Independence Day 2015

2 Jul

Letterbalm Capitol FireworksHappy 239th birthday, America! It’s been a particularly difficult year that, unfortunately, has ripped a few more holes in the national fabric. Not everything can be mended with patriotism and pledges of allegiance, but the Supreme Court came through. Ms. L.B. isn’t disheartened; she remains hopeful that cooler heads will prevail. Meanwhile, she will picnic with friends and revel in fireworks. LetterBalm will return, thoughtfully, on Tuesday.   

Welcome to First Grade

1 Jul

Letterbalm SchoolDear LetterBalm: We just moved to a new state for my husband’s job. We timed it so that our six-year-old daughter could get acclimated to her new home and neighborhood, make a couple of friends over the summer and prepare for a new school. She’ll be going into first grade, and we’ve enrolled her in a good public school in our area. Our ordinarily energetic, bright and social girl, who loved preschool and kindergarten, has become anxious and worried. She’s nervous that she won’t make friends, that the teacher won’t like her and that she won’t understand the schoolwork. She asks the same questions all the time (“How will I get to school?” “Do I bring my lunch?” “Can I paint and draw?”). We’re not able to reassure her. She was excited when we took her to meet her teacher and tour the school. But now she’s withdrawn. What can we do?

–School Daze

So far, you and your husband are doing everything right. Just be sure you aren’t telegraphing your anxiety to your daughter; kids pick up cues from their parents. Ms. L.B. cautions that you don’t dismiss or make light of her fears. Remind your daughter about how well she’s already done in school and how this is the next step. Yes, it’s a big scary step in a new school, but you know she can do it. Check online for age-appropriate first-day-of-school books, read them to her during the day (not at bedtime), and ask her questions about how she might solve problems during the school day. Walk around her new school, pointing out the playground, the entrance and other features. If it’s open, walk the halls with your daughter, noting artwork and fun things. Give her lots of details and explanations. Stay alert to her first few weeks at school, allowing her time and space to adjust. Ask her lots of engaging questions. But before you do all this, acknowledge that moving to a new place is a big challenge for her and the whole family:

Isabella, you’ve had lots of big changes this summer, haven’t you? Moving to a brand-new house in a brand-new neighborhood is pretty scary, isn’t it? Your daddy and I are getting used to it, too. And, look how you’ve begun to do some new things around the house – helping me set the table and sort groceries. You’re really growing big and strong. I know you miss Teddy and Emma, your friends from kindergarten. But you’ve already met a couple of new friends – Christa and Allyson are nice, aren’t they? Your daddy and I do understand if you’re a little shy because all this is new. Sometimes new things and meeting new people can be scary. We understand, and you can always come to us if you want to ask questions or just talk.

A Matter of Fairness

30 Jun

Dear LetterBalm: My wife and I are very close to my older sister. She’s godmother to our first daughter, and we’ve all had great years celebrating family events together. My sister is gay, and she has recently introduced us to a serious girlfriend. They’re great together – we’re happy for both of them. But there’s a big, continuing problem with my mother and father. They’ve never accepted that their daughter is gay and are barely civil to her. None of her gay friends or lovers is welcome in their home (we’ve had holidays at our house), and they keep themselves aloof from serious questions and involvement in her life, etc. This breaks our hearts because my sister is a wonderful person who has dedicated her life to teaching kids and coaching sports. Now, my parents are emphatically saying they will leave her nothing in their wills. Everything will go to me. I want to help my sister, who’s understandably saddened by all this. What can I say to her?

–Younger Brother

This LetterBalm is particularly apt in light of the Supreme Court’s monumental ruling last week affirming that the Constitution guarantees the right to same-sex marriage. Ms. L.B. regrets your parents’ attitude; they have caused your sister considerable pain most of her life, and it’s unlikely they will change. You are overdue for a reassuring talk with your sibling. But first, book a consultation with an attorney well versed in the estate laws of your state. You want to see if it is possible to give your sister an equitable share of your parents’ assets without incurring onerous double taxes. And, bear in mind that both of your folks probably won’t pass away at the same time, so there could be further encumbrances on the estate. Depending on what the attorney says, have a serious private discussion with your sister, just the two of you, along these lines:

Val, I wanted us to talk because there are important things I want to say to you. Mom and Dad have been abominable to you and those close to you. But I want you to know without question, that whatever they do to cut you out of their estate, I will make sure you’re included and receive your fair share. We can’t make our sibling relationship all about money. It’s a matter of fairness. Second only to Lisa and my daughters, you know you’re the closest person in my life. Unconditional love trumps everything. I’m happy we’ve been so close all these years.

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