While I’m away, readers give the advice.
On friends who complain all the time:
Sometimes complaining is actually a form of bragging. In current society, we are not allowed to brag overtly lest we seem narcissistic. But we do feel entitled to complain as a disguise: “The boss gives me more assignments than the rest of the crew” (I am the best worker), “Coach put us through an extra long and hard workout” (I am very tough), that kind of remark.
Perhaps, too, this is how the friend talks about “How’s your day?” and merely wants validation for how well she is dealing with the hardships, even if they are her choices. “Wow, you’re really strong/competent/reliable/coping,” not “Should I intervene?” Be a keen listener, and a careful talker.
On dealing with a loved one’s tattoos when you’re not a fan yourself:
My sweet beautiful daughter turned 18 and started covering her body with ink. Some I like, some I don’t like. What I do like is she is a kind, compassionate, smart, funny 20-year-old. She is a good friend, works hard and goes to college. I could not ask for a better daughter. The tattoos? She’s been covering herself with paint and ink since I first gave her finger paints over 18 years ago. It’s a way she expresses who she is and it really has nothing to do with me or how I raised her.
On children, disfigurement and staring:
When my youngest son, Ethan, was about 4, we were invited to swim in a neighbor’s pool with their family. Also invited was a young man who had lost one of his legs in a motorcycle accident. Ethan watched the young man unstrap his leg at the edge of the pool, and then quietly approached him. Ethan whispered, “Are you a transformer?” The young man nodded and replied, “Yes, I am. I’m an Autobot.” Ethan was stunned. The young man slid into the water and as he performed his physical therapy my son followed in an inner tube. For more than an hour this man spun the most outrageous tales of his exploits as a transformer for one awed little boy. Before he left he told me it was one of the best days since his accident.
Children are curious but generally are also very accepting. Prepare them for changes but don’t discourage them from approaching [an injured relative] as they would have before the accident.
I was in my 30s, and was left with a terrible scar from open-heart surgery. When I saw children at the pool looking at the nasty red zipper down my middle, I smiled, told them it was okay to look, and then briefly explained what had happened.
All of them were accepting, and, being little children, within seconds their attention quickly moved to something else. No big scene. But a few were so fascinated that they wanted to know more and I answered all of their questions. Who knows, maybe I sparked enough interest in one of the kids to make them the next Michael DeBakey.
Write to Tell Me About It, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or firstname.lastname@example.org.