Sunday, April 29, 2007

Not kid friendly, but you can dance to it...

This Neil Young question reminded me of something. I used to know a guy who once brought his 10-year-old son to a party populated mostly by adults. I was perversely proud of the fact that, thanks to my dancefloor request, this kid's favorite song for a few weeks of his young life was Prince's "Sexy Motherfucker." Fortunately, his dad had a good sense of humor.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

HTT, Neil Young made my daughter cry!

Dear HTT,

Wow! You always give such good advice, and now I find myself in need of some myself. I hope you can help ...

My husband and I are big music fans, and we like a lot of different kinds of music. There are few waking moments when there is not some sort of music being played in our house. But the other day something disconcerting happened. Our 7-year-old daughter started bawling when she heard Neil Young's "Helpless." She said it was scary! (Mind you, she's ultra-sensitive -- the kind bothered by things ranging from sock seams to bad dreams.)

Do you have any suggestions for music that we could play that would satisfy the grown-up needs for musical escape while at the same time not setting her off? (Oddly, or at least it seems that way to me, she doesn't have a problem with the death-metal screams that emanate from our teen-age son's room.) What would your playlist be if you were in my shoes?

--Musically Challenged in Raleigh

Dear Musically Challenged,

Oh, goodie! I heart making a playlist! (I really still think of it as “mixed tape,” but that totally dates me.)

I’m with your daughter. “Helpless” would send me into a deep funk, too. There are the lyrics, which are depressing enough, and then there’s that melancholy moaning he does. Yikes.

Not like all the songs I listen to are sweetness and light, mind you. While perusing my music library for ideas, I realized that a good 60% of it was a bit of a bummer. In fact, some time ago, when I was weepy and blue, I decided I needed to make a playlist of optimistic songs for myself. Intent on bucking up, I did all manner of purposeful clicking and dragging, yet the best I could come up with was a playlist I named “Moderately Cheerful.”

This discussion reminds me of a passage from one of my favorite books, High Fidelity by Nick Hornby. The main character owns a small, not very profitable record store and, as such, he’s in it for the pure love of music. At one point in the book, he lists some of his favorite songs and realizes they’re all quite sad. He goes on to say this:

Some of these songs I’ve listened to around once a week, on average (three hundred times in the first month, every now and again thereafter), since I was sixteen, or nineteen, or twenty-one. How can that not leave you bruised somewhere? How can that not turn you into the sort of person liable to break into little bits when your first love goes all wrong? What came first, the music or the misery? Did I listen to the music because I was miserable? Or was I miserable because I listened to the music? Do all those records turn you into a melancholy person?

So, yeah, I appreciate that you don’t want your daughter to brood and break into tears over Neil Young. At least not while she’s this young and impressionable. Adolescence awaits! You want to build a foundation of good cheer before the real angst begins!

At the same time, you definitely don’t want to subject yourselves to saccharine kid’s music. Then you’ll be ready to jump out the window. With the playlist below, I’ve tried to strike a balance: for her, nothing depressing or potentially objectionable (no Prince, for example), but for you, nothing that’s like fingernails on a chalkboard. (That's my hope anyway.)

No Bad News– Patty Griffin: “Don’t bring me bad news, I don’t need none of your bad news today”…admittedly not the best grammar, but a great song all the same.

Stay Up Late– Talking Heads: Anytime you can mention a baby’s “little pee-pee” in a song, kids will chuckle.

Pineapple Head– Crowded House: Fun, Dada-esque lyrics developed from some fever-dream-induced ramblings of Neil Finn’s young son.

Rollerskate– Call and Response: Come on, it’s about rollerskating.

Raise the Roof– Tracey Thorn:
This one might be the tiniest bit melancholy, but it’s so pretty you won’t mind.

Once Around the Block– Badly Drawn Boy

Catch My Disease– Ben Lee: He’s not talking about an STI or Asian flu, don’t worry.

Tempted– Squeeze: O.K., granted, this song talks about being “tempted by the fruit of another,” so it doesn’t technically fit into a neat kid-friendly category. But do you think she’ll pay that much attention to the words?

Sourwood Mountain– Carolina Chocolate Drops: A shout-out to you bluegrass lovers.

The Ballad of the Daykitty– Lou Barlow

Happy Days– McCoy Tyner: A lovely, melodic jazz piece that usually puts me in a good mood.

27 Jennifers– Mike Doughty: He talks about when he was in elementary school and he “rode the bus with 27 Jennifers”…it’s probably Olivia or Emily or Emma these days.

Walking to Do– Ted Leo / Pharmacists

Camel Walk– Southern Culture on the Skids: This song sounds vaguely dirty (Baby, would you eat that there snack cracker in your special outfit, please?) but it’s silly and fun.

Sun– Toms

Linus and Lucy– Vince Guaraldi: a classic

Like I Love You– Justin Timberlake: I had to throw the kid a bone and include ONE performer her peers might also be listening to.

Bar Lights– Whiskytown: While a song about bar lights and how they shine in the liquor bottles won’t show up on an Raffi cds, it’s lovely and I think you’ll like it. It’s last, so maybe your daughter will have given up listening by now.

I’ll be happy to burn you a cd. (You know, just so you can give the songs a quick listen before you run out and purchase all the ones you like.)

Happy listening!

Monday, April 23, 2007

Confessions of a Plant Killer

I planted these previously healthy salvia on Saturday. That's right, two days ago. It's no wonder I often think I'd have been better off getting a condo instead of a house with a yard.

Dear HTT, I work full-time, take care of a house and two small children, and I'm exhausted!!

Dear HTT,

After working from home for the past six years (five telecommuting, one running [okay, more like stumbling] my own company), I've rejoined the 9 to 5 working world. I get up early, take a shower, put on actual clothes rather than running pants and a stretched-out t-shirt, get my 5-year-old girl and 3-year-old boy ready for school, put on MAKEUP and CURL MY HAIR (every day I'm saying!), go to work, deal with all the ridiculous little office personality crap all day and work every second (there is definitely no Internet surfing time at this place--I'm not even allowed phone calls or personal email), go home, cobble together some kind of dinner for the kids (typical dinner: veggie and fruit tray from Food Lion to pick at, slice of American cheese, watered-down juice), and fall asleep on the couch at about 8:00pm while my husband puts the kids to bed.

Here's my question. How do people who work in an office all day every week have any kind of life? I don't exercise, I gobble down fast food most of the time for lunch, I'm too tired to read my email at home and only occasionally look at it on the weekend. I don't talk to or see my friends or extended family. Sex is a distant memory. I usually sleep most of the day on Saturdays and spend Sunday desperately trying to get ahead of the laundry. I have not seen the bottom of the hampers since I started this job at the beginning of February. To further complicate matters, every other week is a deadline week, and I have to work late (alone, as my boss prefers to go out drinking with friends and everybody else is a sales rep) every day, not even getting to see my kids at all before they go to bed.

How can I balance work and having a life? I actually like the task part of my job and am good at it, and the location is perfect -- 2 minutes from my house. My husband has a good job, but it won't pay all the bills, especially because we ran up an extra $15,000 in credit card debt during the year I was trying to run my own business. I eat a lot of chocolate to try to fight getting depressed, and that's just making my clothes smaller... along with the junk food. What I really want is to be a stay-at-home mom and take care of the house and maybe do some freelance web design on the side. Way on the side. Practically falling off the edge of the side, if you know what I mean. I want to spend quality time with my kids and husband, help provide a healthy lifestyle for them, walk my dogs, see my friends, have a clean house and no piles of dirty laundry, actually go to a movie once in a while, etc etc etc.

Can you help me?

Tired and Whiny In Cary

Dear Tired,

Wow. I feel spectacularly unqualified to answer your question. I have no idea how families with small children and two working parents manage. I’m only responsible for me, and sometimes I still feel overwhelmed by how much effort it takes to keep life on track. But I have given work-life balance a lot of thought over the years, so let’s see if I can ask a few questions and maybe offer some suggestions.

Is it possible you’ve got some perfectionist tendencies? If so, maybe you’re being too hard on yourself about your housekeeping, the meals you serve, and the state of your laundry pile. Try to figure out what you can let slide a little without beating yourself up about it. Most small kids I know aren’t clamoring for fancy meals, so if you’re meeting their nutritional needs, I wouldn’t sweat it that you didn’t whip up something from Martha Stewart’s recipe collection. If the family has enough clothes to last for a few days, take the dogs for a walk if you want, even if the hamper isn’t empty. Something’s got to give.

Are you getting enough help? From all the articles I’ve read, it seems that mothers generally still do more than their fair share of the house and kid duties. I don’t know your husband, so I don’t mean to sully his good name. Just asking.

(As an aside, I think it’s hilarious that this article in the Wall Street Journal crows over the results of a research study that showed that women underestimate the amount of time that men spend on housework. Women reported that their male partners did 33% of household chores, but when the researchers tracked men’s actual housework time it amounted to a whopping 39%. Excuse them for being off by six percent!!)

I know you have bills to pay, but can a compromise be struck? Can you do some part-time work instead of the full-time grind? And while it sounds like you enjoy your work tasks, it also seems that the working conditions leave something to be desired. Do you think a job search might be in order?

And now I’m getting into dangerous waters because, let me be clear, I am no budget guru and am definitely not one to be giving financial advice. But I can recommend a book I once read called “Your Money or Your Life,” which discusses the true costs of working (commuting, clothes, daycare, meals bought rather than fixed, job-related illness, stress-induced spending, etc.) and challenges readers to think about their purchases in terms of how many “life hours” they cost you. I guess what I’m trying to get around to, delicately, is this: is there room in your budget to cut back in order to pay off your debt more quickly? Will you be able to afford to quit working, or work less, once you do? I can tolerate just about anything if I’ve got a plan and an end in sight.

You need some support. Do you know other moms who work full time? How do they do it? Can they offer any advice? (I might fancy myself an advice columnist, but I also know when I'm out of my league!) And finally, are you depressed? O.K., clearly you're depressed and stressed out, and you have every right to be. But situational depression aside, do you think there’s something deeper going on?

You don’t need me to tell you this, but I will anyway. You deserve to have more fun in the one life you’ve got.

Good luck, my friend.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Who names these roads?

We've all seen some funny street names around here, like Jones Sausage Road in Raleigh, which also used to boast a Jackass Road. Today, I was in a northern Durham neighborhood and was compelled to take this picture. I'm just saying.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Back in the saddle, and "HTT, my friend 'found' herself and has become annoying about it"

So, I took a few days off. The film festival was generally amazing, but it turns out my attendance didn't leave much time for blogging or advice giving. Then, I lost power for about a day and a half because of the crazy wind storm. I had to toss the contents of my fridge, but after watching four days' worth of films about man's inhumanity to man (to say nothing of news coverage about Virginia Tech), I was able to keep the loss of a few Lean Cuisines and frozen fruit bars in perspective.

On to my next letter....

Dear HTT,

I have a good friend who has become involved in a series of time-consuming, expensive workshops designed to teach her, as she puts it, how to make her dreams reality. I'll admit she has dramatically adjusted her outlook on life, becoming more direct about asking for what she wants but also revealing a lack of self-confidence I hadn't noticed before. When she doesn't get what she asks for, or when people simply treat her badly, she blames herself for not expressing her needs clearly enough.

One evening, in a state of what sounded like manic giddiness, she phoned to tell me she wanted me to take the same workshops. I declined (for the second time that week) and she pushed: "What's standing in the way of you realizing your dreams?" It was hard for me to say, but I told her I missed her and thought poorly of the workshops. She tried recruiting several friends in our circle, even offering to loan everyone the money for the fees. No one obliged, and once the series ended, she stopped recruiting.

Fast forward a few months. I'm making an effort to pretend she didn't violate our friendship (it felt like she did, anyway; did she?) and am having a hard time with her newfound directness. She recently emailed a large group of friends to reschedule a gathering she had organized ("Check your schedules for next month. I'm going to the mountains instead!"). I probably wouldn't have minded had she softened the request with a simple "sorry, this is the only weekend we could go"; instead, she softened it with "Please join us!" Surely it wouldn't be hard for me to tell her when I'm free next month, but I'm finding myself trying to concoct reasons that I'm busy every weekend. Any suggestions on how I might overcome my annoyance, accept her new happy self for who she is, and move on?


Dear Anti,

At one time or another, most of us enthusiastically proselytize about something, whether it’s an author we love, a cause we support, or the best nachos in town (The Federal). So, I can’t fault your friend for extending the initial invitation. The workshops changed her life. She wanted her friends to benefit from them as well. Fine.

But she continued pushing after you declined. Not fine. I imagine also that you bristled when she chalked up your disinclination to attend the workshops to some deficiency on your part. I would have.

And while I’m fueling the fire, I’ll add that I find it annoying when people self-actualize at the expense of good manners, as your friend did in cancelling your gathering. I had an acquaintance who frequently cancelled plans at the last minute, with no apology, on the grounds that she “needed to take care of herself.” It’s not like she had a dialysis appointment.

So, what to do depends on your capacity to forget and forgive. If you can let go of any lingering bitterness about your friend’s recruiting tactics, just focus on the present. If she does something that upsets you, talk to her. But leave her self-actualization out of it, even if you think her new philosophy might be a cause of her behavior. You aren’t going to win by likening the workshops to a cult or suggesting that they had a detrimental effect on her personality. She feels strongly that they helped her and could take your criticism as sour grapes or a lack of enlightenment.

If you remain upset about the way she pushed the boundaries of your friendship (and yes, I think she did do so), you might just have to air those grievances too. Again, I’d be careful not to criticize the workshops themselves, but instead address how you felt pressured by her insistence that you attend.

Depending on how long ago she finished the workshops, it could be that time will mellow the way she applies what she learned. For now, maybe some distance between you wouldn’t be a bad idea. If you don’t want to go to the rescheduled gathering, don’t make excuses about it. Just follow her model of directness and say, “why don’t you schedule it without me this time, and I’ll make the next one.”

Finally, since you and your other friends declined her invitation, your friend is sure to sense your disapproval. Whatever discussion you have with her will be better received if you can truly imagine ways the workshops—despite what you think of them personally—may have helped her.

Take care,

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Full Frame Day 1

T and I at Full Frame.

This was the first day of the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival. I skipped the late movie on the theory that you have to pace yourself; I think 12 hours at the festival on the first day are plenty!

Saw some great films today. Not a lot of laughs in this bunch, though:

(1) An elderly couple recounted what they had experienced during Katrina.
(2) Some evacuees from Chernobyl returned for the first time to their town, which has been deserted for 20 years and is still highly radioactive. Lots of haunting images of the town and of the inside (!) of the destroyed reactor itself.
(3) A look at homosexuality and Christianity--several people described their experiences coming out in very religious families. This one was uplifting, at least, because families featured in the film came to accept their children and, in fact, became activists for acceptance in the Church.
(4) A long, graphic, and depressing film about abortion. Much discussion of radical pro-lifers and murders of abortion providers. The film was not, however, just a pro-choice screed--the director didn't shy away from showing several aborted fetuses. The visuals left me shaken, despite my own firm pro-choice stance.
(5) A story of a 400-person human-pyramid-building team in Catalonia. This was a fun one, but it made my palms sweat out of nerves as small children climbed to the top of these three-story human towers. No wonder Europeans think we're wimps for wearing bicycle helmets!

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

HTT, our bar is well stocked and now some of our guests think we're lushes!

Dear HTT,

My husband and I have a well-stocked bar. Nothing to compare with what you'd find in a drinking establishment, but a greater variety of liquors than we usually find at the homes of our friends.

The sitch is that we like to entertain, and we like being the type of hosts that can offer our guests a variety of drink options, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic. Aside from drinking with friends, we seldom drink ourselves.

Recently, on several occasions, guests to our home have made comments that suggested it was weird that we had so much stuff. My husband's boss' wife specifically asked me how often my husband and I make drinks for ourselves, and it was said in a way that it was clear that she was wondering if either of us had a drinking problem. A full bar doesn't mean that she's going to find a half-empty bottle of Wild Turkey next to the toilet, but apparently some people think this way.

And it seems now we've become the booze couple: At pot-luck functions hosted by other people, we're getting asked to bring the alcohol instead of food, despite the fact that I am an excellent cook (you've had the cheesy potatoes). Can you offer any advice? Should I just ignore this?

Wrong Message in the Bottles

Dear Wrong Message,

How odd that the effort you’ve made to be considerate hosts has somehow cast you in a suspicious light! If your refrigerator were equally well stocked, and I suspect it is, would people wonder if you were binge eaters?

I, myself, am not terribly adept at hosting parties, at least not without weeks of advance planning. Well, I can whip up a party-music playlist like nobody’s business, but I do not have a well-stocked bar. I have a creaky, plastic lazy Susan in a corner kitchen cabinet with several dusty, half-full bottles of no-name brandy from the last time I made sangria. There’s some decent gin in the freezer, but rarely any tonic or lime, so unless you’re pretty hardcore, you’re out of luck there. At best, I might have a bottle of wine (red only) and a few stray beers in the fridge. (I don’t drink beer, so these are leftovers from six packs brought by friends who know I’m no hostess.)

In general, people just don’t throw parties like they used to. Think about all those classic movies; homes always seemed to be equipped with a bar…an actual piece of furniture dedicated to liquor and elegant stemware. You wouldn’t see Cary Grant breezing into a friend’s place with case of Yuengling in tow.

So, I’m guessing that your friends are simply unaccustomed to people who take pains to accommodate their guests to the extent that you do. It’s unfortunate that some of your visitors think you might be in need of an intervention and a 12-step program, but you’ve handled things just right. When people comment on your bar, continue to make off-hand pleasantries about how you like to be good hosts, rather than launching into any more lengthy, apologetic explanation. If repeat guests don’t get the hint, start offering them nothing but Diet Cheerwine and tap water. That’ll show them!

As for the potlucks: next time someone asks you to bring a bottle of hooch, why don’t you say something along the lines of “Oh, gosh, I’ve been dying to try out this new recipe for crab dip. Would you mind terribly if I brought that instead?” Or, “Back in North Carolina, I was famous for my cheesy potatoes, and I’d love for y’all to try them as well and let me know what you think.”

You can have me over for a drink any time!


Monday, April 9, 2007

Family Reunion Part Deux

For years, every time I visited my mother in Sarasota, she'd suggest--like many good Floridian hosts do--visiting a theme park, and I'd assure her that I'd rather poke my own eyeballs out. Sarasota is a lovely city, and there is plenty of fun to be had there: botanical gardens, museums, the beach, pools, some great used-book stores and thrift shops, movies, boat rides on the bay, and John Ringling's beautiful Gothic mansion. I don't need to be flung against a bunch of strangers in a giant, spinning tea cup.

So, when my brother mentioned his proposal to my mom, her FIRST words were "And what was your sister's reaction?" When he confessed that it had been tepid at best, mom recommended that we all go on a cruise instead.

I briefly wondered if they were running a good cop / bad cop scam on me. Because normally, I wouldn't be all that jazzed over the idea of going on a cruise with my whole family, but compared to Disney World it sounds like heaven. At least on a big ship, I can find a secluded lounge chair somewhere; order some tall, fruity, rum-based beverages; and read a good book.

Sunday, April 8, 2007

Family Reunion with The Mouse

My family, on my mother's side, is composed of the following members:
  • My mother and her husband
  • My brother, his wife, and their six children (ages 3 months to 8 years)
  • My aunt
  • My two cousins, each of whom is married and has one child under 10
My brother has cooked up an idea for a family reunion. Bless his heart. He is a genuinely good person who wants to create stronger connections among our small clan. He has proposed that we spend four days together at Disney World in Orlando. Four days. Together. At Disney World. He imagines that this will be a fun, bond-building adventure.

I do not. It somewhat pains me to be confronted with the reality that I am not this kind of person. To say that I am not into theme parks is an understatement. Rollercoasters scare me. I clam up and become oddly shy when approached by people in large, furry costumes. I don't like crowds. I love my nieces and nephews and am regularly charmed and awed by how they've turned out so far. But I have to take a power nap after spending four hours, never mind four days, with them all. The idea of standing in line for 45 minutes to get on Pirates of the Caribbean with eight children under 10, two cousins I barely know, and their spouses whom I know even less makes me anxious.

I hate to sound this curmudgeonly. I do! I would prefer to be an enthusiastic, theme-park loving, extended-family-embracing kind of gal. Maybe if I pretend I am, it'll take.

Friday, April 6, 2007

HTT, I'm starting to dislike my friend's daughter; what can I do?

Dear HTT,

My friend has a nine-year-old daughter who I am really starting to dislike. The daughter is intelligent, mature, and respectful in her dealings with me, but her interactions with her mother are something different.

The daughter interrupts conversations, sometimes just making loud noises if she doesn't have anything to say. If there's a plan to be somewhere and the daughter is involved somehow, they will be late. I've been there when the daughter dawdles, saying she forgot to feed the hamster, or she needs to go to the bathroom, etc. while keeping a roomful of adults waiting. Last month a dinner out was ruined because the daughter not only needed to visit the bathroom three times over the course of the evening, she required her mother to go with her and each visit took a minimum of 20 minutes. The daughter also speaks disrespectfully to her mother, talking to her as if she is stupid. The last time she did this, I did intervene, and I told the girl that I thought what she said was a really mean thing to say to her mother. The girl's response was that she "...didn't care, that [she] wanted to make her mother miserable."

The girl's mother is a very caring, gentle and good person, mother and friend. The family also lost everything in Katrina, and are trying to rebuild their home. I can see my friend struggling with everything that is already going on in her life, so seeing her treated badly by her child...well, you can imagine.

I'm finding myself bowing out of plans that involve the daughter as I'm finding it increasingly difficult to disguise my dislike of her. Is there something else I can do, either something that will make the kid bother me less or something I could/should say? Since the bad behavior is directed at the mother and not me, I've been thinking it's inappropriate to get in the middle. What do you think?

Loyal Fan of the Advice Goddess

Dear LF,

Thanks for writing and for reading my column so faithfully!

I have six nieces and nephews and some very good friends with children. So I know that even the best kids can be trying sometimes. Just like adults! And no matter how charming a friend’s entire family unit may be, there are still times when you just want an adult conversation sprinkled with a few choice curses and a gin and tonic. Definitely not kid friendly.

But the behavior you describe sounds more serious than the occasional temper tantrum or back talk. I’m curious; did you know this family pre-Katrina? I wonder how much of the girl’s behavior might be a result of hurricane-related trauma she’s experienced. I imagine that losing everything at that age (or at any age) could unmoor a person. Here’s an excerpt from an article about the kinds of behavior child victims of Katrina have been exhibiting in school:

"Reaction to Hurricane Katrina and the subsequent Hurricane Rita has varied according to age. Younger children tended to exhibit internalizing behavior such as fear, behavior regression or apathy. Most teachers were somewhat prepared for these reactions. However, many teachers were not expecting the externalizing behavior seen in middle school and high school-aged children. They hadn’t expected to witness aggressive, angry behavior or the tension and violent incidents that developed."

Another article went on to list some behaviors that could be expected of children who had been affected by Hurricane Katrina, even two years later:

• Extended periods of depression (loss of interest in activities, feelings of hopelessness and helplessness, inability to experience moments of joy, profound emptiness)

• Inability to respond to comfort and rejection of support

• Purposeful withdrawal from friends, loss of sociability

• Destructive outbursts

• Inappropriate/illegal behavior

• Decline in school performance, refusal to attend school

So is it possible this kid is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder? Or that she’s lashing out because of the chaos that must surely accompany the rebuilding of their house and their lives?

Or, then again, for all I know, maybe she’s just a brat.

But in either case, I don’t think you can get away with a direct intervention aimed at the daughter. If you and your friend are close and if your relationship can withstand an above-average level of candor, you might be able to tell her that you’re worried about her and her daughter. Maybe something along the lines of “I’ve noticed that little Emma seems angry lately. Is she having a tough time in school/with all the change in her life/etc.?”

If that feels uncomfortable, you might just have to avoid going on any mother-daughter outings with them for a while. When you invite your friend to socialize, be clear that you need adult time with her. And hope that her daughter’s just going though a phase.

Let me know how it works out.


Monday, April 2, 2007

HTT, can a mono- and multi-tasker live together in harmony?

Dear HTT,

I am a multi-tasker. At work, I often have two different documents open, while checking my email, and talking to someone on the phone. No joke. And when it comes to household tasks, I can be cleaning the kitchen, doing the laundry, making the bed, and singing "There was a farmer who had a dog and bingo was his name-o. B-I-N-G-O" to my 18-month-old son.

Sometimes I believe I am the ultimate multi-tasker and at other times I think I am in desperate need of medicine to cure my ADHD.

The problem is this: my beloved partner is a mono-tasker. It is painful. Here is an example. The other night she was making chili and rice. The chili was made the day before and only had to be heated up in the microwave. The rice needed to be cooked. So there she is cooking the rice and waiting…yes, that’s right...waiting for it to cook. AFTER the rice was done, she put the chili in the microwave to heat it up. So by the time we are ready to eat, the rice is lukewarm and so is the chili. Now, this was hard for me to watch and I nearly screamed from the dining room "PUT THE CHILI IN THE MICROWAVE AND HEAT IT UP.” But I did not.

When I intervene in these situations, I am told "Do not multi-task me from the other room. I’m doing XYZ and not you."

Is my only resource to bite my tongue and slowly grow a tumor b/c all of this wasted time is making me nuts? How can I make suggestions to be more efficient without sounding like a control freak?


Dear D,

I’m in the unenviable position of telling you something you don’t want to hear. There is almost no chance that any suggestion you offer to improve your partner’s efficiency will be met with gratitude or good will. Because this is already a sensitive issue between you, you will probably sound like a control freak if you so much as offer to “help” when she’s in the kitchen. You did the right thing to swallow your advice.

How could this be? How can she not recognize the superiority of your multitasking ways? Well, you joke (?) about wondering whether you have ADHD, but it’s quite possible that your partner is scoping out Ritalin for you right now. You think she wastes time, but she might think you don’t devote enough attention to your tasks. I’m not taking sides, here, just pointing out how things may look through her eyes.

This doesn’t mean you can’t live in harmony. I know a couple in which she is a winter person and he’s a summer person; another where she’s a dog lover but he’s a cat person; and one in which he’s a Democrat and the other he is a Republican. (And I’m not talking about a fiscal conservative/social moderate type of Republican either.) Somehow, they manage to rise above their differences, and you can too.

When you feel your blood pressure rising, try to take a deep breath and remember something you love about your partner. Remember that you are also driving her crazy. Look away. Bite your tongue. Stay out of the kitchen.

Good luck,