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Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 17, 2004; 3:00 PM

Special Time! 3 p.m. ET.

Carolyn takes your questions and comments about her current advice column and any other questions you might have about the strange train we call life. Her answers may appear online or in an upcoming column.

Appearing every Wednesday and Friday in The Washington Post Style section and in Sunday Source, Tell Me About It ® offers readers advice based on the experiences of someone who's been there -- really recently. Carolyn Hax is a 30-something repatriated New Englander with a liberal arts degree and a lot of opinions and that's about it, really, when you get right down to it. Oh, and the shoes. A lot of shoes.

Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.

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washingtonpost.com: Carolyn's running a little bit late, but she'll be with us in a few minutes. Promise. -- Liz

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Carolyn Hax: Hi guys, sorry about that. Went to Kenny's office holiday lunch and it ran a little later than I thought.

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Washington, D.C.: So is taking a girlfriend to a "gentleman's club" so she can see they aren't that bad a horrible idea? Chances she'll go for the lap dance, too?

Carolyn Hax: Horrible idea, no, I actually like it; lap-dance chances, depends on her [fortitude].

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Washington, D.C.: Happy Holidays! I need help! I have come to the conclusion that I need to break up with my boyfriend... but it's the holidays! Do I wait til the holidays are over and then do it, or do it during so that both of us are miserable? Is there etiquette on this?

Carolyn Hax: The whole idea of etiquette is to eliminate social gray areas and therefore minimize hurt feelings. So if there's etiquette on breaking up, it would have to point in the direction of not stringing some poor slob along just because you came to your conclusion at one point in the calendar vs another. So, get to it.

Ho ho ho!

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I thought Kenny was a stay-at-home dad: Here is my question: How on earth do you manage three little children and have jobs at the same time?

Carolyn Hax: He is home, you thought correctly--officially he's considered on leave, and is still included in many facets of campus life as if he were still an active part of the faculty. Nice workplace, that. Smart, too, since it's a good way to retain employees, especially those starved for adult conversation.

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Carolyn Hax: You see I ignored your actual question. That's because I have no idea how.

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Lap dances: Can't tell if your response is sarcastic.

Carolyn Hax: Only the second part, and then only partly so. I think women who have passionate hatreds/aversions to these places would do well to check them out. Then they can tee off in a much more informed fashion, which always carries more weight.

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Hax, I need the best pick up line ever!: Okay, so when the clock strikes midnight on New Year's Eve, I want to be sucking lips with one of the girlies at the party, so I need your (or others) help. What's the best pick up line to try on a girl? "Hello, I'm Johny Depp" no longer works, so what's the call. Thanks!

Carolyn Hax: I'd answer, but I'm still trying to process the fact that "Hi, I'm Johnny Depp" actually worked at one point.

In the meantime, here's a temporary answer: no lines. Please. She'll be grateful whether she (ack) sucks your lips or not.

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Clarendon, Va.: Who is Kenny?

Carolyn Hax: Spouse. Sorry.

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Washington, D.C.: With lots of family time coming up, how do I effectively address sibling rivalry? My sister has a fantastic life (highpaying job, beautiful kids, adoring husband, and traffic stopping looks). We usually get along great, but she still occasionally makes jabs that my parents favor me, treat me better than her, and think I am "perfect." This is especially irksome, because although I love my life, I have none of her more obvious gifts or symbols of success. I know she is adored by the folks, but she seems to be blinded by any little positive thing they say about me in her presence. By the way, I am 34 and she is 41(!) Is it time to issue a big "get over it already"?

Carolyn Hax: You can try it, but it would still be up to her whether she got over it or not. So, do the one thing you can do without her cooperation: -You- get over it. For it to bother you, you have to notice, right?

Less snarkily: Here's a woman who has a fantastic life (high-paying job, beautiful kids, adoring husband, and traffic-stopping looks), and is still hung up on getting more of her parents' approval than her sister gets. So which would you prefer, your possibly more modest gifts combined with your presumably smaller hangups, or her abundant gifts combined with her abundant hangups? I'm guessing you'd choose yours. And if not, I hope you'll reconsider, because money, good looks and a pretty family do not happiness make--and if you think so, please go back to the end of paragraph 1.

Or, possibility No. 2, she's so aware of her gifts she feels a bit sheepish about them and tries to tear herself down by crying parental neglect.

Either way, you have the choice, you always have the choice, to let her competitive comments slide. Try it this year just for grins.

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True story: At a New Year's Eve party, I once spent the stroke of midnight hiding in the bathroom, expressly so the guy who eagerly started talking to me and stroking my arm at 11:40 p.m. would not attach himself to my face, remora-stype.

And coincidentally, I went to the party with a married couple who spent the entire evening in a long, vicious, pointless argument.

Haha! There are a number of things that I will not miss at all about my 20s.

Also, being single ROCKS!

Just thought I'd put that out there.

Carolyn Hax: And I'll put that out there for you, with the caveat that the remora thing and the all-night-pointless-argument thing could have happened to someone who's 60.

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Carolyn Hax: Moral of the story, stay in the bathroom.

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Pickup line: If she's interested, anything you say will work and if she's not, nothing will. So why not just "Hi"?

My husband's pickup line to me was a bit drunken and a bit lascivious. We joke about it now.

Carolyn Hax: Ah, but you don't share. Cruel.

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Re: breaking up before the holidays: I would advise against breaking up right before/during the holidays for the following reasons:

1. It could be the stress of the holiday season that is making you feel that you should break up;

2. I don't know how old the two of you are or how long you have been dating, but for younger couples the dumpee could associate the holidays with being dumped for years to come;

3. If you ever change your mind and try to reconcile, he will weight the cruelty of being broken up with right before the holidays when making his decision.

Right or wrong, it hurts a lot more to be dumped during this time of year. I'm not saying pretend that everything is perfect, but to end things now is IMHO distasteful.

Carolyn Hax: 4. When you wait till after the holidays and break up, the dumpee could spend the whole next relationship wondering if things are actually okay, or if the other person is just faking it because the long Columbus Day weekend approaches.

Straight-shooting is a sign of respect, and respect is the gift that keeps on giving (and I swear I do not get a cut for recommending it).

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Rockville, Md.: I'm trying to think of some new year's resolutions that I can actually keep. What's your resolutions?

Carolyn Hax: Same as ever year, not to make resolutions. If there's something I need to be doing, waiting for a Magic Day to start doing it means I don't want to do it, not really. If I'm serious, I'll start right now.

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Carolyn Hax: Right after this donut.

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Upper Lip monstrosity: I don't know if you're the right person to ask about this, but I've got a party to go to tonight and there's an issue!

A monster zit is starting to form right on my upper lip. Actually, it might not be a zit; it might be an ingrown hair from a bad shaving job. How do I get rid of the obvious redness before tonight? I can't go out like this!

I'm male, in case you're wondering why a chick would have a bad upper-lip-shaving-job.

Carolyn Hax: I don't make judgments on such things, we all have our own special approaches to grooming.

Re yours: All the magazines say witch hazel (or hemorrhoid pads or the backyard-weed poultice du jour) will kill the redness, but here are TMAI we believe in the Whatever, I Have a Big Honking Red Zit treatment. You and your zit attend party, and, like any good couple, have such a good time mingling that you occasionally forget each other.

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Holiday Break Up: I agree with the poster who said not to. In fact, divorce attorneys often recommend not filing before Christmas. It looks bad and the judge will think you are mean (he will see date the filing occurred).

Carolyn Hax: I guess this is why I'm not a judge. But I believe my suggestion is more humane (that being why I suggested it), which probably means nothing more than that it would be the more humane way to dump -me.-

As always, there dump-me-now people and don't-wreck-my-holiday people, dog people and cat people, paper-over-the-roll people and paper-under-the-roll people. Compassion demands that the person who wants to break up consider what the break-up-ee would want.

And when in doubt, be honest, unless you're in a non-community-property state.

Better?

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Seattle, Wash.: An ice cube will reduce the zit redness.

Carolyn Hax: However, worrying it (or worse, egad, picking at it) will force him to reclassify it as Mount Zit, and the only action he'll get will be from surveyors.

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Hax or Liz...: How long is the chat today? And I thought today was holiday fluff, no?

Carolyn Hax: 1. Till I keel over or 5, whichever comes first.

2. I hadn't decided, so it's a blend. Also still deciding on next week, whether to reschedule for earlier in the week.

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Zit: If it's seriously a big deal an aestetician (sp? - the person who does waxings and facials at a beauty salon) can fix it for you, pretty quickly, cheaply, and sanitize the whole area. Unless you're pregnant, just a bit of pain and radiation, nothing else.

Carolyn Hax: Seriously?

Though I can't shake the fact that guy with Mount Zit would seem normal to me, and guy who made pre-party aesthetician run would seem vain.

I am fully aware of all sexism behind this answer, so please don't bother.

Besides, I have the goods to say this: I have made exactly one (1) pre-party aesthetician run in my entire life, to get my brows done, and I ushered in the New Year with Mount Forehead Rash.

So back to my original advice. Big zit, big whoop.

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Alexandria, Va.: This chat would not be complete without the following phrases appearing in the transcript: bacon pants, reindeer poop and death chair. There you go. Happy Festivus!

Carolyn Hax: If you're a regular, you know these chats are never complete. Oh, and you forgot Christmas Pot.

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Bethesda, Md.: Speaking of mingling, we had my office holiday party last night and my husband arrived late and spent the entire time arguing foreign policy with an intern and her boyfriend. There was no opportunity to mingle as a couple. I was furious, but he says I should have just interrupted. What do you think?

Carolyn Hax: If it was important to you to mingle w/ husband at your side, you should have interrupted. Might have been an act of mercy for the intern and friend, too, but I don't knwo their politics.

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Dumping for the holidays: I just had to do it myself. I didn't want to, but there were systemic problems that were not going to get solved and the more we worried at them the worse they got.

I figured that I'm try to do it early enough that my girlfriend did not spend money on a gift. What kind of message does it send that you wait until after a traditional gift-giving holiday and then make it, "Thanks for the diamond cufflinks!; See ya!;"?

Carolyn Hax: A point I didn't consider, the gift thing. Thanks.

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Reschedule next week: You really don't want to hold the chat on Christmas Eve do you? I don't want to miss it!; Hold it earlier in the week. Happy Christmas!;

Carolyn Hax: There won't be one on either Eve regardless--Live Online is going dark from Friday to Friday. Thanks, I'll let you know by the end.

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Southern Maryland: I'm in my mid-20s and haven't had any New Year's Eve that was all that special, many were spent alone, or with family. The only one I really felt like a loser was when I was at home and asleep by 12:30 and I found out later that my parents were going out to a breakfast party at two in the morning!

They NEVER go out! My brother and I felt we really hit bottom that year. But I'm all recovered and prepared to Rock in the New Year with what's his name on TV all by my lonesome.

Carolyn Hax: Here's exactly what you need to do: Someday (not necessarily this year, it's a little late) make what are supposed to be really cool plans for New Year's Eve. Then, go, and see that everyone's really just waiting for the clock to hit an arbitrary number, which is suspiciously like being in high school history class last period on a Friday, but with alcohol, and forever after stay home feeling relieved that you're home.

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State of Anxiety: What on earth is the proper response to a "happily married" friend who has confided in you that she's contemplating a secret rendezvous with some cruise ship employee she met while on hubby's company cruise?

I was so stunned that I couldn't provide a coherent response. I tried to express that maybe she needs to examine why she would even consider it. It's just so out of character for her that I can't get my mind around it.

Carolyn Hax: Sounds like your response was just fine. I also wonder if her confiding in you wasn't a cry for help. If it was something she really felt she should do, then she'd have done it without seeking counsel.

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Arlington, Va.: So... about the twins picture from last week, which one is which?

Carolyn Hax: Eek, bad twin parenting--glad they're too young to have caught this. Jonas front/left, and Percy, if memory serves. I don't have the pic in front of me.

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Farm Town, Iowa (online only, please): Carolyn --

I live in a small town and am quickly becoming a pariah. The "horrifying" thing I have chosen to do is keep the baby I am carrying after being raped. I've given this a lot of thought (I'm currently single, but I've always wanted to have children someday, am perfectly capable of raising a child on my own and it isn't this baby's fault how it was conceived). The problem is that as word quickly spreads, I'm hearing comments like, "It's selfish to expect that baby to grow up knowing where it came from," and "Why would she keep that monster's baby?" When I told my family, they were initially devastated but are slowly rallying.

I still feel in my heart that I'm doing the right thing, but the reaction I've gotten from people I considered my friends makes me wonder if I'm not seeing things clearly. I already love this baby more than anything, but am I being selfish? What will my child say when her friends ask about her father? I'm also quickly getting tired of trying to respond to the few people around here who don't know me asking about the father. I don't know these people well enough to feel comfortable telling them I was raped, but I shouldn't have to make up a lie about it either.

I'm due in four weeks. Is this the panic most new moms-to-be feel at some point, or have I made a terrible decision that not only affects me, but more importantly, a defenseless child?

Carolyn Hax: You've made your decision and you've made it out of love, which means the only "terrible decision" here is by your fellow small-townspeople in not embracing you and embracing this child. If they truly feel this baby has a tougher lot in life, then it's incumbent upon them either to shut up and not make its life any harder by clucking, or to step in and make its life richer.

But these are just "shoulds," which aren't worth the paper they aren't printed on. The only real advice I can give is to love the baby with your every cell, but you're apparently already doing that. As for reassurance, there is some, I think, if you look to your family. Just as they've come around, others will, too, especially when your baby is a baby to them and not just an idea under a loose-fitting shirt.

Congratulations, and please try to enjoy the amazing weeks ahead of you.

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Paper under the roll people?: I always assumed that it was just inattention. You're telling me there are people who prefer it that way? Who are these freaks?

Carolyn Hax: I don't know, I know of them only through gossip.

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Exiled in reverse psychology land: Ok, I'll be honest. I didn't want to be part of a group, but now some jerk guy wants my spot and is pushing me out and all of a sudden I don't want to leave and am feeling all stepped on and it's just crappy. Am now doing irrational acts of defensiveness. Help!;

Carolyn Hax: Put the group down, and back away slowly.

Or, realize that it's not reverse psych but instead an It's-a-Wonderful-Life-esque awakening that you in fact do want to be part of the group, now that you've seen what life would be like without it. If that's the case, fight for your spot.

Unless you're at a mall and this is about a parking spot, in which case, please join that New Year's Eve remora-ducker in the bathroom.

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For Iowa: What a brave decision! I could never do something like that. I'm sure she's strong enough to make a good mother. Maybe there are some counseling groups for the mothers of children of rape?

Carolyn Hax: Worth asking, thanks. Or even a network of people who have made non-mainstream choices and so have felt the heat of society's glare on their backs.

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Atlanta: Regarding timing of dumping: Three times I've had breakups right around my birthday. At least one of the times it was probably the best birthday present I got that year.

Who knows, maybe the guy wants to break up, too? Doing it during the holidays could be a relief for him.

Carolyn Hax: Another good point, thanks. If you plan a trip for your birthday, I hope you don't put down any nonrefundable deposits.

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Washington, D.C.: My child's father confessed to me yesterday that he still misses me and thinks about me, which is why he recently broke up with his girlfriend. I guess I wasn't totally shocked to hear him say that, but I'm still a little taken aback. I ended our relationship right before I found out I was pregnant. It was pretty nasty, and it stayed nasty for a couple years. But lately things have been OK. We have been civil towards each other and some what chatty. Yet truth be told, it would be several more years before I could really trust him again. My biggest fear is that I'll do something stupid like date him. Being a single mom is SOOOOO lonely. And I so desperately want to be with someone. I guess I should just repeat to myself "DON'T DO IT! DON'T BE TEMPTED!" If it were only that easy.

Carolyn Hax: If what made things nasty before hasn't changed, then it will be nasty again, but with a kid in the middle.

You're not going to make the deperation disappear magically--you're a single mom with a little kid, that's the universal sign for desperation. Remember, though, a couple with a little kid is desperate, too. And an unhappy couple + little kid is desperation with the added benefit of fighting. I'm not saying the baby's father is a bad idea, since I don't know either of you, just that seeking him out of desperation is. Think as clearly as you can, and hang in there.

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G'burg: I am sorry, I am streaming about the soon-to-be mother. Yes, her familly should rally around her. As should the townsfolks. This is sounding like some freaky Shirley Jackson short story.

Kids can handle just about everything when they are greatly loved. The truth will do one day, but until then you have the perfect character barometer. Watch how they treat the child, and learn about goodness of soul. And you child will have a great lesson for how not to live a life.

New mother, at this most gentle time of year, good luck, congratulations, happy holidays, and tell all of those nay-sayers to kiss my rear.

THANK YOU

Carolyn Hax: No no, thank you.

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In the Bathroom: Isn't it getting kind of crowed in there, with the remora-ducker and the Christmas Pot people? How big a bathroom is this anyway?

Carolyn Hax: It has a soaking tub and separate shower, so I think there's still room.

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Washington, D.C.: Thanks so much for taking my question. I really love your chats... Here goes. I recently found out by accident that my sister is gay (she has a blog that I found when I Googled my last name in a fit of work day boredom). Its something I've suspected for a while now... probably about year (thats when she starting playing the "gender" game where everyone was referred to as "my friend" and no one had names or sexes), so I'm not surprised. Nor am I upset. Well, not really. I'm not upset that she's gay. What I'm somewhat upset about is that she doesn't feel comfortable enough to tell me that she is. And I just don't know whether to lay low and let her come out to me in her own good time, or whether there is something I could possibly say to make her feel more comfortable about coming out to me. I feel like there must be a whole part of her life that she feels she can't talk to me about. We are close (well, I guess not as close as I thought we were). I don't know what to do here. She doesn't live nearby, but I'll be seeing her over the holidays and I'm not sure whether I should take the ostrich in the sand approach, or try to talk to her privately.

Thanks for any insight you or any of the peanuts can provide.

Carolyn Hax: You found out innocently; if you see the opportunity--ie, if you have her one-on-one and you feel bold--explain your Google experience and say you're upset only that she felt she couldn't tell you. These circumstances, as you've laid them out, seem like they might be a relief to someone with a secret.

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Atlanta, Ga.: I'm sure Liz is sick of this question, since I give it a shot every week. But since today is supposed to be a low-emotional loading chat, I thought I'd give it another chance. I know it sounds like a simple etiquette question, but I know the "rule" there -- guests don't get to dictate menus and hosts are not supposed to comment on what their guests are doing with the food in front of them. But it doesn't happen that way, so...

Vegetarian invited to dinner at home of new acquaintance (that is, too new to know about I'm vegetarian). Mention that when accepting invitation ("oh, I'd love to come, just don't serve meat") or not ("what do you mean, why did I hide the chicken under the mashed potatoes?"). If it matters, I have no issues with people who do eat meat so I'm not trying to make a statement either way, I just don't eat it myself. (And haven't for 15 years, so eating "just a bit" won't work; people who try that find that their system doesn't tolerate it well and that leads to a whole NEW set of etiquette issues. "Excuse me while I take over your bathroom for the next 30 minutes...")

Carolyn Hax: Just say you're a vegetarian. A good host will be grateful, and twerps will be twerps.

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Online only, please: Dear Carolyn,

I wrote last week, but perhaps I did not effectively conveyed my angst. I will try again, and this may be my last chance for some solid, objective advice.

Here's why: my mother-in-law has come to stay for the holidays. She came early this week and indicated pre-visit that she planned to stay until sometime around Jan. 1. This stretch seemed to my husband and me inordinately long, but we decided to grin and bear it. Well, it turns out that my husband is having surgery in January (date is uncertain), and MIL now says she will stay until surgery (and maybe longer... to help with the recovery period). The surgery, while yes, serious by its nature, is not a major surgery, and my husband and I agree that we'd really like the place to ourselves after three-plus weeks.

The problem: how on earth to tell this to MIL? We don't want to hurt her feelings, but we know that unless we say something now, this type of indefinite-length visit could become routine. It's causing some stress in our relationship, largely because there is a serious lack of privacy, no matter how much m-i-l insists that we "do our own thing." Oh, and I work from home, so that's another tidbit that makes the scenario less than ideal. Husband plans to talk to m-i-l soon (after Christmas), so we could really use any tips on making this as painless as possible, assuming you agree that he should say something.

Carolyn Hax: Agh, absolutely.

He: "Mom, we love you and we've loved having you here, but we also need our privacy. Thank you for offering to help with my recovery but it's not serious and I'll be fine."

You: Not present for this discussion.

She: will probably feel hurt. Someone who stays and then overstays and then extends her stay does not have a fully operational set of social sensors. But unless you both (meaning, BOTH) decide that making her happy is more important than your own happiness, then you have to have this conversation with her.

Gooooood luck.

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Olney, Md.: You neglected to consider that the boyfriend in today's printed letter may well have spoken with the husband/father who said he was doing something for his wife/mother of child and that in lieu of this maybe it was best to get them a gift to help out with the extremely high costs associated with an infant. Your response of waking up to Christmas to an ironing board was a rather lame insult that doesn't necessarily reflect the entire story and I felt was inappropriate. You want to insult the man for considering not only the mother, but also her responsibilities of a child? I hate close-mindeness.

Carolyn Hax: I agree. It's almost as bad as not having a sense of humor.

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Washington, D.C.: Are there any more straight, liberal, single boys left in DC because I haven't met any lately and I fear that they've all left town while I wasn't looking.

Carolyn Hax: Check the bathroom.

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Resolutions-Man with long hair: Just a comment on the resolutions. Normally I don't make them either, since I always break them, but this year I woke up on New Years day and saw all of these people on the Today show donating their hair to Wigs for Kids, a charity that donates real hair wigs to sick kids. I decided to grow my hair out and donate it as my resolution. Little did I realize that I would get all kinds of strange looks once it got long or that it would take the entire year. But I will be able to shave my head in the next few weeks and will have kept a resolution that wasn't all about me.

Not sure how to follow that one up. I guess I need to wait until I see what the morning new programs have lined up for 05.

Carolyn Hax: The not-about-me resolution, perfect, thanks.

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Alexandria, Va.: How does an adult get out of spending the holidays with family without hurting anyone's feelings? I'm 30 years old and the oldest of two children. Every year, I drive nine hours in traffic to spend the holidays with the folks. I'm at the point now that I just don't want to do it anymore. I love my family but I just don't have the energy to deal with traffic, sleeping on the couch for several days and the extreme level of boredom all the while dealing with everyone critizing my weight, hair cut, and lack of wife/kids.

I want to put my foot down and say "No More"! But how do I do it with hurting feelings and getting a major guilt trip?

washingtonpost.com: Don't you go to the Caribbean and take a lover?

Carolyn Hax: Liz is right, we answered this one last week.

Or you can stay home solo, who cares, it's your time to use as you choose. I swear.

Anyone who loves you and wants the best for you would have been happy to see you all those years you traveled but also pained by your having to undertake such a hellish trip, and will now accept your decision and not guilt-trip you.

Anyone who loves you but wants the best for themselves will plead and guilt-trip. Stand your ground, and keep that distinction in mind.

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USA: At a recent holiday party, a not-so-close friend of mine drove me completely insane with her ditziness, inane conversation and manner of speaking, lack of anything in common with me and my entire circle of friends, and comments about how dumb she felt in our company. I was so riled up with irritation that I felt in order to save my sanity next time, I won't invite her again next year. Is this fair? Or, as my boyfriend thinks, am I being mean?

Carolyn Hax: Hm. Tough one. She sounds like she hates herself as much if not more than you hate her, which would make her exclusion a little mean. But you don't want to invite her out of pity, either. If you can find something to like about her, with a little attitude adjustment, or something good for everyone in her being there, can't you suck it up once a year? And excuse yourself when she drives you nuts?

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Carolyn Hax: For, say, the bathroom?

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Gay sister: She'd probably appreciate your support.

Not to mention, she'd want to know her blog was google-able, so she could fix it to prevent other people from discovering her secret before she's ready to come out.

Carolyn Hax: A good suggestion to close on, thanks.

So that's it. Thanks everybody, happy weekends, and what say we do this on Wednesday next week? Liz says it's okay, and so it must be okay.

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Arlington, Va.: For the lady expecting in the small town, I think your kid is incredibly lucky. You are a rare and courageous person, and anybody who questions your decision is beneath contempt. Congratulations!

Carolyn Hax: It's missing that kiss-my-rear panache, but otherwise perfect. Many thanks.

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