Ben Claassen III (For Express)

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Q. We have a good relationship with our next-door neighbors and talk to them often, even though we don’t hang out inside our houses together that much. They have a teenage daughter who is rude to them and very bratty. She and her friends constantly hang out in their backyard, where I hear all, and they are just very negative people. (I know teenage girls aren’t always sunshine — I was one — but this goes above and beyond.) The daughter is now starting a baby-sitting “business” and she and they keep asking if she can baby-sit my 3-year-old. They won’t take no for an answer. How do I handle this? —Awkward Neighbor

In this case, “no” will eventually be taken for an answer automatically, because it has to be. Presumably, this teenager is not going to break into your home to play Hungry Hungry Hippos with your child, so you’ve already triumphed: She will not be baby-sitting for you. The rest is just a matter of how much you want to tolerate the continued asking. After a certain amount of making yourself clear, you don’t really owe them additional responses. In the meantime, I vote for a “no” that is both firm and kind, with a civil but unequivocal change of subject. (“We’re all set for child care — I really don’t want you to waste your time asking anymore.”) Rinse, repeat and then start talking about those Caps.

He’s guilty as charged (sorta)

Q. A month ago, my boyfriend got into an argument with my brother and mother. They accused him of having said something racist. My boyfriend denied it and I took his side. For weeks I defended him and was trying to help smooth things over between them. My mother finally said that we can “agree to disagree” about what happened and move on. But now my boyfriend has sort of admitted he did say what they claimed, that he was “joking” and he immediately panicked and tried to cover it up. I’m not sure whether to continue to let this lie or whether I should urge him to apologize and open up the whole thing again. —Stuck in the Middle

You seem so ready to forgive him yourself, as if this is just an issue between him and your family. And yet I’m stuck on the fact that he was dishonest for so long (making the original crime so much worse), is still perhaps not being totally honest (“sort of admitted”?) and steadfastly put you in the position of defending something to your own family that you did not realize you were defending. You’ve essentially spent the last month dismissing your mother’s and brother’s feelings and saying they were hearing things, all because of him. So, I will suggest a raise in the apology quotient: Not only does he owe your family one, for all of it, but you owe them one as well. And he most certainly owes one to you. Perhaps even more important than all of that is this: What will he learn from this, and how will he act differently in the future? And is he even motivated to do so?

Send your questions for Baggage Check to Dr. Andrea Bonior at She may answer them in an upcoming column in Express or in a live chat on Tuesdays at 1 p.m. at

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