Dear LetterBalm: I’m a fussy eater. Some foods upset my stomach, some make me ill or cause me to break out in a rash. I’m out on my own and have no trouble going out to eat with friends and colleagues. I know what to order and what to avoid and nobody thinks anything of it. Same thing when I cook for others. The trouble is my family. They pester me unmercifully (“Well, what CAN you eat?” “Why can’t you eat this?”) and draw attention to my problem at the table. Holidays are a horror for me. I always bring something I can eat for the whole table and make it an attractive dish. I don’t expect special treatment – I’m perfectly content taking small portions or loading up on bread or lettuce salad. But my family insists on pointing it out. They should know better because I’ve been this way most of my life, and I’ve had a lot of tests for allergies and other food-related conditions. What can I say to end this embarrassing situation?
–Not a Foodie
You sound like you’re doing everything right about your food circumstance. You’re not making a big deal out of it, you’re contributing a dish that you and everyone will enjoy and you’re opting to eat simply if you’re presented with offending foods. Your family can be given a (small) benefit of the doubt: Food, especially during holidays, assumes social importance and bonding. Loved ones gather around the dining table, the grill, the restaurant table as much for love and laughter as for eating. But your family is way out of line to single you out and browbeat you. Ms. L.B. suggests you walk out if things get too heavy and go to a friend-in-reserve who’ll welcome you with no judgment. In the meantime, calmly read your family the riot act (not at the table), but after so many years, it’s unlikely it will work:
Family, I need to talk with you once and for all about my food allergies and problems. You’ve known about them all my life, and you persist in harassing me at the table. This is hurtful and rude, especially as I can’t control it and I’m trying to cope and not draw attention to it. Please understand once and for all, I’m not criticizing or insulting your cooking. I just can’t eat a lot of foods because they make me sick. Doctors have told me, and you know it. If you don’t stop badgering me, you’ll force me to leave the table and go to a friend’s house, every time. Worst-case scenario? I’ll stop coming to family dinners altogether. Now, what’s it going to be?
Well, the warm days of summer are drawing to a close with the third big national holiday. Another lovely reason for grilling and friends around the campfire. As she munches on family-recipe barbecued chicken this weekend, Ms. L.B. will ponder the meaning of labor and the satisfaction of work done well, no matter how humble. Look for LetterBalm to resume, philosophically, on Tuesday.
Dear LetterBalm: My daughter is 18 and going into her senior year of high school. She’s very bright – she’s taking several advance placement courses and has many activities, and we have every expectation she’ll get into a good college. She has a 19-year-old boyfriend neither my husband nor I can stand. He dropped out of school two years ago and is showing no signs of getting his GED. He works as an auto mechanic. This isn’t what sets our teeth on edge. He’s lazy, and they camp out at our house in her bedroom. Since she’s been with him, our daughter talks back to us and ignores her curfew and chores. My husband and I also think they’re having sex. What can we say to her to fix all this?
–Mom and Dad Cops
Something to fix it all? Nothing in the English language, or any other language, for that matter. Let’s review. You have a teenage daughter in the throes of lust who thinks her underachieving boyfriend is, well, adorable. She’s picked up bad habits. She has considerable leverage over her worried and disapproving parents, and she knows it. She’s itching for independence. You might try turning the tables on her with kindness. It’s difficult to do, but you and your husband may be able to wait her out. Ms. L.B. says, after all, one of life’s truths is that parents don’t like every one of their daughter’s boyfriends. The two of you might consider having a calm talk with her when Darling Boyfriend isn’t in the house, appealing to her maturity and your trust in her:
Ava, we wanted to tell you we’re proud that you’re going into senior year with several AP courses already under your belt. This is an important time for you, and we know you’ll have a strong year and line up acceptances at good schools because you’ve worked hard and you want this. We also wanted to reassure you that Dwayne is always welcome here, you know that. Just one thing, and we won’t belabor it: We trust you’re using birth control and protection because a pregnancy wouldn’t be good now. Nor would an STD. You’ve got a good head on your shoulders, you’re a mature person and you know what to do. You also know that backtalk, shirking chores and curfew infractions have to be dealt with because these are your responsibility. We love you, Ava, and we’re want you never to forget that we’re always proud of you.