Carolyn Hax Live: More Holiday Hootenanny, Christmas gag gifts, Disclosing an abortion, Engagement upstaging and much more

Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 11, 2009 12:00 PM

Carolyn was online Friday, December 11, taking 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.

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Past Carolyn Hax Live Discussions


Carolyn Hax: Hi everybody. To clear up any lingering confusion from the last few weeks on the issue of college students and privacy laws, here's a link to the Department of Education site. Short version, it's true that when a student is a dependent for tax purposes, the parents can see the grades. Thanks to the chatter who sent this link my way.

And to create new lingering confusion, I have a few Hootenanny stragglers to post at the end of the session today. Remind me as we get there, since I lose track of time.


Time-sensitive question: Hi Carolyn, I'm posting early and hoping you can get to it early in the queue tomorrow for reasons that will become clear.

I'm scheduled for a first-trimester abortion tomorrow afternoon (right in the middle of your chat, which I normally never miss). The father is "Tom," a guy I broke up with just before finding out I was pregnant. It was a tough decision, but I scheduled the appointment to terminate without ever telling Tom.

Then we got back together. For about a week things have been back to normal and might be headed in a more serious direction. For logistical reasons, I still plan to go ahead with the abortion, and barring some giant change in circumstances (like a marriage proposal), there's little Tom could say or do to change my mind about that - though I'd love to consider having kids with him someday.

Do I have to tell him I'm having this abortion? There's a small (I'd say 10 percent or under) chance he won't want me to do it.

Carolyn Hax: If you are the slightest bit unsure the abortion is the right thing to do, and if you have nothing to lose by waiting a few more days (i.e., if your legal loophole doesn't close before you can get another appointment), then I would advise you to postpone the procedure.

If you are up against the deadline, then unfortunately you have to make your best decision on the information you have now. But rushing this decision when there's no other reason than the appointment itself to treat it as time-sensitive--that strikes me as an invitation for errors and regrets.

When you made this decision, you and the father had broken up. That's a foundation of certainty upon which to rest the other elements of your decision.

Now that you and the father are back together, that changes the foundation--at least part of it--and messes with some variables, and adds a few new ones. It's not just "baby or not," it's also, "Tom or not" and "tell or not," each one of them a serious puzzle to solve, and each one tough to solve in "about a week."

Even if you come to the same conclusion, the extra time would be there to lend confidence to your decision.


Carolyn Hax: Now you see why my first new answer is up at 12:09. Me, 11:55: "Let's see, where should I start today ..."

Me, 11:56: "... oh my."


Washington, D.C.: How late is too late to send a thank you card for a graduation gift?

Carolyn Hax: Since your choices are between "too late" and "never," the better choice is always "too late." Send the note.


Need ideas for Christmas gag gifts: I started giving gag gifts to my family in addition to the regular Christmas gifts. I think I saw someone on this chat suggest it a while back. I got my father to do it, too. I need more ideas for gag gifts for a young boy, an older mother, and a middle-aged brother. I have to come up with better ideas when my father's are terrible (for example, give my mother a pair of tiny doll panties).

Carolyn Hax: Young boy, Whoopee cushion. That's easy.

Middle-age brother, Whoopee cushion. Also easy.

If the older mother (whatever that is) has the sensibilities of an adolescent boy, then you can make it three WC's and call it a day. But I'll throw it out there for the nutterati. You can also go to Archie McPhee ( and set yourself up with a lifetime supply of gag gifts.

I try not to make commercial endorsements, but I'll treat this as any other health-related Web site recommendation, like or


Re: first Q: Carolyn, I know you were in a rush to answer the first question and I think yoyu made the right point--wait a couple days, why rush, unless you are up against a deadline. However, I would also like to hear your answer to her specific question about telling Tom. I think in this instance, her relationship with Tom is doomed if she doesn't tell. This is a huge thing and he may be really upset if he hears about this way down the road.

Carolyn Hax: I think that if she plans to have a relationship with Tom, then she needs to tell him. You're right that it would be a huge thing if Tom ever found out, but it would also, I think, really gnaw at her to keep such an enormous and intimate secret.


Richmond, Va.: Hi Carolyn,

I have to make a really big decision in the next couple of months. I have an enormous amount of pressure coming from friends and family - pushing me to both sides of the decision. And I've felt myself shutting down and becoming depressed over it. I'm normally confident and great with decision-making, but can't for the life of me figure out what to do. Any suggestions? I really need it. Thanks!!

Carolyn Hax: Can you be any more specific? Namely, why are friends and family so involved? What's their stake in this, vs your own?


D.C.: I would like to propose to my girlfriend of five years. But, my bother announced his engagement to his girlfriend over Thanksgiving.

When I told him of my plans, he said it was no big deal and that I should propose. Later, however, I overheard him telling his fiancee and she said she'd be very upset because it would take away from their engagement.

At first I was mad at her for being selfish, but now I'm not sure it would be a good idea because a lot of people might perceive it like that.

Is there a way I can propose to my girlfriend without upsetting them and making it a competition? Or should I just wait?

Carolyn Hax: Good lord. Not to sow seeds of dissent within your family, but your brother is marrying either a baby or an idiot. (Not that the two are mutually exclusive.) The correct answer upon her hearing of your news was, "That's great, I'm so happy for him." Period.

Your first impulse to be angry at her might have been a good one to override (see "dissent within your family," above); you want to keep as forgiving a mind set as you can with family, and especially with family of the in-law variety, even when dyspeptic advice columnists fulminate and stoop to name-calling.

But your second impulse, to be worried about what others perceive, needs to be nipped in the bud. The second impulse I would have liked to see is the one where you feel protective of your girlfriend of five years. Assuming she's as eager to marry you as you are to marry her, how can it possibly be okay to leave her in limbo until your brother's fiancee's ego is properly fed?

So please make that your third impulse, and act on it.

Propose to your girlfriend, and if she accepts, then have a conversation with both your brother and his b-t-b to reassure them that you won't deflect even one photon of the spotlight that would otherwise have been shining on them.

I have to go puke.


Abortion: It's her decision, totally. And knowing that, it seems to me that telling "Tom" would be wise. I would think that if the relationship endures not telling could come between them somehow, down the line. Abortion is not without some risks to fertility and in the sad chance that her fertility were impaired, the subject might eventually come up. And there is something to be said for "honesty is the best policy." His response could be very informative.

Carolyn Hax: I like this--because I agree it's her decision, totally, too, and I do still think she needs to tell. The fertility implications may be on the low end of the probability scale, but they're worth considering for sure, but there's a high probability that his response will be very informative.



New York, NY: Is it peculiar or worrisome for somebody to have no friends of the same sex, at all? I'm a sophomore in college and recently started dating a guy whose circle of pals looks like a harem. They're lovely, but I can't help thinking that it's a little bit weird for him to have NO male friends. Is it jerky of me to even wonder about this?

Carolyn Hax: It's never jerky to wonder. The jerkiness possibilities are introduced when it comes time to do something about your concerns.

I wouldn't tune those concerns out just out of fear of being jerky--what's the point of using all our astonishing sensory processing power to notice something unusual, if you're only going to ignore your own readings completely? But I also wouldn't rush to judgment. Note that it's odd, and then see what else you find out.


Alexandria, Va.: Hi Carolyn

You always provide great advice to others so I'm hoping for a little myself. How do I talk to husband about having kids? I know it sounds dumb but we've talked about kids while dating/engaged and we both want kids. We've been married now for five years (together for 12) and lets be honest, we're not getting any younger. I've tried dropping hints but never came right out and said lets try for kids. We've always said when we have kids etc... but lately (the past six months) this "when" is becoming very strong.

He's on meds for depression and will have to have his doctor change that because it affects his sex drive (to almost nothing). How and when do I bring this up? I can't imagine when we're watching T.V. or over dinner.


Carolyn Hax: As I say this, I feel like a cheap local cable commercial that has run a few too many times, but the only suggestion I have is to figure out why you can't talk to your husband before you even start to think about having kids with him.

When your intimate relationship is healthy (and I'm not talking about the one for which your husband he needs to adjust his meds), you can hit "pause" and say, "For the past few [whatevers], I haven't been able to think of anything besides babies." That's because just a few nights ago, you will have hit "pause" to ask, "Oh, did you call the furnace guy to make an appointment," only to get into a 20-minute conversation about something completely unrelated to the furnace, and something similar will have happened a week ago, and so on, going back so far that neither of you would think twice about just saying to each other whatever happens to be on your mind.

That's the kind of free-flowing (a) acceptance of each other and (b) communication that make a couple into good childrearing partners. The ones who drop hints and wonder how to bring things up may still be together and in love, but they've got walls between them that they have to negotiate to get anything done. Deal with the walls, and then talk about kids. You can even use the kids conversation as a means for dealing with the walls, but don't have the kids until your intimacy is back. (Both kinds, this time, I guess.)


Gag Gifts: Also try It lives up to its name.

Carolyn Hax: Very promising, then. Thanks.


Paging Dr. Freud: I really like that D.C. typoed "my brother" into "my bother." Very appropriate.

Carolyn Hax: Alas. In any event, I hope the bother comes through for his brother. With any luck, the writer will get engaged, the bother's fiancee will plotz, and the bother will realize just in the nick of time that he was about to marry someone supremely selfish.

The end.


Annandale, Virginia: re: abortion.

It's her "decision" totally? It may be her CHOICE alone to make but in making that choice, she should definitely see what the boyfriend has to say... before making that choice. Since they were "both" party to this situation, shouldn't they both be equally aware and equally responsible? Otherwise, that's a pretty big secret to keep.

Carolyn Hax: Whenever there is a child, there are two people who are equally responsible for creating him or her. As long as the woman is -carrying- the child, though, she gets the last word on whether she carries the baby to term. Just a bit of anatomical reality there.

That means it's not a slam-dunk that you always have to tell the man. Some don't -want- to know, especially if the decision will be to abort. The situation we're talking about is one where (I think) the man should know, and one reason for that is their ongoing relationship. I would also suggest it when (as the original poster herself brought up) there is something the man could say that would sway the decision one way or the other. Giving the man his say when the woman has no intention of even factoring it into her decision doesn't strike me as doing anyone any favors, moral or otherwise.

It really is a case-by-case thing.


On behalf of Tom: As a 29-year-old guy whose fiancee got an abortion a few years ago, I don't understand the seemingly common belief that a guy deserves or wants to know about this abortion. Personally, my life would have been easier had she just gone through with it without involving me, and in this case the poster was planning on it and seems happy with her decision anyway, so Tom wouldn't even know what he's missing. Why screw up his world and put a bunch of pressure on him? Just to make him feel guilty or want to pay for half?

Carolyn Hax: Ah. It sounds more persuasive when you say it, thanks.


San Francisco: My pregnant sister just told me she is not planning on consulting a doctor for her pregnancy. She has always had a really awful fear of doctors. I want to be supportive in a hands-off kind of way, but I had really bad pregnancy complications and I know how the unexpected can happen. Also I know my sister has no birth plan and is on a pretty "out there" vegan diet. Are my hands tied here? I'm trying to be a good aunt.

Carolyn Hax: How about a midwife? Midwifery is not only an ancient craft, which would make it appealing to anyone "out there," but it also has been experiencing a renaissance that often includes (it's probably case-by-case) strong ties to obstetric offices in the event of complications beyond the expertise of midwives.

Disclosure: All of my babies were delivered by midwives, with obstetricians present. The doctors never had to step in.


Fairfield, California: Re: D.C.

While I agree that D.C. should go ahead and make his proposal as planned, it's worth remembering that the opinion given by the brother's fiancee wasn't said to DC's face, but was a meant-to-be-private comment he "overheard". It's possible that after sharing her first, emotional reaction with her husband-to-be, she would have sucked it up, gone out with a smile and been ready to congratulate her soon to be brother-in-law if he did make an announcement. Maybe not, but they'll be part of each other's extended family a long time - why not start by giving her the benefit of the doubt?

Carolyn Hax: Excellent, substantial grounds for that forgiving mind-set. Thanks for the catch.


Camden, New Jersey: I promised husband before marrying to only celebrate Jewish holidays in our house. Fast forward to having kids. As the kids grow up, I find it incredibly sad not to celebrate Christmas in our house. We do celebrate at my sister's house. My kids have never known it any other way and they do not feel the sadness, but I find it harder every year. Any advice. And yes, I have talked to my husband many times.

Carolyn Hax: I'm sorry, I don't see how I can suggest anything. Your having "talked to my husband many times" means that anything I offer would end up becoming some kind of end run around a promise you made and that he wants you to keep. I can't do that in good conscience.

The only thing that doesn't seem like an end run is this: If you haven't told him how sad you are about it, then that's something you shouldn't leave out--even though I wouldn't even suggest you say that to him without first prefacing it with, "I made a promise that I do intend to keep." Then you can say, "... but I have grown sad about it." Otherwise, the bed looks made to me. I'm sorry.


Re: "on behalf of Tom": I don't doubt that your life would have been easier had your fiancee not told you about the abortion. But her life would have been easier had she not had to have one. In the end, I opted to tell my boyfriend - not because I needed permission, but because I needed support. I was comfortable with my decision but that didn't mean I didn't want someone to hold my hand. His support was invaluable to me and I'm so glad I told.

If the couple in question weren't dating it wouldn't be any of his business but since they are still together I don't know how you could keep something so big secret. In my experience, the burden of keeping that secret would have eaten me alive.

Carolyn Hax: Right, this is an important middle position to fill in. I would add one more thing, though--if the woman is going to make the decision unilaterally, then I could argue that she deals with it unilaterally. In other words, I don't think she can say, "I'm doing this whether you like it or not, but I want you to hold my hand." If you're going to make it his business emotionally, then I think you have to include him in the decision.

I'd have to look at this again with a little time and distance, but I think we can close the circle by saying: If you're going to stay together, then you make the decision together, and support each other in that decision. And if you're not willing to share the decision, it might ultimately turn into a choice not to stay together.

If that doesn't cover it, give a yell, thanks.


Re: "Taking away" from the engagement: Ha, if D.C.'s SIL-to-be or any other bride ever tells him this, I can safely say--as a happily single woman who goes to 5+ weddings a year--that EVERYTHING takes away from their engagement at some point.

We're all happy for the lovely couples out there, and we congratulate you, but then we go back to paying our bills, dealing with work and other stress, watching TV and generally living our lives--until your wedding, when we celebrate for a full weekend, then, um, go back to living our lives...

Carolyn Hax: How heartless can you be. From engagement to the farewell Sunday brunch, I -am- that wedding. I am -there-. For, you know, whatserface.

Let's just say the reassurance is that this other, upstart family wedding will be no more and no less a part of the EVERYTHING than anything else. Not that any assurances will work, but he has to try.


Significant omission: One question: D.C. said he overheard the fiancee telling the "bother" that she would be really upset, but didn't say what the brother's response to the fiancee was. Did he overhear that, too, and was it to his liking or not? Seems significant to me.

Carolyn Hax: Proposer-to-be, are you still there? Feed the curious!


Re: DC: My husband is number seven in a family of eight. By the time I came into the family, there had been 15+ years of conflict between the two oldest sisters-in-law. They both got married four days apart to my husband's brothers and refused to share a wedding reception in their husband's home town. I completely agree with you that the fiancee is a baby, and her feelings should come last. However, I always wonder what the family dynamic would be today if they had gotten married 4 months apart instead of 4 days apart. Would we all still be periodically "choosing sides" and trying to ignore the childish behavior? Or would this still have inevitably have happened because of the nature of the personalities of both wives. I'm not sure, but I think if when the brother does propose, he may want to do some damage control, perhaps invite them to dinner to celebrate the first brother's engagement etc. Not because he should, but because it may just spare 50+ people decades of annoying behavior.

Carolyn Hax: Sure, it wouldn't hurt--but the more important thing is for the second engaged couple not to schedule its ceremony within four days of the other. You don't need damage control if you have the good sense not to cause damage in the first place.

You also need to have a reasonable definition of damage. here, I think it makes sense to define "damage" as imposing changes on the first wedding that wouldn't have been necessary had the other engagement not happened. E.g., if there are guests who won't be able to make two wedding trips in one year, then the second couple defers and these one-timers all go to the bother's wedding. If the "upstart" couple needs to get married at an earlier date--say, if they need the marriage license for housing or insurance purposes, which is hardly uncommon--then they plan a small ceremony that doesn't cut into the later wedding;s guest list. It can be done--the couple-come-lately just needs to make the effort. And if the original fiancee has the capacity to be gracious, she'll see that effort and not gin up a grudge healthy enough to outlive everyone.

By now both of those sisters are at fault, just given the time they've wasted on rancor, but the first blood was drawn by the second couple to choose that fateful date.


It's actually offensive: Expecting a person to keep a promise they made to surpress their own religious spiritual beliefs is offensive. She made the promise, she was wrong. It's her spirit you're surpressing.

Carolyn Hax: But we don't know if it was religious/spiritual; she could be sad about the many secular aspects of celebrating Christmas. (I.e., just about all of them at this point. Santa, tree, even the time of the year.)

And if it's offensive of him to expect her to keep her promise, isn't it also offensive of her to ask him to set his beliefs aside, too?

I expect we can agree on this, that if she is religious, this promise should neither have been requested nor made.

But now that it has been made, she either lives with it, or approaches it from the angle of her sadness and, if applicable, her faith.

And finally, if he knows she's sad and won't work with her to find a solution, and/or if he knows she's devout and wont' work with her to find a solution, then I would suggest they find a counselor who is also trained to work with interfaith couples.


Washington DC: "Abortion is not without some risks to fertility and in the sad chance that her fertility were impaired, the subject might eventually come up."

I would like to see a credible source that backs up this statement. First trimester abortions are incredibly routine and perfectly safe. There is no danger here. Carolyn, please don't perpetuate the myths employed by certain fringe groups to limit women's rights. Thanks.

Carolyn Hax: This person started the comment with: "It's her decision, totally." That's not fringe-group stuff. In my response, I said it was on the low end of the probability scale.

We have been doing, I think, a really good job of talking about this without letting politics or emotions muck up the reasoning.

There is no such thing as a "perfectly safe" medical procedure, and that's okay, because carrying a pregnancy to term isn't "perfectly safe" either. And for that matter, pregnancy can affect fertility later on, too--both to improve and hamper it.

The issue is that this decision now may matter later, even medically, even if the risk is minuscule.

Anyone who is concerned can go to here to see what the Mayo Clinic has to say:

If they're not a credible source, please write back.


Fertility Org: I need to weigh into the abortion discussion. I work for a reproductive health doctors group. Our physicians provide abortions. I have not seen any credible research that says that a woman's fertility is harmed by having an abortion. (In fact, after abortions, women often rapidly become fertile and therefore should receive contraceptive counseling at their abortion.) The "harmed fertility myth" is part of the misinformation that is disseminated by opponents to abortion. Any surgical or medical procedure has some risks, but abortion is the one of the safest and most common medical interventions.

Thank you for letting me correct this issue.

Carolyn Hax: See aboveness, thanks.


Boise, Idaho: I'll start with - I'm an introvert that thrives on routine, structure and order. That said, my MIL informed us a week and a half ago that she would be visiting us this weekend. Then last weekend that she would be arriving Friday - late. Well, Thursday night she calls to say "She's here!" I work part-time and have 2 children. Friday is my get things done day. Now she wants me to spend it shopping for X-mas gifts for the grandkids. The truth is I've already purchased those gifts I know they want. They need to go with her to tell her what else they'd like. Meanwhile, I've got piles of laundry and a dirty house (since she was planning to come in late tonight I thought I'd have time.) Anyway I am really angry - would it be ok to say "My day is already planned - I'll drop by when I pick up the kids from school." I'm feel really angry and guilty too! (Her husband died almost 2 years ago and her brother died a month ago.) But she always does this to us! HELP!

Carolyn Hax: How about, "Eek, you caught me with a messy house! I thought you were coming tomorrow night. Why don't you shop without me while I clean, and I'll join you later if I can."

In other words, instead of leading with your anger, lead with facts--what you have to do, when, and what that means for your schedule.


What ever happened to...?: Do you ever wonder what happened to some of the readers whose questions you've answered? How often do you hear back that the issue has been resolved or that they took your advice? Has there ever been any negative fall out? Any thanks?

Just curious.

Carolyn Hax: The ones I head about, I post on Facebook:

I actually have one or two new ones I need to post, but I haven't had a chance.

To answer your specific question, I do wonder, but I don't get a lot of updates. I also haven't heard back specifically, "You said to do X, so I did, and everything went to crap." At least, I don't remember ever having read that, and one would think I'd remember.

I do get a lot of people predicting someone will suffer for what I advised, but that doesn't surprise me any more. Even though I try to be very measured (in my opinions, if not always in my delivery), it turns out that I'm quite polarizing. Loved or hated.

Then again, indifferent people aren't going to announce themselves with passionate missives, are they.


DC Suburbs: Carolyn, thanks for running a question about emotional affairs this past week. My wife and I have been struggling with this one for a while. She fell in love with a friend of hers a couple of years ago. I believe her when she says that nothing happened between them and that, other than that this guy is a flirt, that he doesn't even realize that she had feelings for him beyond those of a normal friendship. Long story short, she cut off contact, we've been in counseling, and the marriage is better. But I think she really fell in love with him, and I can tell that she is still grieving. So, I have two questions for you: (1) I'm trying to be generous, but am I being a schmuck for sticking around while she is grieving over her lost love for someone else?, and (2) I hate to see her in such pain, but I'm not sure how to help her feel better.

Carolyn Hax: Can I just say, you sound awesome. Not everyone can even think (2), much less type it out.

As for (1), no, I don't think you're being a shmuck. You love her, she loves you, and you're both trying. What happened to her, and thereby to you, isn't so much as a personal insult to you as it is a lightning strike to your marriage--random and devastating. Marriage, when it's good, is an institution of stability, steadiness, predictability, and warm fuzzies. It lasts, but it doesn't jolt.

Intense physical attraction, on the other hand, is a chemical free-for all. It jolts, but it doesn't last.

As everyone finds out in middle school, you don't get to choose the person you find attractive, or when you feel that attraction. You're just going along your merry way, and, bam, adrenaline. When it's with someone in middle school, you obsess and write a lot of messages to your friends. When it's with someone who's 20/30/whatever-something and single like you, you start getting big ideas. When you're already married to someone else (and when you believe in fidelity--I guess I need to specify), you say, "Oh, [spit]."

If that is in fact what happened to your wife, then please do try to see it as a lightning strike. The warm fuzzies of marriage make all your yahoooo! chemicals go dormant, and when something stirs them up, it's like shaking a snow globe. Except it's not harmless and not fleeting. But you know what I mean.

And if that is in fact what happened to your wife, then waiting till the snow has a chance to settle is actually the loving and sensible thing to do. As is not taking it as personally as you're going to want to take it.

Maybe it will come to seem as if you're married to someone whose heart is no longer in it, and you will have to make a bolder move than just missing what you had, but do give that grief a good amount of time to resolve itself. Her staying in and working on the marriage most likely mean she wants to stop grieving, too.


Christmas: If the issue is tearing open presents on Christmas day, surely she can tote them along to the relatives. If it's all about the tinsel and carols, she can go to a concert alone, and have the kids enjoy quality time with Dad. But if the issue is not secular but a reawakening of faith, this couple is essentially renegotiating their marriage contract. People change over the course of a marriage, and many, many things get renegotiated. She needs to do some soul-searching and perhaps talk to him about counseling.

Carolyn Hax: Covers it all, thanks.


Hootenanny: About time, wouldn't you say?

Carolyn Hax: Oh, right. here goes:


Still Not Gay : The chat reminded me. One Christmas I really wanted to build my record collection and so all I asked for was three Beatles albums. The White Album, the blue compilation album and the red compilation album. On Christmas Day I imagined singing along all day with John and Paul and when I opened it up it was ... an electric crepe maker! What every 15-year-old boy wants! When I asked about the Beatles she said that the guy at the record store told her there was no Red, White and Blue album and who doesn't like crepes!?! And as a quick reminder, this is the same mother who told all of her friends I was gay because she wanted to look hip and accepting of my lifestyle even though I could not possibly be straighter. Hmmm, I think I'm seeing a pattern here. Maybe she thought flambe stood for something else.

Merry Christmas and may all your days be gay.

Carolyn Hax: Same to you and yours.


Who is it for?: When we were young kids, my sister, 5 at the time, opened a gift from my aunt and uncle, while they watched.

It was a robot. My sister lost her mind. "I hate it" she screamed as she bashed the present into the wood floor over and over again. My mom was horrified. I was secretly laughing as the robot bits went flying all over the place.

When she finished up, my uncle calmly looked at her and said, "That was for your brother."

At which point I completely lost my mind.

Now, at every Christmas, everyone asks (after the gift is opened), "Is this gift for me?"

Carolyn Hax: If you're the brother, you don't seem scarred enough by this.


North Pole: My sister didn't want to lie to her child and wanted to keep Christmas about Christ, so she told her there was no Santa. My niece never believed her. She insisted that there was a Santa no matter what her mother said. After all, she saw him on television, in the mall ...

Carolyn Hax: This would satisfy those other interfaith couples, the Santa-ites married to Truthites.


Re: Stockings: When my husband and I got engaged and had our first joint Christmas morning at my parents' house, my mom pulled me aside to ask if I thought my husband would prefer my brother's ex-wife's former stocking or our childhood dog's old stocking.

Carolyn Hax: I hope you chose the dog's. Much better karma.


Carolyn Hax: I would just like to mention that my dog, who rolled in something unsavory at the dog park, just came inside after rolling in my rosemary bush. My brain has no place to put this sensory information.

That's all.


St. Paul, MN: I stopped believing in Santa Claus the year I got an activity book, safety scissors and a glue stick and my horribly mean cousins got ray guns. I knew no real Santa would give mean people better presents than me.

Carolyn Hax: Or, Santa is very real, and therefore clueless, misguided or cruel.


So I should fake it ..: All this stocking trauma makes me think I need to fake a tradition here. My mom made lovely embroidered hands for each child at their first Christmas. She traced their hands, sewed, embroidered, and embellished these things into works of art, really, for the tree. She's done it for all the grandchildren too ... except for my youngest, who is 2. Now she's too far into dementia to do it. I'm thinking I should fake one for him ... but then that sets me up as a liar, eh?

Carolyn Hax: Make one, but don't lie about its source. Your doing it will be what makes it so great. Even if it involves tape or R-rated pom poms.


A box of Christmas miracles: : Last year on Christmas, with all four of us grown kids and our spouses and children gathered around the tree, my mother gleefully presented Dad with his gift: a shoebox-sized box of generically packaged Viagra knockoffs.

Carolyn Hax: What's the carol you sing with this one. Joy to the World?


Richmond, VA Again: Well after reading the first poster, I feel bad about what a called a "really big decision" because it doesn't compare to that. The decision is related to my career. Most of my friends are pushing me to do what's best for my career (which could be huge), while the majority of my family is pushing me to stay where I am because it offers the best quality of life and they want me to think about starting a family in the near future (and then being able to have the option of staying home). I want the awesome job, but I also understand the potential of not being the Mom I always hoped I would be to my kids if I make the move.

Carolyn Hax: Okay, sorry, just saw this now ...

1. Again, why is your family so up in your business about this? "They want me to think about starting a family in the near future"? What's that line from "The Natural," when his rival is standing so close that Roy Hobbs isn't sure whose toes he's feeling? Anyway ...

2. Is this really as final, one-time-only as they/you are framing it here? Can you make the career move, see where it takes you, enjoy the ride, and still move/stay home when the time comes for family?

I guess we'll have to push this to next week, unless you and I both can type fast (ha.)


O, Come All Ye Faithful: I mean really? Isn't it obvious?

Carolyn Hax: Well, now it is.


Atlanta, GA: : Re: stockings: Oh yes, I think this happens a lot (usually to the youngest child). My two siblings are 10 and 7 years older than I am. Before I was born, my parents enlisted a very talented seamstress to sew beautiful, personalized stockings for their family of four and a smaller stocking for the dog (maybe it was "the" thing to do in the 70's?). By the time I came along, they decided to re-purpose the dog stocking and tape my name on it. So for the last 29 years, I've been using a re-purposed dog stocking, and my name usually has to be re-taped on each year. Do I have a complex? You bet. 29 years in the making.

Carolyn Hax: Those are the best kind--well-aged.


Indianapolis: My now 23-year-old daughter, when she was just 2, was unwrapping a Christmas gift of some sort of clothes ... sweater and matching pants, I think. So, my daughter got the box open, saw the sweater, and cried out "A SHIRT!!" Except, she was only 2, and didn't speak very clearly, so it really sounded more like she had yelled "AW, SH!!T!!!"

The great thing is we got it all on video, and spent the next day playing it over and over for relatives and laughing until we cried. The sad thing is that Grandpa wasn't very good with camcorders so he accidentally taped over it the next day.

Carolyn Hax: Sad indeed, given the $ you could have won on one of those funniest-video shows. Though you might have had to sit in the audience and wave at the camera, costing you dignity far exceeding any $ you'd have won.


Bringing the SO home, the horror story: A looong time ago, I was home from college and my grandfather had a heart attack at the table during our holiday meal. My boyfriend was there and had just met most of my relatives for the first time. While we were all running around panicking about grandpa, boyfriend just sat there and kept eating! The next day, he accidentally set fire to our Xmas tree and later that day sat on the cat and really injured it. That relationship died quickly, but at least grandpa got better and lived to be 105.

Carolyn Hax: Someone is now married to this guy, most likely. If so, we want to hear from you.


re: Should I bring him or not?: -Last week's thread about the agnostic Jewish boyfriend] also leads to a favorite family holiday line.

I was once dating a similar guy, and my very Catholic family was intrigued. He was a carpenter to boot (Jewish carpenter, ha, ha) I brought him home for Christmas, and he declined to go to church, he would feel "uncomfortable." I should have told him to pretend he was an anthropologist. Instead he decided to make a special breakfast for the family while we were at Mass.

Now, I had met him and was living in Alaska, so of course he was a big hunter. He brought special deer sausage in a cooler on the plane to make for my family. Evidently he got pretty hot while cooking, so stripped down to his tank top undershirt.

So, we all troop in from church, and there's my hairy Jewish Alaskan boyfriend in his undershirt. My mom went upstairs to change and said to my sister "WHY is there a Jewish carpenter in his undershirt making REINDEER sausage in my kitchen on CHRISTMAS?"

For various reasons, the relationship didn't last.

Carolyn Hax: Nothing to add, except, thank you.


No City, No State: Was hoping you could settle a "discussion": Is it wrong to get away from the family for a few hours and gamble on Christmas day, at the casino?

Carolyn Hax: Since putting "discussion" in quotation marks suggests a problem, "get away from the family" suggests a problem, and "gamble on Christmas day" suggests a problem, I'm just going to skip the part about right and wrong, and say that this getaway isn't going to solve any problems. (Unless your problem is that you have too much money. That's a problem casinos are very good at solving.)


Chocolate moose: Here's my favorite family Christmas story: Ever since my parents retired to Maine 13 years ago, Mom has had a tradition of giving her grandchildren some kind of "chocolate moose" candy. Well, about 10 years ago, when my sons were teens, the ubiquitous package was labeled "moose droppings." My older son took one bite of a colorful piece of candy, then promptly made a face and spit it out, exclaiming, "GRANDMA, WHAT IS THIS?!!!!" Turns out she had bought moose-dropping fire starters, which were real moose droppings with a colorful wax coating.

Carolyn Hax: Again, thank you.


Worst gift competition: Every year I look forward to the holidays because my siblings compete for who receives the worst Christmas gift (not from each other, but from others). Last year I won because my MIL got me a basket of lotions and scented soaps even though she knows I'm allergic to these products ("I hope you can still enjoy these even though you're allergic."). The year before, my sister won because she got a holiday plate with the Last Supper on it from her Step-MIL, who happens to be Jewish. Bring on December 25th!

Carolyn Hax: I think I'll open a "worst gift" Hax-philes. Thanks!


Greensboro, NC: For Christmas in 1995, my sister's little boy, "Andy," who was 2, was going through that "What's that? What's that? What's that?" and "Why? But why? But why?" phase. It's a great way for kids to learn about the world and their environment, yeah, but it can also be annoying as h311 when it goes on for a few hours.

For Christmas, my sister had gotten a large tray of dried fruit as a gift, and as she bustled around the kitchen, cooking (I was doing something tedious, like latticing a pie or something), Andy took an interest in the dried fruit and started asking what everything was. My sister was responding to him, but was really focused on the giant dinner, and was clearly getting a bit annoyed the longer the interrogation went on. "Those are pineapples ... those are dates ... those are raisins ... those are papaya ... those are apricots ... those are prunes ..." He got to the very middle, where there was a whole dried fig, and he said, "What's that?" My sister, who was getting more annoyed and has always had a really twisted sense of humor, glanced at it and said, offhandedly, "It's a human ear."

Well, Andy let out a bloodcurdling scream and started crying hysterically. My sister and I tried to calm him down, and we kept telling him she was just kidding (she really thought this kid, who was obsessed with shooting you and toy guns and wrestling and the like, would think it was funny), that it was a fig, etc. We had to hide the tray of dried fruit because he now thought the dates were fingers, and so on.

Until he was about 8, he wouldn't touch Fig Newtons because he thought they were made of people.

Carolyn Hax: I won't ever try to top this.

Thanks everyone, and type to you here ... AGH I forgot to check with Jodi! I have to move next week's session. I'm going to say to Thursday at noon, since that's when we did it last time I had a conflict, but please check the Live Online schedule just in case.


Stockings: I guess we shouldn't have any more kids. When the first was born we bought personalized matching stockings for the 3 of us. I'd feel so bad if a 2nd child had to use some crappy stocking that didn't match.

Carolyn Hax: Yep, decision's made. Glad we could help.


Richmond Again: Unfortunately, this is a now or never (probably) move and while it would be great for my career, it would involve a significant commitment of several I would not be able to just leave it in three years when I'm ready for kids.

To be honest, I don't think my family, particularly my parents, ever expected I would be so successful in my career and always just pictured me as a mother. I have always wanted to have kids and know that I will not be able to stay home if I choose this move, but I also don't want to give up on what could be an unbelievable opportunity. I've thought about it so much, but not even my gut is telling me one thing.

Carolyn Hax: okay, now I'm curious 1. how old you are, and 2. what career commitments can't be broken. Military, maybe, but I'm blanking on others.

Not that it's necessarily germane. Family things have a way of being different from what you envisioned, and they also unfold over many years--they're not immediate and absolute. For e.g., you may not have kids till the end of this career commitment, or you may have them and your spouse can stay home, or you can work a few years, till the end of your commitment, and then cut back. There are so many variables.

And they're all, frankly, up to you.

So I'm curious now about something else. Which sounds harder, saying no to the job, or saying no to your parents?


Bethesda, Md.: Carolyn - Submitting on Wednesday. Monica Hesse claimed that you're in the next cubicle. Can you confirm or deny this?

Carolyn Hax: Confirm. But I am not so at the moment. Which is too bad, since I'm confident she didn't roll in anything savory or unsavory before coming in to work. And, too, her interviews are some of the best eavesdropping there is to be had in Style, and possibly in the building, as you can imagine from what she writes.


Carolyn Hax: Okay, Jodi confirmed--Thursday it is. See you then, I hope. Buh bye.


Re: Richmond, VA: So her family is concerned because, when she has her (hypothetical) kids, which they seem to want sooner than she does, her awesome career might get in the way of her (hypothetical) being the best Mom she can be to her (hypothetical) kids?

Can you spell "boundaries"?

Carolyn Hax: I tried. Maybe you'll have more luck.


In her daily column in The Washington Post Style section, Carolyn Hax offers readers advice based on the experiences of someone who's been there. Hax is an ex-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.

E-mail Carolyn at

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