! I couldn’t believe it! Didn’t he know it was me? I mean how could he possibly have not checked to see that it was me calling? Other than if he was in the middle of something else and just picked up…or maybe he was in a rush…but other than that, I can’t see why he couldn’t have just answered, “Hi Xantar!” I was so put out that I immediately hung up on him, defriended him on Facebook, and then poisoned his dog. He deserved it!

Oh wait, you know what? That didn’t happen at all. Why? Because I didn’t give a damn. Seriously, you’re getting worked up because your husband answers the phone with “Hello?”! I wonder what else peeves you off. You must be an awfully pleasant person to be married to. Do us all a favor and don’t have any kids. Because if you start micro-managing them the way you already do your husband, you’re likely to let loose a crew of sociopaths upon the world.

Dear Xantar,

My brother is recently engaged and getting married in three months. I had a family vacation scheduled for the weekend that he’s marrying. Would it be appropriate to ask him and his fiancée to reschedule?

-Rescheduling a Wedding

Dear Rescheduling Your Therapy,

Are you kidding me? Do you want to be THAT guy? You know what, just skip the wedding and go on your vacation. I’m sure your kids won’t have any regrets on missing their uncle’s wedding. You know, the only wedding he’s ever going to have in their lives (hopefully).

Dear Xantar,

I suffered a miscarriage at 12 weeks pregnant. My husband didn’t know about the pregnancy and I went through the miscarriage in silence. Though the emotional toll has been great, and my husband has noticed my depression, he is still clueless. Should I tell him about “our loss” knowing that he’ll be just as upset as I am—and also quite relieved, because the child was unplanned. Or should I continue to keep this mum to protect him from the whirlwind of emotions I’ve been feeling?

-Big Secrets in a Marriage

Dear Secret,

What the hell is this, an episode of Glee? Somehow you got pregnant and not only did you not tell your husband but you also managed to keep him clueless about what was going on? I know pregnant women don’t usually show at 12 weeks, but there are still physiological changes that happen. Did he somehow fail to notice? Why is it that your instinct during this life changing event was to keep everything a secret?

And I notice that you don’t seem to give your husband much credit. You imply that if he found out about the miscarriage, he would be relieved since the child was unplanned. I guess you must know him extraordinarily well if you think he’s not capable of complex emotional nuance. How kind of you to spare him the grief. I’m sure he’s completely happy watching you go through a depressive episode for no apparent reason.

Just go tell him what happened. And stop making women look bad, for crying out loud.

Ask Xantar #13

As usual, these are actually taken from Slate’s Dear Prudence column.

Dear Xantar,

My husband and I are expecting our first child in four months, and we’re really excited. The problem? My brother and his girlfriend are expecting their second baby two months after us, and we’re both really angry about it. I know I should be happy, but this particular brother has a history of constantly trying to one-up me and do things just because I’m doing them. I really think he planned this so that they could try to do a dual baby shower and cash in on our gifts (which would not be out of character). So, my question is twofold: How do I get over the anger about this and how do I politely tell my brother, since I know he will ask, that I do NOT want to do a dual baby shower?

-Baby Blues

Dear Baby,

So let me get this straight. You’re happily pregnant, finally going to get all the attention and adoration from your friends when suddenly your brother finds out about it and quickly knocks up his girlfriend (their second one, mind you). Somehow they manage to do this two months after you conceive when you aren’t even showing yet which means not only did they plan this dastardly spotlight stealing scheme, they also implanted sensors in your uterus so that they would be forewarned if you got a bun in the oven. All this because they want to steal your baby shower. Have I got that about right?

Ugh, it’s mothers like you that give all the other mothers a really bad name. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but you’ve got a NEW LIFE within you. It’s going to be a person pretty soon. Guess what? It’s not about you. It’s not about your brother either. It’s about the baby, and it’s going to be about the baby for the next 20 years or so. Do your job well and you will be rewarded with pride and appreciation. Spend all the time worrying about your own personal dramas and you will be made to look like a spoiled prima donna whom nobody really wants to spend time with.

Which you’ve gotten a good start on already.

Dear Xantar,

I am the mother of an extremely intelligent 17-year-old son. He tests off the charts, takes advanced placement classes, and wins all kinds of academic awards. Sometimes it is hard for me to believe he’s my child because I’m of average intelligence. I went to a run-of-the-mill state college and didn’t finish my degree. I have a good job and I am very good at what I do. My problem is, I feel so inferior to him that I’m loath to have all but the most basic of conversations. His passion lies in areas that I am clueless about (biochemistry, for one). He’s also politically savvy, but on the other end of the spectrum from my views. He is respectful, but I get the impression that he really has to dumb it down to have a conversation with me. I know he gets frustrated when I don’t follow what he’s talking about. He’ll be going off to college next year, and I’m worried that once he’s away, he’ll be around people more in line with his intelligence and views, and our bond will be forever broken. Any suggestions—or is this just the natural progression of things?

—Average Mom

Dear Mom,

Sorry readers, but I’m going to actually take this one seriously. I’m not a genius by any stretch, but I do know what it means to be intensely studying a field which my parents only take a surface-level interest in. You know what we talk about? Well, dozen of other things, really. Sometimes it was sports (we used to follow figure skating religiously. Really!). Sometimes it was gossip about the neighbors. Have you talked to your son about the facts of life and how to relate to girls? If he’s going to function in the adult world, he’s going to need a lot more than native intelligence. Some of us have to find that out the hard way, and you can spare him from some of the hard knocks. Things like networking and holding light conversation matter a lot. If it’s evident to other people that he’s “dumbing down” his conversation to talk with them, he’s going to have a lot of trouble.

What it comes down to is this: he may know more about biochemistry, but you know more about life. You’ve got a several decade head start on him in the great school of life. You have a lot more to teach him than you might think.

Also, I don’t care what kind of genius he is, if his political persuasion is “Tea Party” he’s an idiot.

Dear Xantar,

My wife and I have recently learned that we are going to have our first child. The pregnancy was unexpected. Nonetheless, this is wonderful news, except for one thing: The due date falls on the same day as my sister’s wedding, which will be held eight hours from where we live. My sister loves being the center of attention, and we worry that she will think we are trying to steal the spotlight on her special day. We are almost certain that she will throw a fit when we tell her that we cannot attend her wedding, because she has a history of throwing temper tantrums over perceived slights. We feel terrible about the situation, but there’s nothing we can do about it. Any tips on how to break the news so I’m not writing to you again in a year about my estrangement from my sister?

—Unexpectedly Expecting

Dear Great Expectations,

Here’s one way to break it to your sister: “Hey Charlene, I’ve got some great news. We’re expecting! But the problem is the due date is on your wedding. If you want, we can have an abortion so we’ll avoid ruining your perfect day. What do you say?”

OK, my lawyer is telling me to advise you NOT to say that. Here’s how you really break it: you tell her that you’re expecting and that unfortunately you won’t be able to attend her wedding. Then you wish her all the best. How she responds to that is up to her. If she makes an ass of herself, well, she’s only your sister by an accident of birth. It doesn’t sound to me like she’s worth maintaining a relationship with.

As a last resort, you could claim that you are the victims of a dastardly plot hatched by the brother of Letter Writer #1 above. Don’t give any more details than that, and don’t worry about the fact that it can’t possibly make any sense. Your sister will come up with something to feel aggrieved about.

Ask Xantar #12

Dear Xantar,

A few months ago, my husband raped me in the middle of the night. He was asleep during the attack, and he believes that it is a disorder called sexsomnia. Obviously the rape has me questioning whether or not I want to stay married to him. I feel like I will never be able to get over this and I will live in constant fear for the rest of my life. I have done some research, and it only scares me further. I have decided to not have children with him because I would knowingly be endangering them. He also has vivid nightmares that often end up with him thrashing around the house. He is taking medication and is in therapy, but I do not believe that I will ever trust that he is cured. To make matters worse, I have recently started having an affair, because I needed someone to take away all of the pain. I don’t want to be an adulteress, but I don’t want to be in a marriage where I am afraid to sleep in my own bed. I have tried to break things off with my husband, and he refuses to let go. He knows about the other man and thinks that we can still save what we have. I still care about my husband, and I want to honor the commitment I made to him, but when I look at him all I see is a monster. Is there any hope that I can fall in love with him again, or should I cut ties and move on?

-Marriage Falling Apart

Dear Fell On Your Head,

So let me get this straight. A few months ago, your husband raped you in your sleep. Never mind whether or not it was his fault (although it is true that some people act out elaborate behaviors in their sleep). The point is you’re afraid of him. Also, you don’t want to have children with him. Also, you’re cheating on him. And he knows it. And the two of you can’t figure out if there’s any hope of saving this marriage?

I genuinely hate reading letters like yours because they don’t give me much room to make fun of them. Your situation is not funny. And yet, you demonstrate such astounding cluelessness that you’re just begging for someone to smack you upside the head. Just get out of the marriage. Hook up with the other guy if you want to. And pray to the Almighty to save you if it turns out that this letter is a spoof.

Dear Xantar,

For the last two months, I’ve been living with my parents in the wake of a nasty breakup. At first they were supportive and didn’t talk much about it, but now they’ve decided that calling me every name under the sun mercilessly is the route to go. Every day, when I try to talk to my parents, I get called a failure, a cow, a piece of crap (for lack of a better word) all because I didn’t end up marrying the toxic person I was with. I just don’t get it. What do you think I should do in my current situation?

-Bullying Parents

Dear Bull,

What you should do is re-read your letter. And then figure out if there isn’t a really incredibly obvious answer to your dilemma. Also, if you’re a man, I know a desperate housewife who’s looking to hook up.

Dear Xantar,

Something easy for a Monday! My husband and I are having a disagreement about which direction his suits should hang in our walk-in closet. (my clothes are all on the left-hand side, his on the right, on parallel bars.) I have always understood that clothes should hang with the front of the garment facing to the left. He says that his should hang facing to the right because that way they face the doorway of the closet. Who’s correct? (Please say me.)

-Closet Organization

Dear Closeted,

Your husband should hang his clothes whichever way he pleases. And then he should smack you upside the head directly on the “control freak” area of the cortex (I believe it’s located near the “self-centered” zone and the region which controls pearl clutching). By the way, this letter is actually a few months old. Did he by any chance end up divorcing you and moving back in with his parents?

Ask Xantar #11

This column officially breaks the Big Ten barrier! Just a reminder that these particular letters actually come from Slate’s Dear Prudence column.

Dear Xantar,

I am a young mother with a 6-year-old son and 2-year-old daughter and have been married to a wonderful man for almost three years. My husband is not the biological father of my son. My problem is that my son’s biological father has just gotten out of prison and is a registered sex offender. He has not seen our son for the past five years and now wants to be part of his life. I haven’t tried to hide from my son that he has another father, but I think he is still too young to understand the whole story. My husband wants to adopt him, and I want this as well. But we don’t know whether we should do that or let his biological father into his life, even though I’m worried he might hurt him emotionally or, God forbid, some other way. But if we go through with the adoption, maybe my son will resent that we made this decision for him. Everyone close to us has an opinion. I would like the opinion of someone who is not close to the problem.

-Stuck Mother

Dear Stuck in the Past,

What are you, an idiot? You have two choices in father figures for your son. Behind Door Number 1 is the “wonderful” man you love (who is also the father of your son’s stepsister) who loves your son and is willing to legally adopt him with all the obligations that entails. Behind Door Number 2 is a convicted felon with at least one sexual offense on his record who hasn’t seen your son since he was one year old. I know that our country’s registered sex offender laws are a bloody mess and that he may have simply been convicted for receiving a sext message from a 15 year old, but even without that, there is some reason he has been absent for these past five years, and I’m betting it’s not because he was running a charity in Botswana. Why is this even a difficult choice for you? And who cares if your son resents it that your husband has chosen to adopt him? He’s six years old. He’ll get over it. It’s not like he has a strong attachment to his biological father.

Dear Xantar,

Summer is fast approaching, so please help! I rent a weekend summer house with six other youngish professional men and women (we’re in our late 20s and early 30s) every year. It’s pretty much been the same group of people for the past four years; however, last year one of our members had a new boyfriend who was there most weekends. On one hand it was nice because the rent was split up between 7 instead of 6, and they shared a room, so it wasn’t like he was taking up much space. On the other hand this guy was kind of out there, and it made me a little uncomfortable. He was nice enough but had a habit of walking around the house naked. And not just going from the bathroom to his bedroom naked. I personally witnessed him making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in the kitchen and then sitting in a living room chair (granted, it was a fold-up chair) completely naked! I’m the only one who seems to have a problem with this. Everybody else I’ve talked to about it thinks it’s funny (he’s pretty much the opposite of buff and kind of hairy) or just kind of shrugs their shoulders. I don’t know how I can approach my housemate about her boyfriend when nobody else seems to care. I don’t want to alienate anyone, but I also don’t want to deal with Sasquatch and his junk. Short of finding another house, what should I do?

-Grossed Out

Dear Get Out,

I’ll make this short and sweet. Next time he lets it all hang out, act as if you’re valiantly trying to suppress giggles. Or get one of those rubber band guns and use his danglies for target practice.

Ask Xantar #10

Dear Xantar,

My mother-in-law is driving me crazy. My husband and I just found out that we are pregnant with our second child, and I heard she’s pregnant, too. I cannot conceive of being pregnant at the same time as my mother-in-law! She has this notion that she is “too young” to be a grandma, and I am so angry with her for trying to take my spotlight. She is 44 years old, and it makes me upset that she wants to have children now (after already having three of her own) instead of just being a grandma. What should I do or say when she reveals her big news to us, which will likely happen when we reveal our big news to her?

Dear War on Menstruation,

You think that’s bad? One time I showed up at a bar with this gorgeous girl on my arm, and my best friend had the nerve to have an even hotter woman with him at the same time. A professional model, in fact! I couldn’t understand why he didn’t see that this was supposed to be my big night. And there was this other time when I showed up at a party after being an almost total recluse for two months. I’d been working out, you see, and was 20 pounds slimmer. What do you know, there’s my friend and he’d just lost 25 pounds! I just couldn’t stand it. I’m so glad you wrote in because now I know there’s someone who understands. I mean, all these other people keep telling me that the world doesn’t revolve around me. Well duh, I’m not that egotistical! I’m just saying when I’ve put in all that effort to do something, it’s only right that I should have a moment to be recognized. I mean that’s what it’s all about, right? That’s why I had to dump my friend and set his house on fire. That got his attention!

Obviously, now that your moment has been spoiled, you don’t have any choice now. There’s really no point in having your baby. You might as well just abort it and get it over with. You might even get some sympathy from your friends and family for what you’ve gone through. And if any of them don’t, well now you know who’s on your side and who isn’t. They clearly haven’t learned that the true purpose of babies is to act as props for mommy competitions. I’m glad to find that there’s someone out there with proper family values, though.

Dear Xantar,

My sister “Eileen” just had a baby. She has to attend an event soon and, due to the driving distance, Eileen e-mailed to ask my other sister “Karen” if she could stay at her home (which is at the halfway point) that night. Karen and her husband would be responsible for hosting Eileen, her husband, and a newborn. Karen wishes to keep the family peace and came to me for advice as to how to politely tell Eileen that even though she and her husband have a guest room, they do not wish to allow Eileen’s family to stay over for fear of losing sleep due to the baby crying and the general inconveniences of having a newborn present. How does she do that without upsetting Eileen? With most people, it wouldn’t be a problem to just decline to host, but Eileen is extremely sensitive and tends to take things personally.

Dear I’m Totally Not Karen,

Speaking of inconsiderate mothers, don’t you just hate it how they always expect you to respect the needs of their children? I mean, what is with that? How presumptuous is it that Eileen asked her own sister to give her a place to sleep for a night and had to bring the baby along? Don’t they have baby hotels somewhere? Or she could have just hired a wet nurse. Those little buggers aren’t too fussy in their early lives anyway. They’ll never know. I think it’s pretty awful that Eileen is taking this all personally. It’s just a baby! It’s not a part of her, and the little lump doesn’t care.

Anyway, I’m glad you sought out advice on the internet for your problem. I think that was the only responsible choice under the circumstances. I just hope Eileen hasn’t arrived at Karen’s house already in the time it took me to type up this answer. Obviously we can’t have Karen spending any quality time with her nephew/niece. They might bond or something! The thing to do is clearly for you to reimburse Eileen for a night at a hotel. And then if she gets mad at you, just tell her she has a choice to make: you or her baby. Then we’ll know where her priorities stand.

Ask Xantar #9

Dear Xantar,

Because this is anonymous, I don’t have to pretend here that I don’t know that I have great, firm, wrinkle-free skin at almost 50. I just won the genetic lottery in that regard. The problem arises in that people often peg my age at mid- to late 30s. Great, right? Not really. Recently I found myself at a work function with younger people. One man in the group starting bemoaning being 43 and the oldest person at the table. That led to a whole funny-serious discussion about being old. I stayed silent because I’m five years older than 43, and telling people my age often leads to the “look,” which is where the other person will sort of freeze for a moment in disbelief and then change to a growing look of horror. Good lord, she’s old! I’ve found there’s a big disparity between how a person perceives and treats someone in their mid- to late 30s vs. late 40s, and it’s led to some awkward moments. I don’t think I should be saying, “Hi, I’m Mary, and just so you know, I’m 48,” when meeting people, so what do I do? Drop a Culture Club reference right away?

Dear Youth On the Brain,

You think that’s terrible? Try being the only person in my graduating class in college who couldn’t legally drink. I was so unspeakably brilliant in school that I ended up skipping a grade and, because I was born in July, I was already pretty young for whichever grade I was in at the time anyway. The result: a 20-year old college graduate who couldn’t get into a bar. And every time somebody asked, I had to explain my whole tragic story about how I was ripped from a class of my peers and placed into a strange new world of people one year older than me.

But you know what? I got over it. You will, too. If nothing else, time will take care of things just like it did for me.

Dear Xantar,

My husband lost two close family members to alcoholism. Probably because of this, he does not drink and never has. I like to have a glass of wine every now and then. I also like to have a drink when I go out with my girlfriends (we go out once or twice a month). I understand my husband’s concerns, but just because two of his family members died as a result of drinking, does that mean I can never drink? All I really want is to have a glass of wine after I put the kids to bed. He finds this to be unacceptable and just recently threatened to call the police because I was having one glass of wine after I read to the kids and put them to bed. Is there any way past this?

Dear Just One,

In some ways, I hate reading letters like this because as ridiculous as the situation is, there’s enough other information given that I can’t really make fun of it. Nonetheless, I think the solution to the problem is still the same snarky solution I’d come up with otherwise: call his bluff and let him call the police. What are they going to say? “You are under arrest for drinking alcohol in your own house far away from any motor vehicle”?

Ask Xantar #8

Since it’s almost the new year, I’m adding a bonus at the end. Enjoy.

Dear Xantar,

I am a 32-year-old single mother of a teenager, and I have been dating a great guy for the past year. He is my age and has no kids. Most of my relationships haven’t lasted more than a few months. This guy is perfect in many respects. He constantly tells me he loves me, gets along with my son, helps me around my house, plans his weekends to include me, and has introduced me to his family. The problem is that in the past year he has never bought me flowers. I know it may seem petty, but it’s something I think shows a woman that a man was thinking about her throughout the day and that he appreciates her. I have mentioned to him how much this bothers me, but it doesn’t seem to change. Should I be concerned?

Dear Deflowered (sorry, couldn’t resist, even if that was kind of cruel),

I can already feel my female readers shaking their heads in embarrassment on your behalf. On the one hand, I sympathize with you for being a teen mother and raising your kid all by yourself. On the other hand, it’s pretty clear that you haven’t learned anything about relationships since middle school. Bringing flowers shows a woman that a man was thinking about her throughout the day and that he appreciates her? How about telling you constantly that he loves you, helping you around the house, and planning his weekends to include you? What the hell do you think that shows? I’ll tell you from a man’s perspective what he’s thinking. He’s thinking, “Why would she want some cheap flowers that are going to die in a few days when she could have some help with the chores and a weekend at the mall?” This isn’t Twilight. Symbolic gestures are not what sustain a relationship. Hopefully, you’ll learn that before your boyfriend wises up to the fact that he’s dating a high-schooler in a 32-year old’s body.

If you’re really set on getting some flowers, though, I know a shark in Pittsburgh who deals with them. Don’t ask me why there’s a flower-dealing shark in a landlocked city. It’s complicated.

Dear Xantar,

I have been prank wrapping gifts to my family for years. It’s nothing too serious (nesting boxes, duct tape wrapping, heavy lead weights on gift cards), and everyone seems to enjoy it. The only problem is that I have met that special someone, and while the rest of her family approves of our relationship, her mother does not. She has questioned my financial standing—which is excellent—even though she and my girlfriend’s father are flat broke. Mostly she refuses to talk to me at all. So I put her gift in a box that can’t be opened without the use of metal cutting tools. While I am happy with this (I consider it a masterpiece of gift wrapping), my girlfriend is ill-at-ease. She recognizes the tension between me and her mother, and understands that it may never be resolved, but thinks this might be going a little far. I am not sure that it is. Does this exceed the treatment I have received from her mother?

Dear Dense Wrapping Around the Head,

I’m kind of doubtful about your claim that everybody enjoys your prank wrapping. It sounds like the sort of joke that people would just put up for your sake. And seriously. You gave her a present that can only be opened with metal cutting tools? You don’t see where this might seem excessive? Now you just sound like an asshole. If the mother-in-law doesn’t like you, there’s not much you can do about that. But all you’re doing here is giving her an excuse to tell your girlfriend there’s a reason she doesn’t like you. And she wouldn’t be wrong.

But since you’re so into this sort of thing, I have an idea. Why don’t you fashion a metal condom and put it on yourself. With padlocks. Then tell your girlfriend it’s a gift for her to unwrap. She’ll love it.

Dear Xantar,

My uncle recently announced he will be divorcing his fourth wife, whom he married a year and a half ago. They made it a year longer than we all had predicted. He is family, yes, but this man can be very unpleasant, particularly when stressed (like getting divorced around the holidays), and likes to put his overly critical two cents in where it doesn’t belong. For some reason, I, as the grown daughter of his older sister (I have a younger brother who is 19), usually spend the entire holiday receiving backhanded comments and having absurd orders barked at me that I often politely (or not so politely) refuse. The rest of the family is treated to his loud, “hilarious” stories and often doesn’t know what has been going on all day until after he has left and I make them aware of it. I’m told to just ignore him, but it gets harder every holiday, and I know this particular one will be brutal. Any advice?

Dear Xantar,

When I moved away from my small-town USA home years ago after college, I didn’t realize that I dropped off the globe for my family. I love my family and make every effort to keep in touch and visit. However, after 10 years I have come to realize all the action is on my part and I’m starting to wonder if I should take a step back. Most of my family didn’t attend my wedding because they “didn’t want to travel that far.” I never get invites to birthday parties or holidays, so I have to invite myself if I want to be included. When I am visiting, it doesn’t seem like anyone is that interested in seeing me, and they definitely do not care about hearing what is going on with me. None of my family has visited me in my new home even though I have invited them numerous times. I have put a lot of effort in my family relationship, and I want to stop and just focus on my life with my husband. Is this normal? Can I move on and let them make the move if they want to see me? I’m exhausted.

Dear Xantar,

I normally have an extended break during the holidays, most of which I spend at home (out of state) with my family. This year for a variety of reasons (mostly due to the pressure and gloom I feel at home), I am choosing to stay for only two days. I feel guilty enough, but I know once I start telling people, they will all make me seem like a horrible person for not spending time with my family. Mind you, no one ever visits me, and I am always expected to travel to see other friends and family who live in the tri-state area, but I don’t even have a car. Do I just suck it up and stay a few more days, even though I will most likely be in a funk? If not, how do I explain to people that I want to have a stress-free holiday break and prefer to be by myself without seeming selfish?

Dear all three of you,

Families are an accident of birth. You’re all adults now. Why the hell are you putting up with this?

Ask Xantar #7

Boy it’s been a while hasn’t it. Blame it on the people who write to advice columns. The pickings have been kind of slim lately. But now I’ve managed to scrounge together an acceptable group of letters, so let’s get this show started.

Dear Xantar,

My partner and I are adopting twins! We plan to raise them without diapers. There’s a method for this, and most of the world goes without diapers. We will also use only organic clothes and linens, and only natural wooden toys. I’m wondering how we can politely express this to the people attending our baby shower. It would seem a bit brash to simply tack a list of what we don’t want to the bottom of the invitation. I’m afraid that giving no indication about our organic preferences would lead to us throwing out or giving away almost all of the gifts we receive, and that doesn’t seem right, either.

Congratulations on becoming parents. However, I’m going to tell you that people like you set my teeth on edge. It’s not because I disagree with your environmental stance. I’m not going to claim to be an environmental radical, but I do contribute lots of hard-earned time and money to the cause. If you’re that committed to living without plastic, then more power to you. But you’re still a couple of mindless, self-righteous pricks.

You’re going to just throw out gifts that don’t meet your organic standards? I know you’re not throwing all of them away, but why throw any gifts away at all? There are lots of poor unfortunate people in this country who could use those disposable diapers you’re so ready to get rid of. It’s overprivileged and out of touch people like you that give liberals a bad name.

It also doesn’t look like you’ve really thought this through. A lot of the world does indeed go without diapers. You know what babies do in those parts of the world? They just squat right down on the ground wherever they are. Try that next time you go to Whole Foods and see how long the store manager puts up with it.

Children are not accessories for political statements. Your job is to pass your most important values on to them so that later in life they can make their own decisions about how they want to live. I’ll bet you weren’t raised without diapers, and look at what good ecological citizens you turned out to be. If you pass your sincerest beliefs on to your children, they’ll figure it out on their own. But here’s a hint: low carbon footprint is not a “value.” That’s just a goal. The way you’re carrying on is actually a pretty good way to produce a couple of Humvee driving monsters who eat steak for dinner every night.

Dear Xantar,

My child’s father and I split up when I was five months pregnant, and I’ve raised our 8-year-old son by myself. I’ve always told him that Santa Claus exists. For the past two years, he’s been writing a wish list to Santa and putting it in the mail. Last year, his father told him that Santa does not exist, that it’s a lie parents tell their children, and that parents buy presents and tell the kids they’re from Santa. Two nights ago, my son asked me, “Mommy, does Santa really exist?” to which I replied, “What do you believe?” He said, “Papa told me Santa doesn’t exist, and you tell me Santa does. I think he does, but I don’t know.” I always knew that I would have to tell my son the truth about Santa, but I don’t want him to think that I’ve lied to him all these years. How do I tell my son that Santa doesn’t exist without losing his trust? And what’s there to live for when you don’t believe in all the things that make a moment special?

I realize that it’s not the most enviable thing in the world to be a single mom raising the spawn of a jerk, but I’m still not going to cut you any slack on this one. This isn’t about your concern for your child’s well-being. This is about fighting a war with your ex-boyfriend by proxy (oh sure, you can distance yourself by calling him “the child’s father” if you want to, but at some point he was your boyfriend. Or at least your sex buddy). You’re upset because your ex spoiled your carefully laid out plans to keep your child innocent. Yeah, he was an ass to do it, but it’s nothing for you to get worried over.

You know what happens when kids find out Santa isn’t real? They get over it. Then they realize that the presents come from their parents which means their parents love them. And then they start nagging their parents to give them the latest Snake Eyes action figure with real karate chop action. And then they start having fun telling other kids at school that Santa doesn’t exist and then watching them cry. So you know what’s there to live for when you don’t believe in everything that makes a moment special? Your hard-working, loving mom is a pretty good start. Get over yourself. I guarantee your kid won’t even be worried about it two days from now.


Dear Xantar,

I work in a small office where everyone gets along well. I am in my early 20s, by far the youngest employee and the only single one. I pretty much live paycheck to paycheck. Every year around the holidays, my co-workers plan to buy our boss a nice Christmas present with a set contribution of $75 per person. This year they also planned an office Christmas party dinner at a nice restaurant where we will pay our own way. I simply do not have the money to participate in all this, but it is expected of me. I am incredibly embarrassed to be the only one in this situation, and I feel that if I don’t participate, I will be looked down upon. How can I explain to them that I want to be included, but I cannot afford the activities that are planned without my input?

This is going to be one of the rare opportunities for me to mouth off on somebody other than the letter writer. Seriously? Seventy five freaking dollars for a gift contribution to your boss? What are you going to get, a PS3? Who does your boss think he or she is, Kim Jong Il? Are you working on Wall Street? I understand the concept of giving fits to your boss. I work for a relatively well-to-do boss, and we give him gifts, too. But our contribution is $5 per person. Somewhere in past, expectations in your office went way out of whack, and if people are still expecting lavish feasts in this economy, they are going to have a rude meeting with reality pretty soon.

Tell your co-workers that you can’t spare that much money because of student loans/health care/raising your kids/whatever applies to your situation. And then bring in a bagged lunch on the big day in case you’re left out of the festivities. If the rest of the office looks down on you because you have your priorities straight, then their esteem really isn’t worth $75.