Carolyn Hax Live: 'Your sister-in-law is a butt'

Oct 25, 2019

Advice columnist Carolyn Hax answers questions and responds to comments about whether someone is 'aunting' badly, whose house to go to on the holidays, and managing grief. Her answers may appear online or in an upcoming column.

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Hi everybody, happy Friday.

Carolyn, I am so, (silent) screaming mad at my children's grandparents. We're discussing the holidays, and it's an endless stream of demands that we spend our time, money and energy keeping up "traditions" that we have outgrown or never agreed to in the first place. If I have one more conversation explaining why we do not want to spend all of our limited vacation time strapping two toddlers into car seats for a multi-state drive - instead of the retired and agile grands making the trip - I am going to smash a Spode plate over someone's head. When and how do families pass the hosting baton to the next generation? We've cited logistics so far, but a bald "we're making holiday memories in our own home from now on" would be more honest and hopefully stop the endless negotiations. (We're a mixed faith family, so double the fun...)

Negotiations are endless only when you keep negotiating.

So, stop.

"We're having our Christmas in our own living room this year. We'd love to have you join us."

That's the when, and that's the how.

You just need to believe in your right to do that, which apparently you don't. 

It's real though. I promise.


Need a list of do's and don'ts of Halloween costuming. It seems to have gotten more complex over the years with a number of people being offended for reasons I cannot comprehend. Additionally, I have two foreign exchange students living with me who have never celebrated Halloween before and seem to be pretty excited about it. I have explained that costumes came about originally as a way to scare off the evil spirits that people believed were free to walk the earth on All Hallow's Eve. Scary costumes seem pretty straight forward but then the rules get murky. A year or two ago there was a huge commotion about a not-asian girl wearing a kimono. Some people were very upset. One of my girls brought a traditional dress from her home country to show us and now wonders if she could wear it as a Halloween costume. On one hand, she is from that country so it should be ok to wear it, right? On the other hand, it really isn't a costume meant for Halloween. Help me out here, please.

It's actually not that murky, I don't think.

Do dress up as something. Do not dress up as a member of a race, ethnicity or culture of which you are not a member.


And when in doubt, ask yourself, is this hurting or foreseeably insulting anyone?

It's not perfect, but it's well-meaning without everyone having to be an M&M.

Read the transcript after the chat last week and want to add that you may want to reach back out to the professionals who worked with you as a kid. Your social worker, your counselor, your teacher, etc. I was a guardian ad litem for children for many years up until 5 years ago. I LOVE to hear from the kids I represented that they are doing well. (Also willing to listen to those that aren't.) I know what they went through and the trauma they endured. I keep my e-mail address that I used in my practice so that if anyone reaches out, they can find me. Trust me, I remember you, I remember what your childhood entailed and I would love to give you a 'way to go!'

This is such a great idea, thanks.

Hey, Carolyn! When I told a coworker that food is kind of my “thing” - I write a food & baking blog, and yeah, I like food - she said, “Eat to live, not live to eat.” Can I tell her to kiss my big Irish peach?


Feigned incomprehension would be a nice touch, too. "I'm not sure I understand. Are you saying I should be you?"

Hi Carolyn - I don’t make a lot of money but I budget down to the penny so that I can afford things I want, like travel. I’m starting to become resentful when I have to spend money on other things. Good friends of mine in particular have had several life events recently: weddings, showers, surprise parties, baptisms, etc. with no end in sight. I have to admit I’m getting tired of buying the appropriate attire for most events, plus provide a side dish in addition to a gift. The obvious solution is to opt out, but I love these people dearly and want to celebrate with them. I abhor cheapskates and now find myself becoming one. So I guess my question is: how do I become less of a cheapskate?

Budget for friends as things you want?

To me that's the obvious solution, not the one you gave.

You can also get creative on the clothing, gifts and side dishes so they cost you next to nothing. Photos and handmade or handwritten items; plant-based cooking; and wardrobe-building via thrifting, renting, sewing, repurposing (a la "Pretty in Pink"), arranging swaps with friends ... and don't rule out reusing. One of my closest college friends wore the same dress to every evening event for 3, maybe 4 years, and didn't give a fox except to think it was hilarious. There are ways.

Dear Carolyn, My 30 year reunion was recent but I was unable to attend. I posted on Facebook that I would be willing to meet anyone who wants to reconnect for coffee. I was met with a positive comment from my old friend "Ava." The problem is that I recently had a lot of drama with the friend group that we both belonged to in high school and college. I'd like to reconnect with Ava but I don't want to discuss the drama and say mean things about certain people who exacerbated the situation. Also, I'm anxious that she might try to invite some of these people along because I'm not sure how much she is aware. Because of this, I haven't made definite plans to reconnect with Ava though I'd like to. How do I respond to her if she mentions our old friend group? Wants to Reconnect but Anxious

Make plans to see Ava, see what you get, manage it. 

So, so much easier than trying to direct it all in advance.

My children and grandchildren have all moved far away. We were very close when they were near (Sunday dinners, etc.), so when they left, I went through a difficult grieving period. Now I have a very full life including running our little farm, keeping a boarder, many pets (some geriatric), and volunteering at a museum and a hospital. Now my middle child has informed me that she's rented a place for me to spend a couple months this winter in a sunny clime, all expenses already paid. She should have talked all this over with me before plunking down any money because I really don't want to leave our home for so long, winter notwithstanding. I know she's doing this because she loves me and wants me to be safe from snow and ice, but I simply cannot dump everything for weeks at a time. She's not one to take "no" for an answer, so how do I go about refusing her beautiful offer without antagonizing her?

Oh my goodness.

I am so sorry she put you in this position--her doing this was seriously presumptuous. And, her trying to secure your compliance through implied/historically precedented threat of not taking "no" for an answer--and of making things difficult for you emotionally as punishment--is by-the-book controlling behavior.

To say no is not the same as to antagonize, yikes.

The only way to go about refusing her offer is to just refuse the offer. That's it. Prepare yourself beforehand to ride out the drama-storm that ensues.

Now, you do say, "I really don't want to leave our home for so long." Is there a number of days you would be willing to spend in this sunny clime? If so, then you can also say, "I'm sorry, I cannot accept--I neither can nor want to be away for two months. A week, however, would be lovely. Let me know if that's possible." As long as you trust yourself to hold that line. (Otherwise don't even suggest it--just stick to the "no.")

And if/when she flips out on you, then remain calm: "This is not up for negotiation. Let's either change the subject now, or talk another day." Be ready to hang up as needed. "I'm interrupting you, hang on--I've got to go, bye." Click.

I know this probably looks/sounds terrible, but it's not unkind. It's letting an emotional trespasser know she needs to get back on her side of the fence.

You can absolutely comprehend it, if you take time to read/hear and understand the offense. There's even a catchy slogan about it: "My Culture Is Not Your Costume".

This seems like a great time to study up yourself on cultural norms regarding things like racism and cultural appropriation. Many other countries (especially non-Anglophone) have /very/ different views on these issues, so you could see it as an opportunity to really teach them about American culture, warts and all.

Did you purposely post the "ghost cheerleader" response after the Halloween costume response? It took me a minute to realize they were not, in fact, related. A ghost cheerleader would be an awesome costume.

The only credit I can take is for being oblivious.

Also - if you're dressing as a representation of someone: Is your costume neutral, or does it punch up or down? If it punches down, that's a solid no-go. Google to see the foreclosure firm whose employees dressed up as homeless people. Punching up may also be a problem, but punching down always will be.

Yesssss. I was trying to figure out a way to say this, that "hobo" is not an option. But I couldn't get there so it skipped it. "Don't punch down." Simple, elegant, clear. Thank you.

But suddenly I want to be a BIG IRISH PEACH for Halloween. How many people will I offend?

None, because we're the only ones who will have any idea what you're trying to be and why.

I'm a woman in my early 60s, never married and childfree by choice. I am, however, blessed with a cluster of nieces, nephews, and godchildren I adore - thirteen kids in all, ages ten months to thirty-seven years. Over the decades I've stepped up when there were practical considerations involving the kids - money for a special school, a place for a teenager to bunk for a couple of weeks while she sorted it out that her parents weren't really monsters after all, that sort of thing - and I've always made it a priority to be in attendance at graduations and, when I could, at special dance recitals and sporting events and the like. Taking the kids on fun vacations and getaways has long been my thing - the way I celebrate their birthdays and other holidays. It gives me one-on-one time with the particular kid, both of us have a great adventure, and the kids themselves always seem to enjoy it a great deal. Think trips to Spain and Greece, San Francisco and Jackson Hole, swimming with dolphins and a safari. Even if I can't make it for the actual day of celebration - you can't be on both coasts for Christmas Day, for heaven's sake - I get to all of them in the general time frame and even if I can stay only one night at least take the family out for dinner to mark the occasion. These are joyous times for me, and I'm absolutely unfailingly willing to arrange them around family and school calendars. For a niece's sixteenth birthday recently, I flew her to meet me in New York City for a long weekend. We went to two Broadway shows, ate ourselves silly, and had a shopping spree at Barnes & Noble. When I returned her to her parents, my sister-in-law was noticeably cool toward me. When I asked what the matter was, she snapped that it would be nice if, once in a while, I could be bothered to get her kids a present. I am angry and shattered. I've always thought that being present for them was the present! I've taken great comfort that, in the few weeks since this happened, two other members of my cluster have been in touch - one to ask me to come trick-or-treating at her house this year, and another to accept my offer of a trip to Florida over her Thanksgiving break. The kids still seem to want to spend time with me, but I can't shake the feeling that I've been a pest all these years, forcing myself on the kids when they'd rather have another - I don't even know. Hockey stick? Barbie doll? Designer hoodie? And I'm furious with my sister-in-law for being so shallow that she thinks something wrapped with a bow could ever compete with time and laughter and a wonderful experience. The kids call me "Mame", and I have always taken it as a compliment, but now I wonder if it's a joke I'm not in on. - Deflated

I know there's probably a much longer, more thorough, more uplifting answer to be written, but, on the fly, I hope I can get the most accomplished with this:

Your sister-in-law is a butt.

Her being one is not a reason to rethink your entire self.

You take your sibs' kids/godchildren to Greece! I want to be your niece.

In fairness to your SIL, maybe she was having the worst day of her life and her filter slipped for just that one moment, just as she was overtaken by an overwhelming but fleeting impulse to be a butt. Same general idea.

i am retired but my husband still works. what is the kindest way to tell my mateless friends to quit phoning me at times approaching dinner? i understand that 5:00 is the time of day when they can no longer ignore or pretend that they are not alone and lonely, but i am always in a rush to get the remainder of my house picked up, myself looking presentable and getting dinner started. letting messages go to voicemail is not working.

Define "working," then. If you don't want to talk to your friends at that time, then the easiest possible solution is to let their calls go to voice mail and to call them back at your convenience. It's easiest not just because it involves doing nothing, but also because you control it entirely: You don't have to rely on them to stop doing something you don't like.

You didn't ask me about this part, but the all-my-mateless-friends-get-overwhelmed-by-the-emptiness-of-their-lives-just-as-I'm-Raquel-Welching*-myself-for-my-man thing is not something I recommend repeating. Please do a humility check.

*Gen X version (Miss-Piggying works, too). Peggy-Lee-ing for Boomers.

Your SIL may also be sad she cannot provide these experiences with her own children, and resent that they experience these great things - frequently - without her being present. Are the cousins bragging to each other about what they get to do with you that they don't do with their own nuclear families?

The SIL's response made me wonder about the financial situation for her and her spouse. If they're unable to afford taking their kids on trips, etc, maybe the OP's generosity triggers some guilt? Maybe the kids come back from the trip talking excitedly about the experience and SIL feels bad for not being able to provide similar experiences? Does not excuse her behavior *at all,* I'm just trying to noodle out the cause, and thinking that often when I get defensive, it's because I've allowed someone/something to make me feel inadequate.

I'm not saying cultural appropriation isn't really, it is. But what I'm getting from all the responses is: Teach your kids about respecting all cultures but when they want to emulate that culture (in a respectful way) tell them they can't because they aren't that culture. Talk about mixed messages and not letting each other get to know one another's experiences.

Wait a minute. The whole message seems to be that dressing as the thing for Halloween does not meet the standard of "in a respectful way." It's not a parenthetical, it's the point.

I don't mean to be rude, but the daughter's "offer" is not "beautiful," it's disrespectful and presumptuous, especially if it is made with the emotional blackmail of flipping out if she doesn't get her way. OP is a grownup living his/her own life (which sounds pretty awesome, by the way). The daughter's offer disrespects OP's right to make decisions about their own time and priorities. If it is difficult to address with daughter, it may be helpful to write down some talking points that can keep OP on track when the daughter tries to wheedle away at OP's resolve.

Maybe the sister-in-law was being a butt or maybe she was just jealous. She may feel a bit envious of the glorious weekend you gave her child which probably made her gift seem--at least to her--small by comparison.

Entirely possible, yes. But if she had those normal, complicated feelings and chose to express them only by slamming the auntie for not giving gifts, then she is in fact a butt. Or choosing to act like one. It's not either-or.

With big families thousands of miles away from each other, the best thing my husband and I ever did was tell all our parents "We're not going to travel for the holidays, but anyone who wants to come to us is welcome to." And then we stuck to it. There was grumbling the first few years, but eventually everyone accepted it and stopped asking.

I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that "cheapskate" is female. Presuming, because it always seems as if women bear the brunt of bringing "appropriate" gifts or cooking a side dish to bring, when half the time, men are considered amazing!!! just for showing up. Here's an idea- treat the invitation as just that- an invitation. If you don't want to bring a side dish- don't. If you want to wear the same outfit (a la a man wearing one single suit to every event), do it.

Actually, your idea is for OP, who presumably is a woman, to act like a man. And it's pretty freaking brilliant.

My mom is a first time grandmother and refers to my niece as "her baby." I can tell it irks my brother and sister-in-law, but they don't say anything. Other than when she asks if I've seen "her baby" day and I respond that no he was at work but it did see her granddaughter, can I say anything? Or do these things pass when the next grandkid comes? Thanks!

Oh my you have a chance to be a saint here.

"Mom--I know you're over the moon for your grandbaby. You're a great grandma. Please trust me here: Calling the baby 'my baby' is getting under Brother and Sister-in-Law's skin. They haven't said anything to me, I'm just calling what I see. And I assume they've said nothing to you, I'm sure because they know how great you are and don't want to sound mean. But, fit a 'grand-' in there, or switch to Pookie, or something."

You're just in a great position to say this one for the team.

BTW, saying "her baby" is at work is hilarious. 

How do you respond to a very dear and close friend who expresses that she thinks it is time that you should be "over" your grief at the loss of your brother who died 11 months ago and for whom you are still deeply grieving (and crying daily)?

Ugh, I'm sorry. That was a really thoughtless thing for her to say. Grief is not linear, and you don't get "over" a loved one's permanent absence from your life. You only adjust to it, react less (or differently) to it, learn to live around it.

I hope for your friend's sake that it is merely her ignorance talking, which would suggest (a) she thinks she's being helpful and (b) she's had the good fortune of not having suffered as severe a loss. 

If that's the case, then you can explain to her--kindly, calmly, when you feel ready--that saying that to someone in mourning is not helpful. To the best of your ability, explain why.

It could also be that your friend sees your struggle, suspects you're "stuck" and thinks you might benefit from grief support or therapy, and just didn't have the language handy to say that. Even though grief does have its own timetable and there's no "should" to it, it does happen sometimes that people aren't able to progress in their healing without a little help.

My husband finally went up to visit our two kids at college this weekend. He wasn't supposed to get there until this afternoon, but drove all the way last night arriving around midnight. Rather than see our kids (one of whom he hasn't seen since August) this morning, he is taking the morning to walk around and do his own thing. To me this is one stone in an emotionally closed off wall of his own making. It's like he could die tomorrow, and our lives would all just pretty much go on as usual. It's really getting to me that he doesn't have that dad desire to see his kids as soon as he can. Am I nuts?

Only for expecting his behavior to conform to typical standards, when you seem to have long-accruing evidence (yes?) that he's not typical. I'd say "neurotypical" but I'm not in a position to be that specific, it's just a hunch.

Please do some homework on this--talk to your regular doctor for ideas on where to look and whom to talk to, get names of a few therapists, do some Googling on emotionally disconnected people. There's probably an "aha" moment just waiting for you to find it, when all the pieces come together and start making sense.

That’s nothing in terms of the grief timetable, in my opinion. Has the OP considered explaining to her friend that there is no closure or “getting over” a death? Some people really do not know this. That even though things do get better over time, you carry that sadness with you always, just compartmentalized so life can go on. And sometimes all it takes is something small to transport you back to that grief temporarily. If someone doesn’t have experience with death, they often don’t know. I learned this after losing a sibling a decade ago. And my condolences.

Also, Nora McInerny author of several books and host of the podcast "Terrible, thanks for asking!" is a great resource on grieving if your friend needs a push in the right direction. It's not your place and you shouldn't have to but if they are usually a good friend and you think they are trying to do the right thing, giving them a nudge towards that resource might be enlightening. And sibling loss is so hard. My sister died 7 years ago and it's still hard some days.

I hit an a-ha moment in therapy a day after the anniversary of my brother's death. I used to have a belief that my grief would be like a switch and one day it would flip and I would be okay again and my therapist made a point that maybe my friends view grief like this too. Rather than an ongoing process, maybe they see me struggling and believe we'll stumble on something that will flip the grief switch off. Obviously, grief doesn't work like that. She and I came up with a strategy to say "I really miss my brother today, and I need you to be okay with me not being okay today." It doesn't always work to stop the digging but it has helped me give them the message that I need to be sad and I don't want someone trying to make it better. Sorry for your loss.

My sister died 6 years ago -- I still get teary whenever I think about her. I do hope that one day I'll be able to just talk about her without getting teary (as I am now, just typing this), but I don't feel like I need to move any more or less quickly. Sorry for your loss. It never goes away. You'll be imagining your sibling and how they would have laughed, cried, talked, etc. with you for the rest of your life, I imagine. And that's ok.

I'll stop with this one, but I also want to thank all of you who have carried this awful burden for stepping forward to help carry the OP's.

Or, speaking from unfortunate experience as the bad actor, perhaps your SIL felt a momentary twang of jealousy about you being the cool, adventurous auntie. She may feel like the reliable but boring cook/therapist/maid/wage-earner who barely has the energy to think up the next meal, much less a grand adventure.

I've probably posted enough on this, but I'm sharing your take because the I-did-this-bad-thing-myself perspective is IMO the rarest and most useful of all. And brave. Thanks.

This chatter needs to think if they genuinely want to understand this or if they enjoy complaining.

Some version of each of us does, about something.

Or is that too dark.

Late twenties female checking in... I realized that I hate bridal showers and baby showers and from will no longer attend them. They are incredibly boring to attend, I mean the highlight of the party is watching someone open up a mountain of gifts from the onlooking crowd. Often the "showered bride/mom" is uncomfortable, but if they're delighting in it that is weirder. And don't get me started on the games... It is patently unfair that men do not have to suffer these events. And the money on gifts... I love my friends, but I'm tired of getting them a bridal shower gift, novelty gift for the bachelorette party, a wedding gift, a baby shower gift. The final straw for me was when I hosted my sister's bridal shower, but limited the guest list to how many could comfortably fit in the living room. It was catered and decorated nicely. Concerned about the number of gifts she was losing out on, my sister guilt-tripped a friend into hosting a SECOND BRIDAL SHOWER last minute that was potluck style. So I had to bring another gift for as well as a dish. The host provided a bowl of Hershey's Kisses to the pot luck. So anyway, if I ever get married there will be no bridal shower.

You're right about whatever there is on this issue to be right about; you're within your rights about whatever choices you're making from now on; and your sister is a butt.

Hi, With the holidays coming up and a guarantee of seeing my parents at some point, I have begun to get more questions about dating and settling down. It's all because my parents are desperate for grandchildren. I think it's magnified by some unresolved grief around my younger brother's death recently because it's definitely been more frequent since then. I used to be able to brush it off with a "I can knock that out for your right now. I just need some drinking money." or a "I can barely take care of the dogs." but I think my parents see me approaching 30 and think of the opportunity lost with my brother. I've outright said I don't want children and added a fun joke about global warming. My mother's response was "Well if you adopt they're already here so they're stuck when the earth melts anyway. How do I disengage and discourage this conversation? The constant questioning is making me feel guilty for not giving my parents something they expect from me, and that's tough because "Mom wanted grandkids" is not a reason to bring a child into the world.

As wrenching as this will be, please talk to your mom without the jokes (funny OPs today) and without the deflections. There's a time for disengaging and discouraging--it'll come back after you have the one conversation, in fact--but for this one time, I think you need to engage fully and unequivocally. Such as, "We're all hurting, Mom. It's awful. I can't make it better for any of us, though, by having a child. I can't and I won't, because I do not want to be a parent. And because they're separate things. Please respect my decision, even if you don't like it or understand it, and stop asking me when I'll have kids."

If she pushes back, then you'll need to say it's not open to discussion or negotiation. Then kindly/calmly/firmly decline to discuss it again. 

I'm sorry you have so much pain to navigate right now.

My mother-in-law called my daughter -- first grandchild on both sides of the family -- "Nana's baby." As in, she repeated the words "Nana's baby" endlessly in a madness-inducing loop of baby talk whenever she visited us during my daughter's first three months of life. My husband, bless his heart, asked her to stop. And bless her too, because she did stop.

And bless you for this ray of hope.

Um... he hasn't seen the kids since August? Meaning, when this semester started? And it's just now mid-October? Meaning, when most colleges have their first parent weekends? I think most colleges/kids want a couple months separation for the kids to start getting on their own feet. Maybe the letter writer needs to think about perhaps their own helicopter tendencies.

I feel like your advice is great if the husband really is emotionally closed off. I just don't think the example OP cites illustrates that there's an issue. It may just be a different approach between OP and partner, both within range of what a loving parent might do - and considering what schedule the kids may be on. For all we know, kids may have class/not want to get up early/simply prefer to see dad in the afternoon as originally planned. I just don't get "emotional wall" out of this instance.

Ugh. Thanks for putting that song in my head - and for reminding me why I'm not that. (Or Raquel, for that matter ...)

This is my second earworm in as many weeks. 

Which I think is a level of cruelty above both the widows-and-divorcees smackdown and my smackdown of that smackdown, but I'm getting pretty punchy at this point. Or smacky.

"So and so was a butt?" I'm guessing one or more members of your family has said this a lot lately?

If "lately: means the past 14 years, then, yes.

My mom was recently diagnosed with dementia (not much of a surprise as she had been acting strangely for a couple of years and refused to see a doctor). Now that she is in the care of a doctor, I’m really struggling with something: she refuses any personal care related things (washing or cutting hair, or cutting fingernails, etc.) these aren’t strictly speaking necessary but I do think they are more than strictly cosmetic. She is also starting to look rather strange. At the same time, I’m trying to respect her continued autonomy and her refusals have gone on for weeks/aren’t a passing thing. How should I handle this?

I'm going to skip the specific and send you to the general: Your life with your mom is going to include a lot of changes like this one, and there's an entire community out there that has seen it before and helped others respond, adjust, accept. Please find a resource for caregivers/family members that suits your needs--you can ask the doctor who diagnosed your mom (ask the office staff if there's a resource coordinator), or you can Google to the various dementia/alzheimer's nonprofits and their information lines. Line up the source(s) of information and support now, while you only have a question or two, so they're comfortably at your fingertips as new things arise. 

Good for you for being there for your mom.

Is Baby Shark.

Yeah that was last week's. And now this week's. Thanks.

Whenever I read about these parents desperate for grandchildren all I can think is 'there are LOTS of kids out there who would really benefit from some grandparent style love". Volunteer at a school, church, homeless shelter, become a Big Brother, Big Sister, help out some overworked neighborhood parents..... I know it isn't the same but there are kids you don't have to be responsible that you can spoil with love. They don't have to pop out of your kids.

You're right, but I don't think there's any way for people who think like you to deliver this message inoffensively to people who think like the grandchild-desperate. Is there? Or am I linking this too closely in my mind to the radioactive, "You can always adopt!"

Oh god. I remember writing to this chat for advice about the coworker I liked well before you had any children. If you have 14 year old children, that means...that means I've been with that coworker A REALLY LONG TIME.

That's just how long the word "butt" has been a part of my daily life. The older kids are pushing 17. Sorry.

I have to say I don't really like you calling people you don't know "butts." There is way too much name calling these days and surely you don't want to be equated with that!

So, you're saying I'm a butt.

I dont think the suggestion to volunteer is AS radioactive. A lot of folks don't thnk they can volunteer at a school if they don't have kids there, or think they're too old to volunteer. I mean, don't present it as "this'll be as good as grandkids", but something like "you have so much to give, I have a friend who has really loved [tutoring, big brothers/sisters/etc"

Sounds good to me.

I should really stop here, too, because I'm holding Yu's workday hostage and because I'm seeing the type start to move. (Ghosts?) 

So, thank you all for stopping by, and for being so good about sharing your ideas and looking out for each other. Have a great weekend and I'll type to you here next week.

Just two cents here that we only have one side of this story. What grandma who lives a very independent and fulfilled life may not be reporting or acknowledging is how often she leans on her children when it snows, if her farm/maintenance is unsafe, if she's not as spry as she used to be, and she's refusing to see it, etc. My grandmother refuses to leave her house, and the past few winters have been emotional torture for our family, scrambling to get companies to snow clear, worrying about power outages, her limited driving skills exacerbated by dark short days and bad weather, the fact that she has had devastating falls on ice, etc. She stubbornly refuses to see these as "problems" and won't talk about assisted living, Florida options, etc just transferring so much burden of worry onto our family. What if the OP had written that "pushy daughter" had taken away car keys, etc? Would we be having this same kind of reaction to the letter? I sense that maybe this firm, all-expenses paid "vacation" could be a desperate move by a family member after a lot of struggle we aren't reading about.

This did cross my mind, because it's a common problem--but there was no mention of any of the steps you say you've taken, just the rental without asking first. Which I wouldn't recommend even to someone with your exact plight. 

Idunno. Just seemed like OP in this case wasn't in that situation. 

"Do not dress up as a member of a race, ethnicity or culture of which you are not a member." What about dressing up as a pirate, a witch, a fireman, a football player....when you're definitely not part of the culture of any of these. A pumpkin? Is that OK? Tell us what sorts of costumes ARE ok for Halloween.

You are being deliberately obtuse. Stop.

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Carolyn Hax
Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997 as a weekly feature for The Washington Post, accompanied by the work of "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis. The column has since gone daily and into syndication, where it appears in over 200 newspapers. Carolyn joined The Post in 1992 as a copy editor in Style, and became a news editor before turning to writing full-time. She is the author of "Tell Me About It" (Miramax, 2001), and the host of a live online discussion on Fridays at noon on She lives in New England with her husband and their three boys.
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