My 12-year-old daughter had a sticker on her water bottle with a quote from Dr. Seuss: “You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose.” A classmate told her the sticker was racist because many people can’t choose what they want to do because of structural racism. My daughter peeled off the sticker and threw it away. When she told me about it, I was at a loss. I believe structural racism is real and pernicious, but I also think we should teach children that they have agency. And my daughter and I like the sticker’s message. Help!
Twelve-year-olds are not famous for nuance. (Their greater claim may be making classmates feel bad about their water bottles.) But you are an adult. Start a conversation with your daughter that goes beyond slogans and stickers to a more thoughtful consideration of race.
She has surely learned about slavery in her history classes. But tell her about some of the subtler discrimination that makes up structural racism: our long history of inequality in housing and educational opportunities for people of color, for instance, and the modern-day hangover of those unfair policies.
And for a firsthand account, read the sparkling memoir “Brown Girl Dreaming” with your daughter. Its author, Jacqueline Woodson, chronicles her childhood in South Carolina and New York, the institutional forces that held her family back, and the unstoppable optimism that pushed her forward. If there’s a problem living life as she and Dr. Seuss suggest, I can’t see it. Can you?
I Thought You Might Want This Back
While helping my parents clean out their house, I discovered some gifts from long ago: an heirloom brooch given to me by the grandfather of a college boyfriend 20 years ago. Also, some valuable coins from a high school boyfriend that belonged to his grandmother. I would like to return these gifts. They may have sentimental value for my former boyfriends now that their grandparents have passed away. But a relative disagrees. She thinks it could open old wounds or signal an interest in rekindling old flames. (I could always send them back without a return address.) Your thoughts?
I think you’ve been given bum advice. Assuming these were garden-variety breakups from two decades ago, I see minimal risk of upsetting these men by returning family heirlooms to them. It seems kindhearted to me. They (or their children) might like having them back.
There’s nothing wrong with sending simple notes along the lines of: “I found this recently and remembered you and your family fondly.” So return the gifts, and definitely include a return address when you do so. Your exes could very well want to thank you — without the slightest intention of starting a torrid affair.
Mom Can’t Fix Everything
My best friend since childhood has been having a hard time in a horrible job she started a year ago. She’s leaned on me, and I’ve spent hours listening to her complain, yet she seems unwilling to quit. We have been friends for 25 years, and I have never seen her so unhappy. So, I called her mother, who lives far away from us, to make sure she knew what a hard time her daughter is having. Afterward, I let my friend know about the call. Now she won’t respond to my texts. Did I do something wrong?
Probably. You and your friend are adults. So, unless you were reasonably worried that she was going to hurt herself, better to have suggested that she seek help elsewhere (a therapist, maybe).
Instead you made a unilateral decision to call her mother. But your friend could have called her mother at any time about her job, and presumably, she chose not to. I’m sure you meant well, but you don’t get to decide who helps other people solve their problems. Call your friend and apologize for overstepping.
During the recent dog days, my husband and I (we’re two gay men) invited our son’s math tutor for an afternoon swim in our pool. She was delighted. But when she removed her cover-up, we saw that she was wearing a small bikini and that one of her breasts was almost completely exposed. (Couldn’t she tell?) We didn’t want to make her (or ourselves) uncomfortable by pointing it out, but we wouldn’t want to be exposed like that. What should we have done?
Here’s a simple two-prong test for when we’re out in public and our friends (or math tutors) have wardrobe malfunctions: If there’s something they can do about it then and there (remove a price tag, for instance, or do up a button), tell them. But if there’s a torn hem or baked-on stain, be quiet. What can they do about it then?
In this case, I would have spoken up: “Your bikini top needs adjusting.” It may have been embarrassing for a few seconds, but it would have spared her and you a long afternoon of inadvertent exposure.
For help with your awkward situation, send a question to SocialQ@nytimes.com, to Philip Galanes on Facebook or @SocialQPhilip on Twitter.