It was summer in Paris. I was 23 (the perfect age to visit Paris) and clutching my overstuffed traveler’s backpack between my sweaty knees as I clung to a pole in the middle of the packed Metro car. Strangers pressed into every side of me, against my back, my arms, my legs, my face, all of us looking awkwardly in different directions as a defense against the indignity of our forced intimacy. The car, which rocked and shuddered as it hurtled beneath the Paris streets, could not possibly accommodate another soul. But, somehow, when we stopped at St. Michel, it did. A crowd of people on the platform surged forward, squeezing us all into even closer contact as they pushed and shoved their way into the little metal tube. The warning sound of the automatic doors rang once, twice, but nobody paused their push into the cabin. One brave French woman – high cheekbones, chic brunette bob – near the doors raised her voice in protest.
“C’est impossible!” she shouted. “It’s impossible!”
I think of her often, that French woman, when life is impossibly challenging. Self-help gurus will have you believe that anything can be accomplished with the help of a positive mantra, but I am beguiled by the use of a phrase that screams the truth against an irrevocable tide of human stupidity. “C’est impossible!” is the mantra for our days indeed. On with the questions.
Dear Queen of Bad Ideas,
I do not drink alcohol and it’s usually not a problem, but my wedding has created an etiquette issue. My fiance’s cousin presented us with a bottle of fancy Champagne (she’s a distributor) for our toast, and I’m worried that she will have her feelings hurt if I drink apple juice instead. (My fiancé also joked that people might think I’m pregnant, which he thought was funny but I would be mortified.) What should I do?
Love, Teetotalling Bride to Be
Marriage is about more than just saying some vows and getting a joint checking account, it’s also about sharing some of life’s burdens. In this case, it means the burden of shared emotional labor. That is to say, I think that it’s your fiance’s responsibility to manage his cousin’s expectations. He should do this by having a brief and frank conversation with her without making excuses or waffling over whether or not you could have “just a sip.” If your future in-laws don’t yet know that you don’t drink, now is the time to get comfortable with it. And if they’re drinkers, including the fancy champagne at the family table with a great deal of appreciation for your cousin’s gift might go a long way towards keeping things civil.
Congratulations and good luck, Your Queen of Sparkling Cider
Oh. My. God. My child – 14, boy – will not do his laundry! I told him five weeks (!) ago that it’s time he learned this adult skill, but now we’re in a standoff. He smells terrible, and he knows that if he doesn’t do it I will eventually break down and do it for him, if just to keep the neighbors from reporting me for neglect. What do I do?
Thanks, Mom in a Bind
I’m a believer in the idea that if you fight with a family member, especially a teenage family member, you lose. Even if you win the argument, you lose. So don’t fight about it, and don’t maintain your position on one side of this childish standoff. Tell your kid you’re going to do the laundry together, and teach him how to do it properly. He’s probably as sick of the situation as you are and will welcome an excuse to end the stalemate. After that, make it clear that it’s his responsibility to take care of this in the future and let him do it. Don’t worry if he does it well or regularly. If he tries to pick this fight again, leverage the only thing more important to a teenage boy than being right: regular meals. From now on, everyone who eats at your dinner table has to smell decent enough that the rest of the family can maintain their appetite. Good luck!
Love, Your Queen of Fabric Softener
That’s all for this week Queendom, although this week’s letter reminds me that I have yet to share my grandmother’s best advice for raising teenagers. I’ll do that next time. Send your letters to firstname.lastname@example.org.