My beloved 8-year-old niece, "Emily," has expressed that she's embarrassed to be seen with me because I am "so big." I'm aware that children are easily embarrassed by differences, be it someone using a cane, someone with a foreign accent, or someone who is fat like me.
I don't want to embarrass Emily on the days that I pick her up from school, but I also don't want to condone her attitude about "fat people" by hiding in the car.
How can I expect an 8-year-old to be free of prejudice when even supposedly mature adults expect all women to be slim-slender-thin-petite? I know Emily loves me; she just doesn't want people to see us together in public. What advice have you for us?
Concerned in New Mexico
Under no circumstances should you hide. Remind your niece that there is more to a person than just the package -- that when you love someone, you accept that person for who he or she is, not how he or she looks. Emily may be only 8, but she's old enough to learn that lesson.
My mother, who is in her late seventies, lives alone with her standard poodle, "Bonaparte." She refuses to go anywhere unless we agree that Bonaparte can go, too. When one of us offers to take her to dinner, the poodle waits in the car. She won't visit family members, either, unless Bonaparte is welcome.
For Mother's birthday, I planned a special outing at a lovely restaurant and a matinee performance of a show that was in town. Mamma refused to go unless we took the dog. It wasn't appropriate, so I told her no. She refused to go and is still mad at me. She continually tries to make me feel guilty for "spoiling" her birthday.
How can I make my mother realize that the dog is an animal companion, and there are times when she needs to enjoy the company of people sans her dog?
Had It Up to Here in New Jersey
Some people are so fond of their pets they are reluctant to part with them, even temporarily. Your mother appears to be one of them. She has made her feelings clear, and I doubt anyone -- myself included -- could convince her to socialize without him. (Feelings are not always rational.) Since you can't teach an old dog new tricks, when you invite your mother and the dog out, make sure there is plenty of air circulating in the car and a water bowl so Bonaparte will be safe and comfortable.
Dear Abby is written by Abigail Van Buren, also known as Jeanne Phillips, and was founded by her mother, Pauline Phillips. Write Dear Abby at www.DearAbby.com or P.O. Box 69440, Los Angeles, Calif. 90069.
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