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Mother's Day Mercenary

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Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Dear Miss Manners:

I am a middle-aged man dating a middle-aged woman. She is a mother of three and is under the impression that I should buy her a gift on Mother's Day.

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I don't want to sound cheap, but aren't gifts only for your actual mother (whom I always buy gifts for)? Is there precedent for my significant other's feelings, or do you think she just really likes unwrapping things?

If she is still pouting that the Easter Bunny didn't come and throwing around reminders about Memorial Day, yes.

Yes, anyway, come to think of it. People who feel obliged to spread the idea that they deserve more presents than would be spontaneously offered are not doing so out of a disinterested devotion to propriety.

The idea behind the 19th-century invention of Mother's Day was for children to honor their mothers. By extension, this has moved some to honor others who have acted toward them in a motherly capacity. In addition, fathers sometimes use it to show their gratitude that they did not actually have to bear the children -- and besides, they have to take the children shopping, anyway.

That you should be moved to celebrate the fact that someone you are dating had children by someone else before you met strikes Miss Manners as somewhat far-fetched.

But perhaps she is being uncharitable. Perhaps the lady is saying that rather than dating you, what she really wants is to adopt you.

Dear Miss Manners:

I have never used my cherished pool of close friends or family (or for that matter even acquaintances) for purposes of school fundraising, my own charitable interests or the dreaded home party opportunity. I am aware that these options present seemingly no dilemma to a significant portion of today's gentle society.

As my child now approaches the age of graduation celebration, I am becoming increasingly perplexed regarding the issue of graduation announcement. I have always been gracious (generous) in my response to parental joy of close friends and family, but would rather announce my own child's accomplishment with all the joy and none of the material expectation.

If you might suggest a delicate way of accomplishing this desire, it will be appreciated and so tendered. If not, I am sure my dear husband and child will only expect further displays of obstinacy (if not superiority, egad!) on my part, which has never been my intention. Thoughts?

A formal announcement is not a bill, Miss Manners keeps trying to point out. All that polite recipients have to offer in response are congratulations.

But when announcements are sent around indiscriminately, it is easy to see why some of the recipients cynically ask themselves why they are being informed of something in which they have minimal interest.

This is not the effect you want to achieve. The chief way to guard against it is to confine your list to people who have demonstrated an interest in your child. Another is not to feel that the availability of formal announcements requires you to use them.

Acquaintances who may be suspicious of receiving these may react more warmly if you merely slip your son's achievement into your conversation.

Feeling incorrect? E-mail your etiquette questions to Miss Manners (who is distraught that she cannot reply personally) atMissManners@unitedmedia.comor mail to United Media, 200 Madison Ave., New York, N.Y. 10016.

2008Judith Martin


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