Should I Stay Silent During One Child’s Populist Taunt of Another?

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Social Q’s

My husband and I went to a Hanukkah party, where I witnessed the hosts’ son (about 12) tease a younger girl whose mother is Latina. “Pack your bags,” he said. “Trump is going to send you back to Mexico.” The girl told her mother, who confronted the hosts; the boy denied it. And it was left as a misunderstanding. I didn’t report what I had heard. It felt like bad manners to elevate a children’s fight to the center of the party. My mother always said, “There’s a time and place for everything.” But my husband was horrified when I told him later. You?


Make mine a double shot of horrified — with a splash of disbelief at the misreading of your mother’s maxim. There is never a “time and place” for cruelty. By staying silent, you robbed the little girl of the acknowledgment and the apology to which she was entitled. And you deprived the boy of learning the consequences of nasty behavior. He may not understand how mean he was. But your inaction ensured that his ignorance persists.

I don’t want to sound like a harpy. It is to your credit that the episode still bothers you. But in a year in which tens of millions of our fellow citizens were willing to overlook what many consider the racist, misogynistic and populist sentiments of our president-elect in favor of taking a flyer on improving their own rough economic circumstances, we all have a bigger responsibility to intervene. (This includes stepping up on behalf of those whose economic circumstances are being belittled.) Plus, you were the adult on the scene.

Please call the parents of the girl and boy and report what you heard. Even belatedly, it is important that the girl knows her reasonable complaints will be heard, and that the boy understands that threatening the vulnerable is cruel. If I sound strident, forgive me. Many of us will need to learn how to recalibrate the language of objection, even in service of kindness, if we stand any chance of reaching each other.

Holiday Malaise

I am 22. Every year, around Christmas, I start feeling bummed. So I binge-watch cheesy Christmas movies on the Hallmark Channel. I get that they’re idealized and fake. But, honestly, I’d like some of that Christmas spirit, too. Instead, I get my slightly dysfunctional family and a crummy office holiday party. Any suggestions, or should I just hide until New Year’s?


Get in line, Emma. We all feel that way, probably even Candace Cameron Bure, la diva assoluta of the Hallmark Channel cheese factory. Most of us have been steeped in Christmas fantasies since birth. Two things that help (me) and one thing that doesn’t: Do aerobic exercise on a treadmill (or your mean streets of Maine) to up-tempo music. Get your heart beating and sing along. It can lift my mood for hours.

Also weirdly helpful: reading to children. There is healing magic in their rapt attention. Find rug rats at your siblings’ homes or possibly the children’s room at your local library. Not helpful: Buying things. Merch never has the transmogrifying power I hope it will once I get it home. And lay off the Hallmark Channel. The absence of “gay best friend” and “snappy Jewish neighbor” characters makes fun romantic comedy practically impossible to pull off.

Separate Vacations

My wife and I enjoy taking our three adult children (ages 26 to 32) on vacations. This year, we proposed a trip over the holidays. Two of them accepted. The third declined, because he was planning a trip with friends to pursue a favorite hobby. We were happy for him. But one of his siblings mentioned that he is upset that we are covering the costs of their vacations but not his. Are we being unfair? (Our son often prioritizes his hobbies over visiting us and ascribes many difficulties in his life to our parenting.)


Spoiled brat at Departure Gate 39! Your son is an adult. He is entitled to complain all he wants. But paying for his surfing trips to Costa Rica is not going to make you better parents. It only makes you patsies. The implicit bargain of vacations like yours is that parents cover the costs of their adult children’s travel to facilitate more time together. It is not a voucher to parts unknown.

If you invited them all to dinner, and he declined, would you feel obliged to send him a gift card to Le Bernardin? Check with the child who reported your son’s complaint. (You don’t want to cause friction between them.) If that child agrees, call your son and say: “We wish you were coming with us, but we understand why you’re not. We hope that you know the purpose of these trips is bringing us all together. We’d be delighted to pay for you, if you want to come along.” He may continue to resent you, but you can’t do much about that until he decides to grow up.