I take turns driving my 12-year-old daughter, who is very small for her age, in a car pool with two friends from her class. One is extremely tall and skinny, the other is average height but developing breasts earlier than the others. They all look so uncomfortable in their skin. The tall girl walks hunched over, and the one with breasts rounds her shoulders to hide them. My daughter begs for heels. I’d like to say something supportive. Or is that exceeding my rights as a car-pool mom?
The second I read your question, an exquisite novel about two young sisters, “Housekeeping,” by Marilynne Robinson, popped into my head. Particularly, an odd little scene between an eccentric aunt and the self-conscious older sister: “[Aunt] Sylvie told me once that Lucille would mature before I did because she had red hair, and so it transpired.” It’s a child’s-eye view in a book about the impermanence of life — mostly its comforts, but also its trials.
I applaud your empathy, D.G., even as I worry about the logistics of addressing all three girls on a sensitive subject while they sit in the back of your S.U.V., glued to their cellphones and the minutiae of middle-school life. But if you feel kindly toward them (and they’re all kind to each other), no harm in trying.
Say, “Can I ask you girls a question?” (If you’re lucky, they’ll put down their phones.) “When I was your age, I felt so self-conscious about the way I looked. My friends and I were all growing at different paces. But when I look at you three, all strong and amazing, I wonder if you ever feel out of place the way I did?”
You will know soon enough whether this is a conversation they want to engage in, or if you should bail and return to your local NPR station.
My Party, Your Bill
I am planning a dinner at a restaurant to celebrate my husband’s 40th birthday. We will pay for the food (and a Champagne toast), but we want to ask guests to cover the cost of their drinks. How can I say this artfully in the invitation? I’d like to give people the option of bowing out if they don’t want to pay for anything.
I believe the term of art is: “Cash bar available.” But let’s put invitations aside for a second.
I’ve been to lots of parties, and given lots of parties, in my day. The ones that work best? When hosts give the parties they can afford. Unless you are making a potluck dinner, avoid asking guests to offset your costs. Better to choose a less expensive restaurant or reduce the number of invitees — and have a few bottles of wine and water on the table — than force your guests to scuttle to the bar to buy glasses of Chablis during dinner. Invariably, your generosity is hidden by its partialness.
This is just my opinion. Plenty of people give parties with cash bars. It is squarely your call. But rather than looking for pretty euphemisms for your invitation, consider negotiating with the restaurant for a good price on a case of wine. (For a small corkage fee, they may let you bring your own.)
And in my experience, most folks prefer a mingly cocktail party with nice hors d’oeuvres than a fancy dinner where they’re trapped next to your husband’s boss for two hours. Still, if you decide on a cash bar, go with your impulse to warn people in advance. Who walks around with cash these days?
Let’s Be Friends, Again
About a year ago, I stood up a friend for lunch. I didn’t have a good excuse. I was just feeling really overwhelmed and blew her off. We haven’t spoken since. Is it too late to apologize now? It still bothers me, and I really miss her.
It’s never too late to apologize. (Though generally, the closer to the offense, the better apologies work.) Say: “I’m so sorry for treating you badly last year. I was overwhelmed that day — then mortified, but that’s no excuse. I hope you can forgive me now.” Sadly, we don’t control whether pals accept our apologies. But trying to put things right eventually is better than not trying at all.
And speaking of overdue apologies, I owe one to “This Is Us.” Early in your run, I said I liked you a lot, but you’d never be able to pull off a whole season. I was wrong. Please forgive me.
Her Name, His Name
My boss calls me “sweetie.” He calls my male colleagues by their names. When I spoke to him about it, he said it’s because I remind him of his daughter. That stumped me. Is there a next move?
Good work on two fronts: knowing that you have the right to be addressed respectfully at work and understanding that the boss may deserve some extra tact. Next time he uses the s-word, try: “How do you think your daughter would feel if her boss called her ‘sweetie’?” That may do the trick.